Our European Adventure – Part III

November 15, 1979

At the early hours of the morning the train crossed the Alps, which separate Austria and Italy. A magnificent sight. We arrived at Venezia Mestre, a suburb of Venice, and had lunch in a restaurant across the station: our first authentic Italian meal. Afterwards, we looked for the Locanda (Inn) Maria – recommended by Frommer’s book. The town reminded us of the towns in Argentina, where many Italians did established their residence in the last century. We found the inn, took a room, had a shower and rested for a while. Then we went to a supermarket and got some food stuff and cheap wine. When we had dinner later that evening, in our room, we found the wine undrinkable, and we poured it down the drain in the bathroom sink.

We got up early next day, which was a cloudy one. We walked to the station to board a train that took us to Venice proper. The train ride takes about 15 minutes. We arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia station, after crossing the Ponto della Libertá (Liberty Bridge) over the Venetian Lagoon and boarded a vaporetto (a water bus) to Piazza San Marco.

Piazzetta of the Leoncini
Piazzetta of the Leoncini

When we get there our eyes are not enough to take the sights. The two columns at the edge of the Grand Canal, where the Piazzetta of the Leoncini begins, with the winged lion –symbol of the power of Venice – on top of one and the figure of St. Theodore on top of the other. At end of the Piazzeta, the large Piazza and in front of it, the basilica with its great arches and magnificent four bronze horses over its entrance, that preside over the piazza (actually there was only one horse when we visited, the other three had been taken down for repairs). As we continue to look around we can see the Palazzo Patriarcale, – the seat of the patriarch of Venice – the Clock Tower, a long arcade, under which one can find outdoor cafés, restaurants and shops. More arcades line the end of the square and the right side (looking towards the Basilica). Finally, again close to the Piazzetta, the Campanile of St Mark’s church, with its Bell Tower, which rises almost 100 meters (over 300 feet) over the Piazza.

We visited the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), – the seat of the government from the 10th century to the end of the 18th century, when the Venetian Republic fell – and were fascinated by the paintings, marble carvings and intricate wood paneling. We continued our sightseeing crossing the Ponte Rialto, and walked narrow streets and alleys. We ended at the Piazzela Roma, near the train station. It had started to rain and we were cold, so we entered a café to warm up with coffee and grappa. Later, we had dinner in a restaurant nearby. Asked for the “Menu turisitico”, which included pasta, with little grated cheese. So, we helped ourselves with more, from a bowl left on another table and had to face the wrath of the proprietaria, (female owner) who told us in many Italian words, that the tourist menu didn’t include self-served formaggio. We apologized profusely and where able to finish our dinner in peace.

Basilica floated
Basilica floated

The Sun comes out the next day as we head again to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). On our way we pick up some wine, cheese and salami for an outdoor lunch. We visit the Basilica and, although parts of the church were floated – an occurrence which is not uncommon, we are told – we are impressed by the tiling and gold paneling. We decide to take a vaporetto to the near island of Murano, famous for centuries for its glassware. We had lunch next to the light house and then visited some glass making factories and admired how the artisans crafted their wares.

On our return to Venice, had a coffee in one of the outdoor cafes facing St. Mark’s Square and walked again, a while, through the maze of canals and narrow streets. Had a decent dinner (no arguments about grated cheese this time) before taking another vaporetto to the station, where we boarded a train that would take us back to Mestre and to our room at the Locanda, for our last night in the area of Venice.

Florence
Florence

We returned to the Mestre train station next morning and took a two hour ride to Firenze (Florence). After checking our baggage at the station, we spend most of the day looking for a place to stay, finally we took a room at the Albergo Petrarca. It was late in the afternoon, but we started our sightseeing anyway. Our first stop, the Duomo, (Cathedral), a magnificent building, which began to be constructed in the 13th century and was finished in the 15th, when the dome was completed by Filippo Brunelleschi, under the patronage of Cosimo D’Medici. We continued our walk crossing the Arno River on the covered Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), build in the 14th century, and lined with jewelry and goldsmith shops. We ended our walk that afternoon, at the Forte di Belvedere, from where, as the sun sets in, we have a glorious view of almost all of the city.

