Spain

TEN THINGS ABOUT BARCELONA

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  1. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia. The people of Barcelona do not want to be considered Spanish, they are Catalan above anything else.
  2. The Catalan have their own language, Catalan.
  3. Some great names from Barcelona include Pablo Picasso, Antonio Gaudi, opera singers Montserrat Caballe, Victoria de Los Angeles and Jose Carreras. French  Open and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is also from Barca.
  4. There is a fairly vocal movement opposing tourism in Barcelona. The main complaints are around housing affordability.
  5. Barcelona must be the El Dorado for interior designers. There is a decoration store in almost every block.
  6. The tapas are served very elegantly.
  7. The two most popular sights, Sagrada Familia and Park Guell are no longer free.
  8. There are taxis everywhere- except the night when we stayed out too long and the last bus had already gone. We walked home - almost an hour.
  9. The light show at Plaça Espania fountains was awesome.
  10. Like Paris, English is widely widely spoken. In some ways this is a shame.
The super light show. We stayed a bit too long.... (Read item 8 above). 

The super light show. We stayed a bit too long.... (Read item 8 above). 

Superb tapas! We congratulated the restaurant, asked to take a photo, and then went to our hostel to eat a microwave pizza.

Superb tapas! We congratulated the restaurant, asked to take a photo, and then went to our hostel to eat a microwave pizza.

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The anti-tourism movement is very vocal at times.  Food for thought for sure.

The anti-tourism movement is very vocal at times.  Food for thought for sure.

HOSTELLING AND PLAYING POOL

 

In Barcelona, we stayed at a hostel. It turned out to be a great choice and we really liked it. Two of the staff were from Cuba (interesting - also I went to a salon in Barcelona and my esthetician was from Cuba. I think there may be quite a few Cubans in Barcelona.)

Our hostel common area was nice, it had little tables for people to eat, use the computer etc.  They had books, board games, games for children and adults, and then they had a pool table. Lili had never played pool so of course we had to try it. Lots of aiming and concentration made for good matches, both Dante and I played her a couple of times.

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Lili's great aiming and concentration!

Lili's great aiming and concentration!

Here Dante and Lili are playing Battleships! Another of our trip favorites that we normally play on the iPad. 

Here Dante and Lili are playing Battleships! Another of our trip favorites that we normally play on the iPad. 

FREE WALKING TOURS

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Free walking tours are a phenomenon that has popped up pretty much everywhere where tourism has grown. They are a super cool idea especially for people like us who have no interest in shelling out $50+ for a bus sightseeing tour.

Free walking tours normally are run by local students or youngish people who work for tips.

The companies that put them on often also offer paid tours, private guiding, cooking classes etc. so the free walking tours serve as promotion for the business - lots of incentive to do a good job.

Lili and I did a free walking tour in Prague, and all three of us took one in Barcelona.

Our Barcelona guide was Juan Carlos Colon, who is half American half Catalan. (Please note we do not say Spanish because the Catalan are very particular about their own identity.)

We had a great time on our walk, and spent a fascinating three hours touring the old town. We saw Columbus's contract with King Ferdinand, Joan Miro's birth home and the school where Pablo Picasso studied art. And we saw many wonderful stores and galleries.

Columbus's contract at Barcelona City Archives. 

Columbus's contract at Barcelona City Archives. 

In front of Joan Miro's birth home. 

In front of Joan Miro's birth home. 

At a gallery. 

At a gallery. 

After the walk we had our one and only restaurant meal in Barcelona - at Maoz falafel joint. We had eaten at Maoz already in Paris, so we knew to expect the super quality and backpacker prices. And Lili got some fries and Fanta -rare treats both.

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AMAZING MUSICIAN

After our visit to the ticketed part of Parc Guell, we walked further up in the park to go to the top of the hill where there is a panoramic viewpoint. 

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And on the way up we heard lovely music floating in the air.... 

A few more steps and we saw the musicians, just two people - one with a kora and one with a guitar.   But the kora player also sang, and it was magical. A truly free voice, natural and wild, doing long glides and then just unexpected and beautiful things - like the park parakeets in flight. I, like many others, was mesmerized. 

