Tuesday, November 19, 2013


We had a wonderful trip to Spain in September
and there were many highs and fortunately
only a few lows.  No matter how much you
plan life steps in and takes charge.
One of the biggest highs from this trip
were the apartments we rented in
3 different cities.  The key here was the company
I worked with.  FRIENDLY RENTALS was
the web site I chose and they were
fabulous in every way.
First destination was Barcelona.
For us the most important things about
choosing a place to stay is location.  What
I liked about this site more than any of
the others was you could narrow down
your location.  This way you are not
looking over an entire city but only
a designated neighborhood.  My other
2 requirements were WIFI and elevator.
Now you have a more manageable
number of apartments to look at.
My pictures look almost identical to
the ones I saw on the web site.
That for me was very gratifying.
Staying in an apartment opposed to a
hotel has so many advantages.  You have
more room for one thing.  I like to get up
early and take care of all my business
emails while my husband likes to sleep
later.  I can go into the living room and
don't have to worry about waking him.
We want to be in the historic part of the city,
sometimes called Gothic area.  So the buildings
are old but the apartment has been
updated with all the conveniences we love.
This place had touches of the old with this
great brick and beam ceiling.
I also like having a kitchen and being able
to have breakfast in a leisurely manner.
I like to go out and explore the city
while it is waking up.  I stop at a bakery
and get something for our breakfast.  Stop
at cafe and have my first latte of the day.
The second day they recognize you and by
the third day you are a local.
You also get more room in the
bathroom.  More storage, where in
a hotel you never have a place to put anything.
This place had a little balcony with a
great view of the patio below.

Usually in the historic neighborhood it
is a no car zone since the streets
are very narrow.  We had the advantage
of that plus we were very close to the
main business area with access to
public transportation and wonderful
large walkways.
I loved our main entrance in a tiny little alley
way with this modern door.  We felt
very secure, this door had a key and
pass code and there were four other
doors we went through before we got
to our apartment. 
Now the low.  On our third day
in Barcelona we both had our wallets
stolen within 10 minutes of each other.
We were at the train station getting
ready to take a little side trip to the
Dali Museum.  We had been warned
that Barcelona was very bad for this
but being "savvy travelers" we weren't
on our guard like we should have been.
Credit cards, cash, insurance cards and
drivers license.  Fortunately we still had
one credit card and a debit card
and our passports were in the safe
at the apartment.  Exactly where our
wallets should have been.  But we will
not dwell on that.  This picture is the
police station where we filed the police
report.  A very low point but we BOUNCE
back well.
We had a week before our next
apartment reservation in San Sebastian.
Our plans had been to rent a car and
meander our way north with no
definite itinerary.  Losing our drivers licenses
shot that plan so we diverted to plan B, the train.
We knew we wanted to spend some time
in Valencia so we decided to go there
for a couple of days and than go up
to Zaragoza.  It worked out very well,
maybe a little less stressful than driving.
We saw some interesting sites along
the way.  Plus the train is fast and
relativity inexpensive.  We were
able to buy a senior pass for 5 euros
that is good for a year and gives you
a 40% discount on the train ticket.
We went to the train station in Zaragoza
for our trip to San Sebastian and was told
all sold our for the entire day.  That left
plan C, the bus.  Fortunately the bus
station was next to the train station and
we were able to leave within 40 minutes.
The bus was actually a better choice.
It was non stop where the train made
several stops so we got in earlier than planned.
Our apartment choice in San Sebastian
was to be in the historic center on
one of the main streets.  When we arrived
and turned the corner to our street
we were delighted to see this magnificent
church a short distance from our apartment.
Another success with FRIENDLY RENTALS.
Here are the pictures from the web site
that drew me to this particular apartment.
You walk in from the street to this
flight of stairs in a very old building.
Fortunately we were on the first landing.
The interior was exactly the way it had
been presented.  Another nice feature
of renting an apartment is they all had
washers and dryers.  It took a while
to figure out the Spanish symbols
but eventually we got our wash done.
 Our view from our balcony was always fun.
and interesting.
San Sebastian is an exciting place.  It is known
as the food capital of Spain with many
Michelin Star restaurants.  They also
have Spains largest film festival which
was going on while we were there.  Lots
of talk from the locals on celebrity sitings.
It also has a fabulous beach and coast
line.  We were just minutes away from
all of this.  One afternoon we decided
to have a picnic.  I picked up some cheese
a great baguette and the finest ham.
This women was so cool, she spoke no
English and I no Spanish but we
worked so well together and I go
exactly what I wanted.

