The ABC Tour

Mike has always joked that he is on the ABC Tour. That stands for, Another Blessed Cathedral. In many ways he is right. We have visited the main cathedral or church in every city we have traveled too. However, there are reasons other than my just wanting to light candles.

Many of the cathedrals or church’s we have entered have been around for hundreds of years, some going back as far as the 13th Century. Many of these places of worship were sponsored by the wealthiest patrons of their time so no expense was spared in the decoration or the carvings that can be found inside their walls. These are not modern buildings with stucco drywalls and simple stained glass windows or paint by number paintings. Many of the places we have toured have sculptures and deities leaping from the walls, chiseled in their glory to make them feel like they are alive; they have medieval stained glass windows that tell a story or gives praise to the people who helped to protect the church; they are filled with wooden ceilings and golden altars and even in some cases scientific advancements.

 

This stained glass window in the Church of Perth, Scotland shows the legendary Black Watch regiment,  Scotland's elite military regiment whose history stretches back almost three centuries.   © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

This stained glass window in the Church of Perth, Scotland shows the legendary Black Watch regiment, Scotland’s elite military group whose history stretches back almost three centuries. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

In other words many of the churches and Cathedrals we have entered are really works of art unto themselves and they should be photographed and visited. I prefer visiting a city’s main Cathedral sometimes more than its main museum.

 

This is the ceiling in the Church of St. Francis in Sibenik, Croatia which dates back to the 13th Century.  The ceiling is made of wood and the paintings date from 1674.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

This is the ceiling in the Church of St. Francis in Sibenik, Croatia which dates back to the 13th Century. The ceiling is made of wood and the paintings date from 1674. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Mike was raised Protestant, I was raised Roman Catholic. Mike wasn’t overly what you would call religious when we met so when I first told him that I wanted to visit the main Cathedral or Church in every city we visited he thought it was some sort of pilgrimage thing or something. Then he learned that I didn’t care if the church was Roman Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian or a Mosque; church’s and religious houses of worship are really testaments to great art.

This mosque is located in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.  It was the first time either of us had entered a Mosque and it was beautiful in its décor and simplicity.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

This mosque is located in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the first time either of us had entered a Mosque and it was beautiful in its décor and simplicity. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

Sometimes the artwork begins well before you enter the church.  This is one of the doors that enter The Vatican in Rome, Italy.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Sometimes the artwork begins well before you enter the church. This is one of the doors that enter The Vatican in Rome, Italy. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

The main altar in the Cathedral in Taxco, Mexico is covered in gold leaf and sculptures.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The main altar in the Cathedral in Taxco, Mexico is covered in gold leaf and sculptures. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

At famous Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh, Scotland (of Da Vinci Code fame) the sculptures are part of the façade and leap out at you as you get close to the entrance of the chapel.   © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

At famous Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh, Scotland (of Da Vinci Code fame) the sculptures are part of the façade and leap out at you as you get close to the entrance of the chapel. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

Gold leaf fills this church, not just the main altar, in Monreale, Sicily.   © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Gold leaf fills this church, not just the main altar, in Monreale, Sicily. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

Sometimes the main church's are used for ceremonies.  Changing of the guard happens in the Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina because the remains of Argentina's most loved general resides here; General José de San Martín.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Sometimes the main church’s are used for ceremonies. Changing of the guard happens in the Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina because the remains of Argentina’s most loved general resides here; General José de San Martín. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

After traveling for over three years and entering well over 100 church’s or Cathedrals he now has come to enjoy exploring them as much as I. In fact when we get to a new city one of the first places he pinpoints on a map is the nearest church and/or Cathedral. Maybe he can be a convert after all…

 

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

Are You Sure You Need to Pack That?

I think back to how I used to pack for a two week vacation to Europe and I cringe. Since I usually took those silly escorted tours (because I figured I couldn’t possibility get by in any country where I didn’t speak the language) I was always allowed one suitcase while on the bus. I made sure it was the largest suitcase I had since I couldn’t fathom wearing the same clothes twice or even in not having on clean underwear every day.

What a fool I was. Now I wouldn’t dream of packing half of the things I used to pack. Gone is the need to have a pair of sandals and sneakers and bedroom slippers and a cute evening shoe. I have one pair of hiking sandals that are my bedroom slippers, my sandals and my sneaker all in one. They are also my cute evening shoe. Magically four pairs of shoes became one functional pair and because I’m wearing them my suitcase weighs less.

