Arles, France — Thursday May, 25 2017

I only have one week left in Europa. A week from today my plane lands in Phoenix. Time has gone by far too rapidly. I will be back in August for another visit of Spain and Portugal.

Tomorrow I take the train, or actually three trains, to Paris. The first two just get me to the TGV or bullet train station in Avignon, which is not far away. Then the TGV will get me from Southern France to Paris in less than three hours. However, I travel in the afternoon and evening, so there will probably be no blog entry tomorrow. When I get to the hostel in Paris and get checked in, I will probably just want to have a beer and a shower and go to bed.

There were two French women at my breakfast table this morning who are doing the Camino. This hostel was their first stop. By the time they get to Santiago, they will have walked much farther than I did on my Camino, because they are starting from farther away. They planned to hike 25 kilometers or just under 16 miles today carrying their backpacks. I hope they made it.

I left the hostel this morning on foot with no plan in mind. The first thing of interest discovered was s segment of the old city wall and fortifications, shown below. There was a stairway leading up toward the top of the wall, which I climbed. I went through a doorway in the wall itself and found myself just a few blocks from the Coliseum, which I had reached yesterday by a different route. Arles is not a very big city.

After I came back down the stairway and continued my walk, an elderly woman stopped me on the sidewalk. She was probably almost as old as I am. I didn’t understand her first question, so she repeated it in French, “Where are you from?” “The United States,” I answered. “What are you doing here?” “I’m on vacation.” “Are you traveling all alone?” “Yes, all alone.” “And your wife?”

At this point I was getting nervous. There are a lot more elderly women in the world than there are elderly men like me in good health. I hoped she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I probably should have played it safe and said, “My wife is back at the hotel,” but, I am a poor liar so I answered truthfully, “I don’t have a wife.” With that, she giggled and then turned and walked away. I found the whole encounter quite strange.

A few minutes later I came upon a smaller section of the wall, shown below.

I don’t think most Americans are aware of affection many French have for the United States. Even when the French government opposed the US invasion of Iraq and the second President George Bush demonized the French, the French people reacted with sadness rather than anger. Below is a photo of a memorial that the local French have erected in memory of and in gratitude to two American Air Force pilots who died at Arles in the process of liberating the French from German occupation in World War II. If  Many locals in France still celebrate the anniversary of the day the Americans liberated their city. If the picture is too small to read the English at the bottom, you can click on it to enlarge it.

The Rhône River flows through Arles, We are not that far from the Mediterranean, so the river is quite wide at this point. I’m sorry to say that I have not been to the river’s other bank.

It’s hard to believe that the French Communist Party is still alive if not well. It has very few members and zero political influence in this country, unlike Italy, where it is still a force in some municipal governments. The headquarters office in Arles is just a small storefront.

The old Roman amphitheater in Arles is still in use. The steel towersand light array look out of place in this pre-medieval setting, but I suppose that it is a good thing that the theater is still used to provide entertainment to the residents of Arles instead of only standing there as a museum piece.

To close today’s entry, I include the following street scene from the old part of the city. Not only are ancient constructions being admired by tourists like me, some of them are very much a part of the city.

2nd post, Arles, France — Wednesday May 24, 2017

I wrote the first post this morning before I had a chance to go out and see the city. Since then I’ve been walking around in the hot sun until my legs ache and I am sipping water to recover from the dehydration.

I ran into the three people shown in the following picture this morning. The sign alongside their truck reads “on hunger strike.” It goes on to say that merchants have been forbidden to work in the street for four years.

The guy in the black t-shirt looks almost as chubby as I do, so the hunger strike must have just begun. Also, they may have given up food, but from the amount of cigarette smoke wafting from behind their table, it appears that a hunger strike does not involve giving up tobacco.

Arles seems to be quite the tourist place, especially among the British. I spoke to several Brits on the street today, and I also ran into a number of guided tours in which the guide was speaking English. Arles does have a number of old buildings of interest to the tourist, but they have been allowed to decay and accumulate centuries of soot on their exteriors. Things appear about to change, however. I read a sign today that stated that a huge renovation project is about to begin.

