Seville Before and After the Spanish Empire

The Gold Tower was built during Moorish rule in the early 13th century to guard access along the Guadalquivir River.  The tower's lime mortar gave off a golden glow in the evening sun which led to its name, the Torre del Oro.

The Gold Tower was built during Moorish rule in the early 13th century to guard access along the Guadalquivir River. The tower’s lime mortar gave off a golden glow in the evening sun which led to its name, the Torre del Oro.

Seville, an elegant city of over 700,000 people, rose to prominence as a working seaport on the Guadalquivir River.  It served as the launching point for the exploration voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Subsequent wealth that poured in from the New World making Seville one of the most important trade centers in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.  In addition, the wealth of treasures the conquistadors plundered from the Incas and Aztecs funded an expansion in Spanish military power greater than anything in human history up to that time.  That wealth is nowhere more evident than in Seville.

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville was originally a minaret for the mosque which once stood adjacent.  Over 340 feet high, the top is accessed by 36 ramps which allowed horsemen to ride to the top.  The Giralda is named for the weathervane at its top.

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville was originally a minaret for the mosque which once stood adjacent. Over 340 feet high, the top is accessed by 36 ramps which allowed horsemen to ride to the top. The Giralda is named for the weathervane at its top.

Seville from the Giralda Tower and the Alamilla Bridge's slanted white tower built for Seville's '92 World Expo.

Seville from the Giralda Tower and the Alamilla Bridge’s slanted white tower built for Seville’s ’92 World Expo.

Seville added to its prominence in the era of exploration with the global circumnavigation voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, which left from Seville in 1519.  The city monopolized trans-Atlantic trade with the discovery of the New World and opened a Golden Age of art, literature and music.  It was during this era that Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de La Mancha and the art works of Diego Velazquez and El Greco gained world recognition.  The influence of these and other Spanish artists has carried over through The Renaissance to modern times.

The vast scale Cathedral of Seville inspires awe.  It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world in both area and volume.

The vast scale Cathedral of Seville inspires awe. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world in both area and volume.

Today, the architecture of Seville is a study in contrasts.  The Cathedral of Seville is the largest Gothic style cathedral in the world and third largest cathedral of any type.  The ultra-modern Parasol Metropol is the largest wooden structure in the world, and covers a subterranean archeological site.  On the ground level is fresh market where vendors’ stalls offer extensive choices of meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables and baked goods.  While it is not the largest of public markets, it offers a full range of purchase options.  It is also maintained to a level of pristine cleanliness that outshines any public market I have ever seen.

The Metropol Parasol is believed to be the largest wooden structure in the world - 490' x 230' and 85' high.  On the street level is the public market.

The Metropol Parasol is believed to be the largest wooden structure in the world – 490′ x 230′ and 85′ high. On the street level is the public market.

The public market is housed below the Parasol.  It sparkles with cleanliness and offers the full range of produce, meats and baked goods.

The public market is housed below the Parasol. It sparkles with cleanliness and offers the full range of produce, meats and baked goods.

Seville buzzes with vibrancy like any great university city with lots of young people surrounded by the bustle of commerce.  I found a rich mixture of modern and historic architecture.  There is no denying the artistic elegance of the city which proudly proclaims its class and style.

This vibrant city will resonate with me for a long time.  There is so much to see in Seville that I wish I would have had more time there.  Unfortunately, a single day was all we had.  That was most important thing I learned from our visit to Seville – to not try to fit in everything worth seeing into a single day.

This pavilion marks the entrance to the Park of Santa Maria Luisa, once the grounds of Seville's 1929 World's Fair.

This pavilion marks the entrance to the Park of Santa Maria Luisa, once the grounds of Seville’s 1929 World’s Fair.

© All photos copyrighted by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The Grandeur of Granada

The main altar in the church of the Monastery of Caruja

The main altar in the church of the Monastery of Cartuja

Traffic posts topped with pomegranates

Traffic posts topped with pomegranates

Named from the Spanish word for pomegranate, Granada is a vibrant city with the energy and buzz you would expect from a university town.  Rather than one sprawling campus, the University of Granada is parsed out over a number of sites including buildings with historic and cultural importance – churches, seminaries and royal houses.  I tried to imagine how unique my college experience would have been had I studied in such a historic atmosphere.  Rated one of Spain’s top universities and with 80,000 students, I now understand the youthful dynamism that Granada radiates.

The altarpiece in the Monastery of Cartuja by master, Sanchez Cotán, is painted to give the illusion it is made of grey marble.

The altarpiece in the Monastery of Cartuja by master, Sanchez Cotán, is painted to give the illusion it is made of grey marble.