We are not happy with our accommodations, and in the morning we start again our hunt for better ones. We find a room for our liking and then continue our tour of the city. We walk through areas that are not in the tourist path. I remember walking a lot, visiting another medieval church, with a beautiful marble altar, returning to the center of town looking for the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens, getting lost and finally getting there. We rested our tired feet at a café, where we had, Marité a glass of wine and I a Campari soda, for which we paid 2,000 lira. (My notes say it was an outrageous amount). That night, we had one of our most outstanding meals in Europe, at the Trattoria Montecatini. We had ravioli, tortellini, and bisteca a la Florentina (sold by the etto – more about that latter.) At our return to the penzione we had a fast shower (hot water cost: 200 lira for 3 minutes) and a well-deserved night sleep.

Piazza de la Signoria
Piazza de la Signoria

Museum day. We started by having a cappuccino at the corner café. Then we headed to the Mercatto Centrale, a huge marketplace where one could find almost everything imaginable. Marité buys a souvenir charm and I get some wine, bread, cheese and “mortadella”, for our lunch. Our museum tour starts at the Accademia, where the dominant piece of art is Michelangelo’s David, a 14 ft. high marble statue of the biblical hero. Then, to the Medici Chapels, designed by Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, done mostly in marble and where most of the Medici are buried. We continued visiting the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), site of the government of Florence, which has stood in front of the Piazza della Signoria, since the 14th century. The palace has incredibly decorated rooms, notable frescoes and ceilings of intricate wood paneling.

After admiring the statues in the Piazza and specially the ones in the Loggia del Lanzi – an open air sculpture gallery – we visited the Galerie degli Uffizzi, where we admired works by Boticelli (Birth of Venus), Raphael (The Madonna of the Goldfinch), Leonardo da Vinci (Annunciation) and many more magnificent paintings and sculptures.

We are very tired and have dinner at the worst “self-serve” cafeteria in Florence, and perhaps of Italy, where we are served cold minestrone and unpeeled fried shrimp. We compensate with some “amaretti” and desert wine bought again at the Mercatto Centrale.

On our last day in Tuscany, we took a train to Pisa. We started to walk up the stairs to the top of the tower, but Marité became dizzy midway and we returned to base. We had a picnic lunch on the steps of the Batisterio and we returned to the station, where we took a train to Lucca. Marité’s paternal ancestors were from Lucca, and she tried to find any roots there, but without any luck: the Registry was closed and in the phone book they were are no Basso’s listed.

Next day we board a train that crosses the Apennines as it heads northwest and we arrive at Milano, (Milan) for a short stop. We just pick up some mail at the local American Express office, but we don’t do any sightseeing. We board another train that takes us to Brescia, were we take a bus to the town of Palazzolo, were we expect to crash for a couple of nights, at a house were a group of Argentinian exiles live. We are welcomed by a fairly large group of Argentinians, very active politically in the movement that hopes to restore democracy in Argentina.

Although we received a very warm welcome, we spent a very cold night in a room that didn’t have heat. The old house, next to the river, was very damp and the blankets on the bed did not keep us warm, at all. Still, we stayed a few days (we got a heater for the next few nights) sharing experiences and nostalgia with our new friends.

We resume our trip early in the morning and board a train in direction to Rome, where we arrive at the evening. We find accommodations at the Penzione Varese near the station, run by an Australian. Next morning, we contact and met some other Argentinian exiles. Near noon we start our sightseeing, beginning with a stop at the Fountain of Trevi, with the traditional tossing of a coin. Then, we have a lunch of pizza and wine. We find out that pizza is not sold by the slice, but by the weight. Again – as in Florence with the beefsteak – the unit of measure is the “etto” (one hundred grams). 

Fontana de Trevi
Fontana d’ Trevi – side view

It is a beautiful afternoon, so we decide to take a walk through the gardens of Villa Borghese. Then to Piazza Venezia, with its monumental Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) at one end. Close by is the Roman Forum, which for centuries (during the ancient times of the Roman Republic and the Empire) was the center of day-to-day life in Rome. Again walking those cobblestones I was overwhelmed by sense of history of the place. Roman emperors, senators, soldiers and common folk had walked those same millennial streets among magnificent marble temples and buildings that were now just ruins.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo and build on top of one of the seven Roman hills, the Capitoline Hill, and surrounded by Medieval and Renaissance palaces. We returned to the hotel and went for dinner at a restaurant nearby, Marcello. A real fiasco, as the food was almost inedible and we had to leave hungry.

