Thursday, April 20, 2023

Last week in Spain...Historic Cuenca

We're winding down after five weeks in Spain. Since we changed our plans and skipped Paris, we headed to Cuenca which is halfway between the coast and Madrid.

Cuenca is an ancient city built on a mountain between two rivers and named a world heritage site because of its landscape and architecture from the 12th to the 18th century. So many of its buildings are built into the mountain and some (Casas Colgadas) are hanging off the cliffs. The city's history goes back to the 700's when the Moors came to the area. We stayed in a newer (but still old) section of town at the level of the river which meant walking up the mountain about 20 minutes everyday to see museums and sites. We got lots of walking and steps in everyday. The best of the city to me was the many views and photo opportunities of this ancient city. 

We are back to our slower pace after the week with our family friends in Alicante which means back to our meditation and tai chi in the mornings, our cup of decaf latte/americano and then heading up to the old city center.

Spanish is spoken here almost exclusively and again we have not seen nor heard any Americans for the whole week. We started the week with a tour of the history and main buildings. We observed and understood some of the stories but our Spanish did not allow us to get every detail. There were no guides in English. Throughout the rest of the week we went daily to one or more of the museums and sites.

Cathedral of Santa Maria de Gracia - Gothic architecture and very large church built where the original Moslem Mosque was located. 

Museum de Ciencias (Science) - an interesting museum of the past, present and future with respect to many areas of science, geology, space, etc. There were many interactive exhibits and we experienced the simulation of a 9.2 earthquake which shook me up for several hours afterwards. My whole body was in shock after just a few seconds. I would never like to experience such an event again. As many of the buildings in the center of town, there were incredible views to be had.

Art collection of Roberto Polo - modern art collection

Puente de San Pablo to the Convento of San Pablo - bridge over the river to the building that is now a Parador of Turismo (hotels in historic settings).

Museo de Arte Abstracto, situated in one of the hanging houses. The city has many collections of modern Spanish artists.

Museum of Cuenca - told the history of Cuenca

A special day included a walk along the two rivers that surround the town giving us a better understanding of the geography of the area.

Tomorrow we are off to Madrid for our flight home on Saturday.

I have much gratitude to be back to traveling again and that we were able to do so many physical days of walking miles and many up and down stairs and hills. After these several years of not having our traveling days we were so happy to be back to it. Traveling to different cultures allows us to experience different worlds and learn about different lifestyles. We are so glad to have you all traveling with us.

And from Ricardo...

I have no regrets for traveling to Cuenca. It has much to offer but with a few caveats. First, you will need some command of the Spanish language and second, good legs to walk up and down the mountain to the museums and other attractions  unless you live up at the top.  We chose to live in a newer part of the city, on the flats. This is a very old city built on a mountain. On top is a very famous church in the same location that the mosque used to be along with many interesting museums.

Cuenca is 3000 feet high with a population of 55,000 that has seen its growth change over the years. Like many places in the world, there is difficulty finding workers to support this mainly tourist industry so most of this type of labor has been brought in from South America, very interesting indeed. They speak Castellano Spanish here with no other regional dialect.

There are two rivers running down from the higher peaks which flow around this old city and then join at the end to become one river. It is very picturesque and unlike other parts of southern Spain there is a forest and many green spaces, Cuenca has water which is very drinkable but I still purchased bottle water out of habit.
We are now one hour from Madrid, which we will be flying from on Saturday morning. I’m not going to recommend this place unless seeing a very old city fits your kind if travel. For us it’s been a great place to be as we wind down our time in Spain. 
Thanks for traveling with us.

Sending love,

Friday, April 14, 2023

Two weeks in the good life.

Happy travelers
What more can I say about this jewel of a town called Alicante, Spain.  From my perspective and that of my friend’s, the Holland/Rhodes and their two children (young adults) who are with us, there is something here for everyone to enjoy. Our flow here starts with a good night’s sleep, leave the apartment about 10 AM for coffee and a croissant, visit one of the great museums, then a walk around town or up to a castle/fort, take a delightful nap, go to the beach for swim and sun, home or out for dinner and play some games before bed. This is just perfect for me.