One of the main attractions is the old coliseum. I haven’t been inside yet, but I plan to visit the interior it tomorrow. I overheard a tour guide explain to his group that the coliseum originally had one more story, which is gone now. The tower was not part of the original construction. Also, for a time, the coliseum served as a fortress. Houses were built inside to take advantage of the protection offered by the coliseum’s walls.

Just up a small hill from the coliseum is the church Notre-Dame-de-la-Major. Notre Dame means, of course, Our Lady, and the de la Major part refers to the fact that the church is build on Arles’ highest hill. The church was built in the 12 century on the site of an older Roman temple, and the church was remodeled in the 18th Cenrtury. The church’s bell tower was damaged by bombing in 1944 during the Second World War.

I hope that the city’s plan to renovate its historic landmarks includes removing the grime from the church’s exterior. As shown below, the inside of the church is well preserved. Just as I arrived, a woman who appeared to be a nun opened the church door for visitors. I write “appeared to be a nun,” because so many nuns wear modern dress these days that I don’t always recognize them as members of a religious order.

The following is a street scene in the old part of town. I don’t know what the round building is at the end of the street, but I probably should have taken the time to find out.

I included the picture below for my cycling buddies The sign translates as: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.” The quote is attributed to Albert Einstein. When Albert wrote or said that, he had probably never heard of doing a track stand.

Below the entrance to the Hôtel Dieu or God’s House. However, it was a hospital constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its most famous patient was the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, who spent about a year in Arles, where he is said to have executed about 300 pictures and drawings. It was also in Arles where he cut off one of his ears. After he did so, this is the hospital he went to for treatment.

I am quite tired after walking around Arles all day in the heat. It’s not quite as hot here as in Phoenix, but given the cool weather when I started the trip, this heat is a sudden shock. The afternoon temperature was in the 90s, which feels fine in the shade, but the sun was beating down mercilessly.

1st Post Arles, France — Wednesday, May 24 — 2017

Incidentally, you can click on any picture in this blog to enlarge it and see it in more detail. Then use your browsers back button to return to this page.

I arrived in Arles yesterday evening and have seen so far only a little bit of the city. What I saw on my walk from the train station here to the hostel and later on a walk from the hostel to a grocery store and back did not impress me. It is a grubby little city with its buildings stained by decades of pollution. It reminds me of the towns and cities in the coal country of Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. However, I’m told there are some old Roman artifacts there that are worth seeing including a Roman coliseum, which is still used as a bullfighting ring.

Also, the first local residents I ran into at the very entrance of the train station struck me as being a couple of real jackasses. I took their pictures. One of them had no compunction about littering the sidewalk, as you can see in the picture below.

I asked the guy in the cowboy hat what the jackasses names were. The one on the right that has just made a mess of things is named Gordon. The other one is named Jerry.

That’s the only picture I have of Arles so far, but I did take some pictures in Girona before I left. The first two are symbols of Catalan nationalism, as opposed to Spanish nationalism, which barely exists. The large banner reading “Freedom is on the way” speak of so-called freedom from what many regard as the oppressive Spanish government. Spain has a democratically-elected government, but you would never know it from talking to many Catalans. I have to admit that I got a bit tired of Catalan independence talk while I was there.

The sign below reads “Catalan Republic” translated into English. I have been told by some of the locals that if you are not a fervent Catalan nationalist, you can have trouble with your neighbors. They are like those Trump supporters who physically attacked people who disagreed with them during the US presidential campaign.

Below is a picture of the old Iron Bridge or Pont de Ferro in Girona, which a nearby sign proclaimed was construction in 1877. It is one of several pedestrian-only bridges that cross the river in the city.

I took the following picture from the railway platform as I was waiting for my train in Girona. It helps explain why Spain is such a clean country. The woman is using a hand mop to clean a railway platform. Typically in Spain, when I would go out walking early Saturday or Sunday morning, I would find the sidewalks littered with cigarette butts. By afternoon, they were gone.

I took three trains from Girona, Spain here to Arles France yesterday. The first train was Spanish and took me to Cebere just on the French side of the border. Although the borders between the European countries are theoretically completely open, increasingly they are not. There was a passport check