Category Archives: WINTER TOURS

Exploring via planes, trains and automobiles when JUANONA is sleeping in her winter berth (wherever that may be)

FALL 2019: More of Tuscany

Friday-Sunday, October 11-13, 2019


Thanks to Traci’s reassarch (and feeling a wee bit guilty due to their not being able to fit this in) we visited the marble quarries begun by the Romans in the Apuan mountains.


In order to reach the higest point in the quarries we needed to join a jeep tour. Our driver/guide appeared to enjoy his role–envision a mix of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Indiana Jones.

He entertained eight of us, including a young woman from Siberia who vaguely described her life as ‘moving around a lot’ (she had her own guide with her) and a Russian ballet dancer from the Kremlin and his wife, mother-in-law and 2-year-old son.

As our maniac driver cheerfully zoomed up the sketchy roads he told us families own individual plots and it was their equipment we saw on the different levels next to terraced cuts in the mountainsides. Yet, I later discovered online that the families weren’t the mom-and-pop variety but more like the Trumps and consortiums including foreign companies (such as the Bin Laden family).

We didn’t see any activity due to being after working hours, but our guide explained the process of carefully sawing and removing the slabs. No extracting going on allowed us to hear better as opposed to his shouting over the booming and drilling sounds of machinery. Although, I believe our guide would relish the challenge.

For over 2000 years men have worked these quarries, slicing into raw stone to deliver a range of marble, from white marble to a dark gray.


If you’ve read Irving Stone’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY about Michaelangeo you’ve probably identified this as the marble source for the sculptor’s ‘David’. As well as material used by Henry Moore. Hey, if it’s good enough for Mikey, it must be good enough for any sculptor.

However, this systematic clawing away at these magnificent mountains may be ending. Some local folk have started the Salviamo le Alpi Apuane (Save the Apuan Alps) in the past couple of years to protest the desctruction of this natural landscape and the resulting air and water pollution from marble dust and waste. In the past year they actually succeeded in closing down two quarries (positive news keeping mountains alive ).  A bit poetic in a mixed-up metaphorical way that ‘David’ originating from here has managed to fight this $333 million industry Goliath.


Like Pienza this Tuscan city had been added to our tour based on others’ recommendations. With its intact medieval wall and a historical center filled with stunning churches and stone streets it made for a delightful two-night stop.

We joined strollers, joggers and cyclists as we entered the old city and climbed to the top of its 2.6-mile wall. Once there I realized this felt as if I was on a lovely, tree-lined boulevard as opposed to on top of a defensive rock wall.


With our limited time we explored one of the main attractions:  St. Martin’s Cathedral (or Duomo di Lucca). Like most churches in Europe this one’s history goes back centuries with the main building rebuilt in the 8th century to accommodate saintly relics with later enlargements and renovations occurring into the 15th century.

FYI:  For those, like moi, who aren’t on familiar terms with saints, Saint Martin is noted for severing his cloak to give to a shivering beggar. Two statues document this deed, one inside and one outside,


although, I have to say it looks like he’s aiming to sever the begger’s neck, not the cloak.

The alternating light and dark marble creates a stunning visual bringing to mind a Moorish influence. And, not to be too cheeky but I loved the additional plaid pattern added to the scene thanks to someone’s unique BMW Mini.


Whenever I enter a huge church my eyes immediately go skyward, which is exactly what occurred here.


Yet, what brought them back to eye-level appeared in the left-hand side roughly half-way up the nave. There a screened-in gazebo held the Volto Santo (Holy Face) a sacred image (and money-maker), which drew thousands of pilgrims.


Supposedly, and you’re more than welcome to believe this, Nicodemus, who helped Joseph of Arimathea remove Jesus’ body from the cross, carved this figure, but not trusting himself to render Christ’s face faithfully, he left the face unfinished and went to sleep. Yet, when he woke up he realized an angel had completed his work. Uh-huh.

But, this was a boon to those looking for an item to generate funds, I mean, to worship.

Thanks to two Bishops (one on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and one in Italy) who dreamt where this sacred statue should be displayed, legend states it landed in Lucca in 782. Hence, the rebuilding in the 8th century mentioned above. And, you can tell they liked playing dress-up with their religious figures for in the museum associated with the cathedral we saw some gold and jewel-encrusted apparel for the Volto Santo:

Experts date this work to the 13th century yet say it could be a copy of an 11th-century statue, which could be a copy of an even earlier piece:  an 8th-century Syrian work. Whatever. It does look magnificent displayed in its glittery cage, and the cathedral is definitely worth a visit, including the side room housing the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, (1379-1405), second wife of the powerful Luccan ruler, Paolo Guinigi (1372-1432).

You can climb the attached bell tower, and we set off to do so (with my muttering “I can do this” while trying not to look down through the metal steps to the floors below) and were rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of Lucca.


Back outside we entered the smaller church sharing the square with the cathedral:  Church of Saints Giovanni and Reparata. This served as the original church that St. Martins replaced in 782.

Some murals caught my attention when walking up to the apse


but below us is what we really found interesting. An archeology excavation delineated four time periods from the Romans’ habitation in the 1st century through to the second half of the seventh century. The most complete consctruction being the mosaic room of the church is S. Reparata.


One other church, the Church of San Michele in Foro (‘in Foro’ because it sits in Lucc’as ancient forum)


we visited touched on an MDT where we saw the desicated face and hands of St. Zita (d.1272), patroness of domestic servants, who lived and worked in Lucca. She’s also an incorruptible saint meaning her body hasn’t deteriorated. Which I find quite a generous description.


The square on which this building stood also featured one of the coolest looking senior citizens I’ve seen, and one I wouldn’t mind emulating both in fashion and transportation styles.


A walking tour later in the afternoon guaranteed us a fuller picture of this city. Joining a group of other tourists we learned why the word ‘liberty’ strikes a strong chord in the city’s inhabitants. From the 12th century to the early 1800s Lucca remained unconquered (although some of this freedom was bought by paying off potential occupiers). This meant fending off its enemies from Pisa and Florence, including repulsing that pesky Medici family.

The city’s republican status remained until 1805 when Napoleon made his sister Elisa Duchess of Lucca and Princess of Piombino. She  mandated a square be constructed mimicking a French one, which resulted in the only plaza in Lucca with trees.


Lucca’s initial wealth came from the silk and brocade trade. In the 1400s the city held 8,000 people and 3,000 looms. Unfortunately, that trade petered out but in the mid-1900s Lucca fostered a less prestigious, but definitely lucrative industry:  making toilet paper. I guess that’s why some appears to be embossed with a brocade pattern…

Our guide pointed out out one of the many towers poking up from the medieval structures, one we had noticed earlier in the day had trees sprouting from it.


She explained the wealthiest family planted them to ensure they owned the tallest tower in the city. Due to a law regarding height restriction the family added trees , thus they followed the letter of the law, just not the spirit.