Castillo de Santa Barbara
This little city of about 350,000 sits right on the Mediterranean Sea with its white sand beach and blue green water and it’s hundreds of coffee spots, tapas bars and restaurants with food that will never stop satisfying a hungry traveler. Also for us are the many excellent museums which are free here. I highly recommend this as a perfect weeks’ vacation with great weather and ample sunshine almost all year around. A caution I will give is that the summers here could be a bit on the hot side especially if you like to walk. Alicante has a few hills going up from the sea with the two Moorish castles or forts, which give the visitors a perfect view of the cities and its beach.  We ate out twice to enjoy the paella of the region and a forkful wasn’t left behind. Lastly let me not forget the ice cream and gelato places especially if ice cream is your passion which is one of mine.
Dragon Fruit

Thank you for traveling with us again in Spain.

Sending love,

Were winding down our two weeks in Alicante. We spent the first week on our own and the second with our good friends from Buxton, England...Dan, Fiona, Aidan and Will. How fun to travel with a family and enjoy good times together. We stayed in two different locations in this small beach city and will leave here feeling that we have a good sense of this place.

It is a tourist destination and we were here during Semana Santa and Easter Sunday which is a busy time with many religious events. Our weather was perfect - no rain (though they need it badly) and for the Brits, it was a lovely warm getaway.

Esplanada de Espana

Once again I will list our various activities to keep our memory alive. As usual, we started our trip with the City history walking tour with guide Jose. He was fun and full of knowledge and the city has a long history with several rebuilds after destruction during wars. It is on the Costa Brava which is along the Mediterranean and has a lovely beach within walking distance of both of our airBnB's.

700 + year old ficus tree

Playa del Postiguet

Santa Cruz neighborhood
Alicante is another great walkable city and we’ve explored most areas during our time here. The backdrop to the city is the mountain with ruins of the Castillo de Santa Barbara on one side and the Castle de San Fernando on the other. We walked up both giving us fantastic views of the city and the beach. Another walking tour included legends and the less touristy neighborhoods of Carmen and Santa Cruz.

We enjoyed some of the many museums all over town. First the Museo de Contemporary Art, and then Bellas Artes Fine Arts museum. The Ocean Race Museum, right on the harbor, tells the story of the big sailing race that goes around the world and leaves from Alicante every 3 years. It is modern and with many exhibits giving a real feel for what these talented sailors go through in this grueling race.

The Water museum gives the history of water in the city and shows the original wells used to store water until it began to be piped into the city in 1898.

We visited the Hogueras Museum which explores the festival of large sculptures similar to Las Falles in Valencia which I already wrote about in the last post.

Terracotta Warrior

We saved the best for last – the Archaeological Museum. We happened upon the unique exhibition of China’s renowned Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Army is one of the most famous attractions in China and is considered to be one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world and one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century.

Most of our days included time walking along the beach and enjoying the Spanish very laid-back lifestyle. Lots of eating – tapas of papas bravas, padron peppers and of course the paella. The rice and spices are a bit different in Alicante than Valencia but mostly to my taste it was the nearly the same.

Building sand castles

On our last day, today, we traveled out of the city to Elche (a smaller city 30 min away) with a large botanical garden and big Palm Garden.

Showing off for the camera
Palm Garden in Elche

We have changed our final week's plan. Because of the unrest in Paris, we have changed our return flights and now will return from Madrid. We will spend our last week in Cuenca, Spain which is new for us. I will let you know what we see and do next week.

Thanks to all for traveling with us. We are grateful for your many comments.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Valencia, Spain revisited

To begin our trip here, I need to mention that we were here 3 years ago, pre-pandemic in the month of January which was a bit cold but very doable for us.  After being here for one month we knew  that we had to come back,  if just to repeat what we did then. So here we are now, back at the beginning.