I used to pack a pair of pants that I would wear for 4 days. Then I packed a shirt to go with those pants knowing that I wouldn’t wear the shirt more than twice so that was two shirts for every pair of pants. For a 14 day trip that is a lot of clothing, but I wasn’t done!

I needed a new pair of socks and underwear for every single day that I was on the trip. I needed a sweater in case it got cold; a couple of casual dresses in case it was so hot that pants just would be too heavy to wear and of course a couple of dressy dresses for those nights when formal wear was expected.

Now as many women know I haven’t even begun to mention that I still had to pack cosmetics, jewelry to go with each outfit; personal hygiene products; lotions, potions and puffs. Maybe I would even pack nylons; or maybe special bras to go with certain outfits and…wow, really, what was I thinking?

Today when Mike and I travel for a week we carry a moderate sized backpack. We have one change of clothes; a couple of spare underwear; one pair of socks and a rain or all weather jacket. We carry a toothbrush but all toiletries we buy where we are going so that we don’t have to carry heavy items. Everywhere in the world sells body wash, toothpaste, mouthwash and shampoo, even airline travel size. There is no reason to cart those items in a suitcase or a pack.

For a two week trip we might use one suitcase for the two of us and we still have room left over in the suitcase. Could you and your significant other share one suitcase for a two week trip? If not, you are both packing too much.

Perhaps this is an instance of with age comes wisdom because more than 30 years after I began to travel the world I certainly would never pack for a two week vacation the way I used too. I know now that my vacations are not about what I’m wearing; they are not about my having a different outfit to wear every day and they certainly aren’t about me having cute shoes to wear with my outfits. Vacations are not meant to impress the other travelers around me. No one remembers what someone was wearing when they had their picture taken in front of Iguassu Falls or Machu Picchu or San Juan del Sur, or…   Vacations are about whom I’m getting to meet; what I’m getting to see and where I’m going, and the only thing I really have to pack now is my camera.

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Tapas Time

Every country seems to have a culinary specialty, some dish or food item they are especially fond of and where everyone in the country makes their version of it.

Here in Spain it is no different and the food that makes this list is Tapas. Tapas can best be described as sample dishes of specialties. Tapas can be made up of seafood; salad; sausages or cheeses.  They are served either hot or cold and can even include paella, Spain’s most famous contribution to world cuisine. Every bar and restaurant in Spain seems to have a Tapas menu. Tapas are served as less of a meal but more than an appetizer. It is not uncommon for scores of people to go out late at night after a movie or a show and hit a bar to get a drink, usually beer or wine here in Spain, and then to order a tapas or two.

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Even the local mini-golf sells Tapas. Mike enjoyed their offerings; MAGRA DE IBÉRICO A LA JARDINERA and LONGANIZA BLANCA CON VERDURAS. I ate a veggie sandwich but our total spent here was only 7 Euros. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Here in Torrevieja we are in the middle of a Tapas Crawl, otherwise known as the 10th Annual Ruta de la Tapa. They hold this competition to see which bar or restaurant has the best Tapas in this region of Spain. This year 56 bars and restaurants joined in on the fun. To enter this competition your selections have to first be approved by a committee. Each restaurant chooses two areas of specialty; there is the standard tapas and gourmet tapas.

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At Pantasana’s Mike tasted the TOSTA DE SOLOMILLO CON CRUJIENTE and DELICIA DE BACALAO SOBRE CUNA. I passed even though one dish was vegetarian. I was saving myself since Tapas can be filling. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Contest dates are April 3 through 6 and then again from April 10 to 13. The bars and restaurants serve their Tapas from noon to 16:30 and from 19:30 to 23:00 on these days. This makes it easy on everyone interested in partaking since the hours are the same in all establishments and the only thing different will be what is offered. Each participating restaurant will also have two different Tapas to offer for each of the two weekends; so what they serve April 3 to 6 is not the same offering as April 10 to 13 so you can go back to the same place twice and order different Tapas.

 

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I was so glad I waited. My favorite so far, the Tapas from Taj Mahal. They served shrimp roll (ROL DE GAMBAS A LAS DOS SALSAS) and spicy vegetable fritattas (PAKORA VEGETAL) which came with two sauces, a sweet soy and a spicy duck sauce. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

A standard tapas order comes with a drink, again usually a beer, offered for only two Euros and gourmet tapas and drink is offered for 2.50 Euros. In a country where the unemployment rate is still the highest in the EU and where many people cannot afford to make their mortgage or utility payments eating Tapas for a euro or two is the cheapest thing to do here.

