La Granja, Spain to Istanbul, Turkey

Monday, February 29, 2016


It didn’t snow overnight and since Duke had already dug out the car we were able to leave La Granja relatively easily.


There was a bit of traffic but we got to the airport in Madrid with time to spare. The flight to Istanbul was full and there was a delay for fog. I worried a little when our cab driver had to call someone on his cell phone to ask directions to the hotel. But all in all it turned out to be an easy travel day.


I love the Turkish custom of welcoming you with Turkish delight. The first thing they offer you on Turkish Airlines is Turkish delight. As soon as we arrived at the hotel they offered us Turkish delight. And there was also some waiting for us in our room.



La Granja

Sunday, February 28, 2016

We woke up this morning to about a foot of new snow. We had planned to drive and visit several sites in this area since we are staying in La Granja two nights. But we are pretty much snowed in.


We had a lot of fun walking around town with everyone else enjoying the snow. We had coffee and explored a bit of the famous palace gardens. We saw people on snowshoes, cross country skis and sleds. We overheard one person say that it has been four years since they have had snow like this.





After a couple of hours out exploring we went back to the hotel and had hot chocolate and cookies. We spent the afternoon reading and napping.


We also spent some time digging out our car. We didn’t have a shovel but we improvised and Duke was able to move the car a bit so that we should be able to get out in the morning unless we get more snow.


We are supposed to turn our car in at the Madrid airport tomorrow and catch a 12:15 plane to Istanbul. Although we are only 81 km from Madrid there is a mountain range between us and Madrid. The motorway goes through a tunnel through the mountain so that is good. Right now it is 45 in Madrid and 34 here! Hopefully we will make it to Madrid and catch our plane.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

All through the night last night we could hear the wind howling outside our window and see snow falling. This morning we woke up to a winter wonderland. The guy at the gas station told us that snow is unusual for them. Some years they don’t get any.

We got up bundled up and walked down to the main square by the cathedral so we could take some pictures and get some coffee

Then we packed up and headed out. Our first problem was that as we headed down the hill from the hotel the truck in the picture below appeared. He was stuck in the road. And it was too slippery for us to back up. We waited about twenty minutes for him to dig out before we could leave town.

Then we headed out on our planned route. The visibility kept getting worse and worse and after about an hour of very slow going there started to be snow drifts across the road. We decided it was too dangerous to continue so we turned around and went back to Sigüenza to try another route. This route going south to Madrid was fine except that the direct route to La Granja had chain requirements so we did another alternative route and eventually got to our Parador in La Granja.

After checking in and having a glass of wine we headed out to explore a bit and stretch our legs after sitting in the car all day. Neither of us had ever had roasted chestnuts so Duke bought some. They were wonderful. The bag they were served in had a separate compartment for the shells.


La Granja was chosen by the king of Spain in the 1700s to create a Spanish version of Versailles. The palace and the grounds are beautiful, especially in the snow!


We had dinner in our Parador.

Santa Domingo de la Calzada to Sigüenza

Friday, February 26, 2016

Today we headed south on a cold blustery day. We stopped at the archaeological site of Numancia an Iron Age hill town where the local Celtiberians held out against an enormous Roman siege in 133 BC. The locals eventually committed suicide and burned the town rather than submit to the Romans. Although the town is famous in Roman literature its location was only rediscovered in the 1800s.

Tonight we are staying in a castle Parador in the town of Sigüenza. The main course at dinner was roasted kid; – very juicy and tender.



Olite to Santa Domingo de la Calzada

Thursday, February 26, 2016

Many of our Parador and other hotel packages have included breakfast. The breakfast buffets have been wonderful – eggs, meat, cheese, bread, fruit, coffee, juices. But when breakfast is not included in our package the price for the breakfast buffet is usually about €12 each. So we usually find coffee outside the hotel.


This morning we found a wonderful pastelería. The owner explained what was in the local favorites. The filling in Duke’s pastry is called angel hair. Apparently the filling is made from some kind of melon or squash. We didn’t quite catch the word. It was all really good.


We also bought four of the little bow tie thingies to snack on later


This is a picture of our Parador in Olite. Our room is the window on the right behind the tree.


