November 5-8, 2022. At Barcelona, Spain.

Hi Everybody, and you too Christine (even though you’re here with me).

There has been so much that has occurred since my “Last Letter” from Valencia that it would be impossible to treat it with any real detail in this post. Instead, I will present the “CliffsNotes“ version. By the way, CliffsNotes was a product popular in the mid and late 20th century which gave well curated summaries of books, usually classics, that we were expected to read in high school or college. They rescued many a lazy student, such as me.

I arrived in Barcelona less than an hour ahead of Christine and Wendy. Our Norwegian “daughter“, Hege, arrived a few hours later. It was a wonderful reunion that was not captured in pictures. This picture, however, gives the flavor of my feelings about again rejoining with Christine.

Christine and Wendy had planned the next two days in an effort to accomplish as much as possible for all of us to share in this wonderful tourist destination. Our accommodations for these five days have been a 4th story 2 bedroom rooftop apartment in the heart of the city. We are 2 blocks from Las Ramblas and just a 15 minute walk from the Sagrada Familia.

Spending time together has been a gift that included long walks and evening dining out in the city.

This is my seafood paella, prepared in squid ink.
A very talented operatic street performer “singing for her supper”.

Back in Kansas City Wendy and Christine rarely go more than a week without meeting for coffee and an afternoon chat.

Christine and Wendy at the city market.

We first met Hege in 1994 when she spent a year living with us as an AFS foreign exchange student. She calls us mom and dad and is indeed like a daughter to us.

Over these last three days we visited The 11th century monastery, Montserrat, and Parc Guell, designed and built between 1900 and 1914 by the renowned architect Antoni Gaudi.

This is our fourth visit to Barcelona. No visit to this city would be complete without a visit to the Sagrada Familia Basilica, also a creation of Antoni Gaudi.

This is one of the top tourist attractions in all of Europe, visited by millions every year. We have been able to see progress toward completion in each visit. In 2013 there were hopes that it would be finished by the 2026 centennial anniversary of the architect’s death. COVID has pushed back the clock to 2030.

What follows is a pictorial sampling of what we have seen and done. Where appropriate I have added captions.

The Monastery at Montserrat:

This statue, The Black Madonna and Christ, draws millions of the faithful to the monastery every year. Tradition holds that it was found in a cave on the mountain and was carved by one of the apostles. Carbon dating indicates that it was created in the 11th century. The dark color is due to the aging of the varnish that was used.

Parc Guell:

The Sagrada Familia:

The Sagrada Familia as seen in the distance from atop the Barcelona Cathedral roof.
The basilica features 18 towers. 12 for the Apostles, 4 for the evangelists, one for Mary, and the central one still undergoing construction for Christ. When completed it will be the highest church spire in the world.
Our tour guide.
There is a balcony on both sides for the choir. It can accommodate 900 voices.
This is a view of the ceiling assisted by a tabletop mirror.
Our tour included a visit by elevator to near the top of one of the towers. Coming back down was by spiral staircase.

For those who wish to dig a little deeper, here is a link to my 2018 post:

We are sharing our apartment these last two nights with Leesa, a Canadian who has recently completed walking the Portuguese route of the Camino.

On November 10th Christine and I board the ship Viking Jupiter, ultimately bound 22 days later for Buenos Aires Argentina.

For now, Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. All good things must eventually come to an end. Here we say goodbye and safe journey home to Hege and Wendy.

November 4, 2022. At Valencia, Spain.

Dear Christine. As I was contemplating a title for this letter it dawned on me, this IS the last letter. 24 hours from now we will be speaking face-to-face.

It is my intention to continue publicly posting from this trip, but in writing these as “Letters to You” I found a different voice. In my heart these have really been letters written to you, just wirh our joint understanding that they were shared with others. As I continue I imagine the “voice” will change, but in what way, and with what effect? In the past have I actually been writing to “someone”, or just speaking my thoughts aloud? These are questions I would like to discuss with you when we are together.

Yesterday I would have said that hell would freeze over before I would visit another cathedral on this trip, the exception being the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Well, today I made myself a liar. I entered the Valencia Cathedral with the sole intention of climbing its tower. As I first gazed upon the interior I thought, “Oh what the hell!”. I said yes to the audio guide which was included as part of the admission and began the self-guided tour. I was not disappointed.

The Valencia Cathedral, or as it is more formally named, Iglesia Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia (!!!), was consecrated in the 1200s but it’s construction continued for hundreds of years thereafter. Thus it features a mixture of architectural styles.

