Friday, December 16, 2016


                         SKATING BY THE SEA

   Once a year the Hotel Del Coronado constructs an outside skating rink. It is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the vintage 128-year-old hotel. The setting is superb and it attracts thousands of skaters every holiday season..

This year we decided it was time to attach the double-bladed skates to Mila's tennis shoes, and let her whirl around the rink for the first time. She wore her winter jacket, warm hat, and mittens that are rarely needed in San Diego. The two and 1/2 year old Mila was content to skate the entire session on this mild winter evening with just a few short cookie breaks. She seemed to be enjoying herself, despite the fact that she clutched her mother's hand for dear life the entire time.
It didn't take long for Mila to observe that her skates were not as cool as the others—she asked for a different pair. I think she was eyeing her mother's white leather skates with the shiny silver blades.
    When we left the rink, she announced that she was a good skater. Is it just possible she will follow in her mother's footsteps and become a competitive skater? If she does, she can say that she started skating at two and 1/2, which is well documented by the dozens of photos and videos that her father took that day.
    I wrote a post about my skating excursion to the Hotel Del Coronado three years ago, it almost seems like yesterday—time goes too fast. There have been a few changes since then: the cost has increased to $25; there is no reduction if you bring your own skates; and the sessions are a half-hour shorter. However, the holiday music, twinkling white lights, and comfortable temperatures still prevail. Most importantly, I now have a granddaughter to share the experience with.

     Here is the December 2013 post: Skating by the Sea at the Vintage Del Coronado Hotel.


Sunday, November 13, 2016



     The well-preserved medieval city of Guimarães (pop. 52,000) is located about 50 km. northwest of Porto. It was designated in 2001 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition for being an exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town in Europe. It is also considered the birthplace of Portugal because it is believed that Portugal's first King, Afonso Henriques, was born here. Alfonso went on to lead the Battle of São Mamede (1128AD) which is considered a critical event for the foundation of the Kingdom of Portugal.

    It was highly recommended as a side trip by the tourist office and the inexpensive train fare of 6.60 or 3.30 for seniors made it even more appealing. We decided to take the train and make a day of it. Note that anyone 65 and older receives a 50% discount on all Portuguese trains.

     When we arrived at the train station on this September day, it was raining. Fortunately we had umbrellas, but it was still not a pleasant walk to the center especially since we weren't exactly sure of the route and didn't have a map.


    Our luck changed when the rain stopped, and we found a great restaurant for lunch called Buxa near the ancient Oliveira Square at Largode Oliveira 23. Our table overlooked the square, and I enjoyed the seafood luncheon special (12.50) that included sole, mixed salad, rice dish, breads, olives, eclair for dessert, and a glass of house white wine.

After the scrumptious meal, we were off to explore this fascinating city with its medieval streets, alleys, and squares. Directly across the square was one of the more historically important monuments of the city, the Church of our Lady of Oliveira. It was popularized during the Middle Ages by the Santiago de Compostela's pilgrims who made it their religious center. In those days there was a saying, “Whoever goes to Santiago and does not visit Senhora da Oliveira, will not have done the true pilgrimage.”

The presence of the Portuguese Way route is evidenced by shell symbols that are engraved in the sidewalks throughout the old city. We had a good time walking around looking for the shells and imagining what it was like for those pilgrims that walked the same route over 1000 years ago. I also got a local red stamp for my credential at the tourist office.
     The tenth century Castle of Guimarães is perched on a hill overlooking the town. I enjoyed a pleasant walk up to the castle while Ron stopped at a cafe to do some work. It followed a tree-lined boulevard with medieval buildings along the way. After making a circular walk around the walled castle with its eight majestic towers and park-like grounds, I entered the medieval structure for a leisurely visit. I climbed the stairs, walked along the walls, peered out at the nearby countryside, and then perused a small museum in the tower that had some interesting displays.
Since the early Middle Ages, the “Way of St James” has been the most popular pilgrimage for western European Catholics. In medieval times the pilgrims were on a journey to a holy place as a spiritual quest for help or a penance for sins. It has since grown from mainly a religious practice to something more universal as described by a more recent English pilgrim in 1998:

    “However skeptical one may be about the basis of the pilgrimage and the legends surrounding it, one cannot help being affected by it. Maybe it's the simplicity of the life and the closeness to nature that makes one conscious of deeper realities and I hope, as a result, I have learned to be a better person, or at least I will try to be.”
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Thursday, November 3, 2016

ROAD TO SANTIAGO---the vintage way


     I'm not exactly sure when my fascination with the Camino de Santiago began; however, I continue to be enchanted by a path that dates back to medieval times and is now hiked by thousands of pilgrims annually (approx. 250,000 in 2015). The final destination is the tomb of James, son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. According to Christian tradition, his remains are located inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Spain.

