A Travellerspoint blog

Celebrating, Evacuating and Re-entry

Seville, Spain; Denver, USA

Our niece Erika Gundesen was celebrating a milestone birthday on March 13, so joined us in Seville to begin the festivities. Erika also wins our most frequent visitor award! (4X - Barcelona, Edinburgh, Denia and Seville).


The birthday girl’s chariot was waiting for us to tour the historic city of Seville. I know we have enjoyed this ride with a few of our other guests, but I did my best negotiating with the carriage driver to take us on the “Grande Tour” for the monumental occasion! The horse, Fanny, also did her best to make the birthday tour particularly memorable as she headed down lots of narrow streets and didn’t miss the bougainvillea.


The same evening, we went for the pre-birthday dinner at very laid-back restaurant, Fargo, that prided itself for having the best vegetarian dishes and Iberian pork, go figure! (stuffed squash/artichoke strudel/Iberian pork with veggies)


The birthday princess toured the Royal Alcazar on her own, while her injured Aunt and Uncle went to physio for repair. We met up after and toured a beautiful privately owned palace, Casa de Salinas. These palaces are amazingly steeped in history, still owned and occupied by the same family since the early 1900s. I am convinced that these guys open their palace to the public (for a fee) as their 401k/RRSP plan!


Seville is a beautiful city, and great for just walking around.


Lot’s of touring works up a thirst, so we headed over to the Hotel La Terazza that has a roof top bar with unobstructed views of the cathedral. (We went from a 3-star hotel with the Pura Vida bar to a 7-star hotel – is there such a thing as a 7 star hotel?)


The next day we strolled around Triana, which is on the other side of the river from Seville. Triana was once a town known for the production of ceramics. Back then all the kilns were powered by burning wood which produced a huge amount of soot in the neighborhood. We were told that the people of Triana would call the factory and ask if they were “firing” the kiln on laundry day. If the answer was yes, they would not hang out their laundry as it would get covered in the soot from the kilns! I don’t think they these kilns would pass the EPA tests of today!


From Triana we headed over to tour the historical Alfonso Hotel. This is a grand hotel in which Margo, and I stayed 3 years earlier when we were in Seville. The hotel was a perfect setting for the birthday princess to check out!


Back to the celebrating! Seville is famous for flamenco dancing, so we headed over to Museo del Baile Flamenco show and enjoyed the small, intimate show.


Then it was off to the main birthday dinner, no dress rehearsal here, this was the real thing! The food was amazing, including grilled vegetables, beef entrecote (cooked on a hot rock at your table) and as they say, “the world’s best tortilla”. They even recognized Erika’s birthday by turning out the lights (briefly) in the restaurant and delivering Erika’s dessert with a sparkle in it. Kinda looked like a roman candle firework! So, the picture below isn’t Erika, but you get the idea of the sparkler!

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Erika checked out the inside of the famous Sevilla Cathedral for a couple of hours and then we met up with her and walk through Jardines de Catalina de Ribera, Maria Luisa park and Plaza de Espana.


Unfortunately, the pre-birthday celebration had come to an end. We had tons of fun during the 4-day pre-celebration to Erika’s birthday, and the big day was still a week out! We drove Erika to the airport and sent her on a flight back to London, where she spent her (real) birthday with her buddies there. Here is a blast from the past, one of Erika’s not so recent birthday pictures (she is on the left in both photos, with her sister Lyndsay).


The day Erika left was also the first Friday of Lent which is a big celebration for Spaniards, at least the ones in Seville. We saw many locals lighting candles for their loved ones at a Catholic church right by our apartment. We lit a couple for Madi and Abby!


Moving day! We downsized from a 2-bedroom apartment, which was cozy and comfortable to a bright studio apartment with a fabulous roof top terrace.


The new apartment called for a dinner celebration! We found a small restaurant with fantastic food and great staff, called Abaceria del Postigo. Put this on your list of restaurants if you visit Seville. Amazing organic tomatoes with mackerel (not the kind of mackerel we get in North America) and anchovies on toast with pumpkin.


We downsized our car as well. We had planned to be leaving for Morocco from Madrid, so returning the car there made sense. However, with Margo’s ski accident, doctor and physio appointments, that was no longer our plan. We still hope to go to Morocco, maybe next fall. It was an easy drive, 5 hours north and 2.5hr high speed train back to Seville.


In preparation for our eventual trip to Morocco, we have been sampling their food which is plentiful in SW Spain. The Moors didn’t just leave a legacy of incredible buildings! Al Wadi restaurant had incredibly fresh ingredients and interesting Spanish/Moroccan flavors. We started with the mixed appetizer plate (roasted peppers, falafels, hummus etc), then had basmati rice with Moroccan beef and lamb chops.


Margo and I set out to do a little physio on our own and rented a bicycle built of two. We drove through Maria Louisa Park, excellent for Margo to build up the strength in her knee!


We followed that up with a walk around the Jewish Quarter of Seville.


Friends from Denver, recommended an excellent spot for us to enjoy a Spanish tradition, churros and chocolate…..YUM! Good thing we resisted these til now!