The most iconic site in all of Granada is The Alhambra, the Moorish citadel and palace overlooking the city dating back to the 9th century.  We did not tour The Alhambra mostly because I did not purchase tickets in advance, and admissions sell out daily.  I felt bad at first about missing out.  However, I have seen so many palaces and fortresses in the last couple two years of travel that I am not too disappointed.  Also, every blogger who has traveled to Granada has written much about The Alhambra.  I do not think I could have shared anything new.  We made up for any loss of discovery with a few stunning additions to our ongoing ABC Tour*.

This marble and ebony shrine sits beyond the main altar of the Carthusian Monastery behind a wall of Venetian glass.

This marble and ebony shrine behind the main altar of the Carthusian Monastery is partly concealed by a wall of Venetian glass.

We first visited the Monastery of Cartuja.  The construction, which began in 1516, was never completed even after three centuries.  The Carthusian Order of monks derive their name from the Chartreuse Mountains of the French Alps, as do the English Charterhouse monks.  Although this order at one time occupied twenty-four monasteries in Spain, most of these were confiscated and secularized in 1836.  Today, only four Carthusian monasteries still exist in Spain.

Carthusian monks are permitted leave their cloister only three or four times per year.  The rest of the time they spend in silent meditation and prayer.  They speak only when necessary.  They dine together only on Sundays and Holy Days.  Their meals are always vegetarian.  They pay for their basic needs by performing various crafts including making rosary beads from rose petals.  We saw some samples of these rosaries in the monastery gift shop, and they still have a flower scent.  A set of rosary beads costs €40, about $55.

There are two identical pipe organs facing each other overlooking this massive sanctuary of the Cathedral of Granada.

There are two identical pipe organs facing each other overlooking this massive sanctuary of the Cathedral of Granada.

We later made our way to the Cathedral of Granada.  The towering Gothic façade has one tower because the original design calling for two towers was too massive for the foundation built atop the city’s ancient mosque to support.   The cathedral’s Renaissance interior is so huge in scale that I could not help but feel small.  The massive, ornate columns soar nearly 200 feet to the arched ceiling.  It took over 180 years to build this cathedral, and I can understand why given its size and infinitesimal detail.

One last stop on the ABC Tour was the Church of San Jerónimo, or Saint Jerome, the 4th century priest who translated The Bible into Latin.  While modest compared to the grandeur of the Cathedral of Granada, it was still impressive.  The Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, founded the monastery and church, which was built in a distinctive Renaissance style.  If the names of these monarchs seem familiar, these are the same Spanish monarchs who commissioned the sailing expedition of Christopher Columbus to find a western trade route to the East Indies.  His discovery of the Americas led to the rapid rise of Spain to the stature of a world power.  The tombs of the king and queen now rest in the Royal Chapel just outside the Cathedral of Granada.

Classical music played by students of the music conservatory made our Granada visit complete.

Classical music played by students of the music conservatory made our Granada visit complete.

Granada made the leap from a medieval city with narrow, winding streets to a modern city by razing some medieval buildings that had historic significance.  What was lost to antiquity was replaced by a downtown with gardens, parks, plazas and streets lined with sidewalk cafes, bakeries, shops, apartment buildings and hotels.  The current mix of old and new is quite appealing.  Add in a free classical quintet concert (flute, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and oboe) at the top Royal Conservatory of Music during this, Granada’s 2014 Week of Chamber Music, and this made for a great addition to our tours of the great cities of Spain.

*ABC Tour stands for ‘Another Blessed Cathedral’ in reference to the churches and cathedrals we have visited in a dozen countries in the last three years.
Note: All photos are the copyrighted property of Florence Lince.
The high mountains of the Sierra Nevada provide winter skiing and year-round fresh water for Granada and the fertile valley where it lies.

The high mountains of the Sierra Nevada provide winter skiing and year-round fresh water for Granada and the fertile valley where it lies.

The Story of the Old Tower

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

Until about 1500 the Mediterranean Sea was ruled by pirates from maritime countries like France, Italy, and from as far away as Britain.  Subsequently, during Ottoman rule in Spain, pirates from Algeria and Turkey known as Berbers were the predominant predators who attacked settlements along the coast.  Even inland villages were vulnerable to the threat of pirates seeking food, treasure and slaves to row their galleys or to be sold for profit.

Perfect for St. Patrick's Day - an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

Perfect for St. Patrick’s Day – an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

King Phillip VII, who ruled Spain in the early 1600’s, took a radical step to reduce the threat of pirates.  Believing that Moorish descendants of the Ottoman days in Spain were sympathetic and perhaps even helpful to the Berber pirates, the king ordered their expulsion from Spain.  Over 500,000 ‘moriscos’ were shipped to North Africa.  Many of them became slaves.  Some, either out of desperation or revenge, joined with the pirates.  As a result, King Phillip was forced to take defensive measures. 

