Category Archives: Trip Report

Trip Report – Cremona & Parma

It has been since last September since we have gone anywhere mostly due to the move. I wanted to concentrate on that for the last months and had no desire to go anywhere. 

Now we are moved and things mostly livable we decided we needed to go somewhere for a short get-away. The problem was, we had no cat sitter anymore. Paul, our friend and cat carer was farther away and also leaving Umbertide for their move after selling their house. What to do? 

We have a new housekeeper named Linda. She is from Albania, I think. I have known her husband for a while. She picks up jobs doing different things from home health care to cleaning houses. She cared for a friends husband during his last months in his home, and another good friend who is house-bound. So I felt she was reliable. After she had cleaned for me a couple times and I learned she has 3 indoor cats I thought maybe she would want to help us out with ours. She doesn’t live far away so I thought it wouldn’t be too hard for her to sit for them. She seemed happy to do so and earn some money. So this trip was essentially a test to see how it all worked out. 

We went for three nights. We decided on Cremona in the Lombardia region, and Parma in the Emilia Romagna region. Cremona is the home of the most famous violins. There has been very bad flooding in the Emilia Romagna region in the past week. 15 people have died and tens of thousands are homeless. It is a horrible disaster. The bad flooding was at the mouths of the rivers in the coastal towns. Rimini, Ravenna, Cesena, Forlì and many more smaller towns are badly damaged. We knew our hotel was just near the big Po river so asked if all was ok before we left. It was, they said, ok.

After a longer drive than necessary due to traffic we arrived at our hotel, Antica Corte Pallavicina. Well, we sort of arrived. We drove down a dead end road and were at a building with many signs. Pointing many directions. After driving on this tiny muddy roads we finally went in the building there and it turned out to be the hotel. It is pretty soggy here after the rains.

Amazing building built in the 1300s just next to the River Po. It is a working farm. They have a lot of white cattle in the fields around the house (Eden😉). They also sell the famous DOC controlled ham called Culatello. They grow the vegetables in the gardens that are served in the restaurants (there are two, a Hosteria del Maiale, and  a fancy place, same name as the hotel – a Michelin one star) They grow the wheat with which they make the delicious bread. The bread here is nothing like Umbrian or Tuscan bread, which has no salt and is tasteless. This is yeasty and salty. Yummy.

The room was not what I expected. We were in one of the two towers of the original building. There is a big living room with armoire, table, two chairs and a sofa. And a bathroom with shower. Then, up a very scary set of stairs is the bedroom, situated in the tower. It has itty bitty windows around the room. About the size of a 3×5 index card. I suppose for keeping a lookout? Shooting arrows? (They’re also windows like these on the bottom floor). But the whole idea of having to go up and down those stairs in the middle of the night to the bathroom was not to my liking to say the least. I guess what do you expect from a 14th century castle?

Scary stairs

We had a nice glass of wine on the terrace. There is a peacock here. He is extremely loud and displays often. I haven’t seen any peahens yet. There is also a kind of a pond which is full of frogs all in a high state of sexual arousal calling (or should I say croaking out?) for love. Then there are the cats. Very very pretty cats. Some with long hair. A real menagerie.

Dinner was disappointing. I loved the place. The ancient building. The look of it. And there was a shop selling the famous ham called Culatello. The Hosteria is a stop gap for the night the fancy restaurant is closed. Our starters were good but the secondi were definitely not good. But it was OK. We took our bottle of red wine onto the terrace where Luther could smoke his cigar. There was a group of four motorcyclists also there. Two from Germany and two spoke English, so English was the common language. There was another couple here as well. 

The shop

Tuesday May 23

We headed out to breakfast in the same building as the dinner last night, where we were ignored. Place is strange. The breakfast was serve yourself from a buffet. We ordered a bottle of water which never came. There were no plates so I had to ask for them. The good thing was I liked the cheese a lot. Very unusual. During my 3 breakfasts. The man never asked if we wanted coffee. Got cereal once. No spoons. The bread was horribly stale. And as a teaser there were fresh loaves being sliced right on the counter opposite. Oh well, we ended up fed.

The cheeses were amazing. This was my breakfast one day.

After breakfast, off we went to Cremona. The day was absolutely glorious. The Giallo Angelo with the top down for the first time this year. It took around 30 minutes of winding around the local highways to get into town. This part of Italy, all up and down the Po river, is extremely industrial. So it is unattractive. But once we got into Cremona we enjoyed it a lot.

The city was a real surprise. It is a city of 71,000 so it is not terribly big, and the traffic was light and polite. We parked and walked into the center. Lots of shopping. Pedestrian streets and cafes and bars everywhere. And extremely quiet. Sometimes we could see nor hear anyone.  I don’t know if I have said, but I like less frenetic and crazy-busy cities. Smaller mid-sized towns are for me. Cremona fit that bill just right. Bikes are the preferred way to travel.

Our goal was the Museum of Violins. Cremona is the city of art and music. The great luthiers all lived and worked there. Also many great composers. The Museum was great. It took you through the process of making a fine violin and then there was a room that kind of took your breath away. Full of the finest violins from the 1500s. Incredibly beautiful and delicate. Made by the famous Luthiers Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri. The last room was a small theater where they were showing videos of artists playing the fine old instruments we had just seen in glass cases. We assumed the instruments benefit from playing. And the music was ethereal. Good violin music always makes me cry.

Luthiers workshop
The “treasure room”. All the oldest instruments made by the Maestri.
This one was the oldest. Made in 1566 by Maestro Andrea Amati

After this we walked over to the cathedral. Amazing piazza surrounded by old buildings and the 11th century cathedral and the tower 112 meters / 369 feet tall. Hard to take it all in in photographs. Needless to say the cathedral is nothing like the original having been added to and changed throughout the centuries. The interior was ginormous. Just an immense space. No stained glass, which surprised me. Many highly ornate altars etc.

Now, ready for a light lunch, we went right across the street to a cafe. Nothing makes me happier than to sit on an ancient piazza in the outside air of a gorgeous perfect day with some vino and watch the people. And the lunch of salads was just right.

We walked back to the car and headed back to the hotel. All along the road were signs for cherries for sale. I think cherries are my favorite spring fruit. They are also having a cherry festival nearby. 

Back at the hotel the peacock yelled at us as we walked past to kick back for a couple of hours before dinner.

Dinner was a disappointment considering it was a Michelin One Star restaurant. Pretty room. The people were way too serious. They had several big tasting menus. They explained them to to us. Neither of us felt up to a big long dinner so we decided to order a la carte. Two courses each. It was as though they kind of lost interest in us at this point.

After our two courses we left, didn’t even give them time to ask if we wanted dessert. Outside it was lovely. We enjoyed the moon and Venus setting in the sky.

Wednesday May 24
Off we went after another breakfast where we were ignored.  It was amusing at this point. Today, it was Parma. About a forty minute drive on smallish roads with lots of trucks.

The city has 175,000 people, so it was quite a bit bigger than Cremona. We found parking and walked into town to visit the Palazzo della Pilota which has the Teatro Farnese within its complex. The Teatro Farnese, in Parma, was the court theater of the Dukes of Parma and Piacenza. It was built starting from 1618 to celebrate the stay in Parma of the grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II, on his way to Milan. It was finished that year but not inaugurated until 1628 because of an illness that caused Cosimo to cancel his pilgrimage. It was finally inaugurated for the occasion of the wedding of Odoardo, Ranuccio’s son, with Margherita di’ Medici, Cosimo’s daughter. The theater was only used eight more times due to the complexity and cost of it’s use.

We left the theater because a woman said we couldn’t go back the way we came. So we ended up entering a door to the gallery of art and going backwards through the exhibits. Didn’t really matter much. Here are a few pictures.

Loved her expression
This is a Leonardo da Vinci

Off we went to see the cathedral. We used our google maps to navigate but we could hear the big bell tolling for midday and could follow it’s sound. It was a really big bell. Deep and and slow. Many more than 12 times. I love bells. Bad news is that it closed at noon. We arrived at 12:15. Oh well. We decided to have a pre-lunch glass of wine.

Look at this place! I would love to know who lives here. High in the sky above the cathedral piazza.

