Cathedrals, Castles, Palaces and FOOD!

If you’re into any of these, plus intricately designed ceramic tiles and 2,000 year old Roman ruins, then Spain is the place for you.  This fall Leila and I spent several weeks in Andalucia, Spain, and Morocco.  Both areas had amazing culture, art and food but they were very different and very challenging to include in one post, so I’m only going to deal with southern Spain in this post.

The cathedral in Seville is probably best known to Americans as it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus.  As with many churches in this region it is built upon and/or incorporates a former Muslim mosque.

Columbus tomb

It is hard to get a great view of the outside of the cathedral because it is surrounded by other buildings.

cathederal outside

You get a better view of it from the bell tower (former minaret), where you can also see the Moorish Alcazar (Palace) in the top left of the photo – more on the Alcazar later.

View from Sevilla cathederal

Inside the cathedral one is overwhelmed by the intricate art that seems to cover every surface.

Sevilla cathederal 2

But then there is the FOOD.  Where else can one get two glasses of vino tinto (red wine) plus olives and chips for $4 in a delightful outdoor setting?

Leila at cafe

The cathedral in Granada was also spectacular.

Cathederal in Granada

But the prize for cathedrals goes to the Mezquita in Cordoba. Mezquita means mosque in Spanish.  The site was originally a church, and the mosque construction started in the 8th century when the Moors controlled much of Spain.  The mosque features 856 red and white striped arches that make you feel like you’re walking among an Escher painting. When the Moors were pushed out of Cordoba in the 13th century, it was turned back into a Christian church and a Cathedral was constructed in the middle of the mosque.

Mezitha 3

Mezquita 1

During Moorish times, it was said that more than a thousand people could pray among the arches at one time. The Muslim influence is seen throughout the cathedral.

Mezquita 2

But of course there was the FOOD. A delicious spread of ham and cheese served directly to your table by the chef.

Cheese and ham dish

Ham carver

A trip to Segovia is a must. It not only has the famous Roman aqueduct,


L and D at aquaduct

but also the spectacular Alcazar von Segovia castle which many believe was the inspiration for Disney’s castle.


Many of the houses in Segovia featured beautifully sculptured walls.

Textured wall 1

Textured wall 2

But then there is the FOOD


A delightful pate before trying the Suckling Pig – a dish made famous in Segovia. Something worth trying once, it is five-week-old baby pigs that are cooked before they stop suckling.

Suckled Pig

Palaces are also plentiful in Spain. The La Granja of San Ildephonso palace outside of Segovia was built by Philip V in the 18th century.  It now houses government offices, but parts of the palace and the vast grounds are open to the public.

Palace 1 Segovia

Palace 2 Segovia

The most famous of the palaces is the Alhambra in Granada.  The best view of the palace is from across the valley during sunset.  We stayed in a former mansion that has been turned into an inn not far from where the following photos were taken in the Albaicin neighborhood.

Alhambra at sunset -1

Alhambra at sunset 1

Alhambra at night

Of course, the best way to watch the light change on the Alhambra is over FOOD and a glass of sangria or vino tino.

Panarama of restaurant and Alhambra

Leila with Alahambra reflected behind her

Sangria with Alhambra

The Alhambra, built and added to over the centuries, strongly shows the influence of when the Muslims ruled the area.

Reflection of building in pond



Of course, there is only so much palace watching one can do before you need more FOOD.  Found a great outdoor setting in Granada with a fixed price menu, including a cappuccino.



But Leila and I agree that the palace we enjoyed most was the Alcazar in Seville.  The palace is fairly nondescript from the outside, since it is surrounded by other buildings in the center of Seville.

Alkazar from front

But has beautiful gardens inside.

