Highlights of Tarazona/Aragon

Tarazona, located some 80km north of Zaragoza is a small town, not more than 11.000 inhabitants.

What the place  lacks in size,  it more than makes up in historical buildings. An added pleasure is the fact, that Tarazona lends itself to leisurely exploring on foot. In fact, there is no other way, no tour buses pollute the fresh air coming in from the Moncayo mountain range and Nature Park, because they wouldn’t fit through the narrow cobblestoned streets.

Moncayo Nature Park

Moncayo Nature Park

Many are pedestrian zones anyway, so you just have to mind your step and otherwise can look up, down and sideways at your heart’s content. You will discover plenty of small and big treasures.

I start my walk at the pretty Plaza San Francisco. Everything you need is conveniently located here: the tourist information office at the bottom of elegant stairs, a taxi rank, a bank and even a police station.

I cross a narrow bridge over the river Queiles and enter Calle Visconti, walking past my hotel for my stay, the quaint Hostal Santa Agueda.

Hostal Santa Agueda

Hostal Santa Agueda

Plaza San Francisco

Plaza San Francisco

Birdge over River Queiles

Bridge over River Queiles

Just follow the narrow street past delightful shops, selling clothes, books, local delicacies like cheeses and bubub marmalade until you reach the Plaza Mayor. Here you face one of the most beautiful and important historical buildings of Tarazona: The Town Hall. Take your time to enjoy the elaborately carved friezes and sculptures of this Renaissance Palace. They tell a story of the many kings who one time or another rules in Aragon and made Tarazona their seat.

Town Hall Tarazona

Town Hall Tarazona

friesth

Then pass the Town Hall on the left and enter another part of history: La Juderia. In the Middle Ages and under Arab rule, Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisted peacefully and La Juderia was where the Jews lived and carried out their businesses. Many narrow streets divide the older and newer part of the Jewish Quarters, but the most emblematic sight are the hanging houses, glued to the ancient city walls.

Entrance to the Jewish Quarter

Entrance to the Jewish Quarter

By decree the balconies had to be separated from each other by exactly 2 elbow lengths.

juderiagood

At the top you reach the Bishop’s Palace, another impressive building in the Mudejar style with a fabulous salon, decorated with a wooden ceiling and featuring portraits of a long line of bishops. Downstairs contains a rather chilly reminder of a dark part of Spanish history: the seat of tribunals of the Inquisition.

Bishops Palace

Bishops Palace

From the platform in front of the Bishop’s Palace you have a splendid view over Tarazona and as far as the Moncayo. What catches the eye though is the Old Bullring. It is closely surrounded by houses, not by open spaces as are other bullrings in Spain. No bullfights are being held here anymore and have not been for some time.

viewtarazona

As I descend the steep stone steps towards the river and come closer, I can see that the bullring has been put to good use: it now houses apartments.

Bullring transformed into apartments

Bullring transformed into apartments

I follow the river bank back towards Plaza San Francisco, leaving a visit to the cathedral for the afternoon after a rest at my hotel. But, before that I returned to my favorite little shop and bought cheese from Trasmoz and a few jars of burbub marmalade, each one exotically flavored with whiskey, gin and other strong alcohol.

Alberto and the marmalade

Alberto and the marmalade

 

 

 

A Thank You Note to Tarazona/Aragon

Welcoming is the first word which spang  to mind, as soon as I reached  Tarazona.

Located some 80km north of  Zaragoza, the town moves at a sedate pace. A little river flows through the town center; narrow cobblestoned streets climb up towards impressive historical sites like the Town Hall, the Cathedral and La Juderia.

View of Tarazona

View of Tarazona

Cathedral Santa Maria de la Huerta

Cathedral Santa Maria de la Huerta

Town Hall

Town Hall

La Juderia

La Juderia

The streets are lined with pretty cafes and restaurants and small shops, where the owners have time for their customers, chat away and explain their wares.

Typical street

Typical street

river

Butchers, fishmongers and pastry shops are obviously much preferred to supermarkets. No stress, no hurry, people who you have never met, greet you in the street in passing.