Our lunch destination was Osteria del 36. A very old (since the 1880s), very traditional restaurant. Just what the doctor ordered. The cameriere was super nice and friendly. We had some very delicious food. I started with the tortellini in brodo, Luther had a gnocci dish topped with smoky scarmorza cheese. I got the duck breast which was prepared just right IMO. The gelato crema was too good to pass up but it was a big bowl. It was very soft, like soft custard cones in the US, and had chocolate sauce. Best gelato ever.

Duck, so perfectly cooked.

On the way back to the car we stopped into a prosciutto shop. They also had other local specialties, wines, parmigiana reggiano .

Thursday morning we checked out and headed back home to our boyz. Rocky and Simba. Here is a picture of the cantina under the building full of Parmigiana reggiano being aged.

We got home in 3.5 hours. Along the route there was ample evidence of the flooding in the coastal areas. But the worst was in the mountains through which we must go to get to Umbria. The rains caused many landslides and the evidence of the normally small river rampaging through the valley was significant. The good news is our boyz were fine with their new caretaker. So this will allow us to travel in the future for shorter trips.

Odds and ends. Final thoughts

We are settled back in now. It is raining steadily, day and night. This encourages the Tiber river to jump it’s banks. It is supposed to rain for most of the next week. It could get higher.

This is a kind of wrap up from our vacation. Best and worst. Some random pictures from my big camera. I have to wait to get home to off-load them. The first three are the Alsace. I adored that dog who knew how to chill. The last picture is of the alps in Germany covered with new snow.

See the dog?

Best and worst.
Best room — the apartment in Potschach
Worst room — Maison Bergdorf Interlaken
Best breakfast — tie between Herrsching and the last night in Slovenia.
Best lunch — tie between Gasthaus Obermühle and Osteria del Centenario in Locarno
Worst lunch — Das Pumpe, Klagenfurt (not awful, but awful for you!)
Best dinner — Hiša Franko
Best lake — Königssee
Today is election day here in Italy. I am sorry to read that the far right parties are predicted to win by a landslide. Anti-immigration. Anti-abortion. Sound familiar? You just can’t get away from it, it seems. The only ray of sunlight is that the coalitions probably won’t last and there will be a new election.😑

Trip Report – Part six – Kobarid, Slovenia 

Thursday, September 22
I got up this morning to see the lake and mountains shrouded in a thin layer of fog. Beautiful.

Goodness! What a ride today! We left Pörtschach at about 10:45. It was a nice and relaxing stay. The apartment was comfy. Everything was very low-key. I chose a route that took us through the mountains to get to our next destination. Oh my. It was thrilling, scary, and beautiful. We took an autobahn south out of Austria and into Slovenia. Then, when we got to the turnoff to Bled we exited. We had visited Bled once before. Very pretty lake with an island, and there is a castle high on a bluff.

The road headed up a long valley with high mountains and a pretty river. When the road got to the head of the valley we headed up up up. It was a very narrow paved road with many switchbacks. Many kilometers later we reached the summit at around 1,500 meters. There was a camp ground and a restaurant there. It was 12:30 so we decided to stop. Nice place which had some cabins and I am sure ample hiking. We had salads. Mine was roasted veggies, a fried cheese and lots of greens. We didn’t want to eat too much since we were destined for a nice restaurant for dinner.

We descended from the heights. At one point we met a tractor trailer coming upwards towards us. Where he was going up there I have no idea! There’s not much up there. I wasn’t exaggerating that the road was narrow. It was not for the faint of heart!  As we got lower there were a few more towns. Then we were in another valley. The mountains were spectacular. At one point we had to stop for cows being driven across the road. Here are a bunch of pictures! They are all shot from the car so none are great.

Luther wanted this one…guess why.

We arrived in Kobarid. It is the capital of its province but has only 4,400 people. There is a beautiful river called the Soca, which draws rafters. We found our destination, Hiša Franko, a Michelin 2 star restaurant. People checking us in were very nice. We have a nice room and our dinner is at 7:30. Wine on the patio after a long drive was just right.

I loved these chairs and tables. Woven textiles.

If you aren’t a foodie or person who likes food experiences, you should skip this part.

Where to start? How does one describe what is called what is called Reincarnation 2022? Hiša Franko has a set 14 course menu. They make changes for those who say they have food intolerances, or for those who have allergies…but they dont like it 🙂. We have none so they were happy when we went with the ”experience “. Instead of describing all the dishes I took a picture of the menu. Sorry it got a little wrinkled.

So now for the pictures…in order of the courses, except for anything I captioned.

My cocktail.

So — how did we like it? We really did enjoy the ”experience”. It was one-of-a-kind. I could happily go back. The people were great…if quirky. Actually the whole place was quirky. But it added to the fun. A bit of a blow-out for our last night on vacay.

Breakfast was amazing too. So many choices. Home made yogurt that you could drink. All sorts of fruit. Cantaloupe, blueberries and a whole bowl of other fruit. Granola, juice, bread, good coffee, cookies, honey, jam and butter. You could also order special things but we did not. It was nice.

Dining room and breakfast room.
Outside the reception area.,

Guess where we are now. 🙂 Yep. Back home in Umbertide. At our local market buying good things to eat. Our great house sitters have gone. We really appreciated them. They allowed me to have no worries for my cats while traveling.

Now it is time for all the chores that must be done in the fall. Stufa cleaning. Inspection of the caldaio. And we are trying to sort out a clogged up gutter. The gutter is high above Via Grilli which is very narrow. When it rains hard, it is like a waterfall into the street. What will this entail? Well, we aren’t sure but it looks like we need a cherry picker truck, an operator, and maybe a plumber. Oddly plumbers install gutters here. We have enlisted help from our friend and former real estate agent Jim. He knows alot, but he admits, this is all new to him too… stay tuned!

Trip Report – Part five – Pörtschach am Worthersee, Austria

Monday, September 19
Off we went to our next destination. Pörtschach am Worthersee, Austria. Raining steadily when we left our hotel with very wintery temperatures. Sad because this looks like a super lovely place to go. The hotel people assure us this is very unusual. All the high mountains around us are snow-covered. Odd that it was hot just a few days ago, and now cold.

Chairs in the garden of the hotel. Too cold to use them.
It was those two big rocks thrusting up i wanted to photo

2.5 hours later we arrived at our destination. The first part of the drive was on small roads over the high mountains. Very beautiful. We crossed the Germany/Austria border up high. Then we got on an Autobahn and the rest of the way was smooth sailing on the fast roads, except for a few construction zones. Along the way were castles and pretty scenery.

We arrived in Pörtschach at about 1:15. We parked and noted that we were very near our hotel. We found the Bad (spa) restaurant with pretty lake views where we had lunch. Very expensive but the wine we got was my favorite since the Franken wine we had. Here was our view from the table.

Our lunch view
The wine I liked

We walked and found our check-in place. I booked us into Werther Strandcasino. It is a building of apartments next to the resort also called Werther. We aren’t sure if they are affiliated. The man showed us our apartment which is on the ground floor for a change. Three of the hotels put us on the third floor, no elevators. I was happy to have no steps this time. The apartment is very spacious and very modern. Big walk in closet, separate toilet, bath with washer, big living dining room, kitchen with all you need, big bedroom. Also we are right on the lake with a pretty garden outside. The living room and bedroom have doors outside. One side has an outside sofa and table and chairs with sunshade. It’s really quite beautiful. The price is €135 a night. 

View from the living room
Our terrace
From the terrace.
In the garden right behind our patio.

OK, here’s something that doesn’t happen every day. Luther put his change on the table and this happened. That coin, on it’s edge, sat that way all night before we noticed it. Very unusual! Reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode, only in our case Luther couldn’t hear people’s thoughts. A little disappointing.😉

There are signs of autumn everywhere. There are piles of pumpkins and goods for sale along the roads everywhere!

We went out for groceries since we have a kitchen. We stopped in what was billed as a wine store. Mostly Italian wine. Hard to find the good Austrian wines here. I don’t get it. Austria makes great wine. Then we went to a small grocery. Bought stuff for breakfast and for 2 dinners if we decide to cook in. We are here three nights so we could cook twice and go out once. We will decide later.

Tuesday, September 20
Arose a little late. We only planned a walk around our town and along the lake today. We had spaghetti aglio olio (worlds easiest dish) for dinner last evening and sat outside afterwards. Nice.

