Tag Archives: Photography

Pamplona, Spain

The five kilometer walled “old city” of Pamplona (Spanish) and/or Iruña (Basque) is well preserved. Founded in 74 BC by Roman military and political leader, Pompey.  Due to its strategic location it was fortified right way.

* Click to enlarge photos

The Camino de Santiago Frances meanders through town.  It was on our third day of the Camino that took us through town 10 years ago. Through being the key word.  No time to explore – we had miles ahead of us.

Bill partied here one night 50 years ago and was determined to find the bar so we booked a week’s stay at an Airbnb to allow us the time to investigate.  He didn’t remember the name or the location so we drank or way through town trying to figure out which one held Bill’s barstool.

Our apartment was on Estafeta Street right above a popular restaurant/bar. The street is renowned for its 300 meter path where six bulls and thousands of crazy masochists converge for the running of the bulls during the San Fermín festival.

In 11 days, our balcony and all the ones up and down the street, now quiet and unoccupied, will be full of onlookers peering down to the mayhem below. More than 1.5 million people will fill the town.

Preparations are under way.  Stores advertise white and red in honor of the celebration – some empty store fronts are shored up with painted murals and fencing has been installed to keep people out of areas. It’s hard to fathom the masses for the festival.

We spent three days on portions of the Camino.  The first day we followed the arrows to Cizur Menór and it only took 20 minutes to get lost.  I had to pull out the GPS to get oriented. The next time we hiked in the opposite direction.  It was like Where’s Waldo trying to find the trail makers.  We taxied to Alto del Perdón and walked back – backwards on the trail again!  Yes, we got lost but not for long.

Searching for arrows that guide the Way and not knowing where they lead was thrilling.  We talked about a reunion walk in the future.  We’ll see how that pans out.  One thing we learned is that we’re not as strong as we used to be.  Super light packs and a few extra days to walk would be essential.

Pamplona pays homage to Ernest Hemingway. A city that he loved and wrote about in his 1926 book The Sun Also Rises.  Some of his favorite haunts still stand today attracting tourists and local alike.

We gobbled up as many pinchos as possible and tried to soak in every ounce of Spain as possible.

Hemingway’s book is downloaded on my Kindle to read as we head west – going to let Pamplona linger a bit longer…


On to Salamanca, Spain

We fell in love with Salamanca ten years ago when I went to extensive Spanish school for three months after walking the Camino de Santiago.  Bill said he would learn more Spanish in the bars while I was in school. Game on.  I’m sure you could figure out who the winner was in that challenge.

Actually what happened was Bill learned every square inch of the old part of town and beyond – walking while I traumatized my brain.  On weekends he would take me on field trips to show me what he had discovered.

*click photos to enlarge

Outside the old city…

What’s scary is how much our memories have deteriorated in 10 years.  We eventually found almost all of our favorite spots but it took an effort.  Sadly a lot of businesses have closed – perhaps victims of COVID lockdowns.

This time we rented an apartment on Plaza Mayor with a balcony that allowed front row seats to people watching and three concerts.

We took this time to wind down after hotel stays and a whirlwind tour the past couple plus months.  Now shifting to the Spaniard clock – sleeping in and staying up late.  Tapas and a caña (beer)/wine for lunch, snack time, dinner…. any time, all the time.

Point of clarification – We got on the old person’s clock.  The young stay up partying all night long.  There is never an hour period of time throughout the night and early morning where you don’t hear them.  When we left at 6:30 am to catch a cab to the train the taxi stand was full of drunk party goers waiting for a ride home.

Mid-week we were awakened by super loud partiers in our building. The building is 4 stories with one unit on each floor – ours the 3rd. Their voices reverberated off the walls in the narrow stairwell.  It sounded like they were right outside our door until they were inside our apartment!  They used a key to enter.  Our bedroom was near the door.  Bill popped up and grabbed a pillow to hide his private parts and exited our door and met them in the hallway where he said in his best English “leave”.  They hightailed it out of there without a rebuttal.  They partied for another half or so and then settled down.

I messaged our landlord who tried to convince me that it was impossible since they didn’t have a key and the only way to access is with one!  Can you imagine?  Later he confessed they must have had a master key.

Salamanca is stunning with old, towering and ornate sandstone buildings.  It drips history, with Roman, Muslim and royal periods.  The majority of historic buildings were created by the Catholic Church.

The “old city” is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest university in Spain sits smack dab in the middle of it.  Columbus studied celestial navigation here prior to sailing for the New World.

In the afternoon some group is celebrating something almost every day with parades, artistic displays or some sort of organized party.  It makes me smile to see people living life with a happy purpose.

Storks must be the Salamanca’s mascot.  They sit proudly in their huge nests at the tops of churches.  The largest gathering was eight.  They have a strange clucking call and their vast wingspan shadows the sun when they circle.  It appears that they deliver lots of babies.