Continuing our guided walk we landed at the site of one of Lucca’s most notable figures, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) whose full name, by the way, is Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini. With ancestors serving as St. Martin’s Cathedral musical directors for two centuries Puccini came by his talent naturally.

A statue in a square close to his childhood home pays homage to the creator of notable operas whose names even I recognize:  LA BOHÈME, TOSCA, AND MADAMA BUTTERFLY.


Not knowing opera but relishing the dramatic voices singing in them, I read later that those who do know opera point to Puccini as ‘the greatest exponent of operatic realism’ ( Which, I think, means he ensured the audience connected to the story playing out on the stage.

The tour ended in Piazza Anfiteatro,


the former Roman amphitheater where we later returned for the locals’ refreshing apéritifs, one with campari and the other aperol.


But, our last stop turned into another musical treat when we happened upon an orchestra and chorus practicing in St. Martin’s for that evening’s free concert.

Perfect way to end our stay in Lucca.

Sunday-Wednesday, October 13-16, 2019


We returned our rental car to Florence and took the convenient tram into Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini the locale of our hotel facing the Basilica S. Lorenzo & Medici Chapel. Not that you needed to really know that but it helps with pic below.


Once again we followed Ellen and Carter’s path by taking two excellent tours given by Artviva. Not only did our guide (we had Brenda for both) deliver informative facts in an engaging manner but she also shielded us from the feeling of being swamped and crushed by maurading tourists traveling solo, in pairs, and in packs of 20 or more. If we hadn’t availed ourselves of the company’s services I sincerely doubt we would have lasted more than an overnight in this city. Not that we also weren’t tourists adding to the claustophobic mass!


We thought we might visit the Duomo, whose dome we could make out from our hotel.


But, seeing the never-ending line we opted to simply admire its stunning exterior.

Florence offers such a gargantuum amount of splendid sites created by world reknown artists it’s overwhelming just to think of recounting the ones we saw. So, rather than flooding you with our memories I’ll just mention some that stood out from our tours with Brenda, one walking around the historical center and the other focused solely on the Uffizzi Gallery. [FYI:  for those uninterested in art, etc., you’re better off skipping this.]

To understand Florence’s power as a city-state just say ‘Medici’ over and over and over for that’s whose presence, including their coat of arms (whose symbolic use of five red and one blue balls remain a mystery to this day), you see cast in stone on many buildings,

dominates the city’s history. Add in this wealthy family’s patronage of the arts and it’s not surprising Florence and the Renaissance are inexorably linked.

Below are some excerpts from our tours around Florence:

…Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, aka Donatello (1386-1466), apprentice of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1381-1455) (known for the brass doors of the Duomo’s Baptistery-seen below from earlier walk),


shared the reputation with Michelangelo of being the best Renaissance sculptors.  Brenda showed us two key elements contributing to this sculptor’s reputation:  his use of perspective and the realistic wearing of garments. To explain she pointed out his St. Mark standing in a recess of the Orsanmichele Church, once the chapel for linen and craft guilds, now a museum.  

If viewed when the 7’9″ statue stands on the floor St. Mark appears out of proportion with short legs and long torso; yet, this changes into one of complete symmetry when looking up to the niche. And, the molding of the garments depicting an actual body underneath is a complete change from when clothes simply fell stiffly hiding any form underneath. Not being an art aficionado both are insights I never would have known.

But, Brenda went beyond the technical merits of a piece of art with a glimpse of the artist’s personality. She told us how the guild who commissioned this work initially-and saw it face-on in the sculptor’s studio-told Donatello it didn’t look right and needed corrections. The sculptor said let him work on it and then place it up high so they could see how it looked then. Well, he did nothing and when the time came to show them the revised sculpture, Donatello simply had it placed in the niche and when unveiled, the guild approved of the ‘changes’.

…Brenda led us to the Piazzo della Signoria (it’s the people-jammed square at beginning of this post). This is where Michelangelo’s original David used to stand before being moved inside to the Accademia Gallery and, gruesomely, the spot where Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical Dominican monk, was hung and burned along with two associates. It’s also, where a large loggia holds a large group of statues. There Brenda mentioned one in particular, ‘The Abduction of a Sabine Woman’ by Giovanni da Bologna, aka Giambologna (1529-1608).


By using a spiraling effect to depict the trio’s emotions this flemish artist created a dynamic situation as your eyes follow the twisting action flowing from one figure to the next. She also mentioned the metal wiring found in part of the bodies, which protects the work from lightening strikes.

As we followed her through streets and into plazas Brenda pointed out quirky building details, such as small windows with doors found hip level. She said these openings were wine doors where wine was sold to the public.


The next day she guided us through the Uffizi, the awesome museum stuffed with European masterpieces from the Middle ages to the Modern period. Focusing on paintings Brenda selected key pieces epitomizing the Italian Renaissance. Furthermore, she managed to ensure we parked ourselves close enough to understand specific details of each work…

…how Leonardo’s angel (on the left) was considered better than his mentor’s (Andrea del Vercocchio) in The Baptism of Christ,


…that Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) muse (Simonetta Vespucci, 1453-1476) depicted in Birth of Venus has a rather thick neck for such a delicate-featured woman, which is most likely due to using a nude male model for the body . (I tried loading a good photo of her but program on iPhone isn’t cooperating, but check out the painting online. once you’ve been told that it’s hard not to notice her brawny neck.)

…and, the fact that Michelangelo Merisi, aka Caravaggio (1571-1610) rebelled against established art by painting subjects exactly as he saw them:  in Bacchus the young man has a ruddy face in contrast to his pale body and dirty fingers, features that are associated with a guy working in the fields as opposed to a lofty Roman god.


The building itself is a work of art constructed between 1560 and 1580. But, what’s quite unique is the Vasari Corridor, named after its architect, connecting the Medicis’ Palazzo Pitti (across the river) to Palazzo Vecchio, the government’s headquarters. You can see the visible start of it on the right-hand side in photo below. Evidently, if your structure was in the way of the Medici’s private corridor, tough luck. Hmmm, sounds like a wall going up in our country.


Unfortunately, this connector is closed to the public due to structural concerns, but we could see part of it running down the right side of the Arno River, then crossing over the shops on Ponte Vecchio. (Once across the river it becomes a tunnel.)

The Uffizi Originally served as bureaucrats’ offices (the literal translation of ‘uffizzi’) with the top floor used to show off the Medicis’ art stockpile. Eventually it became a museum in 1865 with one of the Medici heirs, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743), creating the Family Pact of 1737 ensuring the family’s collection would remain intact and in Florence. A gift that draws millions of people every year to this city.

Throughout both of our tours with Brenda her information brought this medieval city and its inhabitants to life. If anyone’s heading that way, we highly recommend signing up for Artviva tours.

Max and I returned to one of the sites we’d seen with Brenda, Bargello Museum, another wonderful museum where we found few tourists. Once a contains more famous Florentine and Italian art. One of these is Donatello’s David. It was the first free-standing bronze statue and the first male nude since those created by the Greeks over 2,000+ years ago.