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja.  The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja. The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Army engineers were tasked with building a coastal defense against marauding pirates.  This defense was a series of coastal and inland watchtowers from the French border in the north to the south coast city of Cádiz.  The towers were built on coast rocks, cliff tops or elevated platforms.  Most were circular in shape evoking the image of a classic rook piece on a chessboard.  A removable staircase was often used to access an elevated entry door so that it could be removed in the event of an attack.  Guards who spotted threats would ignite a fire atop the tower which could be seen from a neighboring tower.  It is believed that a warning from Cádiz west of Gibraltar could be relayed to the French border within three hours over a distance of 1,000 miles.  Some towers were armed with artillery cannons.  Many had shelter spaces for farmers or fisherman from nearby to seek refuge. 

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja Photo credit - Google images

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja
Photo credit – Google images

Many of the towers in the Alicante Region have survived over 400 years and remain as historic landmarks open to the public.  One such tower was built in the center of what is now Torrevieja, which translated means Old Tower.  The original tower was destroyed by an earthquake.  The only remaining tower in Torrevieja is the Torre del Moro located on the coast just north of the city center.  This area was once a minor fishing village which grew with the development of a huge salt industry.  Vast evaporation lagoons are still used to produce tons of salt annually for shipment around the world.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days.  Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days. Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

One of the signature souvenir pieces representing Torrevieja are salt ships.  These models are prized gifts given to visiting dignitaries or as wedding presents.  Other popular landmarks such as the Coralista Monument or one of the town’s signature cathedrals are also popular salt models.  Many models are displayed in Torrevieja’s Museum of Salt located in the city center. 

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

The salt museum near the colorful sea walk is one of the many attractions that make Torrevieja a popular vacation spot on Spain’s Costa Blanca.  Even though spring has not officially arrived, spring-like weather during the winter months explains the town’s great appeal, especially among the many northern Europeans we have seen. 

Many apartments still look sealed up for the winter, so I expect the beaches will soon be more crowded.  In the meantime, we are enjoying the peace and quiet or our urban apartment.  Given the number of friends and family dealing with this winter’s bitter cold, we feel duty bound to make the most of the many sunny days here.  It seems that is the least we can do. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince unless otherwise indicated.

Starting Anew in Torrevieja, Spain

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja.  This beach is two blocks from our apartment.

There are two miles of beaches lining the coast of Torrevieja. This beach is two blocks from our apartment. Pedestrians can walk the entire waterfront with shops and restaurants lining the walkway.

We have walked the city streets, learned the bus routes, visited the central shopping mall, checked out the main cathedral and located the nearest supermarkets and the public library.  Now that we have our feet on the ground we are free to check out the interesting sights of the city.

The 'coralista monument' is a tribute to music and musicians.  It references the Habaneras singing style brought to Torrevieja by sailors who brought Cuban-style song and dance back from the Caribbean in the 18th century.

The ‘coralista monument’ is a tribute to music and musicians. It references the Habaneras music adopted from Cuba via shipping trade dating back to the 1700’s.

Torrevieja, or old tower, is a city of 100,000 people with double that number when you count the surrounding suburbs.  The original tower that gave the city its name was built as an overlook facing the sea.  The tower no longer exists except for some foundation stones that mark its origin.  The city has since erected a stone tower representing the city’s namesake.

The Torrevieja area had proximity to sub-sea level lowlands just a half-mile inland from the coast.  Some early settlers dug a ditch from the sea to these lowlands and flooded two areas to form shallow lakes that were used as dehydration ponds to make salt.  These two salt ponds are huge, combining to cover over 9,000 acres.  Salt production still takes place and now exceeds 800,000 tons/year exported mostly to Western European markets.  The shoreline areas of the salt lakes are protected parklands serving as habitat for birds and wildlife.  Wading birds are common as they prey upon fish in the shallow lagoons.

Torrevieja's main church viewed from Plaza Constitución.

The city’s central church was rebuilt in 1844 using stone blocks from the old tower that was left in ruins from this earthquake.

The city does not have a natural port, so the area was overlooked until the 17th century as far as a hub of commercial activity.  Early settlers were mostly fishermen from Genoa and Naples looking for less competitive fishing areas.  To this day Italian surnames are common among the local population.   Modern day Torrevieja features a water-break seawall that extends nearly a mile around the city’s main marina which moors over 300 boats.  People can stroll the entire length of the seawall on a beautiful boardwalk and get an outstanding view of the city waterfront from offshore. 