We made coffee in our little pot and toast in the toaster, which is a little odd as it doesn’t accept a regular slice of bread all the way. Part of it doesn’t get toasted. Then we read and checked mail etc, and finally went out around 11:30. Pretty sunny day. The town of Pörtschach is quiet. Even though it is only mid September it looks like the season is done. There were few people walking the pretty promenade. Evidently this town used to be a real destination for the rich back in the 1880s. Brahms even stayed in this hotel. There are quite a few vintage buildings and some private homes right along the water are stunning. I found this one sweet little house which is rented out as an apartment. It is so cute and I love the perspective in this picture.

Sweet little house.
View along our lake walk.

After the promenade we walked into the wee town and looked in the few shops. Then stopped in the grocery for salt, which we didn’t think of yesterday. Next up, lunch. We went back to our hotel to try the on-site restaurant. Turns out it has both German/Austrian specialties and…Indian! Hah! I decided to get chicken curry as a change. It was only OK. I can make much better. It was super bland. But that figures. Germans/Austrians don’t like anything spicy. But the outside tables made up for that and we watched the small boats, and the big ferries which docked just next to the restaurant. 

One of the ferries from our lunch table.
Our dining companion.

Wednesday, September 21
The last few nights, while sitting outside enjoying the evening, we have gravitated to exploring different things we are both interested in knowing about. Using the internet of course. First we explored geology. We learned a lot about rocks and their formation. Last night we learned about Charlemagne and Barbarossa and their campaigns in Italy. There were so many characters. And so much conflict! Sadly I have concluded, humans are doomed to fight. Forever.

Up early and enjoyed our coffee and toast before setting off to visit and explore Klagenfurt. It is the capital of Carthenia, a region of Austria. It is a pretty sleepy place. Not that much traffic or activity. Luther commented that no one seems to be in a hurry. For a place with a population of 100,000 it’s very quiet.

We parked and walked into the Mitte. We visited the overly baroque church, and found the pedestrian area with lots of shops. Then we visited the Museum of Modern Art. It was a big disappointment. All of it was focused on architecture. Maybe if you are an architect it would be interesting…but somehow I doubt it. 

Baroque church — and how!!
Pretty passage
That entire roof is copper. It must be new since it hasn’t turned green yet.
The Rathaus.

Next we decided to sit in the warm sunshine and have a glass of wine. Very enjoyable. They put a little bowl of snacks out with the wine. There were what looked just like cheezits except they were brown. I tasted one…peanut flavored! Actual peanuts would have been better.

Then it was time for lunch. Luther had picked out Das Pumpe. Since the 1800s it’s been serving beer and food. It is definitely no frills. But lively and full of people. We sat and ordered two of the Puntigamer lagers. Really good.

Perusing the menu we decided we would both get the Berner Wurstl with fries and a green salad. We know what wursts are so we thought it would be light. Were we surprised when we got our plates! Two sausages that looked exactly like hot dogs, split and filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon, then cooked until crisp. A heart attack on a plate! Came with good German mustard and ketchup. The salad was typical. They couldn’t make a salad in Germany or Austria without all their jarred pickled vegetables. Pickled red cabbage, pickled beans, pickled carrots. On the bottom potato salad, and on top lettuce. We could fool ourselves into thinking it was offsetting the wursts. But that would be lieing.

Once done we found a wine shop Luther was looking for and he bought three bottles of wine. And we returned to the car, and then homeward to our hotel. It was a fun, if rather low key outing. 

Tonight we will eat in our apartment, and then tomorrow we go onward to our last stop, Slovenia for just an overnight and to try a restaurant there. We had booked this in June 2020 but as we all know, no one could travel then and the restaurant was closed. So since it was on our way we thought we would try again. Tschüs !!

Trip Report – Part four – Schönau am Königssee, Germany

Friday, September 16
We headed out to our next destination, Schönau am Königssee.  Just near Berchtesgaden and right near Salzburg in Austria.

It sprinkled rain on and off and there were momentary bursts of sun. The alps would have been amazing if the sun was shining. We chose a southerly route to avoid the Munich traffic. It was a beautiful road. 

We got on the autobahn and headed towards Berchtesgaden. It didn’t take long. We exited and drove along smaller roads. It was lunch time so we were in search of a Gasthaus. We came upon the Gasthaus Obermühle, a pretty building with flowers and blue shutters. The parking lot was next to a pretty brook and a field full of noisy ducks and geese.

Inside it was warm and cosy. The waiter was very nice. He brought menus. At last, there was Forelle on the menu! This is trout. And I have always loved Forelle Müllerin Art. We had a really lovely salad with pretty flowers in it and a nice bitter arugula with many crispy greens. Then the trout with tasty parsley potatoes. A totally satisfying lunch. Afterward, I was tempted by the honey ice cream. Made from honey from their bees. I couldn’t resist!

I almost missed noticing these tiny dolphins made from lemon peel.

We went on into Berchtesgaden and bought a little something for dinner and headed for Stoll’s Hotel Alpina. The weather was now sucky. Steady rain. Our room is comfy with a nice balcony. It will be perfect for our three day stay.

Saturday, September 17
Downright cold here this morning! They were predicting a high of 8C or 46F! Breakfast was typical German, and the place is crawling with them. 😁 This place caters to families (what was I thinking?) and there were a lot of kindern, running around madly. One group of Dads seemed to get ”Dad duty” yesterday. The Moms were nowhere to be seen. They had four little ones under four I would say. If they could harness the energy they have it would power the world! They even have a ”chill” area for the kids for them to let off steam. We passed by it and it was a madhouse! After breakfast we put on every warm piece of clothing I brought and set out.

Luther has always wanted me to go with him to the Eagles Nest. It was built by Adolph Hitler and was a sort of conference center for him where momentous decisions were made about war, and life and death. It sits way high on the tippy top of the Obersalzberg. There is an elevator made of brass which was drilled up through the mountain. It rises to what was “the summit of power” during the Nazi regime. It was built to impress. Evidently they had to blast a road out of a shear rock cliff to create the road that reached the elevator. It was 6 kilometers long and crossed the rock face twice with one switchback.

Today you drive to a parking lot and take a bus from there to the elevator level. There is a restaurant in the building now. It is one of the few buildings built by Hitler and the Nazis that wasn’t destroyed after the war.

Luther bought tickets online for the bus. We were to depart at eleven am. It rained through the night and was still raining when we got up. Optimistically we proceeded with the plan and had breakfast and headed out. It is only a 15 minute drive from our hotel. As luck would have it, it was not raining when we got to the bus departure point. It was also not raining at the elevator drop off point…it was not raining, it was snowing! They cancelled the buses. Too dangerous. Sigh. I really had looked forward to seeing it even if I wouldn’t be able to see any of the magnificent alps around it and the views.

We left in defeat. Returning to Berchtesgaden we parked and and walked along the Main Street in the town. It was cute with a big schloss platz with a pretty church and also prettily decorated buildings. We bought some sausages and meat and some wine in a couple of stores with Bavarian specialties. I found a great pair of boiled wool slippers! They will be perfect for the winter. It began to rain and was noon so we ducked into a small wine bar and had some wine.

Sadly, this very traditional gasthoff serves Chinese food.

We stopped in the grocery store for more cheese, grapes and bread. Also I bought mustard to take home. I have always loved the sharp German mustard. And we took a look to see if here they have the equivalent of zip lock bags. They did! So we bought some.
Later. This night we decided to try out the restaurant in the hotel. Turned out to be nicer than I expected. Good service and traditional German food. I like fish but I don’t order it often mainly because of how it is prepared. I like it simple. The way they prepare fish here in Germany is exactly how I like it. I guess that’s why I have been ordering it often lately.

I ordered the whole Char. It was served whole and grilled on top of a pile of roasted vegetables. It was delicious. It looks big, but once it is beheaded, de-tailed and the spine and bones removed you end up with two small filets. Luther fulfilled his wish to get a Wiener Schnitzel, which came with preiselbeere.

Sunday, September 18
The weather report was not promising. It was supposed to rain all day with a high of 50F. We went out to get gas, find an ATM and have lunch.

We left the hotel at around 12:15 and went first to get gas. Turns out they also sold the Vignette required in Austria so Luther bought that too. Then we found an ATM and got some money. Three things off our list so tomorrow we can just head for Austria. 