However, the biggest impression of my time in that studio is Max’s comment regarding this David. While I was gazing at other sculptures Max quietly steps up to me and whispers in my ear, ‘doesn’t his butt look a bit low slung?’. Intrigued I walked back to the David to scrutinize his posterior.


I guess I can agree with him, yet, what it did is cause me to check out other Stoney or metallic behinds I happened to see, and probably not just here but in the future.

Another locale, The Basilica of Santa Croce, offered a chance to see the tombs of famous people, such as Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Initially his remains weren’t allowed in the main part of the church due to a charge of heresy (disagreeing with the Catholic church’s dogma by saying the earth orbited the sun) In 1737 (during the Age of Enlightenment) he was reburied in a prominent part (left nave) less three fingers and a tooth.


And, Micaelangelo’s tomb is there, too.


Max later visited the Galileo Museum and saw that finger (a mini-MDT). (They say it’s his middle finger…)

We enjoyed several other Florentine views, both across the river:

a landscape reached by climbing a hill to land in the Piazzale Michelangelo,


and, a foodscape taken in a bistecca restaurant where we chomped our way through a carnivorous meal.

Later we heard how Traci and Smokey also partook of a similar meal, only they actually saw their cut of meat pre-cooking :)

Just wish we could have shared a bistecca meal together

Well, since my computer died, iPad WP program crashed, and the phone keyboard is not my best typing platform i’ll stop writing.

But, there’s one more photo I know you’d love to see before I close …


FALL 2019: Meeting Pilgrims

Saturday-Monday, September 28-30, 2019


We arrived in Santiago de Compostela around noon to await the appearance of two special pilgrims:  my sister Betsy and her friend Missie. They had begun their trek on the French Camino September 15 in Ponferrada, Spain.

From there they trekked over 135 miles–some a bit more strenuous than others…

to reach Saint James’ final resting place in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Max began identifiying the possible directions from which they’d appear. He then staked out a hidden position to alert me so I could document their final steps into the square.

Under a glorious blue sky and a perfect early Fall day these two tired, but exhilarated, pilgrims arrived!

After some celebratory beers with two rather dazed pilgrims

we drove them to their next destination, one that they were more accustomed to…

and one where I was fortunate to share some girly time with both.

The next morning found the three of us back at the Cathedral’s square in now rainy weather

where Betsy and Missie saw the true end of their camino (St. James’ tomb). Some candles were lit for special folk

before heading back to the hotel where these two pilgrims enjoyed a much deserved glass of vino

and well-earned good night’s rest, demonstrated by my sister sleeping like, well, like someone who’s walked 135+ miles.


On Monday Max picked us up for a pilgrimage (by car) to Finisterre. Max, our friend Robbie, and I had sailed by this ‘end of the earth’ point and anchored in the Ría de Corcobión earlier this summer; but, we hadn’t actually gone to the final site for those walking beyond Santiago.

In spite of the fog the four of us joined other visitors wandering around in the gray mist. If you happened to be a legitimate pilgrim who had walked to Santiago you could pay a euro to receive your final stamp.

As you can see from their booklets they acquired these badges of “I was here” along their camino but opted out of some due to the long lines at key locations.*  Can’t blame them. I’d do the same if it meant standing another three to four hours on tired peds.

*They described one city where busloads of people were dropped off in Sarria, exactly 100kms from Santiago. This distance qualified as an official camino. However, Betsy and Missie said the walk changed drastically from one filled generally with contemplative souls to a gaggle of chattering, wanna-be pilgrims, some disrupting the tranquility with boom boxes and FaceTiming. 

After receiving their stamps they told us it was the first time they had to pay for one, meaning he shouldn’t have charged. Their saying that made me wonder how many entrepreneurial souls were out there flashing some ‘official’ stamps and ink pads along with a collection purse?

After portraits

and some lunch in the nearby town of Corcobión, we returned Missie to the luxurious hotel where she’d begin her travels back to Cincinnati while Betsy accompanied us back to JUANONA for a short stay. And, I say short because she manages to time her boat visits based on the number of days between showers.* Fortunately, for her, during her time with us we managed to include a night in a hotel :)

And, just so you know, Missie walked an earlier part of the French Camino last year and may walk another one next year (!). That’s a heck of a lot of trekking.

*When we’d told her we showered every five days due to possible issues filling JUANONA’s water tanks north of the Arctic Circle she managed to fly in and out for exactly five days, i.e., the length she’d go showerless.

Tuesday-Saturday, October 1-5, 2019


Since Betsy hadn’t seen this province of Spain we spun her around the southwest part of this Galicia.  We visited sites Max and I hadn’t seen before as well as some we had.

Here’s a quick description of our touring:


Making our way up to Mount Aloia Natural Park we stopped in at the information desk where an avid young staff member eagerly greeted us. During his 15-minute introduction to the park he ensured we knew its history (a park as of December 1978), the distinction of it being a natural vs national park (not quite sure as both protect the environment), and the importance of conserving its flora and fauna.

I admire the passion some bring to their work but sometimes a little goes a long way, so we were thankful when a couple entered into his sphere and we could gracefully exit. Continuing up to the top we took a short stroll around snapping panoramic views at look-out points.

Our stop was a nice place to stretch our legs but not a ‘must-see’ destination unless you really plan to follow paths around the park, which we didn’t.


Sitting across the river Miño from Portugal the Galician city of Tui offers the perfect site for perusing a medieval city. Starting with the Romans Tui grew into a strategic fortress under the Spanish king Alfonso IX. And, proof of this is the Santa Mariade Tui Cathedral begun 1120, completed 1180, and consecrated 1225.

With a facade more akin to defending a town than worshipping in it, the cathedral stares down at the medieval streets ringing its exterior, all once enclosed by a wall.

Lunch at Ideas Peregrinas, a cafe offering vegan and other healthy options for transiting pilgrims,

reminded us we were at the first stop in Galicia for those on the Portuguese Camino. As did the universal camino arrow pointing the way.

Luckily our  own camino only required circling around the cathedral on lovely stone lanes.

Not only did we see remnants of Roman drainage systems

catch mesmerizing views across to Portugal,

but also watched Max re-enact an encounter Max, Robbie and I had with a disgruntled señora in  Camariñas.

Along our walk signage identified buildings associated with Tui’s Sephardic Jewish citizenry.

Once a vibrant segment of Spain’s culture, this changed with Spain’s 1492 Edict of Expulsion. The law required Jews to convert, depart, or die; and, some of those who did convert (Converso Jews) were later convicted of continuing to practice Judaism.

I was aware of the ugliness of the Spanish Inquisition formally established by King Ferdinand II (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella I (1451-1504) but had never heard of two items displayed in the cathedral’s museum:  sanbenitos. Later I read those accused of heresy but who had repented wore these yellow and red cloaks and a conical hat while being paraded through the streets (usually with no clothes on below the belt) in disgrace. The cloaks also served as banners in the church reminding parishioners of the dangers of heresey.