Trajan's Market
Trajan’s Market

Another sunny day followed. We started by visiting the ruins of the Trajan’s Market, a complex of shops and administrative offices build in the early part of the 2nd century. We walked the length of the “Via del Fori Imperiali”, a thoroughfare that connects this area with the Colosseum, which we also visited. We couldn’t make it to the Baths of Caracalla, as they were closed when we arrived. We headed to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains), where we admired the magnificent statue of Moses, by Michelangelo. Afterwards, we rested in a Café where we had a late lunch of sandwiches and beer. (Italian beer is something I would not recommend unless one is very thirsty and there is no other beverage to be had.) We met at the café with an Argentine exile and have a long conversation. At the end, we were very tired, thus we went back to our hotel, had a light dinner at a nearby trattoria (La Fontanella) -a much better meal than the previous night- and made it an early night.

Refreshed next morning, we started our sightseeing with the Vatican. On our way we are delayed by a demonstration of “contadini” (farmers), but we finally arrived at the Piazza San Pietro, (Saint Peter Square) a grandiose elliptical esplanade created in the mid seventeenth century, bordered by massive colonnades that symbolize outstretched arms.

St Peter's
St Peter’s – a detail of the façade

The Saint Peter’s basilica, which from the square doesn’t impress much, is truly remarkable inside. It’s the largest church in the world. Its dome, designed by Michelangelo, is one of the largest of the planet, measuring 42 meters (about 138 ft) in diameter and reaching 132.5 meters high (more than 434 ft). The luxury of the interior made feel a bit sick. Marble, gold and silver predominate all around and are witness to the wealth of the Catholic Church. The most striking decorations are the statues, with the Pietá, created by a young Michelangelo, being the most prominent.

After visiting the basilica we directed our steps towards the Sistine Chapel. On our way, we were surrounded by a small band of gypsy children begging for coins. We tried to brush them off and they left us. However, about 10 or 15 seconds later, one of the kids, about 7 or 8 years old came back showing me my book guide, which I kept in one of my coat pockets, making gestures that it had fallen on the floor. I had no alternative, paid a ransom of a couple of hundred lira and recovered my guide.

We arrived late at the Sistine Chapel, so we missed it. We crossed the Tiber River and did return to Rome. We tried to visit the Roman Forum, but we were also late. (Being already Autumn, most of the sightseeing sites closed early.) We continued walking, stopped at the Baths of Caracalla, again late to enter and decided we had enough sightseeing for the day. We returned to our penzione, rested a while, and had dinner again at The Fontanella. After dinner, feeling more energetic, we headed to Via Veneto, a street with high end stores, expensive hotels and restaurants, made famous by a film of Federico Fellini, La Dolce Vita and described by our guide book as an “all night show”. We were certainly disappointed, there was hardly any activity around, the few open bars had outrageous prices for their drinks and the place seem a bit seedy.

Palatine
A walk in the Palatine

The next day was again a sunny one and our last in Rome. In the morning we were able to visit the Roman Forum and Il Palatino (the Palatine), where, according to Roman mythology Romulus founded the city in 800 BC. In the afternoon we visited the cathedral of St. John Lateran, where the pope officiates as bishop of Rome. It is the oldest basilica in Rome, first build in 314 and reconstructed several times. The current building was finished in 1666, although the main façade was designed in 1735 and the apse was expanded in 1885.

In the middle of the afternoon we took a train for a two hour plus trip to Naples (I understand that now high speed trains take just a bit over 1 hour.) When we arrived we got off the train, looked around apprehensively, held to our baggage with “four hands”, tried to look like “poor” tourists and did everything we could to avoid the “ladri” (thieves) we had been warned about. After sorting all the “dangers” – seeing actually that weren’t any – we checked out baggage, had a cup of coffee and called the Penzione Canada in the near suburb of Margellina. The owner told has what bus to take and we got out of the station looking for bus 106. We asked where we could take it, and several people, after welcoming us to Napoli, gave us full instructions where to go. The welcome was so great that we felt that only the Municipal Band was missing. Again, when we arrived to Margellina and asked where the Penzione was, we were given friendly and detailed directions. (It was very close to the bus stop.)

