What better high school graduation gift could there be then a trip to Europe with your grandparents. In January 2019 we took an amazing trip to Spain with our grandson Aiden. As he was still in school we did not have unlimited time to spend and had to keep things tight. We flew in and out of Madrid and spent all our time touring in the Andalusia region. Even though it was January the weather was fairly mild and as a bonus we did not encounter crowds at any of the sites. Unless your going for some beach time or just crave the heat, we highly recommend this off-season timing to others.
First stop Seville. Highlights for us were tours of the Plaza de Toros (Game of Thrones), Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos once the home of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand and horse carriage ride through the Plaza de España (Star Wars)
The biggest attraction in Córdoba was literally a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The Mezquita is truly a must see building. It’s a massive former mosque turned cathedral with an amazing forest of columns topped by red and white striped double arches that have seen over 1000 years of history. It is not only the largest mosque in the world, but the largest temple in the world as well. It occupies an area of over 250,000 square feet or almost 6 acres.
The Mezquita with Red and White striped arches
The focal point in the prayer hall is the mihrab – which identifies the wall that faces Mecca
the dome above the mihrab
Originally built in 786, the initial construction lasted for about 200 years. After Córdoba was recaptured by King Ferdinand III in 1236, the mosque became used as a church. Currently in the very middle of the Mezquita is a stunning Renaissance cathedral, which was built in the 1500’s. Although some parts of the original column hall had been destroyed to make room for the cathedral – the building is still a remarkable and dazzling example of Moorish architecture.
sun streaming in through stained glass
ceiling in the cathedral between the organ pipes
The Mezquita is certainly a signature attraction in Córdoba and visitors should plan on spending at least a half day to see everything.
Well we didn’t have the greatest weather in Ronda, however the clouds stayed high enough and held in their rain fairly well so we could get some pretty decent photos.
Ronda is an impressive town in the province of Málaga; an easy day trip from the Costa del Sol or for us a nice diversion on our car ride from Seville to Córdoba. Ronda is built on and around a very deep gorge spanned by an extremely impressive bridge.
Ronda was first settled by the early Celts, and later inhabited by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. The Moors left an indelible imprint in the city, which only fell to the Christian Reconquista in 1485. In more recent times, the town has hosted a number of well-known writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, & James Joyce.
This large and incredible bridge over the Tajo gorge, is called Puento Neuvo finished in 1793, is Ronda’s principal attraction. The bridge is 230 feet long and 320 feet high, roughly equivalent to a 30-floor building. It was built following the collapse of an earlier bridge from 1735; this bridge had a single arch of 115 feet but collapsed six years after construction, killing 50 people. There are beautiful views from here of the Natural Park -Sierra de Grazalema to the west – although this was a bit tough to see on the day we visited.
Views of the gorge and surrounding countryside are amazing, but that was not all we saw in Ronda. We went on a self guided tour of the very quaint Santa Maria la Mayor church (built on the ruins of an older mosque) -which has outstanding views of the town from the roof and is well worth a visit.
And we of course stopped for a wine tasting. While not world class at this point – (maybe another 10 years…or so) it was certainly a lot of fun.
Unfortunately the 13th century Arab Baths in Ronda were closed during our visit which just means that we’ll have to see them on a return trip as they are considered to be the best example in Spain.
Couldn’t resist this moment of shear irresponsibility
In January we took our oldest Grandson on a trip to southern Spain to celebrate his upcoming high school graduation. Coming from the midwest US, most folks think of warm weather beach vacations during the winter. We wanted to do something with more culture and history – southern Spain in January was a perfect choice. Mild weather, no crowds, mostly sunshine, tons of extremely interesting history and culture – AND fantastic food.
There are so many things to blog about – but let’s start with some history in Córdoba. Córdoba was originally a Roman settlement taken over by the Visigoths and then taken by Muslim armies in the eighth century. The Caliphate of Córdoba encompassed most of the Iberian peninsula and was likely the largest city in Europe in the 10th century. It was recaptured by Christian forces in 1236.
No visit to Córdoba is complete without visiting the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral) and the Alcázar. The amazing Mezquita will be the subject of an upcoming blog – for now let’s focus on the Alcázar.