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The elaborate altar inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception

The main church in Torrevieja, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, was originally built in 1798.  A severe earthquake in 1829, which would have registered a 6.6 using the Richter scale, had its epicenter close to Torrevieja and devastated the city.  Surrounding towns were also nearly destroyed.  There was little history of seismic activity along the Mediterranean coast, so the local populations were caught completely by surprise. 

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

Picturesque parks are found throughout the city, like this one a few blocks from our home.

The current city of Torrevieja is a tourist and expat destination.  Nearly half of the population is made up of British expats who own a home or apartment somewhere around the city.  English is spoken in most shops, restaurants and businesses.  There is an English language weekly newspaper, an English cinema, and innumerable groups and clubs including golfing, cycling, acting, hiking and jogging.  Runners were drawn to the 31st annual Torrevieja Half-Marathon, which took place on February 23rd and draws over 2,000 runners. 

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

The Central Market of Torrevieja offers a variety of fresh fruits, deli items and goodies.

While we are not beach people per se, we enjoy strolling along the waterfront on a warm sunny day and feeling the cool breeze.  And now that we have our bearings, we look forward to getting to better know our new home town.

Our New Home on the Costa Blanca

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa, just south of Benidorm.  Too bad we could not afford it.

Our hosts, Esmeralda and Raul showed us this apartment in Villajoyosa overlooking the marina, just south of Benidorm. Too bad we could not afford it.

Our greatest experiences in the countries we have visited have been the people we have met.  Spain has been no exception.  We were fortunate to have found a room to rent for our first month in Alicante with a welcoming couple, Raul and Esmeralda, which served as our base to search for an apartment.  After a few days decompressing and learning the terrain, our apartment search began in earnest.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats.  Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm is a lovely spot overrun by expats. Most of the high rise buildings are apartments.

Benidorm, about 30 miles north of Alicante, is one of the coast cities that has been taken over by the British, either on holidays or as expats.  We liked the city well enough, and there is just as much English spoken as there is Spanish.  However, we became disillusioned with the housing options.  They were either above our budget or just plain dumpy.   

Sensing our frustration, Esmeralda phoned her sister in Torrevieja, about 30 miles south of Alicante, who had an apartment to show us.  We knew the moment we saw the apartment and the neighborhood that we were home!  A city of 100,000, Torrevieja is also a favorite British landing spot.  They have an English language cinema, an English weekly newspaper and several British pubs and restaurants.  An expat city like Torrevieja would not be our typical move.  However, it is pretty with lots of areas to walk and shop, and there are lots of places in and around the city to explore.

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

The view of the sea from the Castle of Santa Barbara

Having found a place to live freed us up to explore a bit more.  We took the oceanfront elevator 500 feet up to the hilltop Castle of Santa Barbara, about the same height as the ride up Seattle’s Space Needle.  However, the elevator shaft was cut through solid rock, so there were no views until we got to the top.  Although artifacts pre-dating Roman times have been found on the slopes of Mount Benacantil, the fortress was established in the 9th century, a time of Arabic Muslim control.  The castle was taken by Castilian forces on December 4, 1248.  That was the feast day honoring Saint Barbara, patron saint of the military, and that is how the castle came to be known.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

A 450 year old church, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas is picturesque and beautiful inside.

I visited the Museum of Archeology, an award-winning museum that captures the evolution of the Alicante area from pre-historic times up to the 20th century.  The ancient Roman city of Lucentum is only a mile or so from the museum, so there are plentiful artifacts depicting the Roman Era. 

Further exploration has taken us to The Explanade, the city’s colorful mosaic pedestrian walkway along the waterfront.  We explored the nearby suburb of San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante’s university district.  We discovered the Mercado Central and the downtown walking and shopping areas.  We took in the Museo de Taurinos, the Bullfight Museum, which is operated by the City of Alicante and free to the public.  We visited the 17th century Cathedral of Saint Nicholas on the ABC tour (the Another Blessed Cathedral tour for newer readers).  We have also visited the Museum of Chocolate, shopped at the Open Market, and we have eaten tapas, empañadas and seafood paella.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante.  The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

Bullfighting still takes place in Alicante. The city runs a bullfighter school for young aspiring bullfighters.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned.  They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies.  The ones in front use various liqueurs.  The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

The Valor Chocolate Company is still family owned. They produce a variety of chocolates including these designer goodies. The ones in front use various liqueurs. The quality compares with the best we have tasted.