Needed to burn of the calories so we went shopping! We bought an amazing piece of artwork and a purse for Margo to remember our time in Seville.


We knew the Coronavirus situation was heating up in Spain, specifically Madrid, but we were not aware of how quickly things would change. We went from planning our next 3 months in Europe, with a “visit” home in the summer, to booking a flight at the end of March after Margo’s doctor appointment and completing our physio. That night we learned there was a state of emergency being announced by Spain’s government imminently that would “lockdown Spain”. We didn’t know exactly what that would entail but decided it was time to “get out dodge”. We changed our flight to depart two days later. The route was Seville to London and then direct to Denver, great, we were set…not so quick! We then started to hear about Seville limiting the number of planes coming into city to control crowds at the airport, so feared we would not be able to get to London. Ok next plan, lets drive 2 hours west to Faro Portugal and fly from there to London, perfect right? As all this was going on, restaurants, shops, churches, you name it were locking the doors. It was becoming a ghost town! How were we going to get to Faro? Got it, I went to the plaza nearby to hire a taxi to drive us to Faro. Francisco agreed to take us that night, as the highways were being closed to non-essential travel the next day. We quickly packed, jumped in the cab and left Spain. €350 later we got to our hotel in Faro and got caught up on the news as we attempted to relax after our unexpected and sudden exit from Seville and Spain.

As you can see from the picture, taxi drivers take their jobs very seriously. Driving in Spain is a bit like being a Formula 1 driver!




News flash, literally! The US government had just announced that they added the UK and Ireland to the list of countries that required screening to enter the US. US citizens need to enter through 1 of 13 airports that are set up to screen people coming from Europe and guess what, Denver was not one of the cities. So, we knew our flight would be canceled or rerouted. Ok, let’s turn up the pressure to get back to Denver. Back onto the computer and found a United flight going from Lisbon to Newark (New Jersey) to Denver, we booked the tickets. Perfect as Newark was one of the authorized cities to enter back into the US. Next, cancel the flight to London and book a 2.5hr train to Lisbon to catch our new flight home!

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Literally planes, trains and automobiles. As I type this we are on the plane, two hours to go, psyching ourselves for a busy Newark airport with the new screening process. Then home to Denver. Hard to believe we are on our way home, things changed so quickly, it seems a bit surreal that we will be sleeping in our own bed tonight after 11.5 months on the road! We hope you have enjoyed the journey with us, and we are really excited to see everyone!


We have great friends and neighbors who made sure the house was still standing and that it was full of food and supplies. We had an impromptu happy hour out front, maintaining social distance of course!


Our last furry friends in Spain…for now: Carlos and Gringo, a cute pair of Yorkies, and last but not least Emma, a standard poodle owned by a couple of Canadian guys that just arrived for a year in Spain - yes, they brought their dog!


Posted by margofiala 09:13 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Canadians Invade Southern Spain!

Vejer de la Frontera, Marbella, Ronda, Seville

We left the Spanish Pyrenees and drove southwest to Seville, a “lovely“12-hour drive. We spent a week getting doctored, MRI’d and echo’d. We have experienced great care from the medical professionals in Spain, although there is good part that is translated through Google and the other is translated through charades! We enjoyed being back in Seville seeing and eating our way through this magnificent city - great architecture, a very scenic city on the Guadalquivir River.


We stayed near Alameda de Hercules this time, to experience a different part of the city.


Nearby is the Hospital de Venerables Sacerdotes, a former hospice for priests now a museum. The building and patio are very typical Sevilla.


We were looking forward to all our Canadian visitors arriving, starting with my sister-in-law, Leesa. She arrived in Seville and we headed off to Vejer de la Frontera, the next stop on our tour. Vejer (pronounced more like "Behre") is an Andalusian hilltop white town in SW Spain, just under 2-hours drive from Seville. There were spectacular views from our apartment:


We returned to Seville with Leesa so that she could see the city and we could pick up more Canadians flying in that night. Leesa had an opportunity to tour the Real Alcazar palace which is a Unesco World Heritage site. Margo and I saw it in November with cousin Derise, so took that time for another doctor’s appointment.

Alcazar, where many episodes of the Game of Thornes have been filmed:


We met back up with Leesa and took a carriage ride around the old city to enjoy the sites of Seville. Our horse Stephanie seemed very well taken care of and enjoyed some pats.


We also had a wonderful view of the Cathedral from a rooftop bar (Pura Vida):


Our good friends Mary Moffatt and Michael Bowers from Edmonton arrived that night, so we picked them up and headed back to our place in Vejer de la Frontera. The apartment was perfectly set up to sleep lots of visitors and get caught up on what is happening back in Canada. We explored Vejer and the neighboring coastal town of Barbate.

By the way, Michael is the king of one liners! They are entertaining, funny and thought provoking. For example, “are you evolving or dissolving?” According to Michael, if you are middle aged or older, you are dissolving, your evolutionary days are over! Doesn't that put things in perspective?


Barbate, a nice beach but quite an industrial, utilitarian town, or “tasteless but amusing” says Michael.