The Alcázar had been around for 200 years before the monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand used it for one of the first permanent tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition. In addition it was the used as headquarters for the campaign against the last remaining (at that time) Moorish kingdom on the peninsula which was the Nasrids in Granada. After about 10 years, their campaign succeeded in 1492 – the same year the monarchs met Christopher Columbus in the Alcázar as he prepared his first voyage to what we now know was the Americas.
View of the extensive gardens
One of many security cats that monitored our visit
A visit to Southern Spain should be on everyone’s bucket list. Please let us know if we can help make your travel dreams come true.
What first pops into your mind when you hear San Sebastián, Spain? Is it the beautiful seaside beach or maybe the wonderful restaurant opportunities within this Basque city? These two things after all are what why scores of people flock to visit this region of Spain – I mean just think about a day at the beach followed by an evening of the pintxos (small tapas like food available at almost every bar in San Sebastian) or dining at one of the 16 Michelin Star restaurants. That alone makes me want to go back!
Ah, but have you heard about the gastronomic clubs or societies? In San Sebastian, these gastronomic clubs have been around since the 1800’s and today there are approximately 119 in existence in the city (over 600 in the entire Basque region). These clubs were initially established as a place of refuge for men – a place for them to socialize and cook away from the women at home who were the “boss”. Today, many of the clubs are still men only and it is not uncommon to find clubs with over 100 members.
To visit, you must have an invitation or be brought by a member. Well visit I must – I just had to see what they were all about! In September, I visited San Sebastián and made it a point to book a visit to Los Corcones gastronomic club. This club has a professional chef (all clubs cook together, but not all have a member who is an actual chef) so I knew I was in for a treat.
Together with 3 friends, we met the chef and started our walk-through Mercado de la Bretxa, the 150 year old market that was bursting with sights and smells you can only imagine. Here Bendur, our chef went about choosing items that he would cook during our visit to his club. He shared samples of his favorite ham and other specialties as we shopped.
Then it was just a short walk until we arrived at what looked from the outside like any ordinary stone building – that was until he pointed out the club sign announcing our arrival. The Sociedad Cultural Musical Benefica “Los Corcones”, with its 2-blue fish logo (and yes this club even has a band!).
As he opened the door, I was immediately in love with the quaint set of rooms and old country style kitchen (but with some heavy-duty ovens) and checkerboard tableclothes. I could not wait for the gastronomical experience I was about to have. He put us to work preparing the plate of tapas and pintxos – oh did you think this was a sit and be served sort of visit – heck NO!
Up first was a sampling of Spanish cheese, olives, sausage and of course a sardine or two (enough food really for 20 people). When the sampling began, we sat around a table and talked about his club, the food and the traditions…and somehow the 4 of us polished off a majority of that food. We felt the pride he had for his country, his food and his club. Now this is the way to really experience another countries culture.
Just when we thought we could not eat or drink anymore and the real cooking began! We were served some traditional Basque seafood dishes and yes, I must say, they were tasty! This visit to a private gastronomical club was one of the best foodie experiences I have ever had. We left with a true understanding of the culture by way of not only the food but through the opportunity to dine with the chef. It was a truly amazing experience which I encourage you to try.
We have 2 exciting European Group GetAways scheduled for 2017. They may both be cruises, but they are completely different!
First up is the Wines of Western Europewhich includes Bordeaux (France), Basque (Spain) and Portugal. Our group will be sailing aboard the luxurious Azamara Journey. Azamara Club Cruises is at the crossroads of where luxury and destination immersive cruising meet. This ship only holds 694 passengers and has a wonderful mix of amenities. She’s a perfect-sized vessel: small enough that it’s never too far from one place to another, yet large enough to provide variety on long itineraries. On our trip we will experience late evening and overnight port stays. The Journey was completely refurbished in 2016 – it received new spa suites in the fully renovated Sanctum spa with updated decor in marble, light wood and a cream palate. Every suite and stateroom has new beds with the same decor scheme, and the restaurants also received a modern upgrade.
Our 12 Night GetAway begins in Southampton England on September 4 and ends in Lisbon Portugal on September 16. Along the way you will experience the worlds foremost wine region in Bordeaux, spend a day at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, wash Tapas down with Rioja wine, and sip port in the Douro Valley – and so much more. You can find more details at our website. We hope you can join us.
