Madrid Spain

The night bus ride into Madrid from Lisbon was comfortable. After arriving to the station, we made our way to the metro for a short ride to stop Seville to drop off our luggage at Hostel Delfina. The hostel was not what one would think of as the typical hostel. A hostel can also be a b&b, a guesthouse, or pension. Situated in a stylish neighborhood in the heart of Madrid, the Hostel Delfina is a beautiful apartment. The host was accommodating despite having to come to the door so early in the am.

We set out to see the sites and meet up with another free tour in Plaza Mayor. http://www.madridtourist.info/plaza_mayor.html First we ate Prosciutto and cheese on a French baguette at Museo del Jamon. With Enrique as our guide, 2000 years of history was summed up in just under three hours as we made our way around various sites. After a short stop by our place to check in, we walked through El Retiro Park; just a short walk from the metro station. We walked with the locals as they soaked up the sun after a day at work. https://www.esmadrid.com/informacion-turistica/parque-del-retiro Many were in paddle boats or were sitting on grass with their family and friends. Dinner was tapas in the la Latina neighborhood.

After a full day of site seeing and good food we went back to Hostel Delfina to enjoy the room and prepare for the next day.

See the gallery for all the pictures.

Lisboa (Lisbon) Portugal

Lisbon, like many port cities, was once one of the richest places in the world, thanks to exploration and trade. It is still rich in culture today. Clay roofs make up the landscape. The tiles that make up the front of many of the buildings come from the Moorish influence. They add color and beauty to the stone facade . https://www.lisbon.net/history Check out the history of Lisbon.

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While walking up to the top of the city to look at a castle built in the 1930’s though looking hundreds of years older, we were approached by the owner of a little restaurant close by. We were asked to experience a nice meal for only 13€. We had traditional fare of vegetable soup, Portuguese steak, which is a steak with a fried sunny side egg on top, sardines and a dessert. There were other types of dishes but we ordered from the special 13€ menu. Visit Caminho da Ronda at 13 Castelo de Sao Jorge. If you want to visit the not so old castle it is 10€. I am sure the view alone is worth the visit.

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It was a holiday for the people of Portugal. We went up to the oldest part of the town and happened upon music, dancing and food. It was an early start to a festival they are having the rest of this week. There were mostly locals there. A tram took us up and back down. The trams are 100 yrs old and were refurbished in 1997.

The train from Lisbon to Cascais is only a half an hour. Cascais was a peaceful tranquil seaside town. Though at times there is much happening. A Harley bike festival had just occurred over the weekend The water of the Atlantic with its hues of turquoise, deep blue, cobalt blue and light green made me want to just sit and look at it all day. There people paddling, snorkeling or just swimming. The temperature was nearly perfect, warm in the sun but with a cool breeze and no humidity.

Boca do Inferno is a picturesque cliff at the far end of Cascais and easily accessible on foot.

We took an Uber over to the hill town of Sintra. http://www.sintra-Portugal .com There is a Moorish castle at the top, as well as a palace called Pena, built by a young German prince who wanted to impress the people. He built beautiful gardens, made lakes on the mountain, as well as planted trees; to include a cork tree.

You can walk up, take a hop on hop off bus, or a little car called a tuk. We took the private tour on the tuk. It cost a little more but for the experience in riding in one of those, it was worth it. Plus it was an open car and not an enclosed bus.

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The sidewalks in Lisbon are made of up of rocks that were cut in nearly the same size by hand and placed in the ground. It looked like tedious hard work took place to build them. They say the number of those who know how to do them had dwindled in recent years. Some of the sidewalks have designs in them. Some roads have designs as well. They are slippery even when not wet because it is as though they have been polished by all those walking over it over the years.

If Lisbon wasn’t on your bucket list of places to visit in Europe, it should be. There is more to tell and more to see than I have mentioned. Visit the gallery to see pics.

Ireland

For 7€ a bus will get you into Dublin’s city centre. A small shop just up from Connelly rail station, at 77A Talbot street, will allow you to leave your bags for the day, if your accommodations won’t, for only 5€ per bag.

I walked over to Gresham hotel for a tea and a warm croissant with Irish butter before boarding a bus for a tour to the Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough and Avoca. There are various companies out there offering the tour.

Prior to the last ice age the Wicklow mountains were covered in trees. After the ice melted bogs remained. The mountains are now a National park, but before this people would take up pieces of the bog to dry for fuel to heat their homes. There was a fire there last year that left destruction; new growth can already be seen. They had snow there in May. Despite a light rain at times, the day was gorgeous. Later in the summer there will be hues of purple and pink as flowers such as heather begin to bloom. I pictured the Irish Tenors singing. “Will Ye Go Lassie Go,” as we drove the countryside. Our tour group was small with only 8, so we moved from a bus to a van. The top was glass and if it had been warmer they would have opened it.