Napoli
A view of Napoli from the waterfront

Although the room at the penzione was nice, the breakfast we had the next morning wasn’t something to boast about: milk with coffee, recycled toast with stale butter and a sugary “marmalade” with pretensions of been made with peaches. Anyway, during the morning we went into town, walked the boardwalk, visited the aquarium and roamed the picturesque Santa Lucia neighborhood, where children play in the streets, laundry hangs overhead, and conversations are carried on between balconies and windows across the narrow lanes.

We had a lunch of Neapolitan pizza, took a ride in one of the “funicolari” (funicular) that connect the lower downtown area with the hilly neighborhoods of the city, and continued our wandering through the streets, So much walking made us very tired and after a long wait for the bus, we arrived to our “penzione” for a rest and a shower. After dinner we sat at an outside café and enjoyed the night parade of autos and pedestrians, but the most enjoyable show was performed by the waiter, how he attended customers, served their coffees, engaged in conversations with some and moved with flourish among the tables.

The following morning we take a ferry to Capri. After about one hour we arrive at the Marina Grande and are disappointed to find out that because of high tides there are no excursions to the Blue Grotto. We take a funicular to the actual town on top of the island. The views from there are truly spectacular. We visit the Gardens of Augusts, the Faraglioni and the Natural Arch. We had lunch on our way to Natural Arch, prosciutto sandwiches with local wine. Then we went down to the Grotta de Matromania, an imposing natural cave, near the Natural Arch.

Grotta de Matromania
Capri – Grotta de Matromania

We had to hurry to get back to the Marina Grande and catch the last ferry to Napoli. We returned to the “penzione” for a shower and then an excellent dinner. We ended the evening siting in the same outside café than the previous night, enjoying a cappuccino and the unending street show.

Pompey
Well preserved house among the ruins of Pompey

Our last day in Southern Italy starts with goodbyes to the penzione’s landlady. We leave our baggage at train station and take a train to Pompey. We have four hours to walk the archeological site, but they are not enough. There is too much to see and admire. Back to Napoli, we take a train to Genova. We strike a conversation with a couple of youths that share our compartment. Finally, we fall asleep and awake in Genova at 9 am, next day. We change trains and take one to Milan, where we stop at the American Express office to collect mail and exchange money. Again we don’t think that Milan is worth touring (later we regret that decision) and we take the 2:15 pm train to Ventimiglia. A town on the coast of the Mediterranean, near the French border. We have a bit of a hard time finding a place to stay, as it is now the middle of Autumn and many places are closed. We finally find a penzione: Montecatini, inexpensive and pleasant. 

Montecarlo
Casino of Montecarlo

Next morning we take a walking tour around the picturesque town and decide to go to Monaco. From the train we admire the beautiful Riviera. Monaco and Monte-Carlo, with its belle époque Casino and Opera House, which we just admire from the outside, does impress us for its opulence and chic surrounding’s.

We return to Ventimiglia and rest sitting on a bench that faces the sea. For some reason, it’s the only one, the rest of the benches in the promenade face inland. After having dinner, we board a train that will take us to Spain. We have a compartment just for us. The railroad borders the Mediterranean and we pass again through Monaco, then Nice and Cannes. We fall asleep, but around 2 am, we are awaken by guttural voices coming from some men that seem to speak Arabic. Although only one person from the group walks into the berth, he packs the overhead bins and seats with valises, boxes, large plastic bags. He takes a seat next to me and his companions open and close the door intermittently, ask for cigarettes and seem to pass along news. We are a bit intimidated by the group and do not close our eyes.  About two hours later a conductor evicts the group (we assume that they had second class tickets) and we are able to return to our slumber.

We arrive to the Spanish border town of Portbou, where – I believe for the first time – we have go through Customs and baggage inspection. While we wait for the next train that will take us to Barcelona, we have breakfast and meet an elderly gentleman, ex-military, who after a while invites us to his house in Valencia. We said good bye to him in Barcelona and never saw him again. (Because we never went to Valencia)

We arrive in Barcelona mid-morning, found a room at a hostel near the station. We wash our clothes in a launderette nearby, have a lunch of tapas and return to our room to sleep the rest of the afternoon. We have dinner and a walkabout, before returning to the hostel. A total humdrum day.

Casco Antiguo
Barcelona – Casco Antiguo

Next day we stopped at the American Express office, send letters and postcards from the Post Office, took a ride downtown in the Metro, walked around the Casco Antiguo (Old Town) and eat at a cheap restaurant –Don José -that had been recommended by a friend of ours in New York. A day that happened without much happening.

