We arrived in Pau at about 11:00 this morning. After a neighbor from the apartment above the one we rented checked us in, Leslie and I walked across the street to the small grocery. The place we are staying in an apartment. We rented it from the owner for three nights. Since it is an apartment it has a full kitchen. So, for lunch, we bought a frozen pizza. For dinner, we bought some pork. Leslie will bake that in the oven with some potatoes. For tomorrow morning, the kids have milk and cereal. Leslie and I bought some quiche Lorraine. By far, these will be the least expensive meals for this entire trip!
Right next door to our apartment building is the Continental Hotel. The Continental Hotel is one of the venues used by those with the Tour de France for Stage 13. While Leslie and I were out, we saw two of the official tour vehicles there. They were delivery vans, full of luggage. This afternoon I would like to try to find where the start for the race tomorrow is located. I assume there will be Tour items for sale there. If not, then certainly there will be some stuff for sale at the finish in Lourdes.
After settling into the apartment, we walked to the area where the stage will start tomorrow, the Palace Beaumont. There were no souvenir stands. From there we walked along the Boulevard des Pyrenees to the church of Saint Martin.
After taking a quick look inside the church, we walked a little farther west to the Chateau de Pau Musee National. Born at the chateau on December 13, 1553, Henry IV, became King of France, on June 9, 1572. A fanatic assassinated Henry IV on May 14, 1610, in Paris.
We decided to take a tour. Unfortunately, it was a guided tour in French. Fortunately, they did provide us with a “cheat sheet” in English to allow us to follow along. We did see some very beautiful and interesting things during our tour.
I thought the tour was fascinating and well-paced. I am not certain my family shared my assessment.
Leaving the Chateau, we stopped across the street at one of the souvenir shops to pick up some trinkets, then it was back to the apartment.
Along the way, we passed through Place Georges Clemenceau. It is a very large plaza with several water fountains. We all enjoyed looking at the fountains.
We departed Pozuelo and made it here today at about 13:00. It is strikingly beautiful. We are staying in the Hotel Mercure Monte lgueldo in rooms 120 and 121.
On the drive here, in the last 80 or 90 kilometers (50 or 56 miles), we went through 21 tunnels. It was like tunnel-rama! After checking-in, we went to our room and unpacked. The hotel is on a high point. Somewhere I read that it is 765 feet above the bay. So from our rooms, we have a commanding view of the Bay of Biscay, Concha Bay, the town, and old town. There is a small island, Santa Clara, that helps separate the two bays.
When we finished unpacking we took the funicular (cable car) from the hotel down to Ondarreta Beach. We walked to the beach and sat on a bench for a while. From there we walked inland a couple of blocks to find an ATM. After I got some cash, we walked back to a small restaurant on the beach. We sat there and had a drink; Hillary had a rosé, Leslie and I had red wine, and Tyler had a beer. From there we walked down and sat on the beach. Tyler and Hillary immediately set to making sandcastles. Leslie and I just sat there and watched. We ultimately took our shoes and socks off and waded in the ocean. It was cool, but not cold. We went along the beach until we came to a ramp from the beach up to the sidewalk. We went up there, rinsed our feet and put our shoes and socks back on. Then we walked back to the funicular and went back to our hotel. There, Leslie and I sat on our balcony with a glass of wine, looking at the bay. Very relaxing!
For dinner, we went to a restaurant that was recommended by the hotel staff, la Rampa (The Ramp). The name derives from its proximity to the marina boat ramp. It was next to the aquarium, near the old town area. We all had a salad as a starter. For the main course, Hillary, Tyler and I had sole. Leslie had Hake. It was a very good meal. It came to 170€ (US$207), including the six Euro tip we left. To go with dinner, we ordered a bottle of Campellares Rioja Tempranillo. It was wonderful. Even Tyler had a glass!
After getting up on the first morning, we went to the dining room to have a cup of coffee. By about 09:00 we called for a cab to take us to the Cathedral, Catedral Buen Pastor. Before we went inside we stopped at a cafe so the kids could get a little something to eat. When they were done we went into the Cathedral. The Cathedral was built in 1897. It was very dark and very plain inside.
When we left the Cathedral we made our way to Getaria Street and began our walk to the old town, Parte Vieja. As we walked along we went into several shops. We stopped at Plaza de la Constitucion. There were numbers painted above every window looking onto the plaza. My understanding is that the windows were sold in years past to watch bullfights in the plaza.
Leaving the plaza, we walked another block or so to San Vicente Church. It is a Gothic-style church that dates from the 16th century. It was much more ornate than the Cathedral.
From there we began to make our way toward the aquarium. Along the way, we stopped at the Church of Santa Maria. Of the three churches we saw that morning, this one was by far the most beautiful. The church dated from the 18th century.
When we came out, we worked our way to the aquarium. It was just ok. It was certainly nothing compared to the aquarium we went to last year when we were in Valencia, Spain.
Leaving the aquarium, we walked all the way back to the shopping center called Centro Commercial la Bretxa. We went there because there was a McDonald’s. By the time we got there, we were all beat. We ordered our meal, took it outside, and sat along the street. We were all incredibly hungry due to all of the walking we did that morning. The real coincidence of our trip was our taxi driver. At the end of our walk, we stood at the taxi stand, waiting for a taxi. When we got in, much to our surprise, it was the same driver that had taken us to the Cathedral earlier that morning.