Water feature in Alkazar

Alkazar garden 2

Alkazar garden 3

And spectacular ceiling and tilework throughout the palace that contrasts the differences between the Muslim and Christian occupants.

ceiling and room


Ceiling close up

Close up of ceiling shown above



Under Muslim rule only tiles with geometric shapes or Arabic wording were allowed



During Christian occupancy, the tiles could feature human and animal figures, many x-rated

After so much straining to look up at the architecture, we of course needed more FOOD – gelato for two.

ice cream for L and D

We could have gotten a pumpkin spice latte at Starbuck, but we are not sure why anyone would opt for an expensive Starbucks drink, when the local espresso is half the price.  Although I did break down and buy a Sevilla Starbuck cup.  It is now my coffee cup of choice for my afternoon cappuccino at home.

Starbucks sign

But there is more to visiting Spain than going inside spectacular buildings. Plenty of street entertainers.

Fleminco in Granada

Violin Player


Flaminco in Sevilla

And views of the countryside with rows and rows of olive trees.

Olive trees

But then there is the food.  We actually spent a morning on a walking tour of food experiences in Madrid, where churros dipped in chocolate is standard breakfast faire.



Spent time in the local market that is like Seattle’s Pike Place Market on steroids.  The olive stall

Olive Merchant

Is next to the butcher’s stall, where he will prepare lamb’s brain for you if you wish,

Lamb butcher

which is next to the ham shop where there are more than 10 different types of ham you can buy.  The ham from the black-footed Iberian pig which eats acorns in rangefree conditions only goes for 128 Euros a kilogram (~$60 a pound).

Ham butcher

A morning in the market of course makes you hungry for more food, so its time to stop for some tapas.

Tapas 1 in Madrid

Tapas 2 in Madrid

Finally, a visit to southern Spain would not be complete without a day trip to Gibraltar.


This British enclave certainly is a change from Spain, but its strategic position controlling the entrance to the Mediterranean and the famous monkeys of Gibraltar make it a must see – at least once.

Big Monkey

Gibraltor top


The monkeys are protected because Winston Churchill declared that the British would control Gibraltar, as long as the monkey existed on “The Rock.”  Consequently, the monkeys are plentiful and have learned the art of thievery.  Leila was mugged by one of the primates right after buying a bag of potato chips.  She was still in the gift shop where she bought the chips when a monkey raced in and snatched the unopened bag . I think I was lucky enough to capture an image of the culprit lying in wait for an unsuspecting tourist.

Monkey thief

But you don’t go to Gibraltar for the FOOD.


Our waiter made it clear that hamburgers only come Well Done.

Spain was great, but our following week in Morocco was more exotic.

Two women in old palace

Stay tuned for the next blog



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Happy Winter Solstice and New Year from the UK and EU

Leila and I are now permanently back in Seattle, but with more plans to travel to visit new sights and favorite locations.  The past festive season provided such an opportunity, so we were off to London (a favorite location) and to Bruges and Brussels (new sights).  It was a great time to be overseas, with holiday lights everywhere.

Some were whimsical like the biker Santas in the Liverpool area of London

Santas on bikes

Others were crass, like the Regent Street signs marketing the latest Night At The Museum movie featuring the British Museum.  Hard to take the multiple signs with large images of Ben Stiller.

Regent street

But most were tasteful and beautiful

Kew Gardens

Kew Garden’s Christmas Display

Reindeer Street decoration

Sign Outside Selfridges Department Store

Sign Outside Selfridges Department Store

The most spectacular light display occurred in Brussels on the last night of our trip.  The Grand Place is a large square lined with eight blocks of building.  Each hour after dark features a 15 light and sound display that is almost impossible to convey in photos. The five to seven story buildings are bathed in lights that are choreographed to change color to the music blaring across the square.

Place panarama- red Place panarama - blueTower = purple Tower - white Tower - red Tower - green

We had a great home base in London near the Tower of London

Apt at Sunrise

Our apartment was the five windows on the left on the third floor

We didn’t even have to leave the apartment to enjoy some of the key sights

View from apt

Tower of London and Tower Bridge

City Hall Across The Thames

City Hall Across The Thames

All Hallows Church - Oldest church in London and marriage venue for John Quincy Adams

All Hallows Church – Oldest church in London and marriage venue for John Quincy Adams

We developed a leisurely routine in London.  I am near the deadline to finish a book manuscript and Leila is recovering from a foot injury, so we would generally spend the morning with me writing and Leila resting her foot from the activities of the previous day.  Her foot did improve over the days and we were ultimately walking around five miles a day.  St. Paul’s Cathedral was not far away, so our walks regularly took us past the landmark located on the highest point in London.