A few more steps and we saw the musicians, just two people - one with a kora and one with a guitar.   But the kora player also sang, and it was magical. A truly free voice, natural and wild, doing long glides and then just unexpected and beautiful things - like the park parakeets in flight. I, like many others, was mesmerized. 

After a long while, the piece ended and we were able to congratulate the artists and talk with them. The singer was Catalan, but he had studied music in Mali. How extraordinary.    It was so special that I decided to buy not one but two CDs on the spot.  

After a long while, the piece ended and we were able to congratulate the artists and talk with them. The singer was Catalan, but he had studied music in Mali. How extraordinary.  

It was so special that I decided to buy not one but two CDs on the spot.  

And we got a photo with Lili!    The soloist is called Yerko Lorca and the guitarist Roy Apartin. You can find out more about them on Facebook at Yerko Lorca Music and at www.yerko.info    

And we got a photo with Lili!  

The soloist is called Yerko Lorca and the guitarist Roy Apartin. You can find out more about them on Facebook at Yerko Lorca Music and at www.yerko.info 

 

PORTRAITS OF LILI

We got an unexpected and exquisite gift in Spain - our new friends Susan and Stuart hosted us for a wonderful lunch and swim at their house in Algodonales. During our visit, Stuart snapped some pictures of Lili. 

I noticed he had a really nice camera, and it later came out that he used to work as a professional photographer. 

And then he sent us the photos. WOW.  And DOUBLE WOW. Thank you Stuart, for your incredible eye, talent and skill.

You can see more of Stuart's work on Instagram at stwestonphotography.

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Stuart also played with effects on one of the photos. The blue one was 'Avatar inspired'. 

Stuart also played with effects on one of the photos. The blue one was 'Avatar inspired'. 

LAST NIGHT AT CABALLOS Y VINO

Out of all the things we have done in Andalucia, we will probably remember our time at Caballos y Vino the most. This is the home ranch of Sandra and Luis where Lili took her riding lessons - eight in all, consisting of six lessons and two long trail rides.

At the end of our month in Spain, Lili was able to freely canter on her own, ride a barrel race course at trot and canter and do several horse care chores all by herself. Her posture, confidence and joy of riding were all increased by leaps and bounds. And it was lovely for Sandra to have a student for a longer stretch as she often gets clients who only visit once or maybe twice.

A happy girl cantering with Spirit. 

A happy girl cantering with Spirit. 

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The trail ride on the last evening, first setting out with clients Ben and Alex from New York, and then coming back in the low evening sun.

The trail ride on the last evening, first setting out with clients Ben and Alex from New York, and then coming back in the low evening sun.

We have also got to know Sandra's parents Alfred and Barbara who are visiting from Germany and for our last evening we had a dinner together. They are such lovely people. Alfred would normally putter around the ranch with handyman work such as fixing a car, regrouting the masonry, preparing the outdoor pool for the summer season or power washing the patio. Barbara and I would sit, chat and do handwork - I picked up crocheting and have made many little coasters and cotton flowers, some with beads.

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Sandra's sister Manuela is coming to visit in a couple of weeks with her little son Max who is four. Alfred made a swing for his grandson, and Dante is testing it. All worked great!

Sandra's sister Manuela is coming to visit in a couple of weeks with her little son Max who is four. Alfred made a swing for his grandson, and Dante is testing it. All worked great!

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Here Alfred is showing his carving skills. Sandra won this ham at a local Horsemanship competition at a Romeria gathering. Note the special ham holder apparatus! 

Here Alfred is showing his carving skills. Sandra won this ham at a local Horsemanship competition at a Romeria gathering. Note the special ham holder apparatus! 

Here is our outdoor dinner after Lili's ride.  Dante made pasta with Gorgonzola and we also had a lentil stew and broccoli with garlic and balsamico. Sandra whipped up sautéed sprouted lentils (in the frying pan) and they were so good. We will definitely add that to our lentil repertory. The food was gone in a whiff and then it was time for our goodbyes. 

Here is our outdoor dinner after Lili's ride.  Dante made pasta with Gorgonzola and we also had a lentil stew and broccoli with garlic and balsamico. Sandra whipped up sautéed sprouted lentils (in the frying pan) and they were so good. We will definitely add that to our lentil repertory. The food was gone in a whiff and then it was time for our goodbyes. 