The river, Liffey that flows through Dublin starts in the Wicklow mountains.

The tour also goes to Glendalough http://www.glendalough.ie It is beautiful ruin of a monastery and a cemetery. I can only imagine how peaceful it is for family to visit their loved ones and look at the view of the mountains around them. A mist of rain started but that did not deter a walk around. There are hikes you can take up to one of two lakes. Since there was no time for that I chose to have a tea and eat some fish and chips at a stand outside of the ruins. There was also a restaurant in the hotel there filled with larger tour groups.

The Guinness family farm can be seen on the tour. They filmed some of the show “Vikings” here. As we stood overlooking Guinness lake the wind began to intensify. I stayed behind all the others who made their way to the edge of a very long drop down. I took the word of the tour guide who said it is an unforgiving drop, even if gradual. The place is a great place for hang gliding; if only I was more daring.

For those movie and show buffs like me you can also see the bridge from the movie “P.S I Love You;” made famous in the proposal scene.

The tour guide offered me the chance to walk around the town of Avoca as others visited the mill famous mill in town, since I was the only on who knew of it being the site of the “Ballykissangel.” The show is one of my favorites on British TV. The river Avoca runs through the town which makes it a perfect place for a mill. I ate a raspberry scone and had a cup of Irish tea inside the Fitzgerald’s pub.

Ireland’s history goes back thousands of years when nomadic tribes of celts made their way over from Central Europe during the Stone age. They could walk over to the island back then. As time went on they settled down some to farm. Ireland has kept much of its past despite occupation by various influences, as well as in part to lack of influence from the Roman Empire. The Romans did not settle there as they thought it was too cold. The Vikings came along and wreaked havoc but eventually assimilated. They brought with them, coins, language, and the concept of towns. The Norman’s came in by invitation and would also assimilate. They brought their castles and churches. During the dark ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Ireland didn’t suffer as others did in the rest of Europe. The monks were scholars of the written word and this influenced the rest of society, giving them a high literacy rate. Of course the Vikings plundered the monasteries. Then England tried to stop the language as it was unlawful to speak it. This is all I will say on the history of Ireland. It is really worth learning about their past. I could go in about it for many pages.

Until 2000 only small roads led you around the country. In 2000 the motorway was built. What used to take 7 hours across to Galway now takes 2 from Dublin. As you head west land is divided by fences made of stones, which look as though it was backbreaking work. Cattle, sheep and horses stay within these walls.

The Cliffs of Moher touch the Atlantic Ocean. Walk along the cliffs over 700 ft high, but do not sit down, the people running the place will let you know just how much they frown upon it.

The Burran mountains lack the green the rest of the landscape has. Read about them….http://www.burrengeopark.ie/learn-engage/geology-of-the-burren/

https://www.finnmccoolstours.com/contact-us/

Kilmacduagh ruins has one of the best preserved towers. In the days of invasions, monks would climb up rope ladders with their processions, pull the ladders up and escape the invaders. They never mentioned how long they had to stay waiting for their adversaries to leave though there may be written word of it in archives somewhere.

A bus full of 39 of us from 12 different countries listening to our guide as we made our way onto Galway. Galway had men from Spain, Queen Isabel’s fleet, settle there after their ships sank nearby. This is evident evident in some people seen there today. In Galway a new friend and I ate Guinness stew and mash potatoes. The meat in Ireland is some of the best around because of the natural grazing and lack of hormones used.

After our arrival back into Dublin we walked over to the Church of Dublin Bar and Restaurant. https://www.thechurch.ie/ The founder of Guinness was married there is the 1700’s, Handel practiced his “Messiah” there. Johnathan Swift attended the church among others. My travel companions from home and I will have dinner there tonight to enjoy a Irish band.

Last night we walked around Temple Bar which according to three tour guides, the locals never go. It’s known for high prices and lots of tourists consuming large quantities of alcohol. We did step in to a couple of places to hear some music, barely fitting in the crowd. In Fitzsimmons a band played John Denver’s “Country Road,” and nearly the entire bar, to include me, sang the tune. One great thing about traveling alone is you meet some wonderful people along the way!

I recommend Sandman’s free walking tours. The guides are extremely knowledgeable. Be sure to tip as this is how they earn their money.

I can recommend two places to stay. One is Barry’s hotel https://m.barryshotel.com for a very comfortable stay, and the other is Abbey Court hostel if you want a cheaper place. I also recommend booking before you come because places fill up very quickly and prices are raised for last minute bookings. https://www.abbey-court.com/

One last note, The National museums are free in Dublin and well worth a see. See the gallery for the rest of the pictures.

