M M M My Girona

If your town had been attacked 25 times over the centuries you would definitely want to surround it with solid stone walls (entrance photo here) which is exactly what the Romans did 2000 years ago. Charlemagne expanded them in the 800s, then they were enlarged in the 14th century, and now thanks to some recent restoration work, we were standing on the walls (photo across the top) that still encircle most of what was the medieval heart of Girona, Spain. That’s where we began our walking tour of this capital city that has attracted so much attention from so many potential conquerors including Napoleon Bonaparte. 

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Well, hello Dalí!

During the last few years that we lived in the US, we entered a lot of different sweepstakes, as in 400 a day. These were all online so with a push of a button we could autofill each entry form and in a few seconds we were on to the next one. As you might expect, with that many daily entries our chances of winning something were pretty high. Most mornings there would be a “Congratulations!” email announcing our latest prize which was often a candy bar, a music download, or movie tickets but every week or so we’d get gift cards, cash, or trips. One especially festive weekend we scored vacations in New York, New Orleans, the Caribbean, and Paris. By the way, we had to pay income tax on all of those, but it was worth it. Although not as popular here, there are a few sweepstakes in France and a few weeks ago Bill got one of those “Félicitations!” emails from SNCF, the national railway of France, that he’d won 2 First Class tickets to Figueres, Spain. We were off to visit the birthplace of artist Salvador Dalí.

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Christmas in Killarney

No, it’s not yet the 25th of December but that song from the 1950s inspired today’s blog post title and a return visit to a welcoming town in southern Ireland. We had been there several years ago with our London friends, Jan and Bob, and we enjoyed that visit so much, we wanted to return. Since both of us are railroad buffs, we took the train from Galway, with a change in Dublin, to arrive in Killarney just before afternoon tea was served at the Great Southern Hotel (lobby photo here on the left). Built in 1854 the hotel name is from its location beside the railway station that was once owned by the Great Southern Railway when they operated all of the trains throughout the Republic. In keeping with the traditions of other grand station hotels we’ve enjoyed, they too have maintained the elegance from the “Golden Age of Travel”.

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On a slow boat to Ireland

We can fly directly from Carcassonne to Dublin in about 2 ½ hours or we can take the train from here to the port of Cherbourg, stay overnight, and board the ferry the next afternoon that gets to the Emerald Isle the following morning. Based on the title of today’s blog post you can guess that we chose the 2-days-of-travel version, plus a bonus stopover in Paris. Choosing this option let us lower our carbon footprint—train/ferry average 0.1 pounds of CO2 per mile vs. 0.8 pounds per mile for planes—while giving us lots of comfort. (There’s a footprint calculator link below.) Our Senior Rail Card gives us a discount on French trains and the ferry we chose was more like a cruise liner with bars, restaurants, shops, two movie theaters, and spacious balcony suites. We were in no particular hurry to get to our destination, although even more luxury awaited at Ashford Castle Hotel, so we took what for us was the easy way.

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Geneva in 4 days ꟷ part 2

During the first part of our visit to Geneva, we had spent most of our time on the eastern and southern shores of the lake, so we crossed the bridge for the day. We’d been to the United Nations in New York and now we wanted to see its equivalent at the Palais des Nations (photo on the left) where 25,000 delegates meet each year. We didn’t have time for a guided tour indoors because within the Palais park grounds we wanted to see the Ariana Museum that houses thousands of examples of glassware and ceramics from the Middle Ages through the 20th century and to have a school lunch.

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Geneva in 4 days ꟷ part 1

We’ve now lived in Carcassonne for over 6 years and during that time we’ve had lots of family and friends from outside of France visit us here. When we have the opportunity to see some of those same folks again, we like meeting up with them elsewhere in Europe that gives all of us the chance to see something new. That was the case with our English friends, Gaynor and Pete, who were attending a reunion in France near the border with Switzerland. Since they had to fly into Geneva and we could easily get there by train, that made a logical meeting point for the four of us. 

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The train in Spain

This train in Spain stays mainly on the plain of España Verde (Green Spain) and “My Fair Lady”, Eliza Doolittle, would have felt right at home. The film, set in 1912 London could have easily taken place aboard the El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo that has four original Pullman cars, from the 1920s (dining car pictured here on the left) plus numerous newer cars “that exude the feeling of a bygone, elegant era, and of a more relaxed way to travel” as the brochure says. We’ve just returned from a week on the train that took us from Santiago de Compostela to San Sebastian with daily stops to tour historic towns, take in beautiful landscapes, visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and relax in a thermal spa that’s been operating for hundreds of years.

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