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At Cafeteria Mediterraneo we sampled the potato and chicken pie (PASTEL DE POLLO) and the toast topped with cuttlefish and tomato compote (BROCHETA DE SEPIA CON TOMATE RAFF). We weren’t too overly enthused with either entry. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

For the current competition there is a staggering 220 different Tapas being placed on offer. You literally can eat your way from one Tapas bar to another; in fact this is what is expected. If you eat no less than 10 Tapas you are allowed to vote for the best in Torrevieja (you will have your Tapas passport stamped in every place that you go in order for your vote to count).

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Armed with our Tapas map and our voting card we walked from Tapas bar to Tapas bar sampling the food being made just for the competition. They hold this competition twice a year. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Tapas are available all year round in Spain. You would be hard pressed to visit a bar or a restaurant which did not have a Tapas menu so coming here at anytime means you can create your own Tapas Crawl. However there is something to be said for getting to actually vote for the best Tapas in Torrevieja. So forgive me as I leave you because, “there is more Tapas to go before I sleep…” (My apologies to Robert Frost).

 

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

 

 

Ahoy, Land Ho…

Mike and I are always looking forward. Forward to where we will explore, where we will live and how will we get there.

By the very nature of how we live we are constantly moving forward. I am doing this now while having been in Spain for only two months. I am already planning our move to our next base, the continent of Africa.

My preliminary research says we will leave here in July and take the ferry boat from Gibraltar to Morocco; fly from Morocco to Johannesburg and then take up residency in S. Africa for 3 months. We plan to be on the African continent 9 months in total. Every country in Africa has a different visa arrangement with the US and as such this will give us the unique ability to live in 5 African countries in a 9 month period.

We plan, at this point, to start by living in S. Africa where I will finally get to take a real African safari. There are 34 tour companies which offer safaris out of S. Africa, and the tour offerings are as varied as the terrain. Some safaris have you living in tents while others have you in base camps; some show animal migrations and some guarantee you will see more wild life than you will ever see in a zoo. Lions and leopards have always been two of my favorite animals and the chance to see them roaming freely and in their natural habitat is something too good to pass up.

Next we will head to Swaziland where we are allowed to stay for 30 days. Swaziland is one of Africa’s smallest countries which has four seasons and a strong culture of tradition such as the Reed Dance festival that happens every August/September.

Namibia will be a nice rest for 3 months. Namibia became a German colony in 1884 under Otto von Bismarck to forestall British encroachment and was known as German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika). It is reported to be one of the most beautiful coastal regions on the continent and English is the official language spoken here.

Because of man’s pure greed we have decided that we need to see the island of Madagascar, where we are allowed to spend 30 days, before the island is completely deforested of all its beauty. Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and is among the world’s principal suppliers of vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang (a perfume tree originating from the Philippines used in aromatherapy), as well as providing half of the world’s supply of sapphires.

We then end our time by hopping to the Seychelles where we will stay for our last 30 days. One can actually stay up to one year on the island (by constantly renewing your entry visa, but 30 days is usually enough time anywhere someone else thinks is paradise). The Seychelles are actually a 155-island country spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, whose capital, Victoria, lies east of mainland Southeast Africa. The official languages are French and English and tourism is its main industry.

And after Africa?

We have begun to talk about perhaps heading to Germany, or Norway as our reintroduction to life in the EU, but who knows? Maybe the mysticism of Asia will call to us or even life on Greenland will look refreshing after all our time in Africa.

Sometimes looking forward is really more like spinning a world globe and seeing where it stops. It can be fun; spin a globe, hold your breath, and hope it stops in a new and exciting place. In any event we’ll be looking and moving forward, eventually ending up back where we began; home in the US…and we’re already looking forward to it.

 

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

 

 

Who Wrote That?

Usually, I did.  I write lots of travel reviews on sites where I think they will do the most good.  I review hotels and hostels, restaurants, guided and self-guided tours and even travel and tour companies.  I am considered a ‘senior contributor’ on a couple of sites that take reviews which just means I have written in excess of 100 reviews for every category they have.

I write my reviews well after our stay or our travel.  Mike and I have not written one review for anyone who has paid us or given us an upgrade in a hotel room or compensated us in some way.  Usually we give them our business card on the way out the door not on the way in.  This means we aren’t getting service reserved for VIP clients but for the regular folk who spend their hard earned money but should be treated fairly for it.  It also means we are free to write an honest assessment of a hotel or the food we are served.