And what a lovely gift Lili received from Sandra at the end of the evening - she gave Lili the small riding  boots that we were able to borrow on the day we forgot to bring her cowboy boots. When we got home Lili washed the new boots for about half an hour in the shower and wore them at home all morning. Thank you so much!

And what a lovely gift Lili received from Sandra at the end of the evening - she gave Lili the small riding  boots that we were able to borrow on the day we forgot to bring her cowboy boots. When we got home Lili washed the new boots for about half an hour in the shower and wore them at home all morning. Thank you so much!

We hold so many happy memories of Sandra and her horses. Our hearts are full.     Until we we meet again! 

We hold so many happy memories of Sandra and her horses. Our hearts are full.

 

Until we we meet again! 

TRAVELING SALESMEN

Olvera is such a small town that it doesn't have many stores. (And to tell the truth the economic downturn has probably reduced the number of viable businesses as well).  So like in small places elsewhere, a weekly market that consists of traveling salesmen (and women) becomes a hub of activity.

This particular one blocks the roads up to the cathedral hill where we live, so what else to do than go down and buy underpants, shorts for Dante and a big bag of gummy bears from the spice man? And since it was a nice hot day we stopped at Cafe Pepe for Fantas.

 

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At Cafe Pepe

At Cafe Pepe

Am I getting old? I though this dress was pretty funky. But it was a size 44! 

Am I getting old? I though this dress was pretty funky. But it was a size 44! 

WINERY ON HORSEBACK

Right next to where Lili takes riding lessons near Ronda, there is a winery. After class today Lili's teacher Sandra surprised us - she had arranged us a visit! And true to form, Lili and Sandra rode their horses up the hill....

Parking the horses

Parking the horses

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Our group: Alfred (Sandra's dad), Lili, Sandra, Dante, Lorenzo (winery caretaker) and Barbara (Sandra's  mom).

Our group: Alfred (Sandra's dad), Lili, Sandra, Dante, Lorenzo (winery caretaker) and Barbara (Sandra's  mom).

Here we are in the winery cellar. The grapes on the wall are the varieties they grow.

Here we are in the winery cellar. The grapes on the wall are the varieties they grow.

Machinery clockwise: grape detatcher, bottling machine, labelling machine (red rolls - back of bottle, yellow roll - front label. 

Machinery clockwise: grape detatcher, bottling machine, labelling machine (red rolls - back of bottle, yellow roll - front label. 

Like a bank vault, n'est-ce pas? 

Like a bank vault, n'est-ce pas? 

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Poor Dante. He had to drink with both hands! 

Poor Dante. He had to drink with both hands! 

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The sunset was breathtaking. 

The sunset was breathtaking. 

CAZALLA DE RONDA

Every now and then I meet people with whom I instantly relate with. I had this experience recently when a British lady called Lisa came to Lili's riding class and went for a trail ride with her.   We chatted after the ride and she told us that she had moved to Spain with her husband and they bought a large country house and now have fixed it up and it is a rental for up to twelve people. My ears naturally perked up as I am always on a lookout for great locations for yoga retreats...

Lisa (at left) with Poli, Lili's teacher Sandra in the middle with Bandolera and Lili with Serrana.

Lisa (at left) with Poli, Lili's teacher Sandra in the middle with Bandolera and Lili with Serrana.

Today we went to visit Lisa and see her house, and it is stunning. And I love the story of how they came to buy it - they had a long term plan on what to do after their careers, and instantly knew this was the place when they saw it after a very long time looking in different countries. Create your dream, and it will manifest!  

I have shamelessly cribbed some photos off their website to give the place some much deserved publicity. And some of the photos are mine - haha try to guess which ones!

The location - completely embraced by the beauty of nature. 

The location - completely embraced by the beauty of nature. 

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Fireplace lounge. Take note of the gorgeous exposed natural stone in the walls... 

Fireplace lounge. Take note of the gorgeous exposed natural stone in the walls... 

The bathrooms pay tribute to the Moorish heritage of the region.   