On our most recent trip to Portugal we stayed in Porto (Oporto). I was pleased to find out that the Portuguese Way runs through the city and is within blocks of where we were staying for two weeks. I decided that this was my chance to actually walk along various segments of the camino to view the churches, small villages, granite walls, and lush green woodlands that the pilgrims of long ago passed through.
     The Portuguese Way is one of eight official routes to Santiago and is the second most popular with 15% choosing it. Most pilgrims (60%) follow the French Way along the Pyrenees Mountain Range in northern Spain. The Porto Cathedral is a popular starting point and from here northward the route is well marked with the traditional yellow camino arrows.

     For centuries, Pilgrims traveling through Porto have stopped at the old Porto Cathedral that was built in the 12th century and located in the town's historic center. It is one of the places to pick up the Pilgrim's Credential (two euros), which is available to anyone as a souvenir. I was excited to get one. The purpose is for modern day pilgrims to record the places they pass through as proof they have completed the pilgrimage according to the rules. Only one stamp per day is required, however, many enjoy the challenge of collecting more. My credential came with a Porto Cathedral stamp—my first. I dutifully put the credentials booklet in my hidden money belt, next to my passport, just in case I could get some more stamps along the way—which I did.
     A young man with a back pack and hiking shoes (a real pilgrim) stood next to me in line. I was impressed and perhaps a little envious. He seemed in a hurry. I expect he was going to get some miles in before the day was over and then continue to hike the 240 km (150 mi) to Santiago Spain over the next week. There he could show his stamped credentials for the official "Certificate of Completion of the Pilgrimage" at the Santiago Cathedral. (The minimum requirement for this certificate is that pilgrims have traveled the final 100 km by foot or 200 km by bicycle.)

    That same day, I inquired at the tourist information office about nearby villages to visit that are directly on the camino. One of their suggestions was the seacoast city of Matosinhos. It sounded interesting and was an easy 30-minute metro ride away. We purchased a metro pass and headed out in search of the camino.   

     This city is on a route that follows the ocean and provides a beautiful promenade along the jagged and rocky Atlantic coast. We found the ocean trail, although it required about a mile trek through the town (also part of the camino) before we could see the water. Once we arrived at the seacoast we noticed a tourist office where we stopped for directions and, of course, a stamp for my credentials (now I had two). We walked about three miles along the trail until we reached a lighthouse before returning via the same route.

    The coast route continues another 25 km to the old fishingtown of Povoa de Varzim. We decided to return to Porto and ride the metro to Povoa another day. The scenic hour long metro ride offered a spectacular view of the Aqueduct of Vila do Conde that was built in the early 1700s with 999 arches. This second largest aqueduct in Portugal connects a spring in Povoa de Varzim with a fountain in the Monastery of Santa Clara.               
   When we arrived, we walked through the picturesque old downtown before reaching the Atlantic for our trek along the camino. The town dates back to 900 BC and has been a popular beach resort for over three centuries. It is also one of the few legal gambling areas in Portugal and home to the Casino da Povoa. Numerous cafes, bars and condominiums line the beaches.
    After walking a couple of miles on the camino, we headed back to the metro through the old fisherman's quarter. We noticed a few pilgrims along the way, but not many. Coincidentally, we did see a woman a second time that we visited with a few days before in Matosinhos. She was doing research and writing for a publishing company and had hiked the camino many times before. We found that it was not unusual for pilgrims to hike it more than once.

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  My visits to places along the camino will continue with the next post.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016



      We recently spent a month traveling through Portugal with a side trip to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. This is the first in my series of a vintage journey to the far western corner of Europe....

     As we started our Sunday morning walk through the walled city of Faro, located in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, we noticed a few people coming out of an old building and decided to peak in. It was a shop filled with brightly colored tiles (called azulejos in Portuguese) that
were laid out in fascinating designs. These were the authentic tiles that had been removed from buildings that were hundreds of years old and were randomly displayed in artistic designs throughout the store. Many were hung or just leaning against the walls. Others were displayed on the staircase or lying flat on tables. One table was piled with Portuguese architectural books for customers to peruse for information about the tiles and to perhaps see where they originally came from. There were a few boxes full of single tiles that were priced at
15 each, but most were not priced. Dates marked on some of the pieces were 17c-18c.