We went down to the Königssee. It is a small-ish lake cut back in the Jurassic by glaciers. It is only 7.7 kilometers by 1.7 kilometers at its longest and widest. But it gets as deep as 190 meters or 600 feet. It is Germany’s third deepest lake. It is surrounded by the biggest alps in Germany — 2,700 (8,900 feet). It is much like a fjord since the walls of the mountains plunge straight into the water. There are no paths around most of the lake because there is literally no room for one. The end with the small town of Schönau does have some nice lakeside paths and from that end you can take a boat tour of the lake. The water is crystal clear because since 1909 they have allowed only electric boats on the lake.

It was very beautiful.

We went to Echostüberl for lunch. Right on the shores of the lake. A slew of outside tables made me wish for a nice day, but it was still raining so we went inside. It was cosy, warm and very lively. Very Gemütlich.

On the way back to the hotel. After the filling lunch we decided we will eat in the room since we have plenty of food left. Tomorrow it is only a 2.5 hour drive to Pörtschach, Austria.

Trip Report – Part three – Herrsching, Germany

Tuesday, September 13
It was a drive across Germany this day. All on Autobahns. It was just as I remembered — parts of the road were light in traffic and had no speed limits, and then there were the staus (traffic jams) mostly caused by road work. It was around 4.5 hours. Luther did get the Giallo Angelo up to around 190 kph – around 120 mph – AND we were passed by cars going faster. A one of a kind thing, the German Autobahns.

Unable to find a restaurant we stopped in a rest stop to get something to eat. Then proceeded and arrived in Herrsching am Ammersee around 2:45. The nice lady told us to sit in the garden where we enjoyed a glass of wine while our room was being finished. We decided to reserve in their restaurant for that evening.

We wanted to stretch our legs a bit so we walked down to the lake, maybe a ten minute walk. There were a ton of people there. There is a path around the lake and there are a couple places to eat or get a drink.

The Alps to the south
Kur haus.

After showers and naps we felt ready to go again. We had a bottle of wine brought up and had a glass, then went down to dinner. I didn’t take pictures. The food was the second best on this trip. It has been a culinary disappointment so far. I had carpaccio and a tagliatelle with Steinpilzen. Can’t get away from Italian cuisine around here! Steinpilzen are the same mushroom as Porcini or Cepes. They are just being foraged out in the woods now as autumn is the season. If I see them I get them. Or order them. All was good. We retired to the garden and then to bed.

Wednesday, September 14
They have a terrific breakfast here. Wowie. And I was interested that not one single thing on our table was waste. Everything was in individual glass jars. We each had five little jars to choose from. They contained fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, butter, or a fruit and cream dish. Then came the meats and cheeses and breads. Good German bread with many kernels and seeds. Confiture, jams, honey rounded it out. Oh, and fresh squeezed juice and not-too-bad coffee. It was perfect.

After breakfast we went for a walk to the lake and along the path that goes around it. It was lovely except for the weather. The wind was fierce and there was intermittent rain. But it wasn’t that bad that we didn’t continue. We watched the paragliders, and the wind surfers. They were in their element.  Returning to Herrsching we decided lunch was in order so we stopped in the Seehof Herrsching. It was right on the lake. We had fish with potato salad and a great wine from Franken (in very northern Bavaria). A wine we remembered from our days in Frankfurt. It is in a distinctive shaped bottle called bocks beutel — translates as a goats testicles 🙂. It was drier that what we had been drinking and much more to my liking.

We took a different route through town and made a reservation for dinner in Zum Post, near our hotel and it has a real beer garden. Should be interesting!
Dinner was exactly what we expected. A German dinner. In a German restaurant.  We had Augustinerbrau Oktoberfest beer. And Luther got his schnitzel and I had fried chicken with salad. Oktoberfest in Munich starts this Saturday. First one in 3 years due to Covid. I am sure it will be swamped.

Thursday September 15
After another fine breakfast we drove to the next lake over called Starnbergersee. First to the town called Starnberg. The day had changeable weather. Clouds, then sun, then spitting rain. But not too bad. We visited the Starnberg museum. It was a great exhibition of life around the lake back in the 1700s and 1800s. They had amazing pleasure boats that sailed the waters. King Ludwig came there regularly. There was an exhibit of old photographs from then. They showed everyday life. There were many schlosses along the banks of the lake. They had all sorts of competitions in boats like jousting, and racing. I took some pictures.

This is the house of the photographer. It was built in the 1400s. That door is shorter than me!
From the house to a nearby house and garden. Really old glass.
House from outside. Note the rocks holding the roof on. Very common in Germany and Austria.
One if the pleasure boats that used to sail the lake.
Model of one of the big boats. They were very fancy inside.
Starnbergersee. Alps barely visible due to clouds.

Then we drove down to the other end of the lake to a pretty town called Bernried am Starnberger See. Really pretty village. It was lunchtime and we found a place called Seeblick. Another very German but leaning more upscale than a Bierstub or Biergarten.  I had a very nice Zanderfilet that was grilled (for an change from fried) with lots of vegetables. Very nice. 

Tomorrow we head east to near Berchtesgaden. This is where Hitler had his Eagles nest. I hope the weather reports are wrong because it calls for rain all three days of our visit ☹️.

Trip Report – Part two – Alsace, France 

Saturday September 10
We checked out of Maison Bergsorf and headed north. It had rained overnight and there were still clouds but small patches of blue too. We waited until ten o’clock to leave so the race could get started up the mountain. The ride was uneventful. Once we got past Thunsee, the other lake beside Interlaken, it got ugly fast. People don’t think of Switzerland as ugly. There is not much pretty once you leave the Alps. We did pass through Ementaler, the cheese making region, and it was pretty.

It took around three hours to get into France. We tried to find a place to eat lunch but had no luck. We stopped in a small town called Ensisheim. There was a cute place but it had a function that evening so was closed for lunch. They directed us to the Boeuf Rouge. Another cute place but it looked like a beer hall inside. So many people. And they were full. So we tried our luck in Colmar. Hah! The place was awash in tourists. Things have changed since we were here. Way more tourists.

We gave up on lunch and drove on to Obernai, our destination. Way back in the 1990s, we lived near Frankfurt Germany. It is only 2.5 hours from this part of France. We spent many weekends here. And we love A La Cour d’Alsace, our hotel. It’s a small place and I had trouble getting three free days so this vacation kind of revolves around this location. Anyway, we drove in and parked in their nice parking lot and checked in. As we walked to our room I told the lady we used to come there long ago. Turns out she had been working here for 29 years, so she was here back when we visited. She seemed pleased that we had returned.

Our hotel

We relaxed a bit and ate the only food we had with us, olives. 🙂 Then we took a stroll in town. It is a really sweet town with a lot more in it that it used to have. Happily, it also seems not to be aimed exclusively at tourists. The shops were useful to the locals as well. There were a lot of restaurants along a new-to-us pedestrian street. I snapped some pictures. These are all in Obernai.

Back in the hotel I watched some of the tributes to Queen Elizabeth. William and Kate and Harry and Megan were greeting the crowds. She was well loved. And I watched a little of King Charles’ speech. He is no Queen Elizabeth! I wonder how he will do.

Later we had dinner in the winstube restaurant. The hotel has this one and a gourmet one. I like the more casual one. We had a good enough dinner. I wouldn’t give it high marks. I had snails and a chicken breast with spaetzle and vegetables. 

Sunday September 11
When I looked at the date I was reminded of the day and what happened this day 21 years ago. I won’t ever forget.

We planned to have breakfast in the hotel but the dining room was full. So we walked down the street and found a little place that served petit déjeuner. We had a half baguette with butter and jam and a café au lait. The latter was awful. No discernible coffee in it.

We drove off, top down, to explore La route des vins d’Alsace. It is the oldest wine route in France and has always been a favorite of ours. It winds through the small villages which are all rated Villes et Villages Fleuris. They give one to four flowers on a sign when entering the town according to how many flowers they have. The Alsace has a lot of flowers. They also grow more grapes than just about anyplace that we have ever been. Even Italy. Miles and miles, acres and acres of vines as far as the eye can see. Amid all this are the little villages all all painted vibrant colors leaning to peaches, terra cottas, yellows, but sprinkled with blues, reds and purples. The roofs are all terra cotta tiles. 