Como Italy

Airlines such as Easyjet, and Ryanair offer cheap rates for fights in and around Europe. There are various other airlines out there as well. The ride over the Alps as we crossed over Switzerland from Berlin, was amazing as we seemed to barely clear the steep slopes of snow covered caps. If you looked close enough you could see into the valley’s between the peaks.


I took a train from Milan to Como for a night on the lake. Como is in Northern Italy in the Lombardy region. http://www.visitcomo.eu/en/ I had booked a room at Residence Diaz for $58 for the night. http://www.residencediaz.it I was given a nice room on the bottom floor, but after ten minutes there was a knock on the door offering me a room with a view on the top floor, since they needed my room for someone else. I did not complain, my room had two floor to ceiling windows with doors opening out true to promise, to a view. The room had a big bed, a little kitchenette fully supplied, and a TV showing the American shows; “The Jefferson’s” and “Dukes of Hazard.” I did not stay inside long. It was a short walk to the Lake Como where I bought a ticket for a ride on Lake Como.

The boat took riders from one town to the next, dropping off some and picking up others. Villas, samller houses, apartments, and churches dotted the shore.

After the ride I stopped by a shop for some gelato. The creamy cool gelato is a must on a warm day of sightseeing.
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The Volta temple is a must see. Alexander Volta invented the battery. His inventions can be seen in the memorial to him for a small fee. http://www.comoanditslake.com/battery.htm

After a long walk around the Como side of the lake I made my way over to a restaurant. It was time to sample yet another type of lasagna and tiramisu. Neither the view or the food was a disappointment. I sat outside and watched the people pass by. At most restaurants I have been to in Europe there is an offer of still or sparkling water, for a small price. One bottle is more than enough for two to share.

I did not see George Clooney in Como as some have asked, but for a moment I lived nearly like him, at least as far as the beautiful view is concerned.

Berlin

Berlin is according to a tour guide, a city still recovering from World War II and the occupation of the Soviets. The city has been rebuilt over the years. There is a mixture of the new, some built during the Soviet occupation, and the old rebuilt to look like its original state.

“In the Garden of the Beasts, by Erik Larsen is a must read book about the US ambassador Dodd’s time in Berlin prior to the war. He reported back to Washington and Roosevelt, about the changes in Berlin under the Third Reich, and Hitler Tyranny. The garden in the title is Tiergarten, which is a large park in the middle of the city. https://www.visitberlin.de/en/tiergarten

I checked in St Christopher’s Inn. The hostel was conveniently located across the street from Rosa-Luxemberg U-Bahn stop. It is a short walk from Alexanderplatz, where you can shop, or go up into a TV tower built by the soviets for a view of the city.

It was a chilly day despite being the middle of June. Dressed in my raincoat, I set out to see the city. There are two tours I recommend. One is an overview of Berlin’s history prior to the Nazi’s and after; which was free. The other is the Red Tour, about the communist occupation, was only 10 euros. There were several other choices as well. http://www.neweuropetours.eu

In 1961 soldiers surrounded East Berlin, then came the barbed wire, and the wall soon followed. It surrounded west Berlin that was inside of East Berlin. Bricks line the street showing where the wall once stood. A portion of it exist today to show what it was like, and to not let people forget about what took place. 140 people met their deaths trying to escape. The people of east Berlin were given jobs by the soviets, but not freedom. There were some who missed the security the Soviets gave them with those job and other State amenities. The tour will take you past a holocaust memorial. An man in the tour told us he was once a soldier on the west Berlin side. He and the east Berlin solider would joke with each other occasionally as they stood by their post at checkpoint Charlie. You will stand where Hitler’s bunker stood, and see it is now a parking lot. The movie “Downfall,” gives a good depiction of the final days of Hitler. A memorial to the book burnings across from Humboldt University is in the ground. Looking inside all you see are empty shelves. Albert Einstein attended and taught at the university. I bought a biography of him written in German at a book sale across from the memorial at the University. The tour also took us to the ghost stations. Read https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/inside-the-forgotten-ghost-stations-of-a-once-divided-berlin. Music groups would play music by Brandenburg gate loud enough for those in the East to hear. David Bowie was one such singer. The Berlin Philharmonic was and still is considered one of the best orchestra’s in the world. I wish I had booked a show.

Despite all the pain experienced by Berlin and its people over the years, it is a survivor. It is a city that takes pride in itself, but it does not try to forget its past. It has learned from it, and seems to want others to learn as well. Check out more pictures in the gallery.