I guess, though, the wearers of these cloaks were the lucky ones. They returned home. The unrepentant heretics adorned with the black cloaks ended up at a human BBQ. Lovely.

An intriguing footnote to this 1492 edict is Spain’s vote on a law 522 years later offering citizenship to the descendants of those Sephardic Jews forced to flee. To read more here’s a recent article describing this endeavor a heck of a lot better than I could ever do: “Spain’s Attempt to Atone for a 500-Year-Old Sin“.


We spent the night in A Guarda known for its cluster of hill-top castros of Santa Trega.

Here early settlers established a fort and village. Dating from over 2000 years and occupied into the 1st Century these granite ruins (along with a renovated unit)


can be found throughout Galicia, yet this was the largest yet we’d visited.*

*In previous posts I’ve said these are Celtic settlements; however, some say a better description is Castro settlements to avoid defining these inhabitants definitely as Celtic (the Celtic-Galician connection has been disputed over the years). 

Built when people in the Iron Age began settling down, the locations changed through the centuries from defensive to more sheltered and close to crops and grazing lands. Either way they’re impressive.

The darkening sky provided dramatic lighting and an eerie atmosphere as we walked around the empty grounds. It was a relief to return to the car for a drive to the town and our hotel. And some Spanish vino :)


The next morning we followed the coastal road north stopping at the Santa María Monastery.


The Cisterian monks (a branch of the Benedictines) established this site in the 12th century, the only Cisterian monastery built on the sea. Strategicially located, the monks here sometimes served as fighters, such as when they repelled Turkish pirates in 1624. This earned them the distinction “the artillery monks”.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t tour the monastery (now a private building) and the parish church was closed. But, we could still admire its uncompromising stance right on the edge of the sea. Which one of us had to see just how close.



As we continued north we diverted from the coast to inland. Max, especially, had been looking forward to traveling through this area ever since he had read some friends’ cruising notes describing wild horses roaming the hillsides.

The moutain horses of Galicia evolved from the practice of the Catholic clergy being allowed to own the horses but not take care of them (a bit odd, don’t you think?). Yet, when we had asked about these horses at a tourist information center the staffer laughed, then kindly explained they aren’t exactly wild. They’ve been tagged and often vaccinated during the annual Rapa das Bestas (Capture of the Beasts). That still didn’t affect Max’s mission to discover these fierce and independent equines.

We avidly searched the countryside as we climbed into the countryside. Initially we saw roaming sheep and roaming cows, even ‘Watch Out For Horse’ signs,

but no roaming horses… until we reached a broad expanse where all three of us excitedly yelped, ‘Look! a horse!’.

We quickly began scouting out a possible turn-off so we could document our lucky find. Unsure of how the wild animal would react Max took full precautions…

because, as you can see, this horse was, indeed, a most dangerous stallion ready to charge:

I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of the intrepid photographer while my sister calmly rolled down her window and opened the door to look at the horsey. I can only imagine the thought bubbles the cartoonist Gary Larson would use to animate these two scenes.

After spotting our first one or two of these terrifying beasts plenty more came into our view as we headed down towards the coast and Baiona, JUANONA’s southernmost port of call this summer.

This lovely resort town sported an elegant marina, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 PINTA, and a parador, one of the government-run hotels showcasing Spain’s scenic/historical treasures. We toured Betsy around the marina then ended up eating a late lunch on one of the parador’s terraces overlooking the bay. The view was a bit better than the lunch, which appeared a little singed. And, yes, it’s suppose to have the window to the fried egg…


Fully sated we returned to our car for the our next destination:  Granbazán, one of the many wineries found in the Rias Baixas (Southern Rias) along the Ruto do Vino (Wine route). Both this bodega and Paco & Lola, a more recent and modern winery, had been recommended by a cruising friend whose notes have guided us to many favorite spots during our Galician cruising.


Named after a noble familly from the area, Granbazán began on a huge estate with the first wines produced in 1989. Located in Val do Salnés, the coldest and wettest of the five DO (denomination of origin designating a quality-controlled wine) Rias Baixas’ sub-regions, the vineyard uses the delicate albariño grapes to produce a light-bodied, citrusy white wine.

Catching the last possible tour an hour before closing time the guide initially appeared hurried; but, the more questions we asked, the more she relaxed into her role. We three, along with a German couple who joined us later, spent an information hour listening to our host.

She began with showing us how they grow their grapes:  trellised horizontally. By keeping the plants off the ground the grapes are less susceptible to issues from too much moisture.

She let us pick one of the green globes to sample. After doing so, it immediately became apparent these grapes had something special to offer winemakers. Not that I’m a connoisseur of grape-testing. They just tasted yummy.

Leading us into the production area, she pointed out three large metal drums stationed off the floor. Here the winemaking begins with cold soaking or maceration:  the grapes are placed in these refrigerated tanks for the initial collection of juice. The grapes slowly press down on themselves due to gravity. They then release their juices meshing with the skins, the latter adding extra flavor (and color) to the extract.

After draining the extract the juice is then fermented in stainless steel tanks standing in the opposite side of the room.

Strict rules regulating production of their albariño wine apply; yet, the authorities allowed Granbazán to introduce a watering system in 2017 due to the extreme lack of rain, a sign of the affects of a changing climate affects on Spain’s wine-making.

The vineyard also produces some red wine with grapes grown in northern Spain. Overall, Granbazán produces roughly 800,000 bottles. Some of them were headed to Texas with a shipping price of over $1,000, including a huge bottle that would be difficult to lift much less pour.

Paco & Lola

The second winery presented a completely different feel from the stately grandeur of Granbazán. Paco & Lola began in 2005 as a cooperative and quickly became known for its polka dots. The modern facility happily embraces its jaunty brand personality, and our guide cheerfully led us through production, shipping and merchandising areas.

When we asked how the wine came to be named she laughed and said it’s completely made up. There isn’t any ‘Paco’ or ‘Lola’ affiliated with the company. The winery just wanted two names that were easy to pronounce and recognizable, i.e., marketable. Increasing their visibility they decided to use the polka dots, which many predicted would stymie this vineyard’s wine sales.

The nay sayers obviously were proven wrong for the wine is definitely one of the more popular (and instantly identifiable) bottles. Plus, with such a large collection of independent coop members and their grape patches, Paco & Lola can produce over 2.5 million bottles a year. That’s a lot of wine being sold, and a lot of polka dots.

She brought out food with which we could sample several bottles. While Max gladly began munching on the sardines,

I kept to the bread and Betsy, after one gulp of a mussel,

did the same.

We liked both bodegas’ wines, purchasing some bottles from each for sipping aboard JUANONA. What we should have done, though, is ship some to Maine because we’ve heard from several different sources Spain keeps the good wine for themselves (!).


In addition to the Paco & Lola winery our last day of touring included a stop in another town associated with St. James:  Padrón. Here legend has it that the boat carrying his body up to his tomb in Santiago landed here, tied the line to a stone, then began the trek inland to what is now Santiago.