Stork nest on top of the gate. There are lots of storks.
Another stork

We drove as far south as Riquewihr. It’s a pretty walled village set in the vineyards. I was on a mission. Long ago, when we regularly visited the Alsace, I bought wine glasses of a certain type called Roemer. They have green stems that are thick and ridged. At home we are down to our last two glasses. Sad. So I aimed to buy some more. There was a store in Riquewihr that always had them. But no more. It seems these glasses are now “vintage” and no longer made. A major disappointment. I will keep an eye out while in Germany because they have these glasses too but their stems are not as bright green. I would still buy them. They are kind of part of our lives!

One of the gates into Riquewihr.
Riquewihr has always been popular with the tourists.
Love the blue building.

We had a mediocre lunch of Tarte Flambé. It is an Alsatian speciality. Similar to a very thin crusted pizza with cheese and bacon bits on it. But there are variations. I got one with chèvre cheese and ham. Luther got one with fontina. 

Chèvre tart flambé

Back at the hotel for catching up with our emails. And this journal. Tonight we wander into town and see what sort of restaurant we can find.
We decided to eat at La Dime. It is a traditional Alsacien restaurant with all the usual dishes. We know from experience that the portions are large so we just ordered an entrée. I got the entrecôte with frites. Luther got the cordon bleu. They were OK. It was a big place with a real crowd. Most people were locals, so I guess this is what they like. 

We walked back and sat in the garden at the hotel so Luther could smoke a cigar. The moon was rising. It was a nice night.

Monday September 12
We woke up a little late and didn’t go out for breakfast. I was able to make coffee in the room. At around eleven we walked in the other direction from how we had been walking towards the edge of town. Our mission – a wine tasting at Robert Blanck winery. It wasn’t a terribly long walk. There were shops to see along the way. I liked this dragon…

When we got there there was a lovely young woman named Valerie, daughter of the owner, who enthusiastically let us taste whatever we wanted. She spoke excellent English and we really enjoyed talking to her. She was so nice we bought six bottles of their wine. 

A very cluttered tasting room

The winery has 40 hectares of vines. And produces 120,000 bottles in a normal year. The property is spread around in small bits and pieces because the inheritance laws are set by the Germans. First you need to understand the history of the Alsace. They have flipped between masters over the centuries. Germany, France, Germany, France. The border, when Germany owned them was the top of the mountain range called the Vosges. When it was owned by the French, the border was the Rhine river. The region has its own language, Alsatian. It sounds much like German. Anyway, the inheritance laws allowed multiple heirs so the properties were split between them. This makes for smaller properties overall. The Blanck family owns acreage in a few different places nearby. The inheritance laws in France say the entire property goes to the firstborn son. So the property stays intact and the vineyards there tend to be large with the Chateaux for the owners. Except in Burgundy, but I won’t go there now. 🙂

So after that fun outing we walked back, left the wine at the hotel and went into town. There are no really highly rated restaurants in Obernai. We chose one but it was full. So we just went to the first place with tables free. It turned out to be good enough. Again too much food for me. I got the cod in a crust. It came with a lovely little tower of roasted vegetables, and a nicely done tagliatelle in pesto. I was craving pasta 🙂. Luther got the tart flambé again. This time with Munster cheese. The really stinky cheese they make here. 

The hours here don’t make any sense. The lunch starts at 12:00 and ends at 2:00. But the shops close from 1:00 to 3:00. At least in Italy the risposto jibes with the lunch hours!  So walking back to the hotel everything was closed up tight. Nothing to do be return to the room for naps

Lazy afternoon. We went out and bought a salad for dinner. We needed something lighter. We spent the evening on the terrace. We drank our newly purchased wines. Perfect weather. Tomorrow we head out to our next destination. Herrsching, Germany. A four and a half hour drive.

Stay tuned!

Trip Report – Part one – Lago Maggiore – the Italian lakes 

This is another trip report so please skip if you’re not interested.
This time I am doing something a little different. I am going to publish the report in separate posts along the way. The first leg was to the Italian Lakes. Specifically Lago Maggiore. And then a quick stop in Interlaken Switzerland.

Wednesday September 7
We left Umbertide at around 9:45. We had a long drive north. About six hours. Boring autostrade. Some not so pretty parts of Italy. We arrived at Lago Maggiore, our first destination. Our town is Oggibbio. Our hotel is Relais Villa Margherita. We arrived at 4:15. There had been an accident which made them detour all traffic off and through small towns to get back on. Probably lost 1/2 hour there.

Our hotel is lovely. These Italian lakes are surrounded by mountains which plunge straight down into the waters. This makes the towns have just one street along the lake. Very little parking. And then they build up the steep slopes some. Our hotel is up above the lake. The road up here is tiny. Not big enough for two cars to pass. We hold our breath up and down! Once up here the place is lovely. Pretty gardens, pool, lounge chairs and tables outside with views of the lake. The room is not so nice. Not pretty. No decorations at all. One chair for two people. No desk or table. There is a restaurant where we ate the first night. Food was good but not great.

After dinner we sat at a table at the bar where Luther could smoke a cigar. While we sat there a thunderstorm came through and took out part of the lights. We had to use our phone light to get back to our room.

A good beginning to our road trip.

Front garden of our hotel

Thursday September 8
We breakfasted. Pretty good spread. Not great. We had more thunderstorms through the night. So the morning was fresh and clean and cool. Really pretty. 

We decided to drive to Locarno Switzerland for a walk about and maybe lunch. The drive on the single road along the lake was very slow. But very scenic. We had some difficulty with parking. The street parking only took Swiss francs and we had none. We parked in a parking garage where we got stuck because the Casse wouldn’t take our Euros. We had to go to the store above to purchase something so we could get our parking ticket validated so we could get out. The benefit was we got our change in Swiss francs so we had some money.

We moved closer to the lakefront promenade and parked at the train station. It was already one o’clock. They eat earlier here than we do it Italy. Lunch starts at 11:30 and the kitchen closes at 2:00. So we had to hurry. We chose Osteria del Centenario. Primarily seafood. Nice lake view. As all things in Switzerland are, it was pricy. But that is ok. It is vacation!

My starter. Spiced watermellon.

We found a Bancomat/ATM and got some francs. And I got some insect spray at the farmacia. The mosquitoes are fierce on the lake. Returning to Italy the Giallo Angelo attracted the Italian border police. We had to show all our documents. They seemed interested in how much cash we were bringing into Italy. I guess that’s a big problem. 

Back at our hotel we kicked back and then went out and bought an excellent picnic at the local, itty-bitty Alimentare. Two hams, three cheeses. And a little bread. Perfect because we can each eat as much as we want.

There was nearly a full moon out. We sat outside again. It was beautiful.

Friday – September 9
We were headed for the middle of Switzerland today. Interlaken. The name is descriptive because it is between two lakes. The three big alps the Jungfrau, the Eiger, and the Monch nearby. 

The trip took around four hours with an hour break for lunch. We drove up a long valley from Locarno created by the Ticino river. This eventually reaches the Saint Gottard pass. They meter the traffic into the tunnel with traffic signals. Causes quite a back up but it’s better to be backed up in the outside than in the tunnel. The tunnel is 17 kilometers long. 

You pop out in the “real” Switzerland. You know, Heidi-land. So green. Beautiful pastures dotted with pretty Swiss houses and barns, all under towering alps. I snapped quite a few pictures for your pleasure.

We stopped in a little town on lake Vierwaldstattersee. We lunched in a little hotel with a restaurant on the lake. I had the lake fish and a nice salad. Luther also had fish. We decided to take the smaller scenic roads to Interlaken. It added about 45 minutes to our trip. But it was just beautiful, so worth it and top down weather.

We arrived at 3:45 at our hotel in Interlaken. Very quirky. I have no idea why I chose it! For one night it’s fine. There is a marathon tomorrow, from here to near the top of the Jungfrau — 4,158 meters/13,652 feet high. They are nutz!

Our hotel in Interlaken. Maison Bergdorf.

We took a walk into town to buy a picnic. I enjoyed watching the hang gliders landing in a big park. We spent the evening on the loggia watching the bats, reading, talking and having our picnic.