Excavations beneath the cathedral have revealed that it was the site of an earlier Christian church, a still earlier mosque, an earlier still Visigoth temple, and beneath that a 2nd Century BCE Roman temple to Jupiter.

Visitors are able to see a portion of the excavations which include the earthly remains of worshipers from those ancient times. So much for “rest in peace“. As you will see, unearthing the dead is a common theme.

Among the things notable in the church and its adjoining museum were:

A painting by Goya of Saint Francis de Borja attempting to save a soul from the demons of hell by spraying the blood of Christ on his body.

A crucifix statue, not of Christ, but rather of the non-penitent thief who hung on the cross to Christ’s left.

The Chapel of the Holy Grail. Valencia does not hint that this “might be“ the Holy Grail, the Cathedral asserts that it IS the Grail and defies anyone to prove otherwise.

Whether or not it’s the Grail, it is a Roman stone bowl reliably dated to the first century.

I have lived 70 years and until now the “holy grail“ was just subject matter of Monty Python movie. In the last two weeks I have seen two actual claimants to the title.

By the way, the chapel itself, especially the ceiling, was amazing.

The Cathedral Museum had many works dating to the 13th century. They included stone statues of the apostles that were originally located on the cathedral’s exterior, but have since been replaced by replicas in order to preserve them from further deterioration.

The oldest painting in the cathedral was created in 1400 by a German artist. It depicts the apostle, Thomas, resolving his doubts as to the resurrection of Christ.

There is a room full of relics, literally pieces of various saints, preserved in gold and silver reliquaries. In the medieval church it was a big deal to collect and display these things for worship.

There is a chapel dedicated to the bishop, San Luis. Above the altar is a bust in his image, and within the bust for all to see is his skull and bones.

Similarly, in a niche behind the main altar Is another reliquary containing the arm of St. Vincent, patron saint of Valencia, who was martyred around the year 304.

Immediately across from his remains is the statue of The Virgin Mary of the Chair. Tradition holds that if a pregnant woman visits the statue, lights a candle, prays, and then walks around the interior of the cathedral nine times, her pregnancy will be protected. A pregnant woman walked in front of me as I was taking my picture of the statue!

Finally, there was a huge monstrance created for the veneration of the Holy Eucharist. This one was crafted in the 20th century from donations of silver by ordinary citizens of Valencia. It was meant as reparation for the sacrileges committed by troops during Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and contains over 1300 pounds of the precious metal.

Of course, my original purpose in visiting was to climb the 207 foot tall Miguelete Tower.

There were over 400 steps, round-trip. If nothing else this was a good test of whether or not I should defer knee surgery for the torn meniscus. There were no problems and so taking the surgery off the calendar was a good call.

You would have hated the confining spiral staircase and it’s unnaturally (to us) tall steps. The spiral narrows as you get higher in the tower so there are traffic lights at each end to allow for one-way traffic up and one-way traffic down.

The view from the top was stunning.

My reward for the successful climb and descent was a lunch of beer and tapas on the square.

There were many tour groups in the area, hinting that this was a cruise-ship day. Furthermore, German seemed to be the predominant language among these groups.


PS. I’m going to finish with some evening pictures from around the Cathedral Square.

November 3, 2022. At Valencia, Spain.

Dear Christine. The end is in sight… and so is the beginning.

In many ways this has been a very unique and complex journey for me. Actually, I have been on a number of separate journeys that are tightly woven together. There was my time in Lisbon and Porto. There was the Camino that I walked with Kris, and the Camino without her. There was meeting attorney and mediator Ken and his wife Bambi. I hope that they are well.

There was my time with Lynn who plans to move from New Mexico to Portugal. I continue to wear as an earring the little silver Camino shell that she gave me. There was also my time with Tina who forced me to speak German and to discover that I could.

There were the days in Santiago trying to figure out what to do next: continue to the coast and endure the monsoons, or choose not to be a prisoner to a plan. The example set by a German woman prevailed. There was the down day that I saw myself as alone and invisible. The wisdom of a Belgian woman taught me, “…it’s the adjusting to the feeling which is the most uncomfortable, not the feeling itself.” She was right, and my discomfort was short-lived.

Of course I can’t forget the evening in Santiago with Tom’s friends and their Camino friends.

Throughout it all you and I maintained daily contact, however even that came with a twist. Most of those days found us separated not only by distance, but by time.

Of course, there was “The Decision”. Today I told you of another decision, that I will return for another Camino. When, where, with or without you, children, or grandchildren, all to be decided, fate willing.