And, where there’s an opportunity to connect with a saint, the residents of Padrón managed to find the exact stone and keep it safe for centuries.

Since Max and I had read about this during our summer in Galicia we felt obligated to see this symbol of Saint James. And, with Betsy, an official pilgrim, we felt even more compelled to stop here. So, the three of us squeezed into a parking space across the river, dodged cars and buses crossing a one-lane bridge, and entered a small church where we gazed upon this sacred item.

It wasn’t quite anticlimatic but I do reserve the right to doubt that this is THE rock. But, hey, maybe someone way back when captured the moment when this happened, put a fence around it, and announced that St. James ‘slept here’ or, at least, laid here (headless, I might add) for awhile.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

We returned to JUANONA for a night of wine tasting and packing up.

The next morning we came full circle, arriving back where we were a week previously when we met Betsy and Missie fresh off their pilgrimage. This time, though, we were saying good-bye. Always difficult but eased by knowing we’d be seeing her in a few months verus half a year.

So, our shared journey ended as she caught her train to Madrid and us, our plane out of Spain, all on to new adventures.

But, before I sign off, I want to post a pic of my sister that caught me up short when I was reviewing photos. Startled me only  because she looks like a blend of our mom and her sister, Lolly. Lucky her. And, them!



One’s downfall is Another’s windfall…

ANVERS in French, ANTWERPEN in Flemish

Monday-Wednesday, April 15-17, 2019

Having left Bruges we headed east to Antwerp. We had come close to touring this city when visiting our Belgium family while checking out Bastogne and  Waterloo in the fall of 2016. But, we didn’t make it as we needed to return to JUANONA to get ready to return to Maine.

This time, Antwerp was our original destination in between boat errands, yet we had added in Bruges because it was close to where we had to be Sunday. The only drawback concerned the lengths of our visits. Both seemed way too brief. We definitely could have enjoyed at least one more night, if not two, in both cities. If you’re thinking of visiting either, add on days!

Because of being short-timers here we wanted to be within easy walking distance of the sites we planned to see. And, we wanted to be able to park the car without having to pay half our room budget. AND, we wanted a comfortable place to crash with good wifi that wasn’t too expensive. Oh, and the ability to make a cup of joe in the morning… Good luck, right?

Well, we found one:  “Because the Night” B&B.

Not only did our room meet all the above criteria but also included one of the warmest and most helpful hosts you could find. Paul and Ann have an inn with three rooms available in a quiet neighborhood close to the city center. He greeted us, helped us park (free on the street!), and spent time showing us the best walking routes to reach our destinations as well as pointing out some good, but inexpensive eateries (one only served spaghetti, and, boy, was it tasty and filling :). In short, we found it the perfect place for our 36-hour touring of Antwerp.

Antwerp is the unofficial capital of Flanders, the northern region of Belgium populated by predominantly Flemish (Dutch) speaking people.

Its name originates (some say) in a legend involving a Roman soldier (Silvius Brabo) and an evil giant, Druon Antigoon, a toll-keeper living in a fortress beside the Scheldt River. Antigoon would cut off the hands of those unfortunate boaters who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the toll and toss the bodiless appendanges in the river. As you can gather, manly Brabo killed this despot and threw HIS amputated hand in the river. Now that’s a helping hand… Thus, the city carries the name derived from the Flemish word (Antwerpen) and Dutch (hand werpen) for hand throwing. Which a statue on the main square commemorates.

Considering Romans settled here in the 2nd and 3rd centuries you can see how this could be true, right? Right.

Skipping ahead 12+ centuries Antwerp became a Spanish enclave after the Netherlands won their independence from the Spanish King Philip II

whose father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, bequeathed him the Low Countries. Catholicism remained the official religion; yet, today similar to many Western European capitals, the city’s population features multiple religious affiliations.

Antwerp’s strength grew out of its opportunistic location of being where three rivers–the Scheldt, Meuse and Rhine–flow together into the North Sea, forming the largest estuary of Western Europe. Its growth as a shipping port, second today only to Rotterdam, began when Bruges’ water access began to silt up in the 15th century. This loss of watery transportation caused merchants and businesses to relocate east to Antwerp (reason for the title of this post). Add in the increased trade due to colonization and Spain’s exploitation of the Americas and you have a booming commercial city. Population grew five-fold from 20,000 at the end of the 14th century to 100,00 in the mid-16th century.

During this economic growth the city’s Golden Age blossomed with the Flemish School of painting. And, for those, like moi, who need a definition of this style, here it is: “Flemish painting is characterized by extraordinary subtlety, attention to detail, vivid colours, and inspired technique.” (

With such a rich history during the 15th and 16th centuries, it’s not surprising two of the museums we targeted featured amazing feats by two local sons:  a printer and an artist.

But, before we began our cultural experiences we were on the hunt for a good breakfast while walking towards our first site. We reached a small plaza where the museum stood but no cafes seemed to be open with the exception of one, only because he was waiting for a repairman. And, he only served alcohol… He did point us to the other side of the square and down a block, and, voila! the perfect spot for an excellent cup of coffee (or two) and a healthy breakfast of fruit and bread items (my type of meal). Although, Max wasn’t too keen on being the photo subject…

After satisfying our stomachs, on to food for the mind:  MUSEUM PLANTIN-MORETUS.

Two friends had told us about this museum: Seppe, one of our Belgian Family members who visited it with his school group, and Deborah, one of our Dutch Family members who knew it from her touring. Two good recommend-ers.

The name comes from the founding printer, Christophe Plantin (1520-89), a Frenchman who began as a bookbinder and leather maker, and emigrated to Antwerp around 1500, Antwerp’s Golden Age.

He opened his printing shop, Officina Plantiniana, and within 20 years had expanded his business to Frankfurt, Leiden (actually he printed marine charts there), and Paris garnering the distinction of being among Europe’s industrial leaders. He operated 16 printing presses, and the museum’s collection included two of the oldest in the world (Max and I assume ‘Western’ may need to be added as a qualifier)

and employed 50 operators as well as shop assistants.

But, he definitely established a family business which included Plantin and his wife Jeanne Rivière (not the happiest looking creature) and five daughters.

During their childhood he ensured they could contribute to the family enterprise, which also included making lace, with an education in reading and writing and languages. What I found pretty wonderful was the involvement of these women in the business world. One daughter, Martine (1550-1616), begins working in the lace shop and eventually is put in charge.

Another daughter, Madeleine  (1557-99), holds an important position as a proofreader for one of his major achievements, the polyglot Bible (the proofreaders’ room is pictured below and an actual sample of proofing work)

If you’re wondering about the second name of the museum, Moretus, it’s Plantin’s successor:  Jan Moretus (1543-1610). He began work here at the age of 14 and became the boss’ right-hand man partly due to his language ability (he knew Dutch, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, French and German) as well as his managerial skills. He also married Martine, the boss’s daughter, with whom he fathered 11 children.

Delightfully, we literally stepped and explored where these families had lived and worked. Over two floors and several hours we walked through this history.

