Jane's Travel Blog

New Chapter: Explore the World


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Edinburgh, Scotland

Ah, Edinburgh. We only had two weeks, so lots of walking and exploring were in order. After a day of grocery shopping and settling in, Bob and I decided to hike the extinct volcano just minutes from our apartment.  

The original plan was to hike up the main peak, Arthur’s Seat, but there was a “challenge race” that day. The sign read, “How many times can you climb Arthur’s Seat in 24 hours?”

Ok, I can answer that question. “Once.”

Because we didn’t want to slow down the participants of the event, we hiked up a nearby peak instead. From the top, a birds-eye view of the city sprawled out in front of us.

Sunday I walked across town to a delightful farmer’s market and explored along the way. Four organic apples and a beet later, I was on my way home.

Life keeps offering up gifts. On Friday our new friend Christine (mother of our friend Joanna from Malaga) took us on a captivating tour of Edinburgh. We explored the nooks and crannies of Edinburgh that only a local would know.

One of our last stops was the Royal Bank of Scotland. Why stop at a bank? Well, the answer became clear when we walked in and looked up to see a blue domed ceiling with at least 100 gold-rimmed star-shaped skylights. The day was filled with many gems like this. It was a special day, one we will not forget.

We are now in Peebles, which we affectionately refer to as our summer home since this is our fourth year in a row housesitting here.


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Mijas, Spain

Unlike our entrance into Paris (see Paris blog), arriving in Mijas had more grace. We took a direct flight from Paris to the Malaga airport and were met by a prearranged car to drive us the 30 minutes to Mijas. Seamless.

It’s felt easy every since. The mountains watch over us, the wine is cheap, and a small, yet well-stocked grocery store is minutes away!

Bob’s done it yet again. Our apartment is minutes from a trailhead leading into the Sierra de Mijas. The workout starts instantly out our apartment door, with a left turn to face many stairs leading us to the mountain.

As we walk along the trail, the sun catches the many specks of marble making me wonder if I’m walking on diamond chips. I pause more than usual. I’d like to say it’s to take in the view of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance, which is true, but also to sip water and take a breath as the trail is up, up and more up. With each hike, I got stronger. Mijas hiking has kept us in shape.

On our first hike, we were serenaded by The Blue Basement Big Band playing down in the main square. The acoustics of the mountain created the perfect amplifier. I found myself with an extra hop in my step for “Down by the Boardwalk” and a slower saunter for “Lover Man”. On the way back down the mountain, we decided to see if we could get to the city center in time for another set. We made it in time to enjoy our lunch and dance to the tunes, albeit in hiking boots.  

Things are more relaxed in Mijas. Bob joined a gym and normally he would be issued a  membership card. Here they simply turned over his receipt and drew lines on the back, dividing it into 6 sections. Each time he goes, someone initials the next section, noting his visit. We need to be careful not to toss that receipt. (Oh, I forgot, I learned not to toss receipts in Paris.)

Mijas is one of the “white villages” in Andalusia, hence all the buildings are painted white. One day I saw a painter working on a wall and chuckled to myself thinking about how little time he must spend thinking about paint color. There’s no choice.

Most of the white walls have potted plants affixed to them. Being the gardener that I am, my only thought besides how beautiful they are, was, “How do they keep all these pots watered?” I got my answer when I came upon a crew of people armed with wheelbarrows, buckets, and sticks with cans attached to the end. They haul the buckets of water in the wheelbarrows, scoop the can in the bucket, reach high and pour the water into the pot. I can’t imagine how often this crew will have to water when the summer temperatures rise. All for the beauty of Mijas Pueblo.

Since we are so close to Morocco, I decided to pop over and visit my friend Karla in Tangier for a few days. I took the ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar. Karla greeted me at the ferry gate and even though we hadn’t talked in almost four years, we picked right back up with that kindred spirit friendship thing. I love ya, Karla. It was a delightful visit. Thanks.

We also catch up with Joanna and Jose Marie, friends we met in Malaga years back. We hiked for a couple of hours up past the cute little chapel on the mountain, had a typical Spanish lunch complete with grilled sardines and fried calamari, and topped off the day with a visit to a local ice cream shop. All in a day’s fun.

We leave Mijas Wednesday with sadness in our hearts. Our choice would be to stay a few more weeks, but we are out of Schengen visa time, so off to Scotland we go (which is also a very good thing). We have eleven days in Edinburgh and then the rest of the summer in our “summer home” of Peebles with our usual three housesits plus a new one. The summer is looking good!

Until Later,

Jane


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Springtime in Paris

Our Arrival…

We said au revoir to Venasque April 4th and took the fast train from Avignon to Paris. Our seats were on the second level of the train and we relaxed watching the French countryside pass by. “I’m not on Amtrak anymore,” was all I could think. This train was modern, clean and fast. It’s sweet.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived in Paris. Our next step was to find the metro and catch the 1 line. Naturally, we needed subway tickets, and since we are in Paris for the month, I made the executive decision to buy unlimited passes.  