In Olite we picked up a map of the state of Navarra. It showed all the wineries, Roman ruins, churches and castles. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by Roman ruins but since we had a relatively short distance to drive today we decided to take the back roads and find the Roman ruins that were kind of on our route.

The first one near the village of Falces was the Villa de San Esteban.

The second one was quite a bit farther off the main road and judging by the building must have been something special but unfortunately it was closed.

The nice thing about following small country roads is that you get to appreciate some beautiful countryside.
Tonight we are in the town of Santa Domingo de la Calzada on the Camino de Santiago. The Parador we are staying in was, for a long time, before it was made into a Parador, a pilgrims’ hospital.
We had another great dinner in the Parador dining room.


Hondarribia to Olite

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

This morning we drove into France and went inland a bit so we could explore some of the Pyrenees.

We finally found some sheep that met all our photogenic criteria and were in a place where we could safely park. The first one only looks like a two headed sheep it is actually two sheep!


When we got to the top of the mountain pass we headed up a side road to the lookout but we were finally stopped by snow.

Tonight we are staying in a castle Parador in Olite, Navarra. We had the set three course dinner in the Parador dining room. This is one of the first course choices. Fried eggs, bread crumbs and sausage.

One of our main course choices was salmon.

And one of our desert course choices was pear in wine sauce.



Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Today was a lovely rest day. We went for a long walk, explored the town and walked along the water front to the edge of the breakwater. It rained a bit but it was warm enough that the walk was great!



Around five we had wine and olives in a bar near the hotel.


We have gotten used to not even thinking about dinner until 8:30 or so when most restaurants open. We had dinner not far from our hotel. There were three other occupied tables in the small restaurant and we were the only table not speaking French. The food pictures didn’t come out very well because it was fairly dark but we had a great meal. Here is my fish and scallops skewer.



Bilbao to Hondarribia

Monday, February 22, 2016

This morning we left Bilbao and drove east along the coast. We are in Basque Country. We saw lots of Basque graffiti and beautiful sheep. We kept trying to find the perfect sheep picture but never did.



Tonight we are staying in a Parador in Hondarribia our window overlooks the river and on the other side France.




For dinner we had the Basque equivalent of tapas, they are called pintxo here. At a local tavern near where we are staying, Gastroteka Danontzat, we had an incredibly helpful and enthusiastic host. He and Duke consulted and the result was marvelous. We started with anchovies and flying fish caviar and then a wonderful cheese with olive oil and walnuts.



Then we had the most wonderful octopus with potatoes, seaweed and their special sauce.


And we ended up with rice pudding.



Cangas de Onís to Bilbao

Sunday, February 21, 2016


When we left Cangas de Onís this morning we headed up the road to the shrine at Covadonga. We climbed up to the cave where they were getting ready for mass. We had a coffee in the nearby cafeteria before heading through the mountains to the coast.



We wanted to get to Bilbao today in time to visit the Guggenheim Museum because it is closed on Mondays. The museum opened in 1997 on the Bilbao waterfront. The collection had some cool stuff but the building itself was amazing. It was designed by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry. The building was designed to look like it is a part of the river and the nearby bridge and to represent both the ocean and the industrial history of Bilbao.


Out front they have a 12 m high highland terrier made up of flowers. The joke is that the dog was there first and the museum was built as his dog house.


Duke found a highly rated restaurant across the street from the hotel. It turned out to be in the shopping center. Our dinner wasn’t healthy but boy was it good! There are chips under all that.




León to Congas de Onís

Saturday, February 20, 2016

This morning we picked up a rental car in León and headed north. It is a beautiful sunny day. The route took us through the mountains.



We are staying in a Parador in Cangas de Onís. It used to be a monastery. This one is much smaller than the one in León. We got lucky and happen to be here for the dinner and cheeses tasting planned to celebrate their 1270th year.

This afternoon we went for a walk along the river.



Then we went to the cheese tasting,


And the tour.

While we were sitting in the church we listened to a Gregorian chant reverberate around us. The chanter continued at dinner.
Dinner was traditional food of the area.

Each course had a beer pairing. This is the trout soup with Affligem Blond Beer.

We finished the meal after midnight.