The ground floor included a portrait gallery featuring family faces, many of which were painted by family friend Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). I tired to keep who was who straight but after awhile I gave up and just enjoyed gazing at the actual founders seen above, as well as influential friends, one being Justis Lipsius (1547-1606), a humanist who favored the Roman stoic Seneca (4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.).

In the painting below Lipsius (in the fur collar) is explaining a classic text with a bust of Seneca in the background and Rubens looking on.

The family kept a study for this guy, which attests to Plantin and Moretus’ honoring intellectual pursuits. Balthasar I Moretus (1547-1641), considered the intellectual of the family, printed Lipsius’ collected works of Seneca with illustrations by Rubens.

Plantin’s belief was ‘With hard work, perseverance and patience one is able to surmount any hardship.’ He did experience hardships throughout his career (one being when he had all his possessions auctioned off due to a run-in with the authorities). Yet, he lived by his motto and continued to build his business with the bulk of the Plantin’s printing featured religion (35%), Humanism and Literation (35%), Science (10%), Governmental publications (8.5%), Pamphlets (4.5%), and Other (7%).

He also knew how to network, acquiring the lucrative contract as the appointed typographer royal to King Philip II of Spain (the one who fought William I of the Netherlands at the beginning of the Eighty Years War). It was with the death of Philip II’s father, Charles V, that helped Plantin establish his reputation with a book covering the 1558 funeral procession (also sold as a 12-meter roll). It was printed in the five languages (Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Italian) spoken in the Holy Roman Empire.

Although he printed for the Catholic King, including the church’s Index of Prohibited Books in 1569*,

he also was a businessman who would print competing religious teachings, such as Hendrik Barrefelt’s preaching of tolerance in 1584. But, Plantin wasn’t stupid:  he did so using the pseudonym Jacobus Villanus.

* This listing of banned books began in 1559 and didn’t end until 1966 (!).

In addition to the humanist and religious works the company published atlases by Abraham Ortelius (1527-98). Ortelius first atlas contained 53 maps, growing to 117 eight years later. Because maps were printed individually one could build their own atlas based on which maps they collected.

‘Atlas’, by the way, is a term first coined by Gerard Mercator whose maps would eventually be seen as more accurate than Ortelius’.

Plantin and his successors kept a competitive edge by constantly improving the printed word. He would use engravings over woodcuts to ensure a better quality of illustration.

And, typography was another of the company’s key strengths. He used the best designers for his typefaces (for example, Robert Granjon’s modern Times New Roman and Claude Garamont’s Garamond), and he ensured no other printer could use them because Plantin literally owned the metal type. Eventually, the company had 90 fonts enabling them to print in a variety of languages, which they did:  Latin (62%), Dutch (14%), French (14%), Greek (5%), Spanish (2%), Hebrew (2%), and ‘Other’ comprised of German, Italian, English, Old Syriac, and Aramaic (1.8%). The typefaces were stored in large wall drawers.

Balthasar, mentioned earlier, went one step further by building a foundry which operated between 1622-60 and 1736-60.

A staff member–who saw us peering at minute type with quizzical expressionswondering how the hell did they do that?!–

kindly explained some of the printing and fonts. He asked us why capital letters were called ‘upper case’? It’s because they stored those less-frequently-used letters in the upper case of the cabinet holding the alphabet of a particular font.

To ease the arm movement of the typesetters they placed the most commonly used letters in the lower center to avoid unnecessary movements.

Plantin’s masterpiece was the Biblia polyglotta or Biblia regia. Under the sponsorship of King Phillip II (who sent theologian Benedictus Arias Montanus to overseer it), this work composed of eight volumes gained international fame. An original set shows the interesting clasps used to bind them.

During our wanderings I discovered quite a few business women assisted in running this business, such as Anna Good (1624-1691)… Anna Maria de Neuf (1654-1714) who grows the business during difficult times… and, Maria Theresa Borrekens (1728-1797) who married François-Jean Moretus.

Nine generations of this family managed to produce amazing work. Edward Moretus (1804-80), grandson of Maria and François-Jean mentioned above, publishing the last book, the breviary of Saint Francis. He sold the house and contents, including a rare musical instrument–a combination of  a harpsichord and virginal (one of the only four known in the world),

to the city who, thankfully, turns it into a museum.

By now my eyes are rolling sloppily in my head and I’m feeling very, very uneducated and, definitely, not very linguistic. But, wow, did this museum exceed all expectations.

It wasn’t all serious pondering. We managed to get into the spirit of it all when I persuaded Max (didn’t take much) to don an outfit of the time…

After lunch at a laundromat (great idea and one my sister and a friend almost started),

we headed for our second museum of the day, RUEBENSHUIS. In actuality, a mansion.

Unlike Plantin’s abode, Peter Paul Rubens’ home didn’t survive the four centuries without major renovations by subsequent owners. The only remaining parts are those Rubens, himself, commissioned:  the garden portico and the garden pavilion, heavily influenced by his study in Rome.

Yet, the ‘house’ Rubens inhabited beginning in 1610 until his death 30 years later definitely felt like he’d been there.

Although he was born to a Calvinist father who fled with his family from the Southern Netherlands to avoid religious persecution, Rubens was raised a Catholic (his mother’s religion) after his father’s death in 1587. With a classical education and apprenticeship to Antwerp’s leading artist, Otto van Veen (1557-1629)– one of Ruben’s earliest paintings (of Adam and Eve) reflects van Veen’s influence with the use of cool blue and green color hues as well as a more static background –

Rubens eventually left for Italy in 1600 where he continued to perfect his talent, marrying the styles of Renaissance to Baroque.

When he returned to Antwerp in 1608 he gained local fame with his 1609 commission Adoration of the Magi for the Town Hall, which found its way to the King of Spain in Madrid in 1628 (now in Madrid’s Prada Museum).

Like Plantin, Rubens obtained the patronage of royalty, the Hapsburg regents Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, enabling him to amass even more wealth. At the time of his death he owned this mansion and several country properties.

His studio became the largest and best known in Europe, helping him to become a superstar at the time of his death.

We learned apprentices would use Rubens’ preliminary oil sketches to do the large scale versions. Then Rubens would fine-tune the most important elements–people and flesh tones. Yet, the master painted the entire piece of his most important commissions.

One of his most successful apprentices was Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) who became more of a collaborator with Rubens as opposed to pupil. Later considered a rival to his teacher, Van Dyck became a court painter to Charles I in London, who knighted him in 1632. Below is a portrait by van Dyck.

Royalty is definitely one’s ticket to success…

We meandered with a small booklet through rooms showcasing a variety of paintings, Rubens’ as well as his contemporaries’.

Later, in reading about this artist it’s not surprising he became a friend of Plantin and other famous residents of the city. Rubens spoke five languages, was a scholar, a humanist, a diplomat and possessed extraordinary energy.