OK, Valencia is a GEM of a place - very flat and walkable with much to do and you will never get bored. If we finished our travels here today I would just say  WOW!!! which is just how I felt the last time. Life slows down here, people are very friendly and willing to help with so many things to stimulate your senses and provide knowledge of this area. I would recommend Valencia to explore with only one caveat. In the summer months, I was told that the temperature can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit and for me that would be too hot to even walk around this magical place. The suggested best months here are March & April and for us the weather has been perfect, with no rain. (It would be welcomed now as there is currently drought conditions.)

Susan will clue you in on all of the things that we did while visiting in this part of Spain. Thank you for traveling with us.

We are grateful to be traveling again and visiting a favorite city that we visited in Jan, 2020 just before the pandemic. Having 2 weeks gave us a great chance to see places we loved the first time. Nothing disappointed us. 

I have been posting pictures on Facebook and so many friends have seen them but many have not so I am repeating some as this is my diary to remember all that we have done. 

The street where we live
Juan de Austria 4

We are back to our typical travel life which we enjoy when we are in the same place for a long enough time to feel like we live here. Each day includes meditation and chi kung and a daily outing for a decaf coffee for us and croissant for Ricardo. We enjoyed the outdoor tapas spots with our favorite papas bravas (the Spanish version of French fries). A specialty was vegan paella and we often ate home, cooking in our little kitchen. During this two weeks we took an online class – Sketchbook Revival and both learned from the 2 different people every day with different ideas for creativity. Our materials were limited but we did many experiments. We are happy to be back to some artwork daily.

Mostly I will list the places we went and include photos of some of them. There is so much to see and do in this “big city in a small, intimate package” (quote from an online tourist site). Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city. It’s just a fraction of the size of Madrid or Barcelona. It has a population of less than 800,000 in the city proper, and about 1.7 million in the great metro area.

·     Walking tour of Carmen street art

·      Jardin de Turia – the 6 mile former riverbed park that has been converted into a greenway for outdoor activities, museums, etc.

·      Fallas Museum – we learned about this festival last visit – the building of these giant sculptures that can take over one year to make and which are all (except for one) burned. The best is saved for this museum. We arrived on Sunday, Mar 19 which was the night that they were all burned. We saw two in the city from a distance and listened to firecrackers all night long. There were MANY people in town that day.

·      Tour and boat ride in L’Albufera. This is the area outside of the city that is home to many rice fields and is the reason that paella has become so popular in Valencia. The small village is home to this scenic area and to 35 paella restaurants. Definitely worth a visit.

·      Bioparc (zoo) – our second time – this zoo allows the animals to roam free and to live in their natural habitats. It felt like the animals were happy there.

Baobob tree

·      Cuevas (caves) de San Jose – also a tour and new for us. This is supposedly the longest underground river in Europe and the boat ride through a small part of the river was interesting and beautiful.

·      Institut Valencia de Arte Moderne

·      Oceanografico – a large aquarium which is part of the Arts and Science complex of the Jardins de Turia. The building are all designed by the architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela.


Our street corner

Needless to say, I would recommend this city to any travelers. There is something for everyone. I think it is better knowing Spanish but without it you would still find it interesting.


Now we are off to Alicante. Thank you for joining us on our travels.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Reflections on the year 2022

Its always interesting to review our year as we write our final blog post of 2022. Many things were the same as prior years but of course we're different people every year. This year we're writing about the few things that defined our year and perhaps changed us in some way. I will write S when Susan is speaking and R when Richard is speaking.

R     We have listed 6 things that stand out for both of us. They include the following themes: Old and new friends, Libros para Todos, Exercise routines, Travel again, our HOA and creative endeavors. We will take a moment here to elaborate and record for our history purposes.

Friends both old and new

S    Number one for both of us is friends, both old and new. Our trips gave us a chance to visit with our old friends and catch up on the goings on, especially because we hadn't traveled much in the prior 2 years because of the pandemic.  We're always lucky and make a few new friends each year. (Unfortunately we loose a few as well.)

R    Not to mention names but since we have returned to our UU church new people have come into our lives. It is a cherished event whenever one meets like-minded humans. I always get more strength from people and it is always a joy for me . 