Lots of paragliding here:


Cadiz is less than an hour up the coast to the north, so enjoyed a fun day there exploring one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe, founded around 1100 BC. The old city is almost entirely surrounded by the Atlantic and has a fortress around most of it, obviously a very strategic location in the day. Great sea promenade and cool architecture.


We met some nice locals (owners of pup Rafael below) from Medina-Sidonia, a town about 30 minutes inland from Vejer. This strategically located hilltop town has also been inhabited since prehistoric times. The incredible views were certainly important for more than enjoyment! Phoenicians, Romans and Moors all established settlements here, so lots of history, and of course a big cathedral. I have noticed that my sister really likes climbing towers of cathedrals....


Mary and Michael surprised us one night with a sherry and tapa tasting in our apartment! Vejer is part of the “sherry triangle” in Spain, so it was a great opportunity to learn about the different types of sherry and try them with fabulous local tapas. You might be surprised to know that sherry isn’t a “grandmother's drink” but a wine that can be paired with many different foods. Our sherry expert Carlos was extremely knowledgeable about sherry, tapas and Spain. He had spent time in Canada and met his wife there, who we met after the tasting. She is from Oshawa, Ont. We had a great time and were stuffed from eating and drinking or as Michael would say, "I'm a full bull", or translated into Spanish, "Toro lleno"! Thank you, Mary and Michael!


Mary was on a roll this week, the very next day she prepared a delicious home-cooked Valentine’s Day dinner, as only Mary can prepare, prosecco and chocolate included!


We took off for Tarifa, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet, a huge water sports center with surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, diving, etc. It is also the southern tip of Spain and as the gateway to Morocco definitely has a North African feel. We enjoyed a cold beer, lunch and views of Morocco, only 14 km/9 miles away.


Vejer offered up an amazing choice of food offerings, everything from traditional Spanish cuisine to amazing Moroccan food from the neighboring country. The food options were quite impressive given the small size of this town. Below is Beef Tagines, Chicken Pastela and Grilled Vegetables.


We were sad that Leesa's visit had come to an end. She needed to head off to England to do some work, glad someone is holding down a job! Leesa is always great fun to have visit and is game to do most anything we suggest....within reason! We hope that Leesa will have another trip over the pond so we can do it again soon!


We dropped Leesa off at the airport in Seville, then the spent the day exploring Jerez de la Frontera with Mary and Michael. Jerez is the birthplace of Spanish flamenco and is home to a 11th century Alcazar that we toured.


Michael did some research and determined that one of the nicest beaches in the area was minutes away from us in the seaside town of Conil de la Frontera, so we headed to this oasis. Conil is a small white town with one of the most beautiful sandy beaches we have come across! The water was warm enough that Michael waded into the water to get the full experience. We strolled down the beach, enjoyed drinks at a bar and gazed out at the amazing sea. It just never seems to get old!


To our surprise, we found out that Vejer was hosting their annual 6-week international horse jumping event during our stay. The event is called the Sunshine tour and attracts hundreds of world class jumpers from around the world. The 500 hectares/1200 acres facility is in its 26th year and is amazing not only in its size but that all the events are free to attend. We also had the opportunity to meet and chat with Liz Bates who rides for the Canadian team. Reminds us of Spruce Meadows in Calgary, beautiful horses.


Onto our next destination was Gibraltar, which is the British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It is odd to drive over a border, on the south coast of Spain and be in UK! The area is only 7 square km/ 3 square miles and is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, home to 32,000 people. We took a cable car to the top of the rock to take in the incredible views of the narrow strait and Morocco. We had plenty furry visitors as the top of the rock is home to BarBary macaque apes/monkeys that migrated from Morocco long ago. It was fun to watch them go up to a visitor, jump on their back, open their backpack and steal their food!


Michael found yet another hided gem that we drove to in the coastal town of Bolonia. It was a 30-minute drive from Veyer to see the 4 km/2.5 m stretch of beach and massive sand dune, which was beautiful. But even more impressive, right on the edge of the beach is the 2000-year-old ruins of the Roman town of Baelo Claudia. These ruins are considered to be the most complete Roman town ruins in Spain.

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We packed up and said goodbye to our pad in Vejer that had been our home for the last 2 weeks. Great spot!


Our next destination was Marbella which is about 2 hours southeast on Costa del Sol. We stayed at a great apartment right on the water with killer views of the Mediterranean. It is a touristy town but has a great seafront promenade that goes on forever, sand sculptures and a nice old town.


Margo is anxious to begin physio! By the way, Michael spent most of his career in physiotherapy, so was an excellent coach to Margo on how to properly use her crutches, manage stairs, stretches, etc. “Let pain be your guide” says Michael...how true is that?


We wanted to go to Costa del Sol so we could retrace some of Michael’s steps from a previous trip to Spain some 30+ years ago. Michael shared stories of when these coastal towns were just sleepy little fishing villages and it was much more laid back! Well, change happened and most of these villages have turned into concrete jungles. The good news, we traveled to a neighboring town Torremolinos to track down some “Spanish stairs” that Michael stayed by and had wonderful memories of. We spent several hours walking in search of the stairs. Google maps, asking people, going in the wrong direction, until finally we found them! It was “Fun with a capital PH” said Michael, who was very pleased that they were still there and that our search was a success, well worth the effort!