On the following morning we got up late and went to visit the church of the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family). At the time we were there construction of the church had been going for almost 100 years. [When I visited again in October 2016 it still wasn’t completed.] The exceptional design belongs to the architect Antoni Gauidi. Its style is unique and cannot be defined and includes Spanish Late Gothic, Catalan Modernism and Art Nouveau. In the afternoon we visited another Argentine ex-patriate. We spend a few hours with her, finding out more about life in that interesting city.

Sagrada Familia
Barcelona = Sagrada Familia

Not having done much sightseeing in Barcelona, we take the Talgo (high speed train) to Madrid. The landscape, with rare exceptions is monotonous, the land is arid and appears to be barren. We arrive at Chamartin station a little after 7 pm and call an Argentinian exile, named Walter. He tells us how to get to his place. We spend hours talking with the family about the old country and life in Spain. When everyone is finally ready to go to sleep, we realize its 4:30 in the morning. Marité lays down in the carpet and I snooze in an arm chair.

Next morning we looked for a room in a hotel. We find one close to the Atocha train station. It’s probably the best room we have rented in this trip, and not the most expensive one. After lunch, we rest a few hours and then go to the Palacio de los Deportes (Sports Palace), where there is a celebration of the Tree Week and where Ana – Walter’s wife – presents a puppet show. We do some sightseeing around the Puerta del Sol, at the center of Madrid. We have some delicious tapas and wine for dinner and return to the hotel.

Our stay in Madrid is short. (We have only 10 days left on our train passes). We leave our stuff at the train station, stop at the office of American Express, again tapas for lunch, visit the surroundings of the Plaza Mayor, and after buying some sandwiches (bocadillos) we board a train that will take us to Sevilla (Seville). We have a nice conversation with a lady with whom we share our compartment and, after eating our sandwiches we fall asleep. We awake early next morning when we arrive at our destination.

After a breakfast of chocolate and churros, we look for a room and find one in a hostel near the train station. We walk the streets of Seville, visit the Cathedral and the Giralda, its bell tower. We walk the ramps (no stairs) to the top, (over 100 mts high) but, because of the cloudy weather we are not able to take all the sights of this beautiful city. We make a stop at some book stalls we find in our way and have lunch in a restaurant with tables on the sidewalk.

Plaza de Toros – Sevilla

We are a bit tired and return to the hotel. Marité lays down to sleep, but I’m moody and upset and cannot sleep. I go out for a walk and end up at the Plaza de Toros (Bullfighting Ring) an impressive building that is one of the top tourist attractions of the city. When I return to the hotel I pick up a fight with Marité. (One of the many we had in our trip). After a while, I calm down and we reconcile. We go out for dinner to a close by restaurant; Los Gabrieles. We ask our waiter where we can find authentic flamenco. He recommends Tablao La Trocha, outside of the downtown area and of the tourist circuit. We take a bus to reach the place and enjoy a night of dancing, singing, the people and several glasses of manzanilla. We return to our hotel by taxi at 2:30 in the morning.

Parque Maria Luisa
Sevilla – Parque Maria Luisa

We do a lot of sightseeing next day: Parque Maria Luisa (Maria Luisa Park), an extensive and beautiful park established along the Guadalquivir River at the beginning of the 20th century and its centerpiece:  Plaza de España (Square Spain) and the famous Alcazar, a royal palace build after the reconquest of Morish Seville by the Catholic king Peter in the 14th century.

We return that night to Los Gabrieles, where our waiter tells us about Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivities in Seville and the toreadores that have eaten in the restaurant and their accomplishments in the bullfighting ring.

On our last day in Seville we visit the neighborhood of Triana, a traditional neighborhood, at the west bank of the Guadalquivir River. We roam the streets, sit in a bar for a while and take in the unique atmosphere.  We return to downtown and to the train station, where we take a train bound to Cordoba.

When we arrive to the city, we check with the Tourist Office where they recommend several accommodations. We pick up one (Hostal Cuatro Naciones) and are happy with the selection. We have a walkabout and dinner.  Our first impression is good.

