A Travellerspoint blog

Sailing the Croatian Coastline

and Hedonism in Hvar

I spent most of August in Croatia. I started out with sailing the coastline on a small cruise ship, and then finished off with 10 days on the beautiful island of Hvar. I had so many wonderful experiences that I had a hard time choosing which ones to share on this blog.

Below are two maps for your reference. The first one shows where southern Croatia is relative to the rest of Europe. The second one pinpoints each stop on the cruise.
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For one week I sailed on the ship Liberty on a tour organized by Sail Croatia. Below is a picture of the ship. It offered a sundeck, Jacuzzi, dining area, and private cabins.
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One of the first stops was at the island of Mljet. The national park on this island has two sea-water lakes. Here is an aerial view of the inlet and the other lake. I took these pictures from the internet.
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Here are a few pictures from the ground. I rented a bike and had a great time exploring the lakes and jumping in at various points for a swim.
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The cruise ship sailed by many small islands and villages. Vineyards are a common sight along the coast.
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Every day we stopped in remote locations for a swim. The water of the Adriatic Sea is chilly but refreshing.
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Dubrovnik was one of the most fascinating cities along the voyage as it used to be its own republic city-state. My pictures of the city don’t come close to this one from the internet.
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Game of Thrones fans will be interested to know their show is filmed in Dubrovnik.

Visitors can walk along the fortress walls for some spectacular views of the old city. If I can’t find a job after graduation I will work at this café. Customers jump into the sea for a few minutes of swimming in between lattes.
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View from my room in Dubrovnik.
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Marco Polo was born in this city, Korcula. It was part of the Venetian republic during his time.
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Several Croatian cities were part of the Venetian republic during the middle ages. Below is a bas relief of a Venetian lion holding an empty book. The lion is the symbol of Venice, and the open book reflects the city chose to join the Venetian republic. If the book is closed it means the Venetians had to conquer the city by force.
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In the port of Trstenik I had a chance to scuba dive among the wreckage of a German torpedo boat which the British sunk during WWII. I swam right by several torpedoes and watched as our guide maneuvered an anti-aircraft gun. Below is a picture from the internet.
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Hedonism in Hvar
The best part of the sailing trip was the island of Hvar. I liked Hvar so much that I came back after the sailing trip and stayed an additional 10 days.

Here is a view of the port of Hvar from my hotel room. Every day I watched multi-million dollar yachts come and go.
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Here is a 180° video sweep of the port from the top of my hotel.
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As you can tell by the yachts, Hvar is a stopping point for the 1%ers. I heard many tales from the locals about their encounters with celebrities. Bon Jovi bumped into the sister of one girl I met. She said he was very nice and apologetic to her for the run in. Another local I met sighted Penelope Cruz. Two other Croatians told me Beyonce got the idea to name her daughter Blue Ivy after the tree which grows here. I checked this theory out online though and could not confirm this. I found several other competing theories, including a crazy one which connected the name to Lucifer somehow.

My favorite spot on Hvar.
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As you can see the beaches in Croatia are rocky and not sandy. Sea urchins can also be a problem, and many people wear water shoes. The benefit of rocky beaches though is that the water is much clearer than a sand beach.