There is much more we can see and do in and around Alicante.  Unfortunately, our sightseeing was cut short when Florence caught the flu.  Other than catching the flu, our first month in Spain has been pleasant by every account. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince

Transitioning to Spain

Spain's Royal Family no longer lives in Madrid's Palace.  When not in use for ceremonies, it is open to the public.

Spain’s Royal Family no longer lives in Madrid’s Palace. When not in use for ceremonies, it is open to the public.

We have evolved from our initial goal of living in a different country for awhile to being The 6 Monthers, our current lifestyle of moving to a different country every six months.  Our objective is loaded with challenges as far as observing the tourist and visa laws of the various countries in which we wish to live.  We are in a race against time to obtain dual citizenship with Italy which will solve the Schengen Visa issue throughout most of the European Union. 

Standing on the Plaza de Independencia is the Puerta de Alcalá.

Standing on the Plaza de Independencia is the Puerta de Alcalá.

The hardest part of being a traveler in the manner we have chosen is the transition between countries.  Our travels are best done when we start from a base in the country of our choosing.  From there we take single-day and multi-day trips to surrounding areas to learn what we can about the culture and the beauty of the country.  When it comes time to move, we must pack everything we own into our luggage and cart it with us which is burdensome on multiple levels.  Primarily, it is draining to live out of suitcases for any length of time.

Is it a palace or a cathedral?  No that is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, otherwise known as the Madrid Post Office.

Is it a palace or a cathedral? No, it is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, also known as the Madrid Post Office.

We gave ourselves seventeen days for our latest transition from Croatia to Spain which allowed for stops in Rome, Barcelona and Madrid.  These are three world class cities with great history, food, art and culture.  They are cities I had only learned about in school and through my reading over the years.  For me, seeing them for the first time was a thrill I eagerly anticipated.  We got a tiny stateroom on the overnight Blue Line ferry from Split, Croatia, to Ancona, Italy, then caught the train to Rome.  For the 20 hour crossing from Italy to Barcelona, we also got a stateroom on the Grimaldi Line ferry.  In each case we were grateful to have avoided checking bags and paying the fees we would have incurred at airports.  We even got a little sleep along the way.

An evening on the town with my two favorite women in Spain

An evening out with my two favorite women in Spain

Rome was glorious, no question.  For me, our visit to The Vatican was the greatest highlight.  I will always think of Rome as a must-see place, one that made me say “Wow!” with almost every turn.  Among Barcelona’s most interesting sights is Antoni Gaudí’s architecture, and the highlight for any visitor to Barcelona is without question La Sagrada Familia.  For a number of reasons, Madrid was my favorite stop.  Perhaps it was the reunion with our new friend, Ana, whom we met during our Discover Croatia Tour.  Spending time with friends is always a treat, especially while living in a country far from home.  Madrid is unique and beautiful, and there was way more to see and do than we could fit in during three days.

Sometimes called the 'Superman Building' the Metropolis Insurance Company placed their name on the building when they purchased it.

Referred to by some as the ‘Superman Building’ the Metropolis Insurance Company placed their name on the building when they purchased it.

Overall, I am glad we visited these places in the off-season.  We avoided major crowds in each city as well as the summer days which can be insufferably hot.  That part was good.  I did lose my wallet to a pickpocket on the subway in Rome.  That experience made me much more conscious of my surroundings and much less trusting of people on the street.  And like any crime against a person, I felt violated, which impacted me psychologically.  It took me a few days to almost get over blaming my naiveté and blaming other, less scrupulous people for being assholes. 

This apartment building across from our hotel is typical of the fine architecture throughout the city.

This apartment building across from our hotel is typical of the fine architecture throughout the city.

Ultimately, traveling for over two weeks with daypacks and suitcases is too much.  We need closets and a washing machine and a kitchen of our own so we do not have to eat restaurant food every day.  That does not diminish the wonder and beauty of the places we visited during our transition.  It does, however, diminish our ability to maintain our energy and to fully appreciate what we are seeing.  Such is the learning curve of The 6 Monthers.  We are not on vacation – this is our life.  I believe we will get better at it as we go along.      

All photos: © by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

First Impressions from Rome

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome's highest hill to escape the stench of the Tiber River.

Pope Clement XIII had the Palazzo del Quirinale built as a summer palace on Rome’s highest hill to escape the smell of raw sewage which flowed down the Tiber River.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

We round the corner to enter the Quirinale Plaza and catch our first sight of The Vatican.

This is my first visit to Rome.  My wife, Florence, has visited Rome on five occasions prior to this visit, so she is excited for me to experience awe and wonder of The Eternal City.   She loves to describe the sights I am about to lay my eyes on for the first time, and she is eager for my reactions.  However, her descriptions do little to prepare me for what I am experiencing.  There is simply no way to describe Rome to the first-time visitor.  It would be like trying to explain Disneyland to an alien.  One must see Rome for oneself.

