Carcasson, France

Spain and France — Fall 2014

On October 12, 2014, twenty-four Mature Friends converged on Madrid to begin their two-week tour of Northern Spain and Southern France. We met our tour guide and that evening, gathered for a group dinner in the city. We had a surprise reunion at dinner with Jorge Roman, our genial tour guide from our 2010 Portugal-Spain tour, who had a tour group in Madrid at the same time. The next day was a half-day guided tour, led by a local guide, which included a tour of the Royal Palace as well as a bus tour through the city to sights such as the Madrid Bull Ring. The following day was free day for us to spend at our leisure. Some took a day trip to Segovia, others visited museums, art galleries and other sites of interest.

Next on our itinerary was the Basque country of Pamplona, with a stop at Burgos for lunch and a bit of sight seeing. Pamplona is noted for the running of the bulls, but October is not the bull-fighting season, so we were able to stroll around the city at leisure.

Bull Fence

This is supposed to protect us from the bulls?

A walking guided tour took us to the city center square, a busy site where one can meander off any number of side streets, to a food market reminiscent of Pike Place Market, to the walls of the old city and to the Cathedral of Santa Maria.

Then we were off to San Sebastián, on the Bay of Biscay.

City Hall, San Sebatian

Old Casino, Now City Hall in San Sebastián

A tour by a local guide took us to the massive sculpture on a rocky shore, “The Comb of the Wind” to the Miramar Palace, a some-time summer residence for Spanish royalty and on a walking tour through the city center, including another Pike-Place Market-like food market. Need it be said that we had perfect weather all this time and San Sebastián was at its best. Imagine people on the beach in mid-October!

Bilbao was a day trip from San Sebastián, and the attraction there is the modernistic-futuristic Guggenheim Museum. As you may have guessed, Frank Gehry, the designer of our own EMP museum, also designed the Bilbao Guggenheim. Many sculptures adorn the outside of the museum, such as the Tall Tree and The Eye by Anish Kapoor. The galleries exhibited many of the expected old-masters but there was also a huge Richard Serra installation reminiscent of his “Wake” at the SAM Sculpture Garden. There was much to see, so on leaving for lunch we received wrist ID bands, which allowed us to return for further perusal of the galleries. Back to San Sebastián and on to Toulouse, France with a lunch stop at Pau, France. Arriving in Toulouse by evening, we had a group dinner, featuring grilled salmon and cuttlefish and Spanish rice. The next day was a half-day guided tour, taking us to the Place du Capitole, the large pedestrian plaza facing the Capitole de Toulouse, which houses the city hall of Toulouse. Then a visit to the Basilica of Saint Sermin, a grand Romanesque edifice.

Then on to Carcassonne, France. Carcassonne was, perhaps, the highlight of the trip. The Cité de Carcassonne is the historic fortified city or citadel, dating some 2500 years ago to the Gallo-Roman period. The walls of the old city have been restored so that one can get an idea of what a walled-fortified city is like. The “modern” city grew out of the fortified city around 1240 and is the civic-economic-residential part of Carcassonne. Within the walls are the Château Comptal and Basilica of St. Nazarius and St. Celsus. Few people live in the citadel but the streets therein are lined with shops and restaurants to accommodate the tourists. The evening dinner was another group meal with cassoulet as the main course.

The trip began to draw to an end as we proceed to Barcelona with stops at Perpignan and Girona. 

Steve and Our Guide

Steve Poses with Our Handsome Bus Driver in Perpignan

Our tour in Barcelona was a delight for the architecturally inclined, in particular, for the works of Antoni Gaudi. First was a drive-by view of the Battló house, an existing building which Gaudi renovated with a striking façade. Next was his Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family), which when completed will be the tallest structure in Barcelona. Construction began in 1882; it is still under construction with an estimated date of completion in 2026. Next was a visit to the Spanish Village, a collection of 117 replicas of representative houses from all regions of Spain built for the 1929 world exhibition in Barcelona. Expected to be torn down after the exhibition, it was retained due to its popularity with Barcelonans and tourists.

Two leisure days were left in Barcelona. Some went on a day trip to nearby Sitges, reputedly the Palm Springs of Catalonia. There were museums to visit, such as the Picasso Museum. At the end, most members returned to Seattle while some stayed on or went to other parts of Europe. And yet others boarded the Norwegian Cruise Line Epic for a cruise from Barcelona to Miami.

This was an exciting and informative trip. Our tour guide who accompanied us throughout the trip had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the area as well as of the people, such as the kings and queens, warriors and statesmen who shaped the region.

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