The welcoming theme started already at the bus station in Zaragoza. Five buses were lined up apparently going to Tarazona but I didn’t have a clue which one to take. I asked a young guy who was standing nearby and not only did he direct me to the correct bus, which he also took, but walked with me to my hotel. We got talking and it turned out that he, too, is a writer, owner of a delightful blog called Ser un Tusitala and author of an interesting book.

 

Trasmoz in the Moncayo

Trasmoz in the Moncayo

When he heard that the purpose of my visit wasn’t Tarazona as such but the witches of Trasmoz, a tiny mountain village some 30km away, he immediately offered to accompany me and bring a friend with a car to drive us there. Thanks again for a wonderful day, Alberto and Jaime.

Jaime and Alberto

Jaime and Alberto

The welcome continued with the arrival at my hotel, the very unique Hostal Santa Agueda. Conveniently located within walking distance of all the major monuments (you never have to walk far anyway), it is decorated with antiques, features beamed ceilings and..is a shrine to Raquel Meller, a vedette and actress of the 20s who was super famous at the time in Paris and hails from Tarazona.

Hall Hostal Santa Agueda

Hall Hostal Santa Agueda

Raquel Meller

Raquel Meller

There is not a wall space left which isn’t covered with photos and news paper cuttings. The charming owner told me story after story, not only about Raquel but also about history, art and culture in Tarazona and the Moncayo and about the annual film festival which is held in August. At the end of my two day stay, I felt like family.

As if that wasn’t enough, I got another warm welcome from Violeta of the Tourist Information Office. The castle of Trasmoz and the Witch of the Year can only be visited by appointment. I had tried to make one but for some reasons, my emails went astray and I never got a reply. So, here I was rearing to go to Trasmoz, faced with the possible failure of my mission. I also only had limited time and couldn’t stay on for days on end.

Violeta to the rescue! She hit the phones and within minutes she not only arranged my visit to castle and witch but also a private guided tour of the cathedral and the archbishop’s palace, dropped an armload of beautiful books and leaflets in my hands, marked routes on my map and sent me on my way, urging me to return with whatever question I might have or advice I might need.

Even the weather Gods were in my favour. Prior to my arrival, it had rained heavily and further rain was forecast. But, instead, the sun was shining.

My next posts will be about the great monuments of Tarazona and, of course of my encounter with Lola, Witch of the Year of Trasmoz.  But, having encountered so much kindness which made for an exceptionally pleasant and successful visit, I felt the need to dedicate a special thank you post to my lovely helpers.

 

Chill Out at the Hippie Fish in Mykonos/Greece

 

This is the story of one of those journeys which start out terrible and then turn around, thanks to the kindness of strangers, and end up as a marvelous experience.

I was on my way from the Greek island of Samos to Athens by ferry. It’s a long trip and, although I didn’t want to, I had to leave in Mykonos, spend the night and continue on the next day. On the other hand, I thought, Mykonos is famous for its nightlife and if I didn’t find a place where to stay, I might as well dance the night away and resume my voyage with the connecting ferry which was due to leave at 8am the next morning.

The ferry approached Mykonos, I saw the famous windmills in the distance and the entrance to the port.

mühle

 

Mykonos and the old port

Mykonos and the old port

And then… it went PAST!! 15 minutes later, another, brand new port came into view where the ferry finally pulled in. I hadn’t realized that Mykonos has two terminals and this one was a considerable distance from Mykonos town.

No problem, I thought, I’ll just take a taxi to the center of things. People disembarked, dispersed and I was left standing all on my own on a vast, totally empty parking lot.

There was a small terminal building, but not a soul in sight. No taxi, no buses, three parked cars and nothing else. It seemed  that the only option was to walk what apeared like about 12km to Mykonos town, along a busy motorway in the blazing sun of a Greek early afternoon. Not an appealing prospect.

Then I remembeedr, that a fried had given me the number of a friend who supposedly owned a restaurant in Mykonos. Had I saved the number? Yes, I had. I called, he answered and, no questions asked, promised to come to my rescue. Never in my life have I seen a black Range Rover approach with such relief.