There are several small islands with nice beaches just off the island of Hvar. Water taxis shuttle people back and forth to these beach islands. The locals told me that the biggest mistake tourists make in Hvar is not visiting these islands.
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I made friends with some locals and they took me to a small jazz bar hidden from tourists. They asked me not to disclose the name or location of the place because this is where the locals to get away from the busy tourist scene. The bar is owned by a Croatian soap opera star, Jakov Cubelic. The irony is Jakov's character in the soap opera owns a cafe. I met Jakov and he was a friendly, down to earth type of guy. Croatians from all walks of life frequent his bar, and he serves them up a beer all the same. Below is a picture of him.
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There are many fine restaurants on Hvar, but my favorite is Lucullus. http://www.lucullus-hvar.com/ This restaurant has a special atmosphere as the singers know how to get the Croatian tourists to sing along to folk music, and the rest of the staff is full of zany antics. They got me to try frog legs. I thought this was a French dish, but the manager gave me a history lesson. Croatians along the river Neretva had been eating frog legs a long time before Napolean’s troops showed up. The French troops tried the frog legs after their supplies ran low, and brought the dish back to France. I was really nervous after ordering the frog legs, as my foray with the pig ears in Spain did not turn out well. I hate to use this phrase, but the frog legs tasted much like chicken, and I devoured 12 cousins of Kermit in no time.
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Unfortunately for us office chumps Napolean’s troops also picked up on the Croatian style of wearing a kravat, or neck tie. Many Croatian stores proudly remind tourists of this historical fact, but personally, I can’t understand why they brag about this curse they unleashed upon the world.
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The locals are proud of the lavender which grows on Hvar.
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The most hedonistic thing on Hvar is the Croatian crème cake. I will plead the 5th amendment if asked how many pieces of this cake I consumed during my visit.
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Posted by clarkmw78 07.10.2013 16:02 Archived in Croatia Comments (3)

Natural Beauties of Slovenia and Croatia

Scenes from a Fairy Tale

From July 31st to August 2nd I joined a “Natural Beauties” tour of Slovenia and Croatia through the Balkan Road Trip travel company. The three national parks were the highlight of this tour, but the cities of Ljubljana, Slovenia and Split, Croatia turned out to be nice surprises as well.

Here is a Google map showing where Slovenia and Croatia are located.
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This is an overview of the tour itinerary and locations.
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Ljubljana
My trip started in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I wasn't expecting much when I arrived, but was pleasantly surprised to see this small city has several visual delights to offer. Two well-traveled Facebook friends of mine told me how much they loved Ljubljana as well. I worry this hidden gem might be discovered some day and will be ruined by hordes of tourists.
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I couldn’t figure out how these street performers pulled this off. I looked close, but saw no additional supporting mechanisms.
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Several of my friends have jokingly warned me to keep out of jail during my travels. My hostel in Ljubljana used to be the town jail, and the hostel owner kept some of the original characteristics of the place. Below is a picture of my room.
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Lake Bled
The first stop of my trip in Slovenia was Lake Bled. The scenery here comes straight out of a fairy tale.
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My picture of this castle on Lake Bled didn’t turn out well so I am borrowing one from the internet.
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I signed up for a canyoneering trip near Lake Bled. This involved rappelling down canyon walls into ice-cold mountain pools.
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In several places our group had the option to jump instead of rappel.
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The tour ended with a float down a river.
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Plitvice National Park
This natural wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site draws up to 20,000 visitors a day during the summer. This park features 16 lakes which cascade from end to the other through hundreds of beautiful waterfalls.

Two aerial photographs I am borrowing from the internet.
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A few more photographs.
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This chart shows a cross-section of the lake system.
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Waterfalls, big and small, are everywhere.
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I walked this staircase but took this picture from the internet.
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The water is amazingly clear because the limestone geology filters out water impurities.
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The park logo features a bear because this is one of the few places in Europe where bears can still be found in the wild. Signs warning tourists about bears are prevalent, but my guide said an encounter with a bear is rare.
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Krka National Park
Swimming in Plitvice is not allowed as 20,000 swimmers a day would quickly wreck the ecosystem. The next day my group went to Krka National Park, which features similar waterfalls and allows visitors to swim. I spent the day sunbathing and swimming here with others in my travel group. I am using a picture from the internet.
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The tour guide treated us to a traditional Croatian meal known as peka. This dish comes in many varieties, and is a stew of meats, potatoes, and vegetables. The chef cooks the stews in the middle of a wood oven. A protective bell, known as a peka, covers the food and protects it from the flames. Below are two pictures from the internet showing how peka is made and a sample dish.
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Split, Croatia
My tour ended in Split, Croatia. I found out that Split started out as the retirement castle for the Roman emperor Diocletian. For those of you fuzzy on your Roman history, he is the guy who split the Roman Empire in half in 285 A.D. He is also known for sponsoring one of the worst persecutions of Christians, which must be exhausting work, because he was the only Roman emperor to abdicate and retire.