The woman at the service desk oozed kindness, debunking the rude Parisian stereotype, and explained how to prepare our passes. We’d need to sign the cards and get photos to tape on the cards. I’m thinking, “great, we can figure all that out tomorrow,” and we’re off to the turnstile to catch the metro.

I scan my card, the gate opens (think the beginning of a horse race) and I plow through with my large black duffle in tow. I get through, but my duffle does not. The gate closes and my duffle is trapped. Bob is on the other side with his duffle and guitar wondering what is going on.

I’m pulling, pushing, laughing and attempting to problem solve this one. A tall Frenchman walks to my gate and I wave him off, explaining in English, “I can’t get out. I’m stuck, so use another gate.” I have no idea if he understood me, yet he knew exactly what to do. He waved his Metrocard over the reader, my gate opened, and with one easy pull, my duffle was free. The Frenchman smiled, walked through following my duffle and I said, “Merci, merci, merci,” with a namaste bow. I’m free and now for Bob.

Having watched my less-than-graceful attempt to navigate these gates, Bob was a bit more cautious. There was no way he was getting through those skinny gates with a duffle and a guitar. Wisely he returned to the service window, used his proficient French and learned where to enter with a wide load. We are on our way. So we thought…

The metro arrives quickly, and we are zipping along toward Neuilly, our neighborhood. All good. We get off the train and head to the escalator to go above ground when we are stopped at a checkpoint. They ask to see our tickets and we produce our unsigned, photoless passes and the woman says, “Wait here. You need to speak with my manager.” Ugh.

The manager asks when we bought the passes. I explain about 20 minutes ago and that we have just arrived in Paris. We have not had a chance to sign our passed or get photos. He asks for our receipts.

Shit, where did I put the receipts? Did I even keep the receipts? The kind woman at the original service desk sold the passes as two separate transactions (why I don’t know). I find one receipt in my wallet, show it to him and then he says, “This is only for one pass. Where is the other receipt?” I look him right in the eyes, and say,  “I have no idea.” I start to dig.

My duffle has an outside pocket where I stuff last minute stuff, so I open it up, and voilà, the other receipt is sitting on top of two maps of Paris that were included with the second purchase.

We received a small reprimand for not having photos, and we were off to our Airbnb.

So, the next day we find a Woolworth style photo booth. We sit down on the stool, push some buttons and for 5 euro each we have pictures for our passes. We are ready to explore and yes, the receipts will be in my wallet until we leave Paris.

Exploring Paris…

Since the purchase of our Metro passes, we’ve taken total advantage, traveling all over Paris to see the sites. It’s spring. The trees are leafing out, the tulips and daffodils are in bloom and the grass is green. The temperature climbs as the weeks pass. When we arrived, it was in the 50s and now for our last week, it will be in the 70s. No complaints here.

Notre Dame, the Rodin Museum and garden, The Marmottan Monet Museum, and the Eiffel Tower were a few of our first stops. We jump on the Metro with a destination in mind, visit the site, and then explore the neighborhood, often stopping for a light lunch and a glass of wine. It’s a great way to just soak up the Parisian scene.

Paris has everything, including friends from our past. We met up with Kaye and Tom, who just happened to be in Paris at the same time as us.  We met them in our first year of travel in Cuenca, Ecuador where they were escaping the cold of Upper Michigan. I couldn’t believe that we were all in Paris at the same time.  We shared a Parisian lunch at Le Balzar Brasserie. Perhaps we will meet again somewhere else in the world!

Neuilly, where we are housesitting, is a gorgeous suburb of Paris. Rio, the dog, is our new best friend and he helps us explore our new neighborhood.  Its wide sidewalks, gorgeous gardens, and churches make it the ideal dog walking scene. He has ideas on which turn to take, and I have ideas, and most often we agree. He’s a fun one to hang out with.

We have a few days left in Paris and I’m planning to visit a few more museums. On Saturday we fly to Mijas, Spain for the month of May.


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Notre Dame

I write this blog with sorrow and with great hope.

Notre Dame burned on the evening of April 15th. The world mourns the tragedy at Notre Dame. It is not a total loss. The roof and the spire are gone, but the walls and the bell towers remain.

The quick thinking of the French fire department saved many precious artifacts, and the venerable pipe organ survived.

I went to this iconic cathedral the next day. Hundreds of people gathered. An eerie quiet fell on the scene with only whispers when needed. The respectful silence reflected the love of Notre Dame.

The city, the county, and the world can feel hope.

Next week, a blog with a different mood sharing our adventures in Paris.


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A Return to Venasque, France

In December, January and February we were in the US visiting family and friends. Lots of laughs and more memories created and I’m grateful for all.

This March we returned to Venasque, France for a  housesit with Lolly, our favorite Jack Russell Terrier. She’s a happy spirit and makes me smile many times each day.

Venasque is a quiet village atop a mesa in the Provence region. We are here on the offseason, so it’s fair to call it sleepy. One bakery and one small grocery shop that sells the basics is all that’s open and only for limited hours. There is a post office too. Since we arrived, one shop/cafe has opened and I’m taking complete advantage of it. In fact, this blog was started there.