The ”salon”

When we checked out Luther mentioned we came from Italy and our hostess said the owners of the hotel were in Umbria now. In a place called Reschio. We had to smile. It is only 10 minutes from our house. A high roller enclave with rooms €1,000 a night. She said the owners were aiming for a place like Reschio. I guess they have another place they are fixing up. It sure could never be Maison Bergdorf! 🙂
Today onward — to the Alsace France.

Spain/Morocco/Portugal Cruise – part 2

Go to Part one of the trip

Wednesday June 22It was very cool this day. I even bought a sweatshirt from the ship store. We had docked in Gibraltar during the night. The “Rock” was not as expected. Turns out we were on the wrong side of it. Our side had vegetation and was not the pronounced, pointy granite face I had expected.

The Rock – from the wrong side

We didn’t take the tour to the top. We just decided to walk into Gibraltar city. It is known for its shopping. So — we shopped! I bought some new tanzanite earrings to go with the bracelet I bought on our trip to Turkey. And another pair of inexpensive earrings.

Gibraltar streets
Gibraltar streets
British live here

We went to Zoca, a small out of the way but pleasant place to have lunch…of what else? Tapas! These were good but since we now have many others to compare them to, they were not the best.

Patatas Bravas
Iberian ham
Steamed bread sandwich
Garlic shrimp
Beef – can’t remember what was under it.

The walk from the ship to the town was very long. But it wasn’t too hot. We returned and relaxed before heading to the briefing on the next port of call — Cadiz where we will be for a day and a half. Then we had dinner in Amphora and we even had dessert!

Thursday – June 23
I woke early and watched them dock the Star Pride in Cadiz. The town is right next to us today so not a long walk.

Really pretty city

After breakfast and a little earlier than we usually go out, we left to be assured we would get a map. They said the Tourist people are only there a couple hours. We successfully obtained maps and headed into the city. There were four walking tours on the map. We ended up following the pink/purple one. They painted lines on the streets so we could easily follow the way…except for the worn off bits…then the map was useful. It’s a lovely city. Pretty streets with nice architecture, balconies, wrought iron and embellishments on the buildings.

We visited the Cathedral which was crumbling. And enormous. We visited some pretty squares. The Plaza de Fiores with lots of flowers.

The Cathedral is crumbling. There are nets to keep the bits falling from the ceiling from hitting people.
Flower market
Pretty, colorful and billowing dresses.
I loved this wrought iron gate

Then we visited the huge indoor food market with vendors all along the two aisles with amazing seafood. We get good seafood in Italy but there was some that I couldn’t identify. Cadiz, being right beside the sea at the mouth of the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic has much to catch! The exterior vendors around the sides were all meats. And there were veggie places scattered about. It was great. I love a good market.

Beautiful shrimp
Tiny conchs
Pretty clams!
I had to look these up. I have never seen anything like them. They are barnacles! I didn’t know you could eat them.

We stopped for a glass of wine and to figure out where to go for lunch. They are more traditionally Spanish here. The restaurants don’t open until 1:30. Many tapas bars open at 4:30 or even 8pm. This is the Spain I remember from my first trip here many moons ago. I’m glad it still exists.

We chose Casa Rafael. It got good write ups and was open when we wanted to eat. It was a bare-bones neighborhood place. Rather understaffed and chaotic. The menu only in Spanish. We managed to get fed. We had the plate of cured meats. A bigger variety than I have ever seen. Then we had patatas bravas. Next gamberos grilled, and the salt cod. It was all good enough.

Casa Rafael
Obviously famous for their meats
Patatas bravas (again!)

We returned to the ship for naps. Thursday nights are always the big BBQ nights. We sat on the deck and the wind blew in a gale. It was so strong it blew the salad greens right off your plate! In thinking of the BBQs we enjoyed on the Wind Star ship in the past this one pales by comparison. There was a much smaller variety of starters. There was no grilled lobster, my favorite. And there were only flank steaks,  no other types nor did I see chicken.

Afterwards they cleared the deck for the line dancing. We moved to the top deck to watch. It was fun.

Getting ready to dance

Friday – June 24
Our second day in Cadiz was just a half day. We went out walking to a different part of the town and then went back to the ship for lunch in the Grill on the top deck. I had a hot dog! Don’t laugh! I haven’t had a good grilled dog in a very long time. And sometimes you just gotta have a dog if they are there!

hot dog!!

We watched sail-away to the Vangleis music – which doesn’t quite work on a non sailing ship, in my opinion. It was the most beautiful day. Sunny and the temperatures are perfect. We stayed on deck for a while and headed down for our siestas.

Later we went to the briefing for Casablanca. I was a little nervous about this one. He explained where we would dock. How we could get into town. There’s a shuttle bus and taxis. Two kinds of taxis petite and grand. The little ones are all red. The big ones are all white. The mosque in Casablanca is the third largest in the world. This minaret is over 600 feet tall. There are two Medinas – the old one and a new one.

We had dinner in Amphora and went topside for nightcaps. A pretty night. The ship was rocking a bit. But not enough to be a problem.

Saturday – June 25
We had gained an hour overnight. A new time zone for the rest of the trip. We arrived before seven and the tours went out at 7am promptly. One to Marrakech which was a twelve hour tour, and one to Rabat – five hours. We decided to just explore a little on our own.

We took the shuttle bus into town. Casablanca is Morocco’s big business city. It also has the largest port in the world. We were dropped off at the United Nations square. Easy to pinpoint because there is a big Hyatt hotel there. Turns out the Old Medina was just next to this and it was my first time on the continent of Africa.

Not beautiful!

Here are my impressions of the Old Medina. We were early so many stands were not yet open. Luther noted the electric lights around the stands and thought they might be open at night. The men working there were very persistent and I learned the code words “no shopping” and they left you alone. It was dark and dirty. There was trash everywhere. But I noticed the people were sweeping it into piles. Maybe someone comes and picks it up. Maybe it was left from the previous night. The food/fowl/fish market was very smelly. The chickens were pitiful. We took pictures and left. It was enough for us to see.

Loved these colours
Has he got a deal for you!

There were hundreds, maybe thousands of cats. Strays, skinny and sad. A tiny kitten mewed at us piteously. I doubted he would live much longer. I hate this. We saw not one dog. Berbers hate dogs.

We were still early, gaining that hour kind of messed us up some. We figured eating there wasn’t going to happen. We didn’t have any local currency anyway. So we returned to the ship where we had lunch and a siesta.

In the evening we are early and watched sail away. We also watched the late bus arrive back from the 12 hour tour to Marrakech. The road had been jammed by an accident. Then we watched the inept dock people destroy the Star Pride’s paint job by scraping and jerking with a fork lift the gangway. We finally got underway. Later we dropped into the bar where the duo was singing. They are good. There was a talent show where the crew gets to show off. I decided to give it amiss. The room was crowded, and I didn’t feel like sitting in a crowd. I am still sensitive to my surroundings after Covid lockdowns. I’m sure it was fun. Cindy and Bill went.

Beautiful sunset

Sunday – June 26
We sailed all night and half of the next day to arrive in Portimao Portugal. Overnight the seas were very rough. we did some rocking and rolling but it was like being rocked in a cradle while you slept.

We got up and went to breakfast and then to the Yacht club which is on the top deck in the front so we could watch our noon arrival. We had to go up a small river and it was narrow and shallow. There was a big tug which helped turns us 180 degrees for a fast getaway in the evening. We were only in Portimao for five hours.

Kicking up some mud.

We had signed up for a bus tour. An Algarve wine tasting and tour of a tiny town Silves. Algarve doesn’t make alot of wine and it never gets exported, so we weren’t familiar with it. The guide was good. the town of Silves was not much. It had a castle. It WAS Sunday so very quiet. The winemaker, Mark dos Vales, was a German man. Quite eccentric, but enthusiastic. We tasted a very good rose, a white, and two reds, along with a little bread and olive oil. A little more food would help since none of us had had lunch. We were glad we had taken the tour but it wasn’t the best. We got back to the ship just in time to let it get away for our last sail-away. It’s always sad to see your last sail-away.

Castle in Silves
All things made from cork. Hats even shoes! 90% of the worlds cork comes from Spain and Portugal
According to our guide they no longer migrate and are nuisances now. They sterilize their eggs.