This is what Diocletian’s crib probably looked like back in the day.
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Here are few pictures of what it looks like today. I really enjoyed walking around the old city. It is one of those places that is filled with "oohs and aahs."

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Posted by clarkmw78 31.08.2013 06:59 Archived in Slovenia Comments (3)

Noon in Paris

Everyone is wearing jean shorts (jorts)

I want to start off with a little expectations management as my take on Paris will probably be different than what you might expect. I have been to Paris before and seen most of the sites. This time around I only spent three days in Paris, and the reason I went in the first place was to catch up with my good friend Keri. She is living there and studying French. This post will be just about hanging out with Keri, participating in a culinary tour, checking out the latest French fashions, and watching the Moulin Rouge show.

Really Thin Pancakes
Keri and I used to work together, and we had sort of a “situation” at work. Part of the resolution deal was Keri would buy me a really thin pancake, i.e. crepe, in Paris. I only came to Paris to cash in on this promise, and went all out on a really thin pancake with foie gras (duck liver) in it. I loved it!
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Keri’s apartment is located near the St. Paul cathedral. Some tourists do venture into this quadrant, but for the most part it is a truly Parisian area. Keri’s apartment looks out over a small square lined with intimate cafes. The melodies of street violinists and accordion players working these cafes drifted into her apartment at night and made me feel like I was in some sort of movie during the classical period of Paris.
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The Notre Dame Cathedral is not too far from Keri's place.
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I watched a little TV in Keri’s apartment. Normally I hate commercials, but in France I didn't seem to mind them.
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Culinary Tour
The highlight of my trip was a culinary tour I took through the Viator travel company. Two beautiful and exquisite French ladies took me through several Parisian neighborhoods around the Latin Quarter and educated me on how to taste food like a Parisian. Our first stop was an award-winning cheese shop, or “Fromager.” There are over 400 different types of cheeses in France, and this shop had a good selection of many of them.
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Parisians love their bread. My food guides told me how many people in Paris will ask their realtors about bakeries in the area before they make their move. I learned the ins and outs of how to judge French bread. Grid patterns on the bottom of the bread are bad. It means the bread had been pre-processed and frozen. There should be a light black mark on the bottom of the bread, meaning it has been baked appropriately. The bread should be crunchy on the outside, but very soft and feathery on the inside without being chewy.
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Of course I had more Foies Gras as well. I was a little nervous at first, but I really liked it.
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My food guides arranged my tour to include a viewing of the staircase from the recent movie Midnight in Paris. This is where Owen Wilson’s character waited each night for a car to transport him to Paris in the 1920s.
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My guides also brought me by an apartment which Ernest Hemingway rented during one of his stays in Paris.
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Jorts Everywhere!
This next section is dedicated to another work friend I have with the initials D.H. She is originally from the American state of Louisiana, and has a deep appreciation for the French culture. On the other hand, she reviles the practice of people wearing jean shorts (jorts). I joked around with her once and said I was going to wear jorts while I was in Paris. She looked at me as if I had said something sacrilegious. I am very sorry to report to her that jorts are very much in fashion in Paris. I don’t wear jorts because I am not a fashionable person, but many other people in Paris do wear them. Below is some photographic evidence.

Jorts for sale at a fashionable Parisian store.
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A French hipster walking along the Seine while wearing jorts.
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Cutoff jorts for sale in a boutique store.
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Moulin Rouge Show
My last evening in Paris was at the Moulin Rouge Show. I was worried at first that I was just being sucked into another overpriced tourist trap when I bought the tickets for the show. I was very wrong. It is a great show.
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Posted by clarkmw78 23.08.2013 13:05 Archived in France Comments (3)

Tour de Catalonia

A bicycle trip through the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains

From July 14 to July 21 I took a group bicycle trip led by G Adventures travel company through the Catalonia principality of Spain, north of Barcelona. My group cycled on three of the seven days, covering anywhere from 30 km to 55 km each day. We took a day of rest after each cycling day and explored the nature and communities within the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. Our trip ended up at a small seaside town on the Costa Brava.
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Catalonia has a distinct language, history, and culture. In several places my group found Spanish was not widely spoken. I first heard about Catalonia in college during a military officer training class. The commanding officer of my unit had been the captain of U.S. Navy ship, and he was giving a lesson about how it was important to be knowledgeable about the culture and history of the places we would go in the world. He relayed a story about how his ship had docked in the port of Barcelona, and Catalan separatists started demonstrating next to his ship. He explained he was able to effectively deal with the situation because had read up on Catalonia before he arrived.
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This picture shows what the Catalan language looks like. It comes from the La Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona. The text is the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father, a central prayer in the Christian religion.
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The trip started in the town of Ripoli. Below is a picture of our group just before we started. The group gelled together nicely and we had a great time with each other.
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In contrast to popular belief, some people do forget how to ride a bike.
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Most of the cycling was on level grade, but the first part of the trip was the most difficult as we had to tackle a hill. It was only 300 meters high, but the incline was spread over 8km and took about 45 minutes to ascend.
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At the top.
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It was nice to drink from this mountain spring after the hill.
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A few scenic pictures along the way to our first stop in the town of Olot.
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Not all the scenery was pleasant.
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We walked into a local festival in Olot.
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We spent a day hiking around Olot and exploring nearby sights.
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Along a watchtower.
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It is hard to tell now, but many millennia ago this region featured several volcanoes. This picture shows a crater of one of them.
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A town on top of a cliff right outside Olot.
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This bridge in town outside Olot is 1,000 years old.
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Our next leg of the trip was from Olot to Girona. We took the Bici Carril trail, which is an old railroad line that the locals converted into a nature path.
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Breaking for lunch along the way.
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After working up a sweat we stopped for a swim in an ice-cold mountain stream. I caught a good splash in the face.
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The city of Girona has a long and bloody history, undergoing some 21 sieges since Roman times. Today tourists are able to walk atop the fortifications for some breathtaking views.
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I witnessed a small demonstration of Catalonians marching for independence from Spain. These demonstrations are common and have been going on for decades.
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Our tour continued through some picturesque farmland.
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An interesting statue.
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Our bicycle tour ended in the town Sant Feliu de Guíxols on the Costa Brava and we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun.
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The next day several people in my group went on a sea kayaking trip.
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The highlight of the trip was paddling into a cave and stopping for a swim.
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Paddling by rock climbers.
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Food Experiences during this Trip

A typical breakfast in Catalonia consists of white sausage on toasted bread with cheese and a tomato sauce.
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A tapas restaurant I went to offered chicken wings on bread as a tapa choice.
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Warning! Do not continue if you have a weak stomach!

I experienced my most memorable meal so far in Barcelona – a plate of pig ears. They are absolutely disgusting, and some of the pieces still had ear hair in them. I could only manage to try one piece (without ear hair). The meat consisted of a revolting combination of crunchy cartilage and slimy fat deposits. My group laughed their heads off at the expression I made when I ate a piece, but no one took a picture. They tried to get me to eat another piece so they could take a picture, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
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Posted by clarkmw78 20.08.2013 08:53 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

Madrid and More

Wrapping up the Impressions of Spain and Portugal Tour

My last blog post ended in Portugal, and this one will cover a few sights in northern Spain and Madrid.