This review thing works two ways.  You see I search online for reviews for everything travel related well before we book anything.  And I read mostly the negative reviews.  I certainly don’t read any review written by someone who has written one review which is glowing and positive and way out of whack with the other reviews I’m reading.  Usually this tells me that the review is bogus and carries no weight with me whatsoever.  People should really stop getting their friends to write bogus reviews; what they need to do is spend time fixing the problems in their establishments or on their tours instead of faking reviews.  You can tell a fake review a mile away.  People complain on sites like Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Pissed Consumer and more.  I read them all and I’ve written on them all.  When I see reviews from past clients which make my toes curl we avoid that hotel or hostel like the plague (especially if the reviews are current).  If the bad reviews are years old and all the current reviews are positive and written by credible reviewers we might give the place or the tour a shot (and we have).

Only once have we been thanked for our review, and that is because we don’t normally return to a place to eat or stay or tour after we visit once.  However, the city of Perth in Scotland doesn’t really have a great selection of restaurants to eat in and the one with the best pizza* we visited 3 times in our short stay in that city. On entering the restaurant after our first review had posted, the manager seated us and then thanked us for our positive review of his restaurant and his food.  It was nice.  And no, we didn’t get anything for free on that return visit except good food and good service and isn’t that what we really want?  How did he know it was us; because I don’t have a cutesy gravatar name on my reviews, I use my real name with my real picture.  Reviews written by someone with a real name and a real picture are given more credibility by me than someone called anonymous.

Head to the internet and on a search engine type in consumer complaints on…and name your favorite restaurant or hotel or tour company and see if anything pops up.  Sometimes it’s an eye opener what is on the internet.  Trip Advisor is not the only travel review site on the internet; it’s the largest and most used but people write reviews on many, many sites so read them all. I do and I’m not alone.

Then write those reviews, the good ones and the bad ones.  Build your credibility as a thoughtful reviewer so that other travelers are forewarned and forearmed to make a good decision before they spend their travel dollars.  That is really why we write these reviews; especially the bad ones to warn other travelers before they book.

Florence Lince

www.about.me/florencelince

 

*Paco’s was the name of the restaurant located in Perth, Scotland in case you are interested in trying it 

Pass the Salt

We are currently living in Torrevieja, Spain which is surrounded by two beautiful natural salt-water lagoons, the de La Mata and the Torrevieja.  These two very large lagoons have been declared natural reserves which mean they receive protected status from the government of Spain, and are considered Europe’s largest salt lakes producing in excess of 800,000 tons of salt a year.  These lakes are also home to over 200 species of migratory birds including the pink flamingo.

Salt has been extracted from this area as far back as the 15th Century and may have helped to fund the travels of Christopher Columbus but mass salt production began in earnest around 1802.

The salt produced here has been known to help lessen the severity of such medical problems as arthritis, asthma and rheumatism and this area is regarded by the World Health Organization as having one of the healthiest climates in Europe which helps to explain the large number of expats who vacation and retire here.

The salt travels from the collection point near the lakes on this conveyor belt to the waiting barges which will transport the salt to other countries all over the EU and even to the US.  It takes 5 days to fill a barge with salt.  This conveyor operates 24/7.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The salt travels from the collection point near the lakes on this conveyor belt to the waiting barges which will transport the salt to other countries all over the EU and even to the US. It takes 5 days to fill a barge with salt. This conveyor operates 24/7. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

One of the unique things to happen here in Torrevieja is the making and selling of ‘salt crafts’.  Artisans build models and forms to create these amazing works of art.  These pieces are then submerged in the salt lakes during the months of May and June when the salt concentration is highest and it is the time of ‘setting’.  It is during these months when the days are longest and evaporation rates are at their peak which aids in the crystallization process.  Salt concentration is so high that these pieces only need to be submerged for three days and when removed they have been completely crystallized in salt.  These salt crafts are highly prized and considered valuable gifts and of course real works of art.

The models are submerged in the salt water for 3 days and when they are removed they are covered in sea salt.  They are encased in glass and sold as works of art.    © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The models are submerged in the salt water for 3 days and when they are removed they are covered in sea salt. They are encased in glass and sold as works of art. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

 

The salt sculptures come in a variety of shapes which is why they are considered such great works of art.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The salt sculptures come in a variety of shapes which is why they are considered such great works of art. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Since salt production is such a big part of the history of Torrevieja there is a Salt Museum which has quite a nice collection of items pertaining to life in Torrevieja and of the salt production.  It is worth a visit when touring around the city.