My time in Leon, Burgos, Madrid, Toledo, and now Valencia has been another phase to this journey. It ends in two days and another journey begins in Barcelona, shared with you, Wendy, and our Norwegian daughter Hege. Then comes sailing 22 days across the Atlantic.

I freely admit that I do beginnings much better than I do endings. Yesterday, today, and (likely) tomorrow are examples. I am weary of the present “tour”. I could not force myself to visit any museums, churches, or tourist sites. Instead I walked and just enjoyed being. However it appears that for a few coins one can climb to the top of the cathedral tower. That calls to me.

I engaged in some risky behavior today. I saw a barbershop and on an impulse walked in for a haircut.

I pantomimed my instructions to the barber who nodded his understanding, but his eyes said otherwise. Fortunately, his considerable skills prevailed and I walked out with a great haircut that only cost €13.

We and his partner shared a picture and smiles.

Paul the barber (R.I.P.) from Smith Center, Kansas would not have called it risky. I still remember him saying in 2010, “Don’t worry, if I make a mistake, it’ll grow back.“

How could there not be pictures for me to share?…

Not only is my hotel room incredible, but it is located in the heart of the old city within two blocks of the cathedral and main square. It’s a wonderful area.

The old city of Valencia was once surrounded by fortress walls and huge towers that protected the city gates. At least 2 of the towers remain standing.

It’s a tower, there are stairs, and so I climbed it.

Even in November the beach front is beautiful and inviting. I imagine it must be crowded with tanned bodies in the summer.

The temperature hit 76 today and some heartier souls shed most of their clothes to play in the water and on the sand.

Also, this is a cruise destination.

One vendor near the main square has created an interesting twist on ice cream waffle cones. Strange that his customers were only young females.

Sleep well… two nights to go! Love, from Me to You.

PS. Remember I commented that you can no longer tell Americans from Europeans by their shoes and clothing? The same goes for verbal exclamations. It’s common to hear, “Oh my God!“, “Wow!”, or the like, immediately followed by the local language. I’ve done more than a few double takes on hearing such expressions.

November 2, 2022. Aboard a Renfe high speed train between Madrid and Valencia, Spain.

Dear Christine. At the urging of a friend I spent yesterday in Toledo, Spain. It is only a 30 minute trip by high speed train.

I originally had scheduled to be there for a little over five hours but upon reaching Toledo I modified my ticket for a later return. I’m glad I did.

Toledo is a marvel! It has managed to retain the character and charm of a well preserved medieval fortress city while providing excellent tourist accommodations, restaurants, and accessibility.

I departed Madrid from the Puerta de Atocha station. It’s an old station that has been modernized. Rather than destroy the old steam train canopy it has been turned into a greenhouse full of huge tropical plants.

At the Toledo train station I purchased the ticket for the “hop on hop off“ service. It was my first impression was that it was a little pricey at €24, but that also included transport to and from the train station, along with a tour of and paid entry into the cathedral. Entry to the cathedral would otherwise have cost €10.

The train station would have been a bit of a walk to town, doable but the daunting part would have been the arduous climb to the citadel.

Muslim/Arabic architectural influences were immediately apparent at the station and throughout the city.

The old city is surrounded by a river that served as a natural moat in ancient times. There were remarkable arched bridges from those days. but they now only provide pedestrian access.

With the elevated city on one side of a bridge and the deep river separating the two sides, it is the perfect location for a zip line. If Tom were here I am confident that we would have done it.

By the way, I just looked up to see the train speedometer, 300 kph! That works out to over 180 mph. It is smooth, and I am in business class which borders on elegant. Comfortable leather seats that recline, a movie overhead, and an expansive view of the countryside. An attendant has made the rounds providing moist warm cloths to clean one’s hands/face and breakfast for those who included the service with their ticket.

My initial impression was that accommodations in Toledo would be expensive. However, a quick look at “” indicated that there were also moderately priced options. I think this is a place that you and I should someday plan to spend at least two consecutive nights.

The city is full of museums and attractions. Some are “kitschy“, like the torture museum and the catapult museum, while others are “must see“, like the cathedral which is the center of Catholicism in Spain.

As with the other huge cathedrals, this one also featured a beautifully arranged and carved choir.

Most of the streets are narrow and winding which adds to the charm. It is very easy to get lost but since the central city is relatively small that becomes part of the entertainment. It’s like wandering in a maze and discovering new things at every turn.