Our drive back to Marbella took us inland and up the hills to a wonderful town called Mijas. The elevation of the town is 430m/1,476ft and gave us amazing views of the Costa del Sol region and shoreline.


It was time to head inland to Ronda, one of the most stunning white towns in Andalusia. On the way we visited Setenil de Las Bodegas, where we had been with cousin Derise in December. It is a little different from most of the white towns we have visited. Instead of building on the high hills, the people here burrowed into the dark caves beneath the steep cliffs for protection and history tells us their plan worked! Many of the cave houses have been converted into bars and restaurants.


The Parador in Ronda allowed us to stay (once again) at their wonderful hotel perched above the dramatic gorge. An exceptional hotel on all fronts with views that can’t be matched anywhere. Take a look at pictures, they speak for themselves!


Although Ronda is mainly known for the massive gorge that runs through the town, there is also great history and architecture throughout. (See our ”Autumn in Andalusia” blog to see more of Ronda.)


Did I mention that there was no shortage of incredible food? Mary and Michael are already looking forward to coming back to explore more of Ronda!


As my grandmother would say, “if you never leave, you can never come back”, with that said it was time to head back to the mystical city of Seville! Going from Ronda to Seville is not too tough to take! The Canadian contingent grew with our nephew Tristan Huntington (Leesa’s son) and his partner Destiny Simpson joining us. They live in Kitchener, Ontario. It had been a long time since seeing them, so we had lots to catch up on. It was also great that Margo and I had spent time in Seville so could show the four of them around to all the hot spots. We toured Plaza de Espana that is in Maria Luisa park, built for the 1929 World Exposition. More recently it was a film set for two of the Star Wars movies and Game of Thrones. Great sights to see and wonderful scents from all the spring blooming plants and trees in the park. We had to top it off with a cocktail at one of our favorite roof top bars, Pura Vida, complete with a perfect view of the cathedral!


More touring of Seville took the group to Setas de Seville which is a huge wooden structure (shaped like a mushroom) with a fantastic roof top walkway with views of the city and an archeological museum at the base containing Roman ruins. From there it was off to Casa de Pilatos and toured the private palace from the 15th century. All that walking, we of course needed to have a nibble and something to drink!

We also invaded our favorite hamman (Aire de Sevilla) with its incredible pools, spa and rooftop views of Seville’s cathedral. Check us out entering the hamman with attractive shoe booties!


As they say (whoever “they” are), all good things must come to an end….unfortunately. Although it was it was a brief visit, we really were glad to have time with Tristan and Destiny, it was lots of fun, thanks so much for making the trek (especially Destiny's excursion through Lisbon)! Let’s not wait so long to get together next time!


After 22 fun filled days, we also had to say hasta la vista (so long) to our pals from Edmonton, Mary and Michael. We always love our visits with you two and the exploring we do. We of course, love the “supplies” Mary travels with and pulls from her suitcase throughout the trip - everything from 2 cans of Canadian maple syrup, Kraft Peanut Butter, David’s Tea and wine gums to Valentine’s day décor (napkins, hearts, and chocolate to dip the strawberries) and much more! Note, you want to be stranded with Mary on a deserted island, you name it, she’s got it! Michael, thanks being a great co-pilot and having a perfect “Michaelism” for every occasion. "Did someone drop an anvil on your head?" was another favorite.


Nice jacket Mary!


The dogs of Andalusia and a friend from Gibraltar:


Posted by margofiala 07:11 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

New tracks in Europe ❄️⛷❄️

Breuil-Cervinia, Italy and Zermatt, Switzerland; Saas Fee, Switzerland; Baqueira, Spain

On the road again! It was hard to leave Kristin’s yet again in the beautiful French Riviera, but we were excited to ski in Europe. Both of us have skied for most of our lives but never outside of North America. We drove through all the amazing Italian tunnels again to Turin, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics and picked up my sister Tara and her husband George, then headed up the mountain for Hotel Bijou in the village of Valtournenche.


Our first destination was Breuil-Cervinia, a large ski area connected to the Zermatt ski resort in Switzerland. You can literally have breakfast in Italy, lunch in Switzerland and dinner back in Italy. The star of Zermatt is of course the famous Matterhorn, which is very impressive, even to us that grew up next to the Canadian Rockies and now enjoy Colorado’s Rockies. We were able to ski all sides of the Matterhorn, here is the Italian side:


And the Swiss side (see more a bit later):


The combined Breuil-Cervinia and Zermatt ski area is huge, we discovered new areas to explore every day. We did our best to cover all 322km/200 miles of pistes! They could have used some fresh snow, but they do a good job of keeping the snow in good shape with lots of grooming. Not to mention that we took full advantage of the reasonably priced lift pass, only $80CDN/$60USD....heck of a lot cheap than Vail or Whistler and over 51 lifts to choose from, almost more rides then Disneyland!