      We were there on a Sunday, when all the other stores were closed. I expect that this tile store was opened per a special customer request because it was closed when we walked by later. The place was unique in that there was not a visible name or obvious store front. It was located on a street called Rua da Porta Nova in the old city.


    As we were leaving Faro that day we noticed an old abandoned building that had been stripped of its tiles. This made me wonder if tile theft had become a concern in Portugal. It turns out that over the last 20 years there have been massive losses due to theft and lack of conservation. However, efforts of the recently organized project, “S.O.S. Azulego,” have cut the theft by 80% and increased regulations to help prevent the demolition of the tile covered building facades.
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      The Portuguese works of art called Azulejos are beautifully displayed throughout the country, similar to the frescos in Italy. They are more colorful in some areas than others. In Porto they are predominately blue and white, whereas in the nearby town of Aveiro (called the Venice of Portugal) the tiles are more colorful with pinks, greens and yellows.
     They can be seen on entire walls of churches in immense religious scenes and in geometric patterns on walls of homes. They frequently portray scenes from the history of the country or simply serve as street signs or house number. Although they are not a Portuguese invention (the use of glazed tiles began in Egypt), they have been used more imaginatively and consistently in Portugal than in any other nation.



Thursday, September 8, 2016


We've been trekking around the centuries-old city of Porto in northern Portugal. It is easy to see why it was granted World Heritage status in 1996. Here are some of my favorite scenes from this beautiful place overlooking the Douro River.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


The older I get, the more I realize that special events like reunions and weddings are worth making every effort to attend. I guess this is the reason I found myself in Minnesota recently. A reunion that provided a special time with cousins who are now living across the country—I will forever cherish the time we had together.
We rented an Airbnb that was located in the Groveland Macalester area of Saint Paul, mainly because it was close to our son's apartment, whom we also wanted to spend some time with. From the moment we opened that gate and walked up two flights of stairs to the top floor of this old Victorian home, I knew I was in the right place. We were surrounded by lush green trees on a quiet residential street looking very much like it did in the '70s when I lived nearby on Palace Avenue. It was comfortable and convenient to Grand Avenue with its many shops and restaurants—including Cafe Latte, 850 Grand Avenue, for the best latte in town.
Few cities in the Midwest can match the rich architectural history of Saint Paul. The best way to experience it is with a leisurely stroll along Summit Avenue—ranked as one of America's ten best “Great Streets” by the American Planning Association. It is just west of downtown Saint Paul and extends 4 ½ miles west to the Mississippi River where Saint Paul meets Minneapolis.
We started our leisurely walk at the James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Avenue. This 36,000 square foot structure was completed in 1891 for railroad executive James J. Hill, his wife, and ten children. It is built from large blocks of stone with sturdy pillars and rounded arches on a property that overlooks downtown Saint Paul and the Mississippi River area. Tours of the house are available. However, we chose to walk around the grounds to enjoy the outside on this beautiful summer day.
From here we walked to the nearby Saint Paul Cathedral, 239 Selby Ave, which is perched on top of Summit Hill with a dramatic vista of downtown. I've always enjoyed the sight of this cathedral when driving through Saint Paul. The architecture and lighting at night are stunning. The impressive structure, built in the shape of a Greek cross, was the dream of Archbishop John Ireland in the early 1900's and completed in 1915.       
Next we headed back down Summit Avenue toward the west and enjoyed looking at the many Victorian homes and historic mansions that were built in the late 1800s by the prominent citizens of the day. In the 1890s it was the place to live, however, it declined in the 1930s and many homes were turned into rooming houses or went vacant. In the '60s and '70s it turned around as many discovered that the Victorian homes could be purchased affordably and restored over time. The Hill District is again one of the most fashionable places to live in Saint Paul.
In addition to being the site of the Governor's residence, authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis both lived on Summit Avenue at one time. Garrison Keillor, creator and longtime host of the popular A Prairie Home Companion, still has a home here. His independent bookstore, Common Good Books, is located nearby on Snelling Avenue.
Here is a favorite poem that Keillor wrote upon opening his bookstore:
                                           A bookstore is for people who love books and need
                                           To touch them, open them, browse for a while,
                                           And find some common good – that's why we read.
                                           Readers and writers are two sides of the same gold coin.
                                           You write and I read and in that moment I find
                                           A union more perfect than any club I could join:
                                           The simple intimacy of being one mind.
                                            Here in a book-filled room on a busy street,
                                            Strangers — living and dead — are hoping to meet.