Mezquita Cordoba
Mezquita – Cordoba

Next morning we continued our sightseeing. Our first stop, the Mezquita (Mosque), which began to be built at the end of the 8th Century and was known as the Great Mosque of Cordoba, and converted to a cathedral in the 13th Century, when Cordoba was reconquered by the Catholic king Ferdinand III of Castile. The now cathedral is one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture, with additional Romanesque and Baroque designs added during the conversion and later years. We climbed the bell tower, (ex minaret) and had a magnificent view of the city illuminated by the bluest sky that I can remember.

Sky over Cordoba
Sky over Cordoba

In the afternoon we toured the Juderia (Jewish quarter), an area that was the center of Jewish life between the 10th and 15th centuries, where one can still feel the “atmosphere” that was prevalent in Southern Spain under the medieval Islamic rule. There we visited the Synagogue, the Zoco Municipal (municipal market) and the Museo Taurino (Bull-fighting museum)

Later on we visited the Alcazar de los Reyes Católicos (Alcazar of the Catholic Kings) and continued to wander around the picturesque streets of the town. On our way back to the hotel we picked up some food stuff and had a quite dinner at the hotel.

Next day we started our trip to our next destination: Granada. We boarded a train that took us first to Bobadilla, were we transferred to a tram, which looked that it had been in service for at least a half a century.  It clattered through a varied landscape of olive groves, plowed fields, white towns, and grey and menacing crags, but we arrived on schedule to Granada. After searching for a while, we rented a nice and inexpensive room at the Hostal Loren (a current Google search shows that it’s still open). After checking in, we had dinner, in a restaurant called the Americano, which we found so good that we eat there the three days we stayed in Granada.

Patio de los Leones Alhambra
Patio de los Leones Alhambra

The following day we slept in until late and had some difficulty to find a place to have breakfast, but we did. After which, we headed to the Alhambra. We were enchanted by the place. Its reddish towers and walls – that probably gave it its name in Arabic, al-qala’a al-hamra (the Red Castle) – the interior rooms are rich with Arabic decorations, the elaborate stalactite-like muqarnas vaulting of the , the beautiful Generalife gardens,  the Patio de los Leones (Lion’s Courtyard) and the Alcazaba, from where one has sweeping views over Granada’s rooftops and the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada as a background. We stayed until late and watched a magnificent sundown, in reverent silence.

Sierra Nevada from the Alcazaba
Sierra Nevada from the Alcazaba

Later that evening, we walked up a hill through some pretty streets of the neighborhood of Albayzin and reached de San Nicolás Mirador. From the summit we admired quietly the beauty of the illuminated Alhambra. It was a magnificent night, the starts were bright and we even saw a shooting star. The sight was truly magnificent, we were in peace and really happy.

The next day we have a walkabout around the city and enjoy the balmy weather.  We visit the Capilla Real, in the Cathedral, where several of Spain monarchs of medieval times are buried. That nigh we dine again at the Americano and have a long conversation with our waiter, José Garcia, One of the topics is a possible move by us, for good, to the south of Spain. José offers his help, in is words: “tirarnos un cable” (throw us a rope) in case that we decide to do so. We are very touched. 

We had been traveling in Europe by rail for almost three months: the length of our pass. So, the next morning we embarked in our last long trip by train. Our destination, the city of Fuengirola, at the end of the line of Renfe (National Network of Spanish Railways) in southern Spain, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  We embarked again the tram to Bobadilla, then transferred to a proper train that took us to Málaga and finally we boarded the suburban train to our destination.

Fuengirola
Fuengirola

When we arrived to Fuengirola, we couldn’t find lockers or a place to check our baggage. So, Marité sat in a café while I went room hunting. I found a place, where we could stay the night, while we both could look for a more permanent abode. So, in the afternoon we continued our search and we found a small apartment (Apartamentos Milán) which we liked and where we moved in the next day.

After the move, we travel back to Malaga, for a day of relaxing strolls and drinks at pubs, with an Andalusian “flavor”.  At our return to Fuengirola, we settle in a sort of domestic life. We do food shopping, (we find a market with stalls that sell all kinds of fresh products, a winery that sells wine from barrels, etc.), we cook and have breakfast, lunch and dinner at our apartment. And we have plenty of time to get to know the town.

One day we take a bus to the village of Mijas, which nestles in the mountainside surrounding Fuengirola, at 400 meters above sea level about 10km from the coast. We are enchanted by the this white village, with narrow streets, wide vistas down the Mediterranean and a definite Andalusian flavor. We decide to return to Fuengirola walking and stop around sunset in a restaurant called Valparaiso, where we have an outstanding dinner.