Florence loves roasted chestnuts.  I bought cookies.

Florence loves fresh-roasted chestnuts.

As we start walking from our hotel near the central train station, I begin to notice the numerous locations that sell pizza.  My comment – ‘Look, another place that sells pizza!’ becomes tiresome, so I begin noticing shops with baked goods.  I had to stop.  After stocking up on a few essential goodies, we wander toward the President’s Palace, known officially as the Palazzo del Quirinale, the historic home of thirty popes dating back to the 16th century.  It is the sixth largest palace in the world and the largest home to any head of state.  From outside we have no idea about the scale of the palace on the inside, and the guards at the gate were not about to let us wander in to see for ourselves.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Mythological figures and horses seem to emerge from the rocks and pools of the Trevi Fountain.

Descending from Piazza Quirinale on Rome’s highest hill, we see crowds of people ahead.  A quick check of the city map confirms they are converging on the Piazza di Trevi and the iconic Trevi Fountain.  There is so much happening artistically in the massive fountain that I can hardly take it all in at one time.  Also, I now realize how fortunate we are to be visiting Rome in the off season.  I think we would have had to wait an hour or more to get the photos that were available to us just by walking among the crowd to the edge of the observation area.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

The Spanish Steps leading to the church above are the widest in the world.

A few blocks beyond the Trevi Fountain is the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Plaza) and the Spanish Steps.  These 135 steps ascend to the Church of Trinitá dei Monti.  This day was the eve of The Epiphany, the day when the three magi appeared in Jerusalem following the birth of Jesus, so there was still in place a Nativity scene on the upper terrace of the steps.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

Massa, the lovely sales clerk at Vinovip near the Trevi Fountain, cheerfully offers samples of liqueurs, which I am happy to taste.

We encountered numerous sights on our initial stroll through the city.  The fascinating thing about Rome is one can walk a mere block or two in any direction and suddenly you come upon a park, a plaza, a fountain, a palace, or one of the dozens of architectural wonders which abound, and we have barely scratched the surface.  Fortunately, Florence scheduled our stay here for a week.  She knew not to cut short our time in this great city.  All these legendary places are now coming to life right before my eyes.

The ABC Tour in Scotland

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

Dear reader, in case you are not familiar with the ABC Tour, this is the part of our travels when we visit Another Blessed Cathedral. The ABC Tour is a series of mini-tours we have been doing for over two years, and we have witnessed some of the most spectacular art, architecture and antiquities imaginable.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

Florence, like all her ancestors, was raised Catholic. She even attended a Catholic boarding school, which accounts for her exceptional preparation for post-secondary school. Upon entering a cathedral, Florence observes reverent moments of contemplation and dutifully lights a candle in remembrance of those who are the subjects of her prayers and blessings.

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian's, up close

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian’s, up close

I also stand in awe of the size, scale and sophistication of the art and architecture of the sites we visit, albeit from a different perspective. The symbols of Christianity are not new to me. I learned enough in my Protestant upbringing to comprehend both New and Old Testament teachings, enough so that I can appreciate the imagery in all of its glory. I am awestruck by the creations of artists and craftsmen who designed and built these great cathedrals. One cannot help but be moved by the grandeur or the works.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the crucifix above the altar.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the altar.

There is so much history behind each cathedral we visit. For example, here in Scotland, the Catholic Church rivaled the great monarchs and land barons in its wealth and power. After The Reformation when the Anglican Church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, the church still shared the power and wealth of the country. In order to have a place in the church, one had to purchase a seat in the congregation. So it was that the poor were left out.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

During the period of The Enlightenment, when scientific thought supplanted ignorance and superstition, the common folks in society demanded a say in how they were governed in the wake of the French Revolution and the introduction of parliamentary rule. This was true also in the way people worshiped. In 1843, there was The Disruption, when over 400 ministers and their congregations broke away from The Church of Scotland. When these congregations had the means, they erected their own churches as The New Church of Scotland. By 1929, a compromise of sorts reunified the divided churches. However, neither church regained its former stature.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The Church of Scotland used to preach from the pulpit the principle of Sunday as a day of worship. However, the schism in the church led more and more people to find other things to do with their time. With the advent of radio, television, organized sports and even Sunday shopping, church attendance in Scotland continued its decline. Contributing to this decline was the fact that women formed the majority of church membership, and women were denied the right to be ordained until 1968.

Even though we are not able to enter every church, like the Church of the Nazarene, it is still an interesting building.

Not every church is open to us, like the Church of the Nazarene. Still, it is an interesting building.