The bathrooms pay tribute to the Moorish heritage of the region.

 

One of the five spacious bedrooms.

One of the five spacious bedrooms.

Super duper kitchen. I can see all kinds of healthy delicious meals  being created here. One local dish we have found here is garbanzo beans in spinach - and I want to learn to make it!

Super duper kitchen. I can see all kinds of healthy delicious meals  being created here. One local dish we have found here is garbanzo beans in spinach - and I want to learn to make it!

Who wants to set the table? 

Who wants to set the table? 

Lili and Lisa tending to the estate horse, Oberon. 

Lili and Lisa tending to the estate horse, Oberon. 

Plump olives in the garden. We even got a bottle of their house Olive Oil.

Plump olives in the garden. We even got a bottle of their house Olive Oil.

...and the pool. 

...and the pool. 

I hope you are as committed as I am to stay at Cazalla de Ronda one day.

ADULT PLAYGROUNDS

Some people may not know what adult playgrounds are so let me explain. They are public spaces, normally in plazas or parks, often right adjacent to a children's playground, with outdoor fitness equipment sized for adults. The equipment is often made out of heavy tubular steel and offers a way to do simple exercises to counter our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and to keep large masses of aging populations more healthy. Adult playgrounds are a great idea.

We have seen some in Japan, lots and lots of them in Rio and now also in Spain. Part of the fun is to go to one and try to figure out what an earth one is meant to with each contraption. Here are some pics from our picnic to a tiny place called Zahara del Sierra - we were on our way to Lili's riding lesson and stopped at this playground for some snacks.

And then it ended up being an hour of hilarious tomfoolery.... 

 

Some equipment is simple - it only does one thing like this sideways swingy-thing. 

Some equipment is simple - it only does one thing like this sideways swingy-thing. 

And everyone knows what to do with monkey bars, right? 

And everyone knows what to do with monkey bars, right? 

But what about this mysterious thing? What is one to do with it??? 

But what about this mysterious thing? What is one to do with it??? 

You can practice balancing of course. 

You can practice balancing of course. 

Or easy backbends. 

Or easy backbends. 

How about leg stretches? 

How about leg stretches? 

...or any kind of yoga related stuff? 

...or any kind of yoga related stuff? 

But we think Dante had the best ideas. You can practisse running. Like running in place. 

But we think Dante had the best ideas. You can practisse running. Like running in place. 

Or you can see if the  loops stretch (or if the sky is going to fall). 

Or you can see if the  loops stretch (or if the sky is going to fall). 

Or squatting. (Lili called this something else though). 

Or squatting. (Lili called this something else though). 

But we all thought the Superman pose was the best! 

But we all thought the Superman pose was the best! 

IN SEVILLE

Some general pics. What a city - just as easy to get lost as the souks in Morocco. The shopping is amazing. And lots of people smoke - it's hard to get a smoke-free meal. But the food is awesome, my tapas today had chestnuts and Ronda cheese. Can't describe it it was just a dream. Dang they know how to prepare these things to perfection. 

 

You have just missed our royal waves. 

You have just missed our royal waves. 

Selfie while waiting for flamenco performance to start. 

Selfie while waiting for flamenco performance to start. 

At a flamenco accessory store. 

At a flamenco accessory store. 

Waiting for what proved to be stellar tapas. 

Waiting for what proved to be stellar tapas. 

The balcony at our pad. 

The balcony at our pad. 

Goofing around outside the bullring. 

Goofing around outside the bullring. 

El patio de los naranjas at the cathedral. 

El patio de los naranjas at the cathedral. 

The horse and carriage in whole.

The horse and carriage in whole.

Cathedral tower tourism pic. 

Cathedral tower tourism pic. 

The bottoms of the balconies are decorated as well! 

The bottoms of the balconies are decorated as well! 

Lili and I waving on our balcony! 

Lili and I waving on our balcony! 

LEARNING ABOUT FLAMENCO

For a while now, Lili has been pining for shoes with heels. Like high heels. Like real adult looking heels that go tap-tap-tap adult-sounding-clip-clop on the floor when you walk. And what do you know, I wanted the very same thing when I was eight.