There are many different types of ski lifts - every vintage George said - from Pomas and T-bars to high speed trams and ski trains, with everything in between. The most spectacular was the tram from Trockener Steg to Klein Madderhorn. It was like someone pointed at one of the many high peaks and said, let’s see if we can build a tram to there! It was not for the faint of heart at 2939m/9642ft, the highest 3 cable car in the world. It’s first class all the way, with heated seats designed by Pininfarina (same designer as Ferrari sports cars) and Swarovski crystal studded logos on each car.


The view from the top, windy but worth it!


There is a ski train from the town of Zermatt up the mountain, we got on halfway up.


We had a wonderful celebration for George’s retirement at Chez Vroney, a very special restaurant in Zermatt with an outstanding view of the Matterhorn. The setting was spectacular, and the food was amazing, congratulations George!


Starting at the top: Raclette, Charcuterie board, Alper Rosti, Vrony salad with chicken, Veal Rosti and assorted desserts.


Our next ski destination was Saas Fee, Switzerland, so we dropped off Tara and George for their flight back to Calgary and headed north. It was great to see them as we missed them last summer when they were cycling in Germany. We enjoyed the visit and the skiing. Thanks for coming!

The Swiss and Italians seem to be pros at tunneling, and the car-train transport through a mountain on the way to Saas Fee did not disappoint. It cuts off about 3 hours off the drive by going through the mountain vs around it - of course, who wouldn’t think of that? Built in the early 1900’s, the Simplon Car Train takes 20 mins to get from Iselle, Italy to Brig, Switzerland.


It was fun to arrive in Saas Fee, this town perched at the base of the ski resort is completely car free. You park in a large parking garage outside of town, and the hotel comes to get you and your luggage in a small electric vehicle (like Phil’s Gator in Kenton, but completely enclosed!) Our next home away from home was the Amber Hotel, which was right next to the slopes, with our own jacuzzi tub in our room!


Skiing in Saas Fee was wonderful, higher than where we had just skied, so better snow and although there was no Matterhorn, it was spectacular in a different way. The glaciers and ice fields were all around you, with large scary looking crevices. You could hear the ice shifting at times as well. Very cool.


All types of lifts here too, including a funicular train:


Of course, being in Switzerland we had to go for traditional cheese fondue. We found a restaurant that specializes in fondues called “du Saas Fee”. It was quaint and cozy in a log home on stilts and “finger lickin’ good!” (not as good as Bernhard’s but still amazing!)


There is an amazing revolving restaurant at one of the highest points of Saas Fee of the mountain, yes really. We forced ourselves to have a wonderful Swiss lunch there while rotating 360 degrees sitting in our chairs enjoying the views.

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On the last run of the day, at the highest point on the mountain, I had a little tumble and to make a long story short, ended up with a torn collateral ligament on my left knee (runs up the ringside of your knee, connects your thigh to calf). I will be fine, 4-6 week recovery through rest, ice, elevate and physical therapy. Brought my European ski vacation to an abrupt stop. The exciting part of the story is getting down off the mountain - sadly there was no Saint Bernard with a cask under his neck! But there was a very capable ski patrol medic team who put a splint on my leg and got me down to the revolving restaurant on a snowmobile (a bit of a bumpy steep ride but I just hung on, gritted my teeth and practiced my Spanish numbers...uno, dos, tres...). Then into a wheelchair and down the funicular train that goes through a mountain to the top of a gondola station. Then down a large gondola quite a long ways, transferring part way down onto a smaller gondola, which took us to the base in town. Then onto a Gator taxi to the ER. Phew! The care was excellent, I think those Swiss docs have seen many a knee injury come off the mountain and are pros.


We decided to skip our next planned ski destination (Les Arcs, France) and head back to Spain, where we have our primary healthcare coverage. On the way we stopped in the Spanish Pyrenees at Baqueira ski resort so Dean could do a few turns and I could relax by the fire at the beautiful Casa Irene Hotel and Spa. The hotel was the perfect place for me to relax, recover and eat very well!


They offered “half board” which means breakfast and supper included, way more food than I needed given my level of activity, but Dean loved it! (Pics: great bottle of Spanish Ribera, house salad, baked monkfish, roasted pork and desserts - crunchy crepe stuffed with plums & Armagnac, caramel pear pastry with toffee and cream, hazelnut velvet with apricot and yogurt):


Dean loved skiing here, he said it reminded him of the frontside of Breckenridge in Colorado. Baqueira is known as the "jewel" of the Pyrenees with 160km/100miles of pistes and 29 lifts to move you around the hill. Dean was fortunate to ski with a very experienced mountain guide both days he skied. Hannah was a young lady from York, UK and worked for a ski company called Moga, which was owned by Eva Moga who skied in the 1988 Olympia's in Calgary in the Giant Slalom and Slalom for Spain. Without Hannah, Dean claims he would never have been able to see the entire mountain and many of the runs that are usually skied by the locals. Thank you Hannah! We will definitely return so we can ski this gem together!