And that’s when the misery turned into utter bliss. This knight in a shining  black Range Rover was the owner of one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever been to.

He took me across the island to Ai Yianni Beach and the Hippie Fish restaurant and treated me like royalty.

Ai Yanni Beach and the Hippie Fish

Ai Yanni Beach and the Hippie Fish

For hours I was happily ensconced on comfortable cushions on the terrace which gives out directly to a lovely beach. I chatted to the owner, the waiters and fellow diners, went for a swim in the sea and was treated to one delicious dish after another. Among them one of my favorites, sea urchin which I first had tasted and loved in a tiny restaurant in the port of Marseille.

food

 

Hippie Fish is one of the oldest restaurants of modern times on the island of Mykonos. Its signature is to combine an utterly relaxing and laid back atmosphere at the beach with outstanding food and it fully accomplishes its aim.

As night fell, I enjoyed the stunning view of a silver sunset against the mythical island of Delos just across the water.

delosa

The Hip Disco opened and so did the Mixology Bar.

dj

 

At midnight, the owner took me back to Mykonos town, found out that my connecting ferry did indeed leave from the old port, not the one where I was stranded and got me a room in a hotel nearby. At the time, it wasn’t open jet, but the Hippie Fish now also offers the ultimate in Hippie Chic at it own Hippie Chic Hotel.

How is that for a story about kindness from strangers?When we said good bye we weren’t strangers any more.

I later learned that taxis on Mykonos are, for some reason, a rarity. I heard from people who got stuck even at the airport and had to phone their hotel to send a car.

Everybody whizzes around on scooters, which, as there are next to no pavements and very narrow and winding streets, makes walking hazardous. Just so you know when visiting.

Enjoy the Island of Samos/Greece

With a certain nostalgia I look back at the years I was living near Kusadasi on Turkey’s Aegean Sea. One of the reasons is, that it was an ideal starting point for daytrips. The marvels of Ephesus and Selcuk are within easy reach and just a short ferry trip across the water lies one of my favorite Greek islands: Samos.

On my way to Samos

On my way to Samos

In ancient times, Samos was already famous for its wines and vineyards and that hasn’t changed over the centuries. Two large plains are covered with the lush green of vines.
The fertility of the soil seems to have expanded to the mind as well because the island is the birthplace of Pythagoras, Epicurus, Aristarchus and Aesop, all of them geniuses in their field.
Add mountains, lovely beaches, impressive historical monuments, museums and a colorful capital and you can see why I like Samos so much. Let’s look at things in more detail.
Vathy
When the ferry from Kusadasi approaches the port of Vathy, the capital of the island, I can already see the Hotel Samos greeting me from a distance.

Hotel Samos greets you

Hotel Samos greets you

It said daytrip, but I prefer to spend the night because there is so much to see and do in Samos.
My home from home is always the Hotel Samos. It’s located just a few steps from the pier and an ideal base for excursions. The rooms are ample and comfortable, a roof terrace and small pool invite to rest between sightseeing and the bar/restaurant downstairs serves fabulous meals, to be enjoyed with a view of the port and the world going by.

A delicious Greek salad

A delicious Greek salad

Being a great fan of aniquity, my first stop is the outstanding archaeology museum which contains the statue of the biggest unbroken kouros in all of Greece. Just look at the size of it!

 

Kouros in Samos

Kouros in Samos

More modern history is reflected in a the small folklore museum. It gives you an insight into rural life, all displayed in separate ‘houses’. For wine lovers there is the wine museum, a bit outside the city. All can easily be reached on foot, just follow the promenade and walk on past the statue of the lion. And, whilst you are at it, this is also the area for some nice shopping.

folklore museum samos

folklore museum samos

lamps

lamps

Eupalinos aqueduct and Heraion
Right next door to the Hotel Samos are several agencies where you can buy the ferry tickets, book tours, hire a car, a bike or a bicycle. I prefer to go around the island by public transport and the friendly recptinists at the Hotel Samos will point you in the right direction.
My first excursion was to a masterpiece of ancient engineering, the Eupalinos tunnel. Samos experienced her times of greatest prosperity under the tyrant Polycrates (538-522 BC)and it was he who instructed the Greek architect and engineer Eupalinos to build a tunnel and water system which would bring water from the mountains to the coast.