When we got back to the hotel, the kids went up to their room. Leslie and I sat on the terrace and, you guessed it, had a glass of wine! After our drink, we went upstairs, laid down and fell fast asleep. The next morning we would drive into France.
Today we decided to visit Salamanca. It was a very enjoyable trip. It is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of our home. It took us about two hours to get there. We arrived around 09:15 and parked very near the first-century Roman Bridge (Puente Romano), on the street called San Gregorio. From there we walked toward the Cathedral along Calle Tentenecio.
Even though the cathedral was open we did not go in because after two hours on the road we were all looking for a restroom. Now, 09:15 in Spain is like 07:15 in the United States, very little is open. I thought for sure we would find a little coffee shop open. That would have met all of our needs. Not so much! Everything was closed. We made our way to the Casa de las Conchas. As we were taking a few photos, I noticed the building actually housed the public library. We went inside and were able to use the restrooms.
When we emerged we stumbled across a pastry shop. We bought some coffee and pastries and walked back to the small plaza in front of the Casa de las Conchas. After consuming that, we found a little gift store where we bought some t-shirts and a book on Salamanca.
From there we walked back to the cathedral to go inside. It was quite large and impressive; however, it is not as big as the cathedral in Toledo. Regardless, we all thought it was very nice.
Construction of the “New Cathedral” began in 1513. The completion did not occur until 1733! After viewing the detail throughout the cathedral, one understands why it took so long to build.
When we departed the cathedral, we decided to walk to the University of Salamanca. We based that decision on the advice of the shop keeper we patronized earlier. He told us the façade of the university had a carved skull with a toad on top. We would enjoy good luck if we could find the skull. We discovered when we arrived that the façade is very ornately carved. None of us could spot the skull. Finally, a person nearby pointed out the skull. We all had our aha moment when we finally saw the skull. I am not sure how the assistance we received may have effected the luck we were to have received…
From the university, we walked back to the north along Rua Mayor. We stopped at one of the cafes at about noon, sat down, had a glass of wine, some patatas bravas and watched the people walk by.
At the conclusion of our break, we walked about a block to the east to the street called San Pablo. We did that because I wanted to see the Torre de Clavero. After taking a few photographs there we continued our trek to Plaza Mayor. We walked around the perimeter of the plaza and departed, heading south along Calle Melendez.
Just after leaving the plaza, there were several artisans with tables set up. Hillary spotted one that braided leather into peoples’ hair. She had to have one! When that was finally done we made our way back to the car and drove home.
Tyler and I made our way to the Atocha Train Station in Madrid. There, we met my Area Management Officer (AMO) and her husband. As part of her trip to the Madrid embassy, we needed to visit the consulate in Barcelona, therefore the train trip.
The high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona was wonderful as always. This day the train was non-stop, so we got there in about two and one-half hours. That sure beats the times I have driven there with my friend Ron. Those trips are usually six or six and one-half hours one way.
We arrived in Barcelona at about 17:30. At the hotel, Tyler said this is his favorite city, even though we had not yet been there two hours!
Tyler thought the Le Meridien is the best hotel in which he has ever stayed. He thought it was amazing that there were a television and a telephone in the bathroom!
For dinner, the four of us decided to go to a restaurant that overlooks the marina, La Gavina (The Seagull). Supposedly they are known for their paella. We shared two different types of paella. I am not a real fan of paella; however, the paella there was very good.
On our way to and from the restaurant, we walked by the Joan Miro sculpture by the marina. I think it is a fascinating piece of art.
On the first full day in Barcelona, Angela and I had work to do at the consulate. While I was on the grounds of the consulate, I could not help but admire the water fountain and some 1920s-era murals.
For lunch, we took out one of the Locally Employed Staff, Josefina. She suggested Moncho’s on Travessera de Gracia. The three of us shared three different dishes; croquetas, calamari, and a salad. It was a delicious meal.
When I returned to the hotel late that afternoon, Tyler and I decided to walk around the area near the hotel.
Initially, we walked north on La Rambla to Plaza Catalunya. It so happened that there were many protesters occupying the plaza. There were tents, tarps, and ramshackle living areas. We were both surprised that many of the protesters had staked out camping spots in the trees. I am not exactly sure what the protests were for, but there did not seem to be anything happening when we walked through the plaza.
The other thing that was odd that afternoon were the pigeons. There were hundreds of them in the plaza. Many others had noticed that, so there were a lot of people in the plaza taking photos of the pigeons.
Tyler returned to the hotel and I continued on to a nearby church, the Parrish of the Mother of God of Bethlehem. There were some beautiful sights in the church.
For dinner that night, the four of us went to El Asador de Aranda. It is in a unique building. Its architecture sort of has a Moorish influence. The restaurant specializes in lamb; however, both Tyler and I had steak instead. It was good. I would go back.
The following day, Angela and I went with consulate personnel to view a newly leased apartment. While we were out, I spotted a very ornately decorated but abandoned building, the Rotonda Hotel. I had to take a few photographs.
We had some time to kill after we checked out of the hotel. We walked a couple of blocks south on La Rambla to get a coffee. On the way, we saw the St. Joseph Market. We went through there and looked around a bit too. After the coffee, it was back to the train station and on to Madrid.