The central market has many stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, eggs, piglets, chicken, etc.  You can shop daily. So wish we had something like this in the USA.

The week went by quickly and with a bit of sadness we left for the next town…

Oh – by the way – Bill is now snapping a photo here and there!

Hola Madrid, Spain

It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since we last spent time here.

Madrid is fabulous!  The old buildings are eye candy.  Food fantastic. First class museums and lush parks.  And this time of the year – tons of people.  It’s all remarkable.

*click photos to enlarge

In keeping with our routine we walked and walked and walked everywhere.  No metros to explore – only one to a train station outside the city to buy tickets which we could have purchased online, and no busses.

We hit the tops of the waves. A repeat of all the things we did 15 years ago.

Stunning is Patrick Blanca’s vertical garden wall – 78 feet tall containing 250 varieties of 15,000 plants.

It felt good to practice our Spanish and eat food different from Central Asia.

Fun story:  Bill occasionally puts one of his hearing aides in his pocket when it starts to bug him.  This time when we returned to our hotel the aid was missing.  It was assumed that he dropped it while taking his money out of his pocket but with it would be impossible to retrace our steps.

Days later we went to back to a bar, after viewing Picasso’s Guernica, where we had eaten on the day that Bill lost his hearing aid ONLY because every other restaurant in the area was full.

I decided to ask our waitress if they found a hearing aid.  She looked at us strangely and said I don’t think so – no.  The bartender heard the exchange and said Yes!  They found it on the sidewalk a few days ago.  What are the odds?  A crazy miracle for sure.

We found it interesting watching these street sellers walk up with a tarp full of knock off purses, bags, scarves, etc..  They cautiously open their bag, displaying wares and at a moments notice (police) can pull the cord which wraps up their contraband for a quick get away.  They looked right and left, constantly accessing of their situation while trying to make a buck.  The stress was apparent.

All in all it was fantastic being back.  We love Spain.  Preston met the love of his life here and it holds special meaning to all of us.  There’s more of Spain to come….


Ultimate Uzbekistan – Khviva

We got up at 3:00 am to catch the Bukhara-Urgench express.  Paige bought the 4 berth cabin so we had railroad sheets and pillows with privacy for the 6 hour trip across the Kyzylkum Desert.

Urgench is actually 2 towns, the ancient in Turkmenistan and the modern one across the border in Uzbekistan.  They also include the ancient settlement of Khiva.

New Urgench is a vast fertile valley served by the Darya River which originates in Tajikistan.  The area has been irrigating for more than 2,000 years, growing cotton and rice for export on the Silk Road.  It also has exported alfalfa and other seeds for hundreds of years.  Since the advent of electricity and pumping power it has really expanded irrigation as it looks like some city along Highway 99 in California.

Walking away from the train station we stopped for breakfast and Paige spotted a restaurant with 2 tandoor type ovens.  It became obvious that they were very popular as people bought them one after another.

We’ll take two!  A samosa of some sort with a spicy meat filling and a sauce on the side.  It took a couple tries to eat them correctly without silverware. When in Rome….

We spent the night in Urgench as it’s the gateway to Khiva but didn’t nothing other than walk around.

Khiva – a crown jewel and great summation to our Central Asia Silk Road adventure.

Per Lonely Planet – The historic heart of Khiva (Xiva) has been so well preserved that it’s sometimes criticised as lifeless – a ‘museum city’. But walk through the city gates and wander the fabled Ichon-Qala (inner walled city) in all its monotone, mud-walled glory and it’s hard not to feel like you are stepping into another era.

Well said!

Within a hour of our arrival, while having lunch, the same Road Scholar tour group we saw Kazakhstan and Tajikistan walked past us!

Our hotel was within the town walls so it was super convenient to walk, eat, explore and take photos. Rinse and repeat for 3 days.  Palaces, madrasas, caravansaries/markets filled the town.  The night time was stunningly peaceful as the whole town was magically lit.

We celebrated Bill’s birthday at a roof top restaurant with a sunset dinner.  Below a woman baked fresh bread Tandoor style.

My camera finally kicked the bucket! No more limping along. Now just dead weight in my pack.

Back to Urgench for our last night and a morning flight to……. It’s time for a different selection of food.

Uzbekistan – Bukhara

It was a two hour high speed train that took us from Samarkand to Bukhara – the historic city center is another UNESCO World Heritage site.

*click on photos to enlarge

Different from Samarkand Bukhara hasn’t changed much since it’s inception. No big shiny, new buildings and restorations haven’t changed much from its original form.

The Bukhara Fortress, the Ark, is an intact magnificent walled (up to 66’ tall) city full of madrassas, mosques and markets.  It was occupied without interruption from 4 BC to 1920 when the last Emir was removed by the Bolsheviks. 