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Didn’t meet too many dogs on the slopes. We did meet a Canadian expat retriever named Cleo in Saas Fee though, her dad from Toronto works for Nestle in Lucerne. She was so excited to meet us, as I think she understood what we were saying and was relieved we weren’t speaking in Swiss German or French! And of course, we met a Saint Bernard with a wine barrel under her chin!


Posted by margofiala 03:08 Archived in Switzerland Tagged #skieurope #breuilcervinia #zermatt #baqueira #saasfee #livinginabeercommercial Comments (1)

New Years resolution: Enjoy every moment!

Malaga, Madrid, Barcelona and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

We have driven from Malaga, on the southern coast of Spain, through Madrid and Barcelona on our back to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in Southern France. We are thrilled to be back at such a wonderful home, our friend Kristin’s place (yes, the place with the great views of Monaco and the French Riviera.) We left our ski bag here last spring, so after some good French and Italian food we will start our ski trip in Italy.


Before we left Malaga, we did a couple of great hikes nearby that are BW (blog worthy - a Carleen Hamdon acronym). The Caminito Del Rey (Kings Path) follows a narrow 100m/330ft high path through the El Chorro gorge, about 8 km/5mi long - the views are spectacular (and unsettling!) Love the hairnet under our helmets...not!

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The other hike was in the El Torcal Nature Reserve and has the coolest rock formations, it was like a park of naturally occurring inukshuks!


We spent Christmas Eve afternoon in yet another “little white town” called Frigiliana.


We stopped on the way home in the coastal town of Nerja to watch the sunset. Check out the vines...stunning.


Malaga has many art museums; we choose the Museo Carmen Thyssen as it focuses on AndalucĂ­an art and had an interesting exhibition of Moorish/Moroccan art (tempts for a trip to Morocco?)


As expected, Malaga has a large cathedral in the city center:

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Right near our apartment was the beautiful Palacio Miramar, a very fancy seaside hotel:


We spent a lot of time walking Malaga’s seaside promenade, which is several kms long, enjoying the weather, the puppies and the intricate sand sculptures:


Spaniards can never be far from food and drink, so we enjoyed the chiringuito’s (beach bars) along the promenade - this one in particular, El Tintero, was an interesting approach, reminded us of Chinese dim sum style, as the servers walk around with plates of food and you point to the ones you want. It is easier than deciphering a menu for anyone working on their Spanish, and got us to try some new things, super fun Oktoberfest like setting but on a beach!


Dean has been “bull shopping” for a while now, and finally made his choice. We couldn’t spend this much time here and not gain an appreciation for how much bull fighting is a part of Spain’s heritage.


We loved our seaside apartment in Malaga and spent time relaxing and enjoying the view. (Yes Missy, we even tried the beach gym out!)

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On to Madrid to see Javier Fernandez! Yes, a little out of the way, but one of my favorite skaters of all time! We mentioned it in our last blog but in case you missed that here are a few highlights. Trivia point, the show was in a bullring!


Canadian Jeff Buttle and American Ashley Wagner were in the show as well.

While we were in Madrid, we also visited the Royal Palace, which was closed when we were there in November with Kathy and Garry. It really is very opulent, reminded me of the Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, I guess they all had to “keep up with the Jones”. No photos allowed inside unfortunately.

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Madrid is a great city with lots of cool buildings, fun squares and big parks - lots of energy here:


Barcelona for New Years! We decided it was time for a treat and stayed in the Colon Hotel right in the center of town across from the cathedral. Amazing views from our room:


We indulged in a multi course dinner at La Gambetta and made it through till 1:30am on New Year’s morning. Matteo is a waiter that we met at another restaurant when we were in Barcelona last April. He has a new gig managing a seafood restaurant and thought we should support his business. Matteo went all out to make it a New Year’s Eve to remember!


We rented bikes on New Year’s day and did our favorite ride along the beaches of Barceloneta:


And onto France. We retraced our journey last spring from Barcelona along the south coast of France to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, almost at the Italian border. Although Spanish food is great, we were craving French and Italian food, and there is no better place for that combo.

Dean’s favorite was Massimo’s, where we went three times! It’s a great example of Italian with a touch of French (Parmesan Tagliatelle, Fried mixed fish, Seabream and veggies, Gorgonzola pizza, Tiramisu). See the first photo where they put the hot cooked pasta in the Parmesan cheese round and scrap it out to coat it in Parmesan....


La Grotte, both French and Italian choices. This was their special that night, a Mont d’Or fondue with many yummy things for dipping:


Dolceacqua is a great lunch destination just across the Italian border. We went there last spring with John and Lisa Reynolds, and it was just as good as we remembered.


I had the first menu and Dean had the second, pictures are in that order:


French Riviera beaches are pretty nice in January too - complete with paragliders:


We returned to Monaco to see Prince Rainer III’s car collection and the cliff side garden, Exotique de Monaco, started by Prince Albert I in the early 1900s. We divided and conquered, guess who went where? (The amazing thing to me was that I got to the gardens with no Google Maps, as our phones don’t work in Monaco. It was like stepping back in time.)