We found an empty bench with a fabulous view.
This area of Spain, Basque Region is
also noted for their wine.  One of the things
we were really looking forward to with the
car was to visit a couple wineries. 
While planning this trip I had discovered the
web site and facebook page of
exceptional company of foodies
and lovers of life.  They organize gourmet
tours, wine tasting tours, cooking classes
and much more.  This was our Plan B, but
really it was a AA+.  Their motto is
This is living.  This is the good life.
THIS is San Sebastian Food.
We walked over to their office and
booked ourselves for a day to
discover the secrets of wine making up
close and personal.
There were 6 of us plus the tour guide and
driver of the van. We met at 8:00 am and
set out to visit 3 very different wineries.
We drove for about 2 hours through a
gorgeous country side, stopping at
a little cafe for coffee working ourselves
up to some wine tasting.  
The first winery was very traditional with
beautiful grounds.
It was harvest season so the tour was
very interesting since they were all working.
Our second stop was a very contemporary.
Inside and out it was a total vision.

The day tour includes a 5 course lunch
with wine pairing for each course.  The
restaurant at this winery could not
have been nicer.
The lunch was fabulous and it gave
us a chance to get better acquainted with
the other people we were spending 
the day with.  It was a
very relaxed situation and with all
that wine we had a fun time.
We also had the best guide, August.
He was a very professional, but not
stuffy and you felt like you had made
a friend by the end of the day. 
Our last stop was a very small almost
one man operation that had been
handed down from father to son for
many generations. 

If we were to go back to San Sebastian
we would certainly book another tour
have many to choose from.
Our third and last apartment at
the end of this trip was in Bilboa,
about an hour and half bus ride.
I loved all of the apartments but this was
probably my favorite.  In fact I wanted
to stay and live here. 
Again we were in the historic center of
Bilboa but close to all public transportation.
As you can see from the front entrance
the building had old world charm.
Once inside it was very modern.
It was the largest of the 3 and had a
open feel to it.  Cost wise staying
in an apartment is not expensive.
These 3 places averaged $193.00
a night and we paid a $40.00 cleaning
fee for each one.  For us it was
really worth it.

We were on the third floor which
gave us a great view.
Through the course of this trip John
suffered from a very bad toe.  Walking
didn't help the matter and we did lots
of that.  At this point in the trip it got
very badly infected and it was time for
serious measures.  We called our
wonderful contact person who checked
us in to our apartment for a recommendation
of a hospital.  Susana gave us a
name of a fairly new hospital that she
had heard great things about, a short taxi ride away.
As emergency room visits go this is
probably one of the best we have had
and unfortunately we have had many.
We only waited a short time and got in
to see this wonderful doctor.  She
enjoyed practicing her English with us
and we hit it off very well.  She did
her doctoring on John and prescribed
some antibiotics that would help the situation.
After she was finished I asked her
if she would be so kind and recommend
a restaurant for us.  Something out
of the way that she would go to.
She asked us a couple of questions and
 I got just the place.  She actually got
on the phone and made us a reservation.
This was a very nice and special thing for her to do.
   We knew it would be some place
good and it was perfect!  A tiny little
place with a half dozen tables.
They are know for their tomatoe salad.
This was the best thing ever.  Tomatoes
that tasted like tomatoes, not like we
get here I am sorry to say.  This salad
was so simple. Tomatoes, red onion and
Spanish olive oil.  Fabulous!!

It was very reassuring on this trip to know
that we could turn some of the low points
into a good experience and that
nothing was going to spoil our trip.
There is always a Plan B and sometimes
you go to Plan C.  That is the fun
and adventure of traveling.

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