Speaking of energy, ours was flagging. We had filled our heads with the art of printing and of oil painting, both fields represented by two genuises, one I had heard of and one I hadn’t. Time for that full plate of spaghetti, bed, and home to JUANONA.

With a stop for a libation

in the shadow of the cathedral,

we slowly strolled back to our B&B stopping to gaze at some art along the way.

Unfortunately, we missed touring a third site on our list, the Red Star Line Museum covering the emigration of several million folks to Canada and the United States between 1837 and 1934. We learned afterwards what a mistake this was when two friends told us how rewarding their visit thad been.

Next time, for Antwerp along with Bruges and other historical, thriving places are on our list for repeat visits.

Now, back to JUANONA and prepping her for summer cruising… and a visitor!







The Venice of the North

BRUGES in French, BRUGGE in Flemish

Sunday-Monday, April 14-15, 2019

To make the most of our out-of-town boat errands we sandwiched between the tasks two Belgium cities we wanted to explore:  Bruges and Antwerp. We had visited the former when visiting with our Belgium family (Ta, Koen, Seppe, Frieke, & Wannes and pup Cuba) in 2002. But, Max didn’t feel well, it was cold, and early Christmas shoppers packed the streets. And, we had missed Antwerp in our previous travels, making it now a prime destination before starting summer cruising.

So, off we drove early Sunday morning, first dropping off Scandinavian cruising guides to some friends in Blankenberge, Belgium then to Bruges.

This once-fortified city was one of the richest in Europe during the Middle Ages thanks to the trade of cloth. And, the city wears this mantle of medieval entitlement well, starting with its stately buildings

and scenic canals, which give Bruges its well-earned descriptor Venice of the North*.

*Another nickname this city earned is Brugse Zotten (The Bruges’ Crazies) from the time of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519). Due to his having been held captive here for four months, he denied Bruges the right to hold fairs. The residents tried to appease him with a huge party in his honor. In addition to being allowed to have fairs again as well as levy taxes, the townsmen requested the right to build a madhouse. Reportedly he replied, “Close all the city gates and it is a madhouse”. By the way, the local beer is called Brugse Zot and, since the early 2000s, is sent by pipe out of the city to be bottled, as we saw in the Brewery’s floor.

For an excellent background of Bruges during its medieval period read Dorothy Dunnett’s eight-book series THE HOUSE OF NICCOLIÒ. I hated reaching the last page of the final book. Frankly, I think it would rival “The Game of Thrones” if someone managed to translate her story into a TV show.

But, you can see Bruges on the screen in the film noir “In Bruges” with Colin Farrell. Definitely another worthwhile view of this town, although we later met two travelers who hated it, so consider my recommendations as very subjective.

The history of Bruges and the province of Flanders becomes clear as mud when you start reading about the power struggles between various rulers and wanna-be-rulers over control of this European territory. So, below are excerpts providing a glimpse of this city’s past:

  • The site began as a landing on the Zwijn estuary of the Reie River (Bruges’ name is derived from a Roman bridge over the river). Later flooding of the area created channels as well as a link to the North Sea and an opportunity to increase trade.
  • The town later served as the fortification of Baldwin the Iron Arm (love these names), the count of Flanders, against Vikings/Norman invaders in the 9th century.
  • The House of Burgundy entered into the picture when Count Louis II of Flanders’s heiress Margaret III (1350-1405), the last Countess of Flanders, married Philip the Bold (1342-1404), the youngest son of French King John II and Duke of Burgundy.
  • Due to its monopoly on English wool (considered the finest grade) used in the weaving of Flemish cloth, Bruges became one of the richest European cities during the 13th- and 14th-centuries, along with nearby Ghent and Ypres.  With such a reputation, it’s not surprising to hear of the royals purchasing Flemish tapestries to warm their damp and chilly castles. Some of the most famous and stunning ones- black & white as well as full color -are the Jagiellonian tapestries ordered by Polish Kings Sigismund I & II in the mid-1500s for their Krakow royal residence, the Wawel Castle. Out of the approximately 170 made, miraculously over 100 still remain.
  • The city’s wealth led to internal struggles including one between the guilds and the governing power, resulting in the Brugse Metten (Bruges Matins) May 18, 1302:  guildsmen murdered anyone who couldn’t pronounce the Flemish phrase ’schild en friend’ (shield and friend). A statue in the main square memorializes the two leaders of this revolt, Pieter de Doninck (head of the Weavers Guild) and Jan Breeder (head of the Butchers Guild).

  • Bruges, whose status in the cloth trade attracted the attention of the economic powerhouse, the german Hanseatic League, joined this commercial organization in the 14th century.
  • In the 15th century the Dukes of Burgundy helped foster Bruges’ trade dominance. Not only aristocrats and merchants prospered but also artists, such as  Jan van Eyck (1370-1441) who became the court painter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1467) (not sure why he acquired the nickname ‘the good’ but I did read he had at least 18 illegitimate kids so he was obviously good at something besides begetting riches).
  • But, just as water positioned Bruges as a vital trading port on the North Sea, it also took this gift away when the Zwijn waterway began silting up. The Hanseatic League moved to Antwerp with merchants soon following, and by the end of the 15th century Bruges slipped into dormancy.
  • The Eighty Years War (1566-1646) between the Spanish rulers and the Dutch created a split between a Protestant secular governance in the Netherlands and a Catholic royal rule in the Spanish Netherlands (basically, present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and a part of northern France).
  • Bruges began its revitalization in the 1800s when wealthy tourists discovered this idyllic city wreathed by canals.

  • Spared during German occupations in WWI and II Bruges became a UNESCO site in 2000 and was designated the European City of Culture in 2002.
  • In 2015 the city hosted 7.8 million tourists. A bit overwhelming considering only 20,000 of the just under 120,000 residents inhabit the city center.

Okay, I’m finished with the history lesson, now off to explore.

With less than 24 hours to see the sights we booked a room within easy walking distances of the sites, which isn’t difficult since one can cover the whole area within two hours of walking. We quickly stashed our luggage and exited into medieval times.

Believe it or not, we didn’t tour many museums because we wanted to simply soak up the ambiance during our short stay here. Which meant we strolled the streets in spring sun beginning in the Markt, (the main square) where the Halle with its famous, 83-meter (272 feet) belfry stands.

The belfry was added in 1282 with the octagonal upper section completed 200 years later.

With 366 steps to climb we opted out of that exertion but did peek into the courtyard

and snapped a photo of a photo showing the view if we had climbed all those steps.

Similar to other cities we’ve toured a small carnival plopped itself on the main square flashing colorful lights advertising kiddie rides and games.

All a bit surreal against a backdrop of imposing buildings; yet the modern fair added a light-hearted touch to the surroundings dominated not only by the 13th-century Belfry but also the late 19th-century, Neo-Gothic Provinciall Hof (seat of the provincial government).

Spotting a city tour bus

we hopped on for 50 minutes of a bored driver who would pull up to a site, point his arm and let the multi-lingual headphones provide their limited commentary. The only time he smiled occurred as we were exiting next to the tip jar.