The gardens were interesting but the views were the headline, you can see all the way to Italy!

This kitty befriended me for the tour, it was not busy and seemed lonely. She is the same coloring as Tom, our cat I grew up with in Edson (my pre-dog phase), who I remember dressing up in doll clothes and pushing in a stroller (ugh, can’t believe I remember or admitted that!)


Remember the pool that the winner of the Monaco F1 Grande Prix dives into after the race? It becomes a skating rink in winter...


To kick off the 2020 ski season we tried out Valberg Ski Resort, about 1.5 hour drive directly north of Nice. We met a couple on the lift from Nice that have a home in Nice and an apartment in Valberg, perfect for skiing in the winter and escaping the heat in the summer...sound like anyone you know?


We picked up a new car for our ski trip as winter tires are required in the Italian mountains. What a brilliant idea!


The dogs that made us smile. Simba stole my heart in Malaga, it was so unfortunate he had an owner who kept an eye on me! We met Libra in the post office in Barcelona - so big he got 2 photos, his coat was amazing and he was only 1 year old. Can you believe we met a dog named Denver?


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Posted by margofiala 09:44 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Best of 2019!

Spain, Italy, France and Greece

We are often asked “what are you enjoying most about your trip?” It’s a hard question to answer. What really stands out is living here - being immersed in a different culture and having to just figure it out, every day. A big part is the language, is this Spanish, a Spanish dialect, French or Italian? It has been a fascinating year on so many levels, everything from the basics like how to pay for parking or find groceries to bigger questions like what does Spain need to do to keep their country together today? Or why is the cost of living so different across the EU and how is that sustainable? The whole experience of learning to live in a new place that is very different from home sweet home! Every day is an adventure.

The other important point to recognize is all our visitors from home who have made the journey to be part of our adventure! It is even better to explore and experience new territory with family and friends. Thank you all for coming! Then all the great people here we have met that are so helpful, going out of their way to make sure we are on the right track or understand something. We are so grateful to this community that has taken us in and treated us like family.

Here we go! 2019 in the rear-view mirror:

Our staring point, Barcelona - the vibe in that city is intoxicating, so much to see, hear and experience and so much going on all the time with great food at every turn. It was a great start to our trip!

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Top views - Monaco from Kristin’s, this view never got old! We are excited to head back there in January. And of course, the French Riviera.


The gorge in Ronda is an incredible, last port of our white towns tour in AndalucĂ­a, Spain.

Cool and unique places to stay – We have really “slept around” this past year – some great, some good, some not so good! It is so cool to stay in really special places – there are many to choose from but our top pics are Kristin’s beautiful apartment in Roquebrune (see the killer view above), Greece – the dramatic Folegandros, our villa in Paro and the monastery in Syros, Spain – a mountain chalet in the Pyrenees town of Taull, and the Parador in dramatic Ronda, and who could not be amazed at our apartment in Vernazza?







One of Dean's top picks was to see the 77th running of the Monaco Grande Prix, considered one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world. After 78 laps, we saw the 6th time world champion Lewis Hamilton win the race. It was a once in a lifetime experience from seats at the start/finish line in front of the Royal Box (Prince Albert and Princess Charlene), with all the glitz and glamor that Monaco is known for.


We drove to Cinqueterra from France, on the west coast of Italy to meet Dean and Carleen Hamdon for a fun-filled few days of hiking, imbibing and laughing! Happy Birthday Carleen!


Music: The Fiala’s have two seasons – ski season and concert season. We skied hard in Colorado before we left for Europe and attended our first concert in Barcelona in April at Palau Sant Jordi, a great setting for Mumford & Sons, although that facility was upstaged by Sting at Cap Roig Festival in Palafrugell, a beautiful garden setting with a small crowd on the rugged Costa Brava. In Northern Italy, near the Barolo wine fields we saw the famous Italian pop star Giorgia outdoors as well, although the setting felt more like a farmer’s field!


We went to our first opera in Edinburgh Scotland where our niece Erika was performing and was the opera’s “repetiteur”– it was very exciting to see her perform, enjoy the result of her hard work and attend an opera. Another amazing experience was seeing La Traviata in Verona Italy in a 1st century Roman theatre – the setting was so incredible, gladiators died there! a definite “imprint on the brain” experience.



Fun on the water:
Paddle boarding on the amazing coastline of Costa Brava, the rugged coastline provides small canyons and passageways to explore as well as the beautiful clear, aqua blue Mediterranean – it was breathtaking and a great way to manage the heat! A memory for me is paddling past the shore and hearing the cicada’s singing and seeing a small jellyfish float by in the clear water. Not a sound around other than my paddle in the water. Amazing.


Dad treated my sister Leesa, Dean and I to a day on a boat on Lake Como for our birthdays this year – Thank you Dad! Best gift EVER!!!

The only way to beat the heat and see the Ponte de Gard in France is to do it from a kayak!