Libros para Todos

R     Our not for profit that was started almost 10 years ago has grown in size and is thriving. Our director has been very successful along with the many volunteers. What pleases me most is that our meetings are held predominantly in Spanish and the number of young children benefiting has more than doubled since it began.

S    I am so grateful that Libros para Todos is still going strong in Mexico. So many of you who are reading this post have supported this literacy program that we started 10 years ago. It has grown with Daniela Franco as its director and we are still involved behind the scenes as Board of Director members. I was able to attend a few of the summer camp days this year and witness the enthusiasm for learning and creativity of both the kids attending as well as the volunteers who help to make it happen. Our volunteer team has grown to include mostly Spanish speakers and it was a joy to attend a volunteer meeting in Spanish. (By way of comparison - when we began we were all English speakers and therefore couldn't really communicate well with the children.)


S    Mostly new for me is Rocksteady Boxing - a special program for people with Parkinson's Disease. It is a national organization with great success helping us with strength, coordination, balance and large body movements. It is fun and exercise at the same time. While in Mexico I was able to find Janis who gave me personal boxing classes twice a week for the whole time I was there. 

R    Besides walking most days, usually over 3 miles, we both attend a gym 2-3 times/week. A new friend has given us his Nordic rowing machine. This device is a challenge but in time I hope to master it. I have been doing my juggling acts and practice almost daily.

Travel again and plans for the future

R    Finally we have traveled this year outside of the country. We returned to San Miguel de Allende for 3 months and will be returning again in 2023 to share our time with all of our dear friends and of course actively participate with our team, Libros para Todos. We traveled up north to Cape Cod for an adult Vogel reunion and to Long Island to be with my niece and her family and recently to Saint Augustine, FL to share time again with the Vogel clan and my cousins.

S    Having traveled a bit this year felt VERY good again. As you all know, we've had the travel bug for a very long time and felt a bit stifled for a while of no travel. Now I am back searching airBnB and airlines/trains websites getting ready for a trip in Mar/April to Spain and ending in Paris. We'll have a few car trips in the USA and then Mexico again from Oct-Dec 2023. 

Homeowner's Association - Volunteer

R    I wanted to meet my neighbors and I was elected to the board of our homeowner's association as the contract coordinator for our 56 home community. I have really enjoyed the process and meeting my neighbors, many for the first time. It has been interesting and rewarding. I will be continuing this volunteer job for the year to come.

S    I am very proud of all that Richard has done this year as a board member. His personality is perfect for working with others as he always brings joy to everything he does.

Creative endeavors

S    I found a new art practice which I hope to continue and perhaps expand. I have done online weekly classes along with a one month challenge of slow mindful drawing of repetitive patterns mostly from nature. (For more information see I enjoy the calm, meditative act that this provides. I have also made a quilt which was auctioned and many placemats that we gave to Meals on Wheels as part of our UU Quilters project. This year we are making them again. It is great to be able to use my sewing and art gifts to give service to others.

R    For me, I continue to practice Tai Chi which can be considered an art form. It can take a lifetime to master.

Good bye charlie. 

S    We said our goodbyes to our friend charlie kast who left this world right after we headed to Mexico. We had been part of his "charlie's angels" team helping him in his last few months after his stroke. He was a very important person in our lives. I worked with him as he was the minister of our UU church during the 11 years that I worked there. We've been very connected to him during our retirements as well and looked forward to our time together. His greatest lesson for me was that it is OK to be me, whatever I am, without worry about pleasing others. He was a loyal friend who cared about others. He showed love and allowed us to show him love, especially in his last days. It was an honor to be one of his friends.

R    During the past year many dear friends have passed. I’m trying to get my head around this occurrence in life which is not an easy task for me. I will mention one person, charlie kast and many of you will know who I mean. He was not only my close friend but a mentor in so many ways. I miss him and others every day and will always keep them in my heart felt memories.

We wish you a peaceful and healthy NEW YEAR and look forward to seeing you all in the coming year.
Sending love,
Susan and Ricardo