entrance to eupalinos tunnel

entrance to eupalinos tunnel

The tunnel took 10 years to complete and countless laborers who slaved away under very hard conditions. The tunnel is only 1.80m high and of equal width but 1300m long. A visit of this historical site is quite an adventure.
I took the local bus from Vathi, to Pythagorion which is worth a visit by itself and from there a taxi to the tunnel.
Pay your dues of EUROS 10 and be disappointed, because all you see at first glance is a fenced in hole in the ground. Disappointment vanishes the moment you approach the hole. It’s the entrance to the tunnel and you descend very steep and narrow stone steps. At the bottom, the tunnel widens a bit but not very much. And you start walking, looking over the side at still intact ceramic waterpipes and being awed by the sheer genius of the construction of this tunnel and the enormous labor, with the means and tools of over 2000 years ago, which went into achieving this feat.

The ceramic pipes

The ceramic pipes

Be careful though because the ground is slippery and the lighting is dim, giving the entire venue a quite magical feeling. The tunnel is so narrow, that you have to take turns with people coming the other way. It’s an adventure which is not suitable for the claustrophobic and the obese. If you are overweight you can literally get stuck in the tunnel or rather, you won’t even make it down the initial stone steps.
Back in daylight from your visit to the netherworld, the nice chap at the ticket booth will call you a taxi to get you back to Pythagorion where you can walk around and look at particularly pretty shops, sit in one of the many cafes and then take the bus back to Vathi. That return trip was a pleasant surprise to me. I thought the bus would take the same route back, but not so. It went the long way and for all of EURO 1, I got a sightseeing tour of half of the island in the lively company of the locals.
Before boarding the bus I made a detour to Heraion, the remains of a once massive temple to Hera.
If you are more interested in beaches, visit Kokkari or Karlovassi on the other side of the island.
If you don’t return to Turkey you can also use Samos for some island hopping. There is a ferry which sails to Athens with several stops along the way, among them Mykonos. You can go off or stay on just as you please.

Mykonos

Mykonos

Relax in a Luxury Cave Retreat/UK

If you know where to look, you’ll find that the UK is full of weird and wonderful hotels. It isn’t so much the location where they are which makes a stay worthwhile, but rather the features of the dwelling themselves. Take your pick by looking at this selection. My personal favorite is the Witchery by the Castle which will certainly appeal to baby boomers who like to travel in style and comfort.

 
The Rockhouse Retreat
Doing some more research on the subject, I recently came upon the Rockhouse Retreat which makes a great addition to the list.
Located near the historical little town of Bewdley

on the shore of the river Severn, this heaven of peace is an authentic retreat caved out of Triassic sandstone.

Rockhouse entrance

Rockhouse entrance

The cave served as a dwelling for some 700 years but fell into neglect. Until, in 1999, along came Angelo Mastropietro , who was hiking in the nearby Wyre Forest and sought refuge during a rain storm.
It seems, that inspiration struck and in yearlong painstaking labor of love he, his workers and designers, toiled to convert the cave into a luxury retreat.
Most eye catching is the design, but modern day cave dwellers will find all the luxuries and amenities they desire. Underfloor heating, ingle nook fireplaces, coffee machines and, wonderfully, a rain forest shower will make you feel as cozy and comfortable as can be and allow you to get away from it all for a little while.

Rockhouse bedroom

Rockhouse bedroom

Rockhouse living room

Rockhouse living room

Rain forest shower

Rain forest shower

Birmingham Is only 27km away should you feel the need for a night out on the town. 40km of biking and hiking trails cross nearby Wyre Forest for those who love to be in touch with nature.
For further information and booking, please visit their website.
This retreat doesn’t come cheap, so I’m saving up the pennies to maybe one day try it out myself.

All images provided by rockhouse.com.