St Pauls

St. Paul's 2

A typical walk included crossing the Thames via the Tower Bridge and along the Southbank to the London, Waterloo or Millennium Bridge that provided more views of the old and the new of London

Big Ben in silouate

The Old – Big Ben and House of Parliament


The New – The Shard

Tower Bridge at Sunset

The Old – Tower Bridge

Old and New at Sunset

The New and Old – Tower of London on right, The Gherkin in the middle and the Walkie Talkie on the left with the sun reflecting off its windows

Evenings included seeing friends or enjoying various performances.  We finally saw The Book of Mormon (it is as funny as everyone says it is) and the relatively new play, The Curious Incident with a Dog in the Nighttime – a must see if you get the opportunity.  The most impressive performance was going to the annual John Rutter Christmas Concert in Prince Albert Hall – a place we’ve always wanted to see.  Hard not to be impressed by singing Christmas carols with 5,000 people led by the London Symphony Orchestra and combined choirs of 150 members.

Albert Hall

On the first day of the trip, I went on a walk just to get some exercise and happened to walk into Green Park.  I noticed that everyone was heading in the same direction, so had to find out what was the attraction.  I quickly realized that I was near Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard.  I saw this once before  around 30 years ago, but I am not sure anyone can get over enjoying the pomp and circumstance of the event – marching bands, stoic guards, mounted soldiers and mounted police – continuously telling people to move along and not block the walkways and entryways to the palace.

Horse guard at Buckingham Guard at Buckingham_edited Band at Bukingham Mounterdf Police at Budkingham Coat of Arms

We did make one excursion outside of London to see Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill.  Leila and I just finished William Manchester’s three-volume tome on Churchill– an amazing read – so had to see his home.  The house was only partially open, but decorated for Christmas.  Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the house – and the sun was in the wrong position to get a good photo of the building, so I had to do with photos of the plants and surrounding woodlands.


Flower at Chartwell There were also great opportunities to visit the outdoor markets – always with a glass of mulled wine.

Christmas Market in front of Tate Modern - Millenimum Bridge

Christmas Market on Southbank in front of Tate Modern Art Museum

But these London markets paled in comparison with the one’s in Belgium, especially Brussels, where the food and craft stalls wound through the street for at least 30 blocks

Crowd at Brussels Market

Merry-go-rounds featured magical machines and mythical creatures, plus dinosaurs instead of horse.

Merry go round - dino

Merry go round - Taradactdl

The  food was sumptuous and sometimes overwhelming.  Not many places where you can find separate stalls featuring foie gras, escargot and mussels with champagne.

Food at Xmas market

We found Bruges to be the idyllic European town everyone claims it to be, with narrow cobblestoned streets, canals and a bell tower with carillon.

Tower and canal

Street in Bruges

Canal and Street in Bruges

Of course, if you are in Belgium you need to indulge in beer, chocolate, French fries and waffles – and we did our part to help support the country’s economy in these sectors.  The chocolate museum includes a cooking demonstration, where they produce chocolate pralines and then give samples at the end.

choclate maker

Sorry I can’t share any chocolates with you.  They were so good!

We could have gotten a combo ticket for the chocolate museum and the Frietmuseum (French fry and potato museum), but we passed on that opportunity – although we did eat plenty of French fries, as they are served with all kinds of food. Had French fries with Coquilles SaintJacques — complete with mayonnaise for dipping. I passed on the mayo.

Got a great tour of the oldest brewery in Bruges – although it has not operated continuously since 1564.  It was shut down during both wars and the metal equipment melted down to produce armaments. I appreciated that the brewery had an astronomically inspired name (De Halve Maan – The Half Moon) with an appropriate logo to go with it, which you can see next to our tour guide below.