Just to give you an idea of the throngs milling about this spring day (foretelling the mob scenes to come as spring turns into summer), I took a photo out of the window:

Not too informative of a ride but it did provide an opportunity for our picking out where we’d want to go next.

And, two sites we selected centered on the importance of religion (not unusual since churches seem to sprout like mushrooms in these medieval towns), the first being Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (aka O.L.V.-Kerk, aka The Church of Our Lady)

Built on a plot inhabited by previous churches (first from the 9th-century, followed by a Romanesque one in the 12th-century) the current structure began 1210 in the Gothic style and continued birthing additional parts (steeple tower, chapels, etc.) into the 16th and 17th centuries. Bizarrely (to me) in the 18th century, after the French Revolution, the church was for sale resulting in the parishioners buying it back.

During the centuries saintly relics, those pilgrim magnets, i.e., money-makers, pumped up attendance and the church’s coffers insuring O.L.V.’s religious importance. But, entering structures of this magnitude with their soaring ceilings and impressive decor, such as the 12 apostles lining the main aisle of the nave, one doesn’t need dead people’s organs to feel spirituality hovering in the air.

Today the church serves as a museum with one of its most notable pieces being the statue ‘Madonna and Child’ by Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564). Commissioned by a Cardinal who later became Pope Pius III for the main alter of Siena, Italy’s cathedral, it ended up as a gift by Bruges merchant Jan Mouscron to O.L.V.

Because you can’t get within less than 20 feet of this guarded piece of art (I zoomed in to capture the image above), there’s an unimpressive duplicate, although, that, too, is encased in a glass box. When I noticed Max peering at it, I pointed to the real one. He was happy to hear it wasn’t the original as he didn’t think the copy looked too great. (Nor did this statue replace Michelangelo’s Pieta as his all-time favorite.)

The need for security is understandable considering the statue was stolen in 1794 during the French Occupation, returned in 1816 following the Peace of Vienna, only to be seized by the Nazis in 1945, then found along other priceless pieces of art in an Austrian salt mine. And, it was placed back in its original site for paying visitors to now see.

Other notable work catching my eye included:

two elaborate oaken confessionals carved over two years in High Baroque style (1697-98)…

two ceremonial tombs of Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482) who died falling off her horse and whose husband, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian of Austria (1459-1519), commissioned this tomb in 1502 with her son, Philip the Fair (1478-1506), adding the gilt-work,

all on top of her bricked-in remains (empty burial tomb seen below through glass floor)

and lying nearby is Charles the Bold (1433-1477), Duke of Burgundy who died at the Battle of Nancy, in the other glittery tomb after Charles V brought his remains to Bruges in 1558 and his son,  Philip II (who fought William I of the Netherlands for control of the Low Countries during the 80-year war) commissioned this one in 1562.

Unlike Michelangelo’s statue these monuments were safely squirreled away during the French Revolution only to be returned in 1806, and you could get with ten feet of them…

The pulpit created in the mid-1700s features a woman (‘Faith’) sitting on a globe who’s proclaiming the ‘Good News’ while holding the proverb “Understand what is wise, O ye of little wisdom; listen, and I will tell you many great things; for what passes my lips is righteous and true”, obviously what’s true has something to do with Jesus or God and not advertising Burger King’s Impossible Whopper…

finally, lots of paintings hung on the walls with one, to me, of the most striking being ‘The Crucifixion’ attributed to Antoon van Djick (1599-1641).


Of course, we can not not tour something with even a whisper of an MDT (Max Disaster Tour ), and we found one of those in The Basilica of the Precious Blood (a 19th-century photo of this building appears earlier in this post)

The Chapel sits on the 9th-century fortification occupied by the first count of Flanders, Baldwin Iron Arm.

Crusading Count Thierry of Alsace (1099-1168) built a Romanesque, two-story chapel. Dedicated to St. Basil, the lower chapel creates a sombre and muted atmosphere with its unadorned stone walls and dim lighting,

while the upper story, added in 1530’s, matches the exterior with regards to ornate architectual elements. With no flash allowed some of my photos, as you’ll see, are unfortunately blurry but will give you a hint of the richness within these walls.

And, it’s in the Upper Chapel where one can witness and partake of the bizarre, daily ritual of parading past a cylindrical vial holding some of Jesus’ blood; and, those who know me can probably imagine my eye roll at that bit of ‘truth’. But, hearing this event would occur in 15 minutes we decided to take one of the seats in a small area (seen below) off to the right of the main altar (seen above) to get our dose of sacredness.

Supposedly the Patriarch of Jerusalem bestowed this valuable bit of Jesus to Count Thierry, a fanatical crusader, to thank him for his bravery during the Second Crusade (1147-49).

However, later research indicates the relic most likely came to Bruges from Constantinople in the early 13th century. Oh well, at least the Jesus’ blood part is true…

By the time the relic made its appearance on the altar, a guard motioned people, by now standing as well as sitting in front of the altar, to begin lining up one by one. When my turn came I climbed the eight steps or so, approached the relic, smiled at the woman overseeing it, then dropped my eyes to see a stained bit of cloth.

A bit anti-climatic for me but I can only imagine how powerful this must be for those who believe in it.

However, for me, all I can imagine is the power of the all-mighty coin; yet, to be fair, surprisingly we were not charged extra to see the relic.

When not being brought out for 30 minutes of homage by tourists such as ourselves, the encapsulated blood resides in a gold and silver, gem-encrusted reliquary.

The highlight of this worship occurs every Ascension Day (when Christ finally goes to Heaven 40 days after his resurrection).

After our holy episode, it was time to leave Bruge, but not without gazing once more at this sumptuous jewel of a Medieval city and saying to one another, we’d love to come back. Only this time I can skip the blood.

And, that ends our 24-hour stroll through this medieval treasure.

Next, Antwerp!




Wintery Holiday: Finale


December 26, 2018 – January 2, 2019

Deciding to extend our time in the Baltic we researched the best way to reach Tallinn (Estonian for ‘Danish Town/Fortress’), Estonia’s capital and another Old Town jewel. A bus seemed to be the fastest and the easiest, so we purchased tickets and the next day experienced an extremely comfortable, four-hour ride outfitted with reclining seats, plenty of legroom, and individual screens with Wifi.

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Wintery Holiday: Part II

Baltic States (continued)

December 20, 2018 – January 2, 2019



Estonia shares a similar history with Latvia, one we saw at the recently expanded and rebranded Vabamu Museum of Occupation. (Vabamu is comprised of the Estonian words for freedom, ‘vadabus’, and museum, ‘muuseum’)

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Wintery Holiday: Part 1

The Baltic States

December 20, 2018 – January 2, 2019

Searching for a wintery location to celebrate the Christmas holidays we found two cities:  Riga in Latvia and Tallinn in Estonia, two of the three Baltic capitals just west of Russia. Each one claims the birth of the Christmas tree tradition and both offered notable holiday markets, promising a taste of gluewien and new places to explore.

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