The decline in church attendance is why you now see many church buildings in Scotland that have been sold to private businesses housing restaurants, night clubs and offices. I was surprised to learn that today in Scotland, the largest denomination of churchgoers is Roman Catholic. I have learned a lot of interesting history on the ABC Tour.

Daily Update – Scotland, August 1, 2013

Contributions by AK Bell, 20th century philanthropist, included this library. Parks, housing for the poor, and community water resources are among his many  donated works.

Contributions by AK Bell, 20th century philanthropist, included this library, appropriately named the AK Bell Library. Parks, housing for the poor, and community water resources are among his many donated works.

We are quickly adapting to life in Scotland. Yesterday, with a copy of our lease agreement showing our local address, we obtained library cards. That may not seem like a big deal. However, to me it means a great deal. Not only can we check out books, but we can also truly call ourselves members of the community.

We visited a different grocery store called Lidl. Other than being bigger than the convenient Salisbury’s Grocery on our block, it was rather ordinary. Their local cherries at $3/lb. were excellent! And their unusual selection of housewares and toys gave the store a feel of part grocery, part department store.

At Lidl’s, in order to obtain a cart you must deposit a £1 coin in the handle of the grocery cart to release the lock. When you are done with the cart, you get your £1 back when you return the cart and insert the locking mechanism. Alas, they do not need to employ someone to gather carts from all over the parking lot.

We are readily identified as Americans when we write a date like August 1, 2013, or 8/1/13. Here, days come first, so today is 1/8/13, which is logical since each unit is increasing in scale as you read the date.

Driving on the left side of the road is still disorienting. Whether it is logical or not is up for debate. I simply have to remember to look right first when crossing the street. One sweet old lady that we spoke to when asking directions recognized us immediately as Americans and cautioned us as we prepared to cross the street, “Look both ways first. And watch your step.” At first I thought she may have been overly cautious, but sure enough there was a car coming from my right in the near lane. Bless her heart, she probably saved me from a near miss.

The weather has been abnormally sunny this past month. The locals talk of the rain just like folks back in Seattle, like it is unusual if it is not raining. Situation normal – today it is raining. No problem. That is why we packed raincoats. I would say growing up in the Puget Sound area prepared me perfectly for life in Scotland.

Glasgow – A City In Need of an Identity

Glasgow Cathedral is the resting place of St. Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow.

Glasgow Cathedral is the resting place of St. Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow.

I might say that Glasgow has been a bit of a disappointment, perhaps due in part to the city suffering in comparison with Edinburgh. Where Edinburgh is charming in a 19th century way, Glasgow is an architectural mish-mash of old and new.

The Necropolis, City of the Dead, sits on a hill overlooking the Cathedral and the city.

The Necropolis, City of the Dead, sits on a hill overlooking the Cathedral and the city.

We toured some stunning sites like the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis which were full of old world charm, as was the campus of the University of Glasgow. Shuffled together with these architectural treasures are high rise apartment buildings, steel and glass office buildings, modern high rise hotels, and an eclectic mix of nouveau architecture in their new Museum of Transportation, The Hydro sports complex and the new science center. Glasgow seems like a city stuck somewhere between old and new with indifference toward any specific identity.

The ultra-modern Performance Center and Arena next to the River Clyde where shipping docks once sat.

The ultra-modern Performance Center and Arena next to the River Clyde where shipping docks once sat.

Glasgow, with close to half a million people, has about twice the population of Edinburgh. Historically, Glasgow is a working city. The now non-existent shipbuilding docks along the River Clyde produced famous ocean liners like the Lusitania, the Mauritania, the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary, and the Queen Elizabeth II as well as hundreds of Allied warships during World War II.

Glasgow, being the closest port to the United States, was the gateway to Europe for raw goods from the New World. Fortunes were built in the tobacco and sugar markets. International shipping spawned a wealthy class that built up the west side of Glasgow. The working class mostly occupied the east side. The difference is evident today with the east side of town showing signs of wear and neglect.

Classrooms overlook one of the university quadrangles.

We felt smarter as we walked through the quadrangles at the University of Glasgow.

Glasgow has some stunning historical architecture. The City Chambers building adjacent to George’s Square opened in 1881 is so stylish inside that it has been the setting for film settings including both The Vatican and The Kremlin. Glasgow Cathedral dates back to the 12th century and is the only cathedral in Scotland to have remained intact following The Reformation. Glasgow University, the second oldest university in Scotland, was chartered in 1451, and it is said its many spires inspired the setting of Hogwarts Academy in the Harry Potter series. Apparently, the filmmakers were turned down by the University of Glasgow to use the main campus as a setting for the Harry Potter films.