The Museum of Salt located in Torrevieja, Spain.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The Museum of Salt located in Torrevieja, Spain. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

So the next time you have occasion to ‘pass the salt’ or to throw rock salt on your driveway think about where that salt might have come from.  The package might have been bought at your local hardware or grocery store but the salt might have come from some far away place, just like Torrevieja.

Florence Lince

http://www.about.me/florencelince

Tabloid News Need Not Apply

We love watching the news channels while in other countries.  They really cover world events; not just events within the shores of the US.  They cover all the civil unrests; all the real life and death issues in every country and all the real people that are news makers.

The news told on foreign television and even in foreign newsprint is vastly different from the news told on the US airwaves.  They tend not to deal with tabloid news in other countries and most people here don’t care and don’t know what is happening with Justin Beiber, anyone named Kardashian, or any of the other people out there who have a name but no talent.

Yes, they have their tabloid rags and the scandalous photos that go in them but everyone knows they are tabloid rags and they have zero credibility and zero power.  In the US powerful people and even Hollywood wannabe’s all want their name and face to appear in as many of these rags as possible.

One of the things this centrist attitude has done sadly is that American’s don’t look outside of their own country to find noteworthy news.  And I’m here to tell you, people outside of the US don’t care all that much about what the American people think is the best movie or the best fashion or the best car or the best anything.  American’s do not make the world go round.

Just the other day these three stories reached out to me and highlighted how different the news is sometimes in a foreign country and what they deem to be important.

First story let us know that over 30,000 tons of road salt was headed from Torrevieja, Spain via barge to the eastern shores of the US.  You see the US does not make all of the road salt that it needs in order to keep its roads salted during the winter, and its most likely cheaper to ship the salt from a foreign country instead of getting it from within the US.  I’m going to bet no one in the US ever saw this story.  I have to admit even I was shocked to learn that road salt was actually imported from foreign countries.  I had no idea that we didn’t produce enough within the shores of the US to take care of everyone’s needs during the winter.

Next story dealt with the vast amount of motor homes that dot the landscape here in Spain.  People are driving in from all the other countries to live here in Spain for a while and they are filling parking spaces at the mall, in the streets lining residential neighborhoods and setting up home for free.  It is making locals crazy because they have no place to park when they go to the mall to shop.  Yes, there are RV camps here in Spain; reportedly nice ones with all the amenities; but cash is tight and sometimes the people driving here don’t have the money to spend at the local camp ground.  If you don’t think this story deals more with how locals feel about tourists and how they affect the everyday life here and peoples dislike of these motor home residents then you need to get a passport and travel more.  You can rent these motor homes as well as drive them into the country and no one knows which is which.  Therefore, if you do decide to travel here and you rent a motor home and then you get treated badly by the locals there just might be a reason they treat you like you have the plague.

Third story was located on page 14 of the newspaper.  A couple of paragraph story about the Holocaust Commission, and its newest appointment; that of Helena Bonham Carter, Hollywood actress.  What the story imparted was that Helena Bonham Carter was asked to sit on this committee because her grandfather was a diplomat based in France who helped to facilitate the escape of hundreds of Jews from the country during the Nazi occupation of 1940 to 1944.  I’m almost certain no paper in the US even had this story in its pages; let alone that it wasn’t reported on the evening news.  This story more than any other made Helena Bonham Carter seem like a real person to me and not a cookie cutter celebrity who just wants to get their name in the paper.  She is a real person with a real family history and real empathy for others.  She said, “I am very honoured to be asked to join this commission and do so in particular memory of those members of my family who died in the Holocaust and as an inherited responsibility to my grandfather who made a significant personal sacrifice to save hundreds of lives.”  Isn’t this the type of celebrity story we should be talking about and not who had their Adam’s apple removed and how many bags of heroin were found in some dead celebrities hotel room…

When you sit down to watch the national news tonight know that somewhere we’ll be watching too.  But we are watching the growing civil unrest in the Ukraine and Venezuela, and the demonstrations happening in Santiago, Sarajevo and Barcelona. We are not watching Hollywood wannabe’s and who is sleeping with whom or reading more about Simon Cowell and his newborn baby that he had with his best-friends wife; and we don’t care about anyone named Kardashian, Ritchie, Duck or Trump.

 

Florence Lince

 

http://www.about.me/florencelince