We had our last dinner in Amphora. It is always hectic since you’ve got to get packed up to be able to have your suitcases into the hall by 6:30am.

Monday, June 27
We arrived and debarked on a transfer to the Altis Grand hotel in Lisbon. Our room was not ready and sadly the Windstar people dropped the ball badly by not telling us about a way to pre-check in which would give us priority for a room as soon as it became available. They just told us to go away and come back in six hours.

We did a huge long walk from our hotel to the seaside. The weather was quite cool so it was pleasant. We found O Trigueiros, a neighborhood restaurant which was great. It was packed with locals and because we got there early, we got a table. We were craving sardines since the wine tasting the day before when the winemaker mentioned eating them with his wines.. O Trigueiros delivered. A huge plate of delicious grilled sardines, with blistered, crispy skin served along with boiled potatoes and sliced tomatoes. Heaven! It was a lot of food, which we could not finish. It was a great little place and a cool experience!

Speciality of Lisbon. Custard tarta.
Fellow diners

Tuesday, June 28
We were up early – 5am – for our early flight with Portugal Air to Bologna to retrieve our car and return to our casa in Umbertide, where it has been unbearably hot for our entire trip. Our house sitters had a tough time. This is an unusually early heat wave. Normally we get this sort of heat in July/August – not June! Our flight was uneventful, if late. My sister was not so lucky. I hope when she gets home she will erase the ugly return and remember the lovely time we two sisters had together after three long years apart 💕


Best olives – El Cantón, Cartagena
Best Iberian ham – Mediamanga, Barcelona & Casa Rafael, Cadiz
Best Tapas – Cerveceria Catalan, Barcelona and Cerveceria Catalan, La Tranca, Malaga
Best Lunch – Cerveceria Catalan, Barcelona – La Tranca, Malaga and
Best seaport – Cadiz
Best city – Barcelona
Biggest disappoint – Gibraltar
Best shopping – Gibraltar
Worst meal – Candles and Cuadro44 on the Star Pride
Dirtiest place – Casablanca
Best tour – Barcelona
Most remarkable thing – Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Go to Part one of the trip

Spain/Morocco/Portugal Cruise – part 1 

Here’s another Trip Report so skip if you’re not interested

Lots of food pictures – of course! 
Go to Part Two of the trip

Tuesday – June 14
We left our casa in Umbertide in the capable hands of Liz and Mark, Canadian friends and cat lovers and we headed for Bologna where we overnighted before our nine AM flight to Barcelona. In Bologna we always stay at Hotel Bologna Airport where we get a room for the night and they keep our car during the trip. Not a fancy place, but adequate.

Wednesday – June 15 – Barcelona 
We took the shuttle and everything went without a hitch. No one paid any attention to our expired Permessi. Yay, and big relief. The flight was an hour and a half. Easy peasy. Arrived in Barcelona at 10:30. Got our luggage and met the driver who was transferring us to Casa Camper our favorite hotel in Barcelona. It is in the Gothic quarter, two blocks from Las Ramblas. We stayed here four or five years ago and loved the quirky vibe.

Our street
Outside our bathroom window. I love Casa Camper.

We had been in touch with my sister Cindy, on WhatsApp, who arrived from Virginia earlier than us. They were staying in a different hotel. It makes it more difficult being in hotels a 25 minute walk apart. But it’s just two days. We decided to meet up for lunch at Cerveceria Catalana – a popular Tapas place closer to them than us. We sat outside and had multiple plates and multiple bottles of wine. The food was soooo good. I am sorry I didn’t take more pictures of the food. This place had the best patatas bravas of the trip. Our waiter was soooo amusing. It was a lot of fun and this was the first time in three years I have been able to actually – physically – touch my sister. Emotional and overwhelming. 

Fried fish

We walked las Ramblas and then Cindy and Bill went back to their hotel. We returned to our hotel for naps and then later for snacks from the free kitchen in Casa Camper. They have an honesty bar on the roof deck area with bottles of wine and liquor for which you just fill out a form saying what you took. We sat outside where it had cooled off nicely and enjoyed some wine and Luther, his cigar, a gift from Mark, our house/cat sitter. A vintage Cuban cigar made in 1991. It was so well made and burned beautifully for a long time. Thank you Mark! It was a nice first day of our trip.

View from rooftop
Our wall of plants outside our bathroom window

Thursday – June 16 – Barcelona
This day we had our half day tour of Barcelona. We had a driver, Jorge, and Marta our guide, who owns Forever Barcelona. We were picked up at our individual hotels at nine AM and we started off with a walking tour of the Gothic quarter. We got a pretty good picture of how the city evolved. Where the ancient Roman walls were, where the Jewish quarter was until around 1050 when there was a riot and massacre. We saw the cathedral. The former forum, lots of interesting tidbits. Then we met up with Jorge and we drove to a panoramic view of the city. It has between 1.6 and 2 million people. It was a sleepy backwater until the 1992 Olympics put them on the map. Since then it has been a vibrant city.

The cathedral
Love the gargoyles
Ancient mailbox. The swallows say your mail will fly, but the turtle tells the tale.
So the bishop didn’t have to go outside.
Beneath the bridge
On our walkabout we came upon a schoolyard in an ancient plaza

Today was Corpus Christi. Every place we went had the ”floating egg”. It is the tradition. Here are the three we saw.

The highlight of the tour was Gaudi’s church of the Sagrada Familia. I was completely gobsmacked. The man was an insane genius. The church is still unfinished. They wanted it to be finished by 2023 – the 100th anniversary of his birth, but Covid put the kibosh on that. Now they aim for 2030. There is still much to be done. This was my first view of the cathedral. The large tower, center, unfinished, will be the highest spire.

The fruits. God’s bounty
Sculptures everywhere you look. Overwhelming.

Now for the spectacular interior. It literally took my breath away. It was like being inside an animal – so organic.

My first stunning glimpse of the interior of this amazing building
The pillars split at the top to resemble tree branches
light cast by blue stained glass windows

Exiting the church on the back side, which is newer and more abstract. The different sculptures were not all done by Gaudi. They were merely his vision created by other artists. Here is just one from outside the back. They all together tell the story of Christ.

After that we went to a restaurant nearby that was recommended by our guide called Mediamanga. It was on the pricy side. Not traditional tapas. But we shared a bunch of plates that were mostly pretty amazing. World famous Iberian acorn fed ham was on the menu. I have heard of it many times but never got to try it. It lived up to it’s reputation. We also had a plate of Spanish anchovies, fried whole shrimp, a chicken lasagna, white asparagus with anchovies in an anchovy sauce, and a fried egg and scallops with suckling pig. All smallish dishes. All shared. Very good food. Nice waiters. 

Aged Iberian ham. Delicious.
Anchovies served with tomato garlic bread
Garlic. shrimp – fried
White asparagus pieces toped with sardines
Fried eggs with scallops and suckling pig
Their take on lasagna. Delicious

We all returned to our hotels for a nap and showers to wash off the sweat.

In the evening we went out shopping for some ham and cheese and some chorizo. Also bread and wine. We had a nice picnic in our “living room”. In Casa Camper everyone gets a bedroom and bath and across the hallway, a living room. Makes it easy to enjoy some food without messing up your bedroom. Then we enjoyed the roof deck which we had all to ourselves. 

Friday – June 17
This was embarkation day. We went down and had a big breakfast (because who knew if we would get lunch?) of scrambled eggs and bacon with juices, and cake and cheese…and.. It was excellent.

I packed everything up. On this trip, which is pretty long, I brought one medium sized suitcase and one carry-on size. The bigger one was packed full of just clothes. The smaller one I aimed to use In Barcelona so I didn’t have to touch the bigger suitcase. This mostly worked great…except for the socks.

After breakfast we went out for a walk around the neighborhood. It was already steamy hot and humid outside. Then we went back, got our luggage, and checked out. They called a taxi for us. The ride to the port is short. We arrived and they took our luggage, we went through port security which is like an airport and then into the terminal. This is where the fun begins.

There was a huge room. With chairs set up in three columns of four seats. We all got numbers and were directed to which section to sit in. There were two tables in front of this section. When our turn came we went to one table and he checked our temperature and also our vaccination certificates. We were directed back to the seats. About 30 minutes later we were called and given an Antigen test. Then we moved to another set of chairs to wait for the results. There was water, iced tea, and cookies in this area. 