Top beaches: tricky category for spoiled people like us who enjoy some of the best beaches in the world on Maui. However, Playa La Concha in San Sebastián is “Maui quality”. We also loved the beaches and rugged coastline of Spain’s Costa Brava and meeting up with the Zweep family from Holland at their favorite Llafranc. Also in northern Spain, the famous Cathedral beach and Itzurun beach with the coolest rocks (called flysch rocks). and we can’t miss cousin Zane’s favorite beach on Paros, Lividia.

Playa La Concha:

Costa Brava:

Cathedral Beach:

Itzurun beach:

Lividia Beach:

Hiking and biking: We have done many great hikes, so this was a hard one to select. The Ruta de Cares with Danny & Val is through a spectacular gorge in Northern Spain, approximately 22 km/14 miles is a top pick. Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh needs no introduction and we were happy the rain stopped for an afternoon to hike in the sun. On the east coast of Spain, we did an amazing seaside hike with our niece Lyndsay in Calpe.

Ruta de Cares:

Arthurs Seat:


Touring by bike in Europe is easy and a great way to sightsee. Here are a few places that we especially enjoyed cycling: Barcelona, Milan, San Sebastián, Porto, Dénia and I couldn’t leave out Via Verde in Andalucía where I thought Derise might kill us!

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Top drives - There is endless great driving experiences throughout the countries we have visited, but Dean picked these as his top choices. Driving the route of the high-speed chase from James Bond’s Quantum of Solace, at Lake Garda, Italy:


Driving all three Corniches in Provence, carved out of the mountainside: Grande (at the top), Moyenne (in the middle), Inferieure (along the seaside):

Dean's top three cars of Monaco: Ferrari Italia 458, Bugatti Veyron, Aston Martin DB9

Some people come to the Cafe de Paris in Monaco to people watch, but Dean thought it was great for car watching. We enjoyed both there:

Driving through AndalucĂ­a on our white towns tour:

Santiago del Compostela is a magic place full of history, huge incredible buildings at every turn, and of course, the destination of Camino de Santiago.


We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in Paros, where we were married. The building we were married in is now a senior’s drop-in center…how appropriate! We had lots of fun with company in Paros, with our cousin Leith celebrating a milestone birthday with her bestie Valerie.


How do you sum up the amazing food we have enjoyed? And libations! Focusing on Spain, from the 22 course meal in Ainsa to all the ham Dean has eaten and eggs, of course, served as "tortillas", to famous San Sebastián pintxos, the paella from Valencia and Erika’s “best potatoes ever!”

Seared tuna and dessert (2/22 course, some were just a mouthful but these were 2 of our favs)

Ham, tortilla and pintxos/tapas, then a night on the town in Madrid. The tapa game is like playing golf, one bar one tapa then move to the next one - I don't think we ever made 9 holes:

Paella & potatoes?

It’s been fun discovering new drinks too! Not new, but new to me are Aperol Spritz - definitely a top pick!

We love the vermouth, yes straight, not in a martini or Manhattan. Spanish style!

And check out these fancy gin-based cocktails:

Moorish history in Spain – The influence and impact the Moors had on Spain is immeasurable. They ruled much of Spain for over 800 years (711 - 1500's) and then got kicked out by the Christian monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. The Mesquite in Cordoba, the Alhambra in Granada, the Alcazar in Seville are all testaments to this history. You see lots of influence from the Moors, but these are some of the most significant sites. Oh, and after seeing all this we visited the Dolmens in Antequera from 2500BC, now that’s old!




Hamman in Seville with its rooftop hot tub watching the sunset over the 500 year old cathedral with our great friends Kathy and Garry. That was one of those experiences that just get imprinted on your brain never to be forgotten.


Top gardens - I have had this as my wallpaper on my phone since June, so clearly the lotus garden in Stresa Italy makes this list.


Also in Italy was the vertical garden in Milan.

In France it was the Rothschild Villa and the lavender fields in Provence (my Auntie Donna’s favorite):

And I dragged Erika and Dean around the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, so that’s my third pick!

Top dogs - From the Guggenheim in Bilbao is “the puppy”, Agua from Lake Como (I almost dognapped him!), Sophia from Cudillera (Val almost dognapped), Bono from Barcelona (reminded us of our pups), Bonnie from Malaga and racing dogs of Monaco!


We spent most of December, including Christmas, in Malaga on the south coast of Spain (Costa del Sol). It was a spontaneous decision and worked out great. We had a great seaside apartment, the weather was nice and Malaguenos really get into their Christmas lights, so it was very festive. We went for a traditional Spanish chiringuito (beach bar) for Christmas day and enjoyed fresh Dorado fish charbroiled over a wood burning grill with lots of Spanish families. Of course, the table next to us had a dog named Bamboo and they ended up inviting us to their table for a festive toast!


Best Spanish skating show (ok, only skating show in Spain), with one of my favorite skaters, Javier Fernandez, two time World champion and Olympic bronze medalist. He trained in Toronto with Brian Orser and considers Canada his second home:

That wraps up the first 9 months of our “year of a lifetime”. Feliz Nueva Annos (Happy New Year) to everyone!

Posted by margofiala 10:47 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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