Through out our time in Central Asia people asked if would pose with them in a photo.  In a sea of dark hair my white hair stood out like Rudolph’s red nose.  Bill often is referred to as 007.

Cotton is a major resource exporting to Eastern Europe.  Handwoven rugs and embroidered items hang from railings hawked to persons apparently traveling with trunks and not carry-on luggage.

Outside Bukhara is the summer palace of the Emirs – Sitora-I Mokhi Khosa.

Back streets encounters find children kicking soccer balls, bikes, markets and doors with treasures.

We stumbled upon a group of men playing cards and backgammon.  After asking if I could take a photo they kindly invited us in to share chai tea. Again, we did not share the same language but sat like old friends.

Three generations – grandma, mom and grandson were picking apples in their front yard.  They flagged us down and insisted upon sharing a handful of tart and tasty, small green apples.  I think they would have given us a box full had we not insisted that a handful was enough.

Evening roof top dinners, cocktails and sunsets were the icing on the top of each day.



Uzbekistan- Tashkent to Samarkand

Venturing into a train station to buy tickets where no one speaks English can be a bit tricky.  Lucky for us a kind gentleman offered to assist in translating.  The Uzbek people have to be the kindest that we’ve encountered on this trip.

Men put their right hand across their heart and bow ever so slightly to greet or thank one another.  This is especially true toward women since men do not shake a woman’s hand.  It feels so kind.

The same kindness is granted on the road.  In either direction no matter how many lanes one car pulls over slightly so another may pass.  The same is true with oncoming traffic – cars move slightly aside to allow passage.  It gets a little tenuous when 4 cars share 2 lanes but somehow it works. No road rage!  

Back to the train station.  Our new friend walked us to the counter and asked for two tickets to Samarkand.  The ticket lady told him there were only upper seats available and perhaps we could ask for a lower one once we got on the train.  Ok – that seems simple.

After helping us John (his English name) gave us his name, phone number and email address offering to help us in any way while we’re in his country.  Wow.

It’s a four plus hour train ride to Samarkand. Founded in the 7th century BC.  Hugely popular on the Silk Road trail making it the most crowded tourist spot so far.  The Registan (UNESCO), Gur-e-Amir, Bibi-Khanym Mosque and Shah-i-Zinda were so full of people that it took away from its peacefulness but not its majestic beauty.

*click on photos to enlarge

Samarkand, the navel of the vast empire held by Timur aka Tamerlane (1300’s) one of history’s greatest and cruelest conquers.  It was built by architects, artists and craftsmen abducted by Tamerlane and his his descendants from away conquered territories for 2,000 year it was one of the most important stops on the Silk Road, it’s bazaars thronged with merchants and shoppers.

Controversial and frowned upon by some it is believed that the government has “over-restored” these once falling down sites making them appear more like “Disneyland”. However to stand the test of time one must restore – right?

Back to the train – I had pictured a double decker train since our seats were upstairs.  HA!  Talk about lost in translation.  Upstairs is a small bunk.  Bill and I discovered we both had these and also were in separate parts of the compartment.  Our carry-on luggage now seemed huge as there was virtually no place to store them.  The lack of air circulation had me in melting.  I must have looked a wreck.

Two sweet women noted the confusion on our faces and the sweat on my brow while we tried to figure out our seats, luggage, etc.  Moments later one of the women came up to me and motioned for me to follow.  She pointed to the top bunk and the seat below.  Don’t know how she arranged that but it worked out perfect.  Bill would have never fit in the bunk.  The seat offered no room for his legs since his suitcase filled that space but he was extremely grateful for the seat. Bill sat like a yogi pretzel and I was able to recline and nap.  Fortunately there was a tiny window above the bunk that allowed fresh air during the journey.  It worked out perfect.

Across the way a beautiful young woman snapped a photo of me in the bunk and then motioned for me to hand her my phone where she opened my Instagram account, shared the photo and the followed my account.  From her account I learned she’s a doctor finishing her medical degree and gymnast coach.  She was traveling with three young gymnasts for a competition.

The history and the architecture in each location are stunning but it’s these little life events with others with whom we can not conversant but still manage to communicate that make exploring new cultures so worthwhile.

We saw this stunning white building with its door ajar. An invitation to sneak in – right?  We stumbled upon this ornate room that was set up for a wedding.  Wowza.  The worker was sitting on the floor in the corner on his phone.  He had no idea we were there.

An open door in another alleyway showcased a collection of old treasures for sale.  While I snapped some photos Bill visited with the owner.

Now having been to several cities in Uzbekistan we’ve learned that kiddie parks are part of the landscape.

My camera has been giving me grief.  The shutter button at times stops working.  I can reset it by removing the battery and reinserting it only to have it happen after a few shots.  UGH!  Thank goodness I’m not photographing a wedding.