Meanwhile my sister and her husband had arrived from one of the Windstar city hotels on the bus. They got there after us and it took them a while longer to get through since they were in a big group and behind all those who arrived first.

We got our A-OK and went to check in. We turned in our passports and gave them our credit card, and went down the line of people. We purchased the drink package and we made reservations at the two restaurants where you needed to specially reserve. The Star Pride, our ship, has a specialty Spanish restaurant and the Candles restaurant. 

We boarded the ship and were shown to our room. It is an “all suites” ship. We had a bedroom and living room and a small balcony, big enough to stand on but not big enough to sit on. Nice setup.

The Windstar fleet is just 6 ships, three yachts, and three sailing ships. The three yachts were scheduled to undergo construction where they cut the ship in half and inserted a new section in the middle. Essentially it became a ship version of a stretch limousine. So the Star Pride just got out of dry-dock and back to sea at the end of May. This was all planned prior to the Covid pandemic. They proceeded with the work once the shipyards reopened in Italy. We learned the ship is about 2/3 booked with about 230 people on board. This is just the second sailing since it’s refurbishment. 

Picture of the stretching.

We went out to explore. There are eight decks. The bottom three are not used by the guests. We are on deck six. We found all the restaurants, the spa and gym, shop, and the deck with the pool. We stopped on the top deck to have some wine while waiting for Cindy and Bill who finally got through the testing process and checked in.

We had our mandatory muster call, and then watched sail-away from our little balconies. It was much cooler now. Beautiful Sunset.

We went to dinner in the Amphora. It was ok.

We were disappointed that the smoking section on the top deck was put in the most unappealing possible spot. Between the two gigantic stacks of the exhaust and behind a bunch of stuff. Four chairs and a table, and a couple of other chairs made up this awful spot. I think perhaps it will be better when we are not sailing but rather, in a port for the night. We will see.

Saturday – June 18 – at sea
This was our at sea all day, day. We went to breakfast around 9:30. Then we wandered around the boat first going to the Yacht Club which is a nice lounge with a coffee bar and continental breakfast. It is in the bow and affords nice views forward. Later we shopped in the little boutique shop onboard. Then we headed up for a glass of wine outside on the top deck. We had a light lunch of salads for most of us at the Grill, but the guys both had some of the grilled meats. This is a well known chef who chose the menu and set up the restaurant. It is primarily grilled meats. We liked this added casual restaurant venue.

After a short rest I joined my sister and Bill for a Spanish wine tasting. It was quite good. We had a sparkling, a white, and three reds. Most came from the area north of Barcelona. We also attended the talk about our first port of call, Cartagena. 

We returned to the Amphora for dinner. I had a cooling watermelon and feta salad, which was good. My choice of pulled pork penne was not good. Too salty by far.

Sunday – June 19 – Cartagena
We had breakfast and then headed into Cartagena. In the talk we heard it was a town of around 250,000 but there is a central old town, as usual. It seemed much smaller. The boat docked right next to town. Easy walk. Pretty little place with impressive multicolored stones for pavers on the streets. Many streets were pedestrian only. But it was Sunday, and a lot of shops were closed. We walked the length of town. Which isn’t saying much. Still pretty with some nice architecture to include an Art Deco section. We visited the Roman amphitheater. It was only discovered a hundred years ago. They had built a church on top of it. It was pretty impressive. 

Now it was time for lunch. I found a traditional tapas place. It was supposed to have the smaller sized tapas. Nowadays, apparently the so-called tapas are more of an appetizer size. But traditionally they really were just a few bites. The restaurant was called El Cantón. Only a block from the Roman Amphitheater. A nice little place. Not much English but a fun proprietor. We sat outside. We each chose several tapas. The menu has sections like “let’s start with” and then, “toasts” then “boards” and more robust finishers. We had everything from tomato with olives and tuna toasts, to crackers with Russian salad and anchovies, to chorizo with crackers, to goat cheese and Caramelized onions, and finally two plates of the famous artichokes Cantón style, apparently a speciality.  A light white wine washed it all down, it was really fun and nice to try authentic tapas. Good value at only €78.50.

Our Restaurant. Loved this “local color” in the foreground
The proprietor explaining his head is in the coin.
Tuna, tomatoes and olives. What’s not to like?
Toasts.Topped with the ubiquitous “Russian salad” and anchovies.
Artichoke hearts with bacon and bread crumbs. The speciality of the house.
Pork stew with frites.
My sister! 💕
Our dining companion.

We returned to the ship for sail away.

We had dinner in the Spanish restaurant on ship. It was OK. We each had an appetizer and entree. We chatted with the people near us and then headed to the Star Bar for a nightcap. To be honest, even though this is a well known NY chef, it is hard to beat the Tapas we can get in the towns we stop in. If we weren’t in Spain it might seem more special.

Monday – June 20 – Malaga
We arrived in Malaga after a bumpy overnight ride, we had purchased tickets to the Picasso museum and we headed out at around 10:30. We toured the show. Malaga is Picasso’s birthplace. The museum had some early works and some later works but not many in between. It was a good show with some good anecdotes in the write-ups. We decided to stop for a drink in the plaza behind the museum and in front of the Roman ruins and coliseum. 

Next to where we had drinks.
Just beside the port

We decided on La Tranca for lunch. It got good reviews. Well, it was a real hoot. Not many tables. A long bar. Great Spanish music on the stereo which the waitresses sang along to. We got there just at one and within ten minutes the place was packed. The menu was only in Spanish, which was a challenge. We looked up some words and figured out a lot of the offerings and then we each ordered one or two things. They were soooo good. Luther got tuna with cheese on a skewer. Cindy got avocado with crab and shrimp. I ordered a skewer of shrimp which was so garlicky and to die for. Bill ordered an empanada. And then we had a huge bowl of salty grilled peppers and patatas brava. We did not go hungry. It was all delicious. At the end they total up your bill by writing in chalk on the bar and adding it up. €50 to include two bottles of nice white wine and a tip. Not bad at all!

Pimientos de Padrón – a favorite of mine. I could eat this whole bowl!
Avocado and shrimp and the cheese and tuna
Totaling our bill on the bar in chalk.

We wandered back through the city and returned for a siesta as the locals do. At six we headed to the lounge for the Flaminco show. A group of five, two women and three men. One woman sang, one man played the phenomenal guitar, one did percussion and the other two were the dancers. They were all very talented. For dinner we tried the grill. It was served buffet style and there were baby back ribs and marinated grilled chicken. Along with salads and sides. A nice change from the Amphora. Finally Luther could smoke a cigar since we were spending two days in Malaga. The ship wasn’t moving.

Tuesday June 21 – Malaga day 2
Our anniversary! A special day. The summer solstice, my wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of my retirement! It was cloudy and cool. A welcome change. We had a leisurely breakfast and decided to wander the streets and small alleys of Malaga. There were no big stores and I saw only one chain store which was Spanish. It was just about all small shops. Many souvenir stores. The specialty items which we saw in many shops were scarves, fans, Malaga ceramics, flamenco paraphernalia. I have now accumulated three fans! They are quite beautiful. I bought a hand painted one in Cartagena and two here. Both of the later ones were smaller in size and fit in my purse. One quite inexpensive, and one of wood which was moderate in price.

These were very lifelike.
Flaminco shoes for little girls.

We went to Picasso Tapas for lunch. It was on a big square with many mimosa trees. We, of course, had tapas again. These were quite small and I think we ordered nine in two rounds. My personal opinion was they were good but not the best we have had. The patatas brava were very sub-par with no garlic sauce and only a ketchup which was spiked with cayenne. The spicy shrimp were not very garlicky and not very spicy. The padron peppers were good. We were waited on by a Welshman. Unexpected!

Spanish young boy next to us. I was intrigued by his style!
Olives. There are always olives. Spanish olives are great.
Poor excuse for patatas bravas

We walked back and had our siesta then readied ourselves for the Captains reception for returning customers. And our anniversary dinner at Candles.

Candles was a shadow of its former self. Too bad. Afterwards we headed to our room where we all watched the end of the Congressional hearings.
Go to Part Two of the trip