I had not intended to see yet another monumental cathedral, but “when in Rome (or Toledo) do as the Romans (“Toledans”) do! This one did not disappoint. It is considered the second largest in Spain with the wealthiest collection of art and treasure.

The sacristy houses the worlds largest collection of original artwork by El Greco. There are 17 separate paintings by the artist in the one room. What is ironic is that Toledo has an El Greco museum but with fewer of his works.

As far as “treasure“ the cathedral has a towering monstrance that stands about 10 feet tall. It is made from 40 pounds of gold and over 400 pounds of silver! It further incorporates the jewels that were once the property of Queen Isabel of Spain. This creation dates to the 15th Century.

Toledo is a photographer’s paradise. I hope you enjoy these pictures. I started with nearly 150 images and painfully cut them down to these final ones.

When I returned to Madrid I decided to go back to the Plaza Mayor for dinner and a drink. The place looked like it had been hit by a hurricane! There was trash and discarded alcoholic beverage bottles everywhere. There was also loud singing throughout the plaza from roving groups of young, and obviously drunk, men. There was a heavy police presence. Needless to say, I left the plaza in favor of a quieter neighborhood.

My search was successful. In the restaurant/bar where I ate was a group of Irish football (soccer) fans. I struck up a conversation with one who is a teacher on holiday here to watch Ireland take on Madrid. He said that Ireland is heavily favored and added that Madrid is a good sport so there should not be any post game problems.

Well, enough for now. I hope you and Wendy are enjoying your day! The countdown continues. There are only three nights left before we join in Barcelona. Love, Me.

PS. I have arrived at my hotel in Valencia. It’s more like a condominium that is managed by a company as a hotel. In any case, it’s an amazing accommodation! I have a kitchenette with washing machine/dryer, dishwasher, cooktop, and refrigerator. I also have my own private patio. It is located in the heart of the old city and only cost $130 a night. What a relief after the last four nights.

October 31, 2022. At Madrid, Spain.

Dear Christine. I decided to plow a lot of ground today, but leave the furrows shallow. Therefore, there will be a lot of pictures but not a lot of content. Even though I used the metro and also an aerial tram, I still covered 10 miles on foot today. So, here we go!

My first stop was at Plaza Espana where there is a monument to Miguel de Cervantes and his 1605 creations, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

After walking through a pleasant park I entered a charming neighborhood and a beautiful fountain outside of a convent.

Next was a visit to another park where the 2nd Century BC Egyptian temple to Amon, known as the Temple of Debod has been rebuilt.

This temple was gifted by Egypt to Spain in recognition of Spain’s assistance in rescuing archaeological treasures from the rising waters of the Nile resulting from the 1960 Aswan High Dam project. Unfortunately, the temple is closed on Mondays, but I did obtain an interior image from the Internet.

The park provided an overlook from where I could see the Royal Palace and Cathedral in the distance.

I continued my wanderings through Madrid’s Parque del Oeste until I reached the Teleferico de Madrid. This is a remarkable aerial gondola from the 1960’s links the park to Casa de Campo, crossing river, highway, valley and city, an 11 minute journey of over a mile and a half.

From Casa de Campo i could see a huge amusement park that appeared to be almost a mile farther off. In spite of the distance, I could still hear the screams of those aboard the rides.

I returned by gondola to Parque del Oeste and then walked down a hill to Roseleda del Parque.

This is an incredible rose garden built in 1915. It features over 4000 different varieties of roses. In spite of this being nearly November it was still flush with color and blooms.

The individual rose varieties are identified by name and date of origin. I came upon roses dated to the Middle Ages, Roman antiquity, and one attributed to pre-Roman Phoenicia.

More walking took me to the Royal Palace and the Cathedral de la Almudena.

You and I visited the interior of each of these in 2018. I was tempted to go into the palace but the line for admission extended nearly a city block. There were better things to do.

Next on my list was a visit to the huge Parque de el Retiro. It immediately reminded me of New York’s Central Park.

I sat and enjoyed tapas and a beer while sheltering from the rain under a table umbrella.

The rain was never heavy and certainly didn’t discourage pedestrians or street performers.

I visited the temporary art exposition at Palacio de Valazquez located within the park,

and the Palacio de Cristal, also located within the park. It was closed as work was underway preparing an exhibition.

At this point I return to my room for a brief rest and then set off to find dinner.

This was a very satisfying day. I look forward to my day trip to Toledo tomorrow.

By the way, welcome to Paris! I’m anxious to hear about it. Love, Peter