Avila
French troops used this walled city as a base during the Napoleonic occupation.
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My guide told me about an old movie with Frank Sinatra and Sophia Lauren called The Pride and the Passion which is set in Avila and covers this time period. My guide convinced me to watch the movie sometime soon by describing Sophia’s flamenco dance performance.
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The shrine in the foreground in the picture above is dedicated to St Theresa, a prominent Catholic nun of the Carmelite order who came from Avila.
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Today the nuns make these custard sweets.
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Salamanca
This small city is known for some scenic buildings and the oldest university in Spain.
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At the beginning of the trip I told my guide that I loved the Spanish Iberian Ham (Jamon Iberico). This ham is delicious and it feels like it could melt in your mouth. He told me Salamanca has some of the best ham in Spain. What makes this ham unique is that it comes from free-range pigs which feed on acorns. Below is a picture of these pigs from the cover of a menu at a restaurant.
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Many bars and stores have legs of ham on display. The high-end hams run about €500. The plastic cups at the bottom catch the fat which drips out of the legs over time.
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It takes a special knife and technique to cut the pieces off in thin slices.
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Here is a plate of some of the best ham from a restaurant in Salamanca. My waiter didn’t think I could finish it on my own as the plate was meant for a group, but I proved him wrong.
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I had to go to the hospital after eating all that ham.
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Madrid
My tour both started and ended in Madrid. The city is a relative newcomer to the history of Spain. It started out as an Moorish military observation post. The Moors were more concerned about the defense of Toledo, and Madrid is perched on a ledge with a good view of potential invasion routes from the north.
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Madrid did not become the capital until 1561. It has a good central location, and King Phillip II needed a neutral place to govern to foster national unity. Spain remains a fractious country to this day, and there are a few regions in which some people strive for independence.

The Puerta del Sol or Gate of the Sun is a big plaza with several points of interest. It used to be the eastern gate to the city, and gets its name from the sun shining into it in the morning. The pink building is the old post office headquarters, and its clock rings in the New Year for Spain. This plaza is the equivalent of New York City’s Times Square for Madrid.
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At the bottom of the old post office building a placard marks “kilometer zero.” All the major roads throughout Spain can be traced back to here.
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The symbol and coat of arms for Madrid is a bear and a strawberry tree. The bear commemorates a battle in the 1212. The Madrid town council added the strawberry tree in 1222 to assert their claim for the use of nearby forests.
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Madrid has put a lot of energy into renovating they landscape along the river. They went as far as to divert all their roads underground by tunneling underneath the river.
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The Plaza Mayor and the Presidential Palace are some of the most prominent features in Madrid. My pictures of them did not turn out well so I am borrowing some from Wikimedia and Wikipedia.
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The old town hall of Madrid.
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The turnabouts in Madrid are well done. Many have fancy statues or fountains. The hand in the foreground is a work from the Columbian artist Botero. I wrote about Botero in my Medellin post.
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Zara Store. All the ladies in my tour group completely lost their minds every time our bus drove by a Zara store. I went into one to see what all the fuss was about. To my knowledge we don’t have Zara in the United States. Zara features ultra-trendy clothes at reasonable prices. They only buy in limited quantities, which induces a buy-it-now-or-never urgency in shoppers. This is what Wikipedia says about Zara: "It is claimed that Zara needs just two weeks to develop a new product and get it to stores, compared to the six-month industry average, and launches around 10,000 new designs each year. " I also heard the owner is the third richest man in the world.
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I looked for a new pair of jeans, but these seemed a little too much for me.
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Attention style fashonistas – Elbow patches are going to be coming in style soon. Several people told me Zara is a recognized trend setter, and that other clothing companies will copy what Zara puts out there. These type of patches were on many shirts and jackets I saw.
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I have to include my Spanish tortilla meal in the blog. This dish is an omelet with potatoes in it and is eaten for lunch or dinner.
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A favorite desert in Spain is called the churro. The texture of this tasty is similar to a donut, and it is commonly dipped in hot chocolate.
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This is how churros are made.
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Last Dinner- I experienced a great meal and show on my last evening in Madrid with my tour group. I had a seafood paella dish. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish featuring rice seasoned with saffron.
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Here are some of the common varieties of paella.
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A traditional Spanish music group called a Tuna band performed for us. In the 13th century groups of university students started forming bands as a way of earning money, and the tradition lives on to this day. This group remains affiliated with a university, but they have long since graduated.
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For those of you wondering how I finance my travels:)
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Here is the video. It might take a few moments for the sound to kick in.

Posted by clarkmw78 22.07.2013 08:43 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

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