If you’re tired of commercialism taking over the holidays, you will be very pleased with the traditions and romance of real Christmas markets where the gifts are not mass-produced but craftwork of real quality. Our group will begin in Budapest and sail along the Danube while visiting Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Every stop along the way will feature special Christmas Market excursions. You can find more details on the itinerary at our website.
Every Uniworld ship is as unique as it’s itinerary and the SS Maria Theresa is no exception. It’s opulent 18th century décor is a floating homage to one of the Habsburg empires most beloved ruler. The food, drink and service on Uniworld are absolutely outstanding – and everything is included! Call now as there are limited time promotions where even the air is included!
European vacations continue to hold great value. The US Dollar remains at historic low levels vs. the Euro. This is good news for travelers to Europe as you definitely get more bang for your buck. Our best advice for Europe is to plan ahead – this is not a destination that typically rewards the last-minute traveler. The best way to start planning your European vacation is to schedule a consultation with Sue.
River Cruising continues to grow and for very good reasons. Our clients absolutely love to take River Cruises. All it takes is to try it once and you will rave about it forever. Be aware however that not all river cruise companies are equal. You can research endlessly on your own, or you can call us to discuss. Our goal is to find out about what you want to do, how adventurous you are, what you like and what you don’t like. What are your travel dreams? Our recommendations are simply based on you and your needs, that’s it.
All Inclusive vacations will remain hot, hot, hot. The industry continues to upgrade old properties and build new ones. There are All-Inclusives for all tastes and budgets. Well we know you want a warm weather, beach destination, but are you looking for a romantic escape or a family/multi-generational getaway? Do you want basic dining choices or a more gourmet experience? How does a canopy covered bed and open air shower sound? Or a private plunge pool within mere steps of your suite? The choices go on and on. We can help narrow it down to something you will love.
According to the experts, air ticket prices are down but add-on fees are up. The simple fact, is you need air tickets to get to many vacation destinations. They are the transportation, not the vacation.
Cheap will remain, well….cheap. While the dictionary defines cheap as inexpensive, it also defines it as something of poor quality or shoddy. Continue to be cautious about anything advertised as cheap, supercheap, ultracheap, etc. A fantastically cheap vacation is not a good value if it is actually craptastic (this is our official industry word for cheap vacations!). Everyone wants good value and that’s where we help – get the best value for your money that actually gets the vacation experience you are looking for. Will it be cheap? We certainly hope not.
The best things in travel continue to come to those who plan ahead. For example, how about planning 2017? You may not be ready yet, but we are. We have 2 special group options worth considering.
Join us in January 2017 for our GetAway on the Getaway. We will do all the following: go down the highest water slides at sea, attend award-winning Broadway shows, experience Iron Chef dining, walk the plank and be endlessly entertained and pampered. Book now and choose between Free unlimited drinks, Free Specialty Dining, Free Shore Excursions or Free WiFi.
In September 2017 we will be hosting a very special Wines of Western Europe group on the Azamara Journey. Beginning in England, we will sail to France, Spain and Portugal. Azamara specializes in unique itineraries that include overnight stays in many ports. Our group will be in Bordeaux, one of the world’s foremost wine regions for 3 days. But that is not the only World Heritage region we will visit – see our web page for all the details.
Rich culture and history, amazing cuisine and diverse heritage are all packed into this amazing destination. Europe has some of the greatest intellectual and artistic developments the world has ever known. The landscape is dense with museums, cathedrals, monuments and palaces. Irresistible and intriguing, Europe continues to call us to visit. to experience the rich culture, history, and warm friendly people.
There are so many places to go – where do you begin? From the oldest monument in Europe (Stonehenge) to the most amazing museums: Louvre in Paris, Uffizi in Florence, Guggenheim in Blibao, and the list goes on and on. From the rolling Tuscan countryside wine regions in Italy to the mecca of beer – Hofbrauhaus in Munich. From the pristine beaches at Normandy where the allies initiated the liberation of Europe in World War II to the defensive fortification of Hadrian’s Wall built in the 1st century AD.
There are so many places to go and so many ways to see Europe that the best place to begin is right here with us. We can help plan the perfect trip that is right for you.