The woman at the bakery is very patient with my lack of French and speaks slowly, attempting to teach me a little French. I go once or twice a week for some fine bread and maybe a tasty sweet.

Most of our time is spent walking with Lolly, a little gardening, hiking, and traveling to the nearby villages for bigger grocery stores. A giant THANKS to Dan for taking me shopping on Tuesday and Thursdays. I love the adventures and the many stories we have shared.

Lolly and I walk every morning. She lets me know when it’s time to go. First, she sits up perfectly straight, directly in front of me with a loving yet determined stare. I do my best to ignore her as I enjoy my last sips of coffee, but when she walks over and puts her white and brown head on my leg, I know it’s time.

At this point, I go upstairs and dress for the walk. She follows me every step of the way making sure I know it’s time for the walk.

I have two favorite walks. One takes us through a cherry orchard and the other into the rocky cliffs. Every hike offers spectacular views. I know they are coming, and yet I’m still surprised by their beauty each time I turn a corner. Mountains, rock formations, and distant villages are everywhere.

Lolly’s favorite part of any walk is when she is off lead. She sprints, sniffs and smiles, enjoying the freedom.  She runs ahead exploring and taking in all the new smells. She’s a lucky dog.

Oh, and the weather. All I need to say is that it’s strawberry season and they are the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever eaten. Yummy!

Venasque’s laid-back scene allows time to us to regroup and immerse in nature. It’s the perfect balance as we leave for a month in Paris tomorrow.


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Bye San Sebastian

Well, one week left in San Sebastian, Spain, and it’s hard to leave.

We love it here, and I could easily move here. I’m not sure I can say that about any other city. Yes, Samantha, I know you told me I’d love it, and you were so right. All the places we have lived have offered amazing experiences, but San Sebastian has a little extra magic.

In these last days, we are getting in a bit more hiking and visiting a few our favorite spots.

Next up is a three-month visit to the States. We will be in Brooklyn and Albany for December, and Philadelphia for February. Albany and Philadelphia are housesitting near the grandkids. I don’t really like the winter temperatures anymore, so we’ll thaw a little in Gulf Shores, Al for January. (thank you, Kristin, for the condo!)

My policy has been to not blog when we visit family, so look for my next blog mid-February from Venasque, France. We are returning to care for the spitfire Jack Russell, Lolly.

Meanwhile, here’s another quick look at San Sebastian, Spain.

Until Later.

Sadly, my cart stays here, but I’m sure I’ll have another.


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The Market and Perseverance

One of my favorite pastimes is finding the local open-air markets in a new city.

A quick search on the internet brings up “Mercado Itinerante de Productores.” The site describes a market with only locally grown fruits & veggies as well as cheeses, breads, and other goodies. It sounds like a Jane place.

It’s a Saturday market that changes location each week. Our first Saturday here, I headed out to Plaza Easo with my new cart (more on the cart later). It was a perfect excuse to navigate the city with a destination in mind. The route took me along the River Urumea, through some posh neighborhoods which opened up to the lovely Plaza Easo.

But NO market.

I knew my mistake instantly. This was the second Saturday of the month, not the first, classic Jane mistake; reading something too quickly.

One little mistake isn’t going to stop me from finding the Mercado Itinerante de Productores. I pull out my phone, get online and find the location for the second Saturday of the month. I enter the plaza into Google Maps and I’m pleased to see that this plaza is on my way home.

Dutifully, I follow my directions which take me to a street with only apartments. No plaza. I decide I must have made a wrong turn and wander around the area looking for the market. About now I’m thinking this market has an invisibility cloaking device and then I have another aha moment. I bet it’s in another town.

Sitting on a bench in the shade, I get back online, and yep, this week it’s in another town. There’ll be no Mercado Itinerante de Productores today. Next week it is.

The third Saturday of the month arrives and with a spring in my step, I’m off to the market. I get to the street and… no market. Now I’m sure there’s a cloaking device. Where is this frickin’ market?

Oh, vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. Once again, I find a bench in the shade, pull out my phone, check the website and I read, “Penultimate Saturday of the Month.” I thought perhaps this is the name of another town, but I’m also confused because Gros, our neighborhood, is listed as the location.

“What does penultimate mean? It can’t be a town.” A quick bit of research and it means … the second to the last. The market is the second to the last Saturday of the month. There are five Saturdays this September, so NO market, it’s next week.

I regroup, collecting that spring in my step, explore Old Town, and enjoyed a few pintxos along the way.

So, on the penultimate Saturday of the month, I finally experienced the Mercado Itinerante de Productores in Gros.  I bought a tasty local honey and a few other products. I now know the secret to the magical cloaking device and will return to Plaza Easo on the first Saturday in the month of October. That will be Oct. 6th, right?

As for my new cart, I have officially become a cart lady. I walk the streets of San Sebastian with my fashionable black cart in tow. I just got tired of lugging groceries. Having a cart is “a thing “ here.  Most women, young and old use carts. I’ve even seen a few men pushing one. My new cart might just be partly responsible for that spring in my step, especially on a trek home loaded with groceries.

Until Later.