Brewery tour

The tour even included climbing to the top of the building through the attic and five-foot doorways, just so we can see (just barely) the finishing and bottling plant three miles away – plus get a great view of Bruges.

view from top of brewery

Bottling plant is white building barely visible in the distance in the top right

The brewery is now digging an underground pipeline to connect the two facilities.  The beer is brewed in central Bruges and then will be piped to the bottling plan.  Many locals are interested in exactly where the pipeline is located and how deep.

Now we are back in Seattle, a number of pounds heavier and loaded with chocolate.  The greatest outcome of the trip was that Leila’s foot improved enough so that we can go on our usual daily walks, which we have not been able to do since March. This was the best holiday gift one could receive!

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A Last Walk of the Monuments — On the Virginia Side of the Potomac

My last blog that featured a Walk of the Monuments followed the traditional to tour on the DC side of the Potomac.  This year I found a less well known, but equally enjoyable, walk of the monuments on the Virginia side of the Potomac.  In many ways I like it more because there many fewer people and more opportunities for sightings of wildlife.

The walk starts by taking Metro (Blue or Orange line) to the Rosslyn Metro station.  Exit the main entrance and turn right for half a block where you turn left downhill on Wilson Blvd.  Go one block and cross over Lynn Street where you turn right.  Continue walking on Lynn for two long blocks until you cross over a highway.  Just beyond the highway, you will see the Iwo Jima Memorial on your left.  At sunset on Tuesdays during the summer you can see Marine Corp “Sunset Parade.”

Iwo Jima with band

Or if you get there after dark, you can get a great view of the memorial at night, along with the Washington Monument in the background.

Iwo Jima with WA monument

After enjoying the Iwo Jima Memorial, continue to follow the path that keeps the memorial on your left and heads downhill.  This path leads to the Carillon, presented by the Netherlands to the US after WWII.  The flowers around the Carillon can be spectacular depending on the time of year you are there.



Continue downhill along the path that parallels the street on your right.  This will take you to a little known entrance to Arlington Cemetery.

Small cemetary entrance

Follow the path that winds through the gravestones.   Each time you take the walk there are different images and experiences.

Headstones in cemetery


Arlington Cemetery with Snow

Continue up to the top of the first set of stairs and turn left, which then takes you to the main entrance to the Cemetery.

Stairs to cemetary entrance

View to cemetary entrance

If you have enough time, take time to explore other parts of the cemetery, which can be quite varied depending on the time of year.

Cemetary in fall

Wa Mon from cemetary in fall

Lee house

DC from Cemetery

If you have limited time turn left at the main entrance and head down the broad street toward the Lincoln Memorial on the opposite side of the Potomac.

View from cemetery to Lincoln

As you pass the visitor center on your right be sure to get on the right side of the street.  As you near the large traffic circle just before you go over the Memorial Bridge, you will see a sign that directs you to the Mt. Vernon trail, which will take you back to the Rosslyn Metro station.

Mt Vernon trail sign

Follow the path until you cross over the first road.  Be careful crossing the road.  Cars are supposed to stop, but one never trusts DC drivers.  On the other side of the road turn right and cross the second road.  Follow the path as it winds toward the Potomac and crosses one more road.  Turn left immediately after crossing the third road. You are now on the way back to Rosslyn.  Enjoy the views of the water, birds and monuments on the other side of the Potomac.

Heron on Potomac 1

Jefferson with heliocopters

Lincoln and WA monument

Lincoln-WA mon- capitol from VA

The view is also great at around dusk, but I suggest you take a flashlight if you go on the walk as it is getting dark.

Wa mon and capitol from VA at night

Stay on the path as it goes past Teddy Roosevelt Island and continue over the bridge that crosses the highway.  A short distance after the bridge you emerge back at Lynn Street just before it crosses the Key Bridge.  Turn left and walk the couple blocks back to the Rosslyn Metro station.  If you don’t get distracted too much during the walk, you should be back in a little under an hour and covered a little under four miles.

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