Old and new now stand side by side in Glasgow.

Old and new now stand side by side in Glasgow.

About fifty years ago developers began systematically knocking down old stone buildings in Glasgow to make way for modern skyscrapers. The city’s ceiling was raised from five stories to fifty stories, and that movement is still underway. A relatively small percentage of structures are protected for historical reasons. There seems to be general apathy about fixing or preserving the classic parts of Glasgow. Even when the powers-that-be proposed updating George’s Square in the heart of the city, the citizens of Glasgow raised hell until the city leaders scaled things down to a simple resurfacing of the square.

The bartender at Oran Mer, an old church converted into a bar/restaurant.

We ate at Oran Mer, an old church converted into a bar/restaurant. The bartender was pleased to pose for me.

Although parts of Glasgow seem a bit tired and out of repair, I believe our visit here has been worthwhile. The immaculately refurbished Mitchell Library has been a comfortable retreat to read and work. And as always, the local people have been nothing but courteous and helpful. Ultimately, it is the people who give Glasgow much of its charm.

Sicily, I Haven’t Forgotten You

The gold leaf mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral are spectacular.

The gold leaf mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral are spectacular.

I have focused so much on our travels and life abroad in Latin America that I have completely overlooked our recent trip to Sicily. This story is all about family. My father-in-law’s family emigrated from Sicily. We are talking about a BIG, Italian-size family. There are still over a hundred of their relatives living in and around Santa Maria in the north mountain country of Sicily.

Every biblical scene is done in mosaic detail.

Every biblical scene is done in minute mosaic detail.

My wife has visited Sicily on five previous occasions. This time, however, was the first time she visited with a husband. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what the local customs were for greeting a new member of the family. I can now tell you there is a lot of hugging and kissing involved. I finally got the hang of the alternating-cheek air kiss. The hugs vary depending on the family relationship – longer hugs with grandparents than with second or third cousins. The children give big hugs as soon as their parents announce, “He is your cousin.” Then they want to play.

The Concordia Temple in Agrigento built around 500 BC is a testament to the architects of Ancient Greece.

The Concordia Temple in Agrigento built around 500 BC is a testament to the architects of Ancient Greece.

Leading up to the family reunion is a twelve day private motorcoach tour of Sicily with family from the States. There is so much history here and so many sights to see. Every civilization that ever amounted to anything left its footprint in Sicily, and with good reason. Sicily served as the breadbasket to every empire that spread through the Old World. Geographically, Sicily is situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Sea. To this day there are more preserved Greek ruins in Sicily than there are in Greece. And the Romans picked up where the Greeks left off. There is also Spanish blood and Anglo blood in the Sicilian pedigree, which is evident when you notice the many Sicilians with light hair color and blue or hazel eyes.

The Aeolian Island of Vulcano seen from the road on Lipari.

The Aeolian Island of Vulcano seen from the road on Lipari.

We arrived by cruise ship in the Port of Catania after stops in Naples, Florence, and Pisa, Italy, Villefranche, France, Valencia, Spain, the Spanish Isle of Ibiza, and Tunis, Tunisia. My in-laws meet us in Catania. They had to rush home to the States for a family funeral the last time they were in Sicily. This may be their last opportunity to see family. Plus, Dad speaks beautiful Sicilian, and that is a huge benefit for the giant reunion that awaits.

My wife’s favorite spot in Sicily is Taormina, perched precariously on top of a small mountain. The Greek Amphitheater overlooking the sea is beyond compare. My favorite spot was the Aeolian Island of Lipari. The crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and the views from the cliff road make this island paradise idyllic.

Cousin Nino knows where to get the best gelato.

Cousin Nino knows where to get the best gelato.

You cannot mention Sicily without mentioning the spectacular cathedrals. The 21,000 square feet of mosaics in the Cathedral of Monreale overlooking the capital city of Palermo are among the finest in Italy, if not the world. And in Tindiri, there is the Cathedral of the Black Madonna with its amazing folklore to go along with the architecture. There are other churches of note. However, the final stop on the ABC Tour (Another Blessed Cathedral) is the one in Santa Maria with the family name carved in stone along with the date, 1598.

I have not even touched on the food. I started out thinking the national dish of Sicily is eggplant because I could not get away from it. I eventually found alternatives. The world can take lessons from Italy on how to make dessert. The gelato is the best to be found anywhere and the cannolis are to die for!

A genuine Italian cannoli - whipped ricotta cheese and honey filling and rolled in crushed pistachios.

A genuine Italian cannoli is filled with whipped ricotta cheese and honey and then rolled in crushed pistachios.



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