Mijas
Mijas

We return to Mijas once more to see our first, and last bullfight. After watching the bloody and inhuman contest, we can’t understand how it attracts millions of Spaniards and so many foreigners. A real puzzle…

We have a small celebration for Christmas Eve, which we end by going down to the entrance hall to have a toast with the caretaker of the place. On Christmas day I awoke with a cold, which I nursed for the next three days. After I overcame my cold, we continued doing some sightseeing around town and in Malaga.

Xmas Eve 1979
Xmas Eve 1979

New Years’ Eve again we have a small celebration, with the caretaker, which introduced us to the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes, for good luck, at Midnight.

We like the area so much that we consider planes to stay. We look for work in the local paper and place adverts in the same. We have some interviews, but nothing pans out. On Epiphany Day we go to Malaga to watch the Cabalgata de los Reyes (Parade of the Kings), where the three kings or wise men, seated on camels, delight the children that watch, throwing candy and sweets to the spectators. A real fiesta for all.

During the following week we visited Torremolinos and also Marbella. The day of our visit to this last city is particularly clear, and from the beach we perceive the coast of Africa.  That’s the closest that I ever was and probably will be to that continent.

A peek of Africa
Marbella: a peek of Africa

We end our stay in Fuengirola on January 14th. An airplane takes us from Malaga to Madrid. We stay again with Walter and his family. The following days we visit other exiles, and do some sightseeing. The weather is not pleasant, but we stay in the hopes of getting back the suitcase we left in Stockholm at the beginning of our trip and that our friend Ana Maria forwarded to Madrid.

Museo del Prado
Museo del Prado

During that time we also did some sightseeing. Our first stop was the Prado Museum, where we admired their impressive collection of European masters, including the Spanish giants: Velázquez, Goya and El Greco. We walked the Gran Via (a famed shopping and entertainment street); the Plaza Mayor (Madrid’s vibrant main square); the Puerta del Sol (the center of it all) and the beautiful Retiro Park. We visited the Temple of Debod, which was a gift from the Egyptian government to the city of Madrid, to save it from the floods following the construction of the Aswan Dam. The Panteon de Goya, a museum dedicated to the painter, was also a worthwhile visit. We also saw the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), but just from the outside.

Palacio real
Palacio Real

Marité, leaves on the 19th for London, where she’ll spend a week with her childhood friend Maria Julia, who is taking an English course in that city. I still stay in Madrid waiting for that “dammed” suitcase. During those days I roam the streets, when the weather permits, or spend my time writing and reading in a cafeteria, or going to the movies, when the weather is not nice,

Toledo
Toledo

I also visited Toledo, a medieval city located about 40 miles South of Madrid. Build on a high rocky site, with grand views of the Castellan plain, it has narrow and winding streets, with steep gradients and rough surfaces, (nowadays I don’t think I could handle them) centering on the Plaza del Zocodover. Its architecture was influenced by the Visigoths, Arabs and Spaniards (after the Reconquest). As in most of Spanish cities it has an abundance of Catholic churches, but there are some Synagogues, that are testimony of the Sephardic Jews that were prominent in the city in early medieval times. Among the Catholic churches is worth mentioning the church of Santo Tomé that has a chapel that displays the painting Burial of the Conde de Orgaz by El Greco. There is also a museum dedicated to the painter that houses several important paintings by the artist.

El Escorial
El Escorial

One Sunday my, by now, Argentine friends, Walter and Ana, with whom I was staying invited me to visit the town of El Escorial, where they had a weekend retreat. The town is famous for the Monastery of El Escorial, which has functioned not only as a monastery, but also as a basilica, royal palace and a museum. It had snowed the previous day, but that day it was mostly sunny, so we spend a pleasant afternoon outdoors.

After 12 days of waiting in vain, I finally give up and take a plane back to New York, where Marité is waiting. As an end note, the suitcase arrived a few months later and was left in front of the door of our apartment in Staten Island, where we had moved after our return to the States. We never found out how it got there…

Anyway, our European Adventure came, thus to an end. We had visited twelve countries and numerous cities in 4 and half months. We saw memorable sights, met many interesting people and enjoyed most every minute of the time we spend in Europe. And, we had memories to accompany us for the rest of our lives.