Generally, these types of shoes are far and few between on the paths we travel. But in Spain, we were tripped. There they were, in a little shoe store in Olvera, staring at us from the shelf. Awesome, perfect little shoes. And not only one colour - they came in black, white and red. We had to get them.

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What Lili did not know was that these were Flamenco shoes. 

What's Flamenco she said? 

The best way to answer that is of course to get in the car, drive to Seville for a couple of days and start the visit with a knock out tour and performance at the Museo del Baile Flamenco. And while you are at it, go early and get a front row seat.

 

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WORLD OLIVE OIL CAPITAL

We attended a fair last week - and it was so interesting, the fair was ALL about olive oil. Cadiz province is the olive oil capital of the world, and it shows - there are olive groves everywhere.   I once again, learned more about what I don't know, for example that there are dozens of varieties of olives (like apples) and subsequently there are numerous varieties of olive oil (like different wines). So we walked around the fair tasting different products and then we of course bought some: olives, olive oil, local cheese in olive oil, some baked goods and some sausage for Dante.

We attended a fair last week - and it was so interesting, the fair was ALL about olive oil. Cadiz province is the olive oil capital of the world, and it shows - there are olive groves everywhere.

I once again, learned more about what I don't know, for example that there are dozens of varieties of olives (like apples) and subsequently there are numerous varieties of olive oil (like different wines). So we walked around the fair tasting different products and then we of course bought some: olives, olive oil, local cheese in olive oil, some baked goods and some sausage for Dante.

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Olive groves, olive groves. The olive trees bear fruit once a year, and harvest time is generally between November and February.  

Olive groves, olive groves. The olive trees bear fruit once a year, and harvest time is generally between November and February.  

 

Olives are important in Cadiz, and I noticed that many olive plantations are behind barbed wires. I asked if olive theft is an issue and it is! Apparently people drive trucks into the groves in remote areas and fill them with olives in the middle of the night. This has given birth to a new profession: olive wardens - people who go and literally sleep in the fields to prevent theft. Their campfires can be seen afar. Even though I adore the Andalusian landscapes, I do not envy this job - the harvest months are the coldest, and wettest of the year.

For my fellow opera nuts it should be noted that we are currently in ground zero Carmen-land. The opera takes place in Seville which is an hour and a half away. I am sure that the second act, with Lillas Pastia's bodega was already at this end of town, and the third act where the bandits have a mountain hideaway is surely somewhere just around the corner from us here in Olvera. And maybe the smugglers' contraband du jour is olives?

Our meal after the fair. Olives, dunking bread in olive oil and balsamico. Veggies and hummus. Local cheese and fruit.

Our meal after the fair. Olives, dunking bread in olive oil and balsamico. Veggies and hummus. Local cheese and fruit.

PREVIOUS LIVES

This discussion really took off into an unexpected direction. All started by Lili asking me where my (intense) horse allergy comes from. I said I did not know, it could even be a past life issue.

So Lili asks what past lives - I for sure did not live before? And then she continues, without missing a beat, to say: maybe our dreams are thoughts from our past lives. 

I explained that in some philosophies the body is considered a temporary vehicle for the spirit. Then after the body dies, the spirit goes away and can eventually enter a new body again when a new person is born.

Fast forward a couple of hours: we are having lunch. A bowl of pasta has just been consumed, and somehow talk goes to people having gifts for various things or skills in life (I think it was a rebound of my truly astonishing show of skill in crocheting, our latest homelearning experiment with Lili: I managed to remember how to crochet in a circle and just went on and on until I ran out of yarn).

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Then I went to say that I really believe that people like Mozart, who not only was playing the piano and violin but also composing when he was 5 years old, must have been a musician in his previous life. And this snippet of hypothesis led into a roaring episode of guessing what each of us might have been in our previous lives.

 

I said maybe Lili was a farmer as she loves the animals so much. Or a great artist as her drawings are so good. But she said no. She was a horse. Or maybe, actually definitely, a show jumper. 

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Top picture: Lili as horse. Neighing was part of the pose. Second pic: Lili as show jumper. 

Top picture: Lili as horse. Neighing was part of the pose. Second pic: Lili as show jumper. 

 

Then Lili said that I had definitely been something to do with speaking many languages really well, and I said I must have been an opera singer because I love opera so much. And before they could stop me, I jumped up and did some of my very best opera gestures:

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And surely Dante was an artist in Italy painting frescoes on ceilings? But then he struck a very dramatic pose so maybe he was an actor instead? Or a comedian?

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I fully understand that this post is not even half as funny as our lunch was - we were rolling on the floor laughing.

But it is fun to think about - what might you have been in a past life?? 

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SICK IN SPAIN

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Unfortunately, Lili got sick yesterday. She had mentioned her ear hurting a little after our flight here, but yesterday as we were driving in the countryside it suddenly started to hurt a lot. She was in tears. 

I had several ear infections when I was a child so I know how awful they can be. We decided to stop at the closest white city (it happened to be Setenil de los Bodegas) and went to a pharmacy to look for something. The pharmacist spoke good English - really good in fact - and was also very caring. I suggested we should ideally go to see a doctor and get prescription medications and she agreed. There was a health centre in the same block (these are not big cities), and the doctor would be in she said.

While Dante went to look for parking, Lili and I went to the health centre hoping to be seen as walk-in patients. I should (or maybe shouldn't) say that in my oh-so-distant seeming work life, I recently worked with planning of urgent care and emergency rooms. I am all too familiar with the overcrowding, shortage of family doctors (adding to ER visits) and high cost of visits.

So here we were, at an urgent care in Spain, in the waiting room with maybe 3-4 other clients. There was an ambulance driver on duty - no active calls so both he and the ambulance were in. One general practitioner physician was working, and another came in after siesta - I think it was about 5 pm. There was no receptionist so we just sat down.

The people in the waiting room quicky figured out we were foreigners and as Lili was teary eyed it was easy to see she was sick. One patient went in, and after she came out a lady and a gentleman in the waiting room went to the exam room door and asked the doctor if in between appointments he would see this sick foreign child. We did not ask them to do this, they just did it. The doctor said yes and we got shown in, right before all these good people waiting for their appointments.

The kind doctor did not speak any English, and my Spanish is really pretty poor. But I asked him in my best polite Spanish if maybe he spoke a little French, which he did! So I handled the visit in French (our next choice of course would have been Italian). Ear infections are a pretty routine call for any GP and this was no exception. In less than five minutes we were out, with Lili's prescription for acute otitis media.

We are traveling on Canadian passports so we couldn't officially prove that we are European, so we asked where we could pay for the visit. The doctor just looked at us and waved his hand. No need to bother. 

Then we went back to the pharmacy and got the prescription. It cost  €3,75. 

The entire episode, from pulling over to do something, to having been seen by a doctor and gone to a pharmacy to get prescription meds, took us all of twenty minutes in total.

Need I say that we love Spain?

 

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VERY TIRED AND VERY HAPPY

We are in Andalusia! After a looong day flying from Vancouver to Toronto to Zurich to Malaga and driving two hours to Olvera we have settled into our place. It is so beautiful here - I am happy to report that nothing has changed since I was here last in 1992. The white towns are white, gorgeous, and the wise people here continue to make sure they don't get messed up. An excellent argument for strict and restrictive town planning - which I often do not advocate... 

 

View to the valley in front of our house. My mind just rests when I see this. 

View to the valley in front of our house. My mind just rests when I see this. 

View towards the City from our door. We are in a no cars area, in the Old Town of Olvera.

View towards the City from our door. We are in a no cars area, in the Old Town of Olvera.

Our first dinner in Spain. The Spartan menu is due to the fact that we arrived on a Sunday and cannot buy anything, and also cannot eat out. Everything is closed, with the exception of a little bakery where we got bread and cheese, a jar of pickles for Lili and bottle of wine for Dante. And there we sat, still groggy from all the travel and admired the evening sun. 

Our first dinner in Spain. The Spartan menu is due to the fact that we arrived on a Sunday and cannot buy anything, and also cannot eat out. Everything is closed, with the exception of a little bakery where we got bread and cheese, a jar of pickles for Lili and bottle of wine for Dante. And there we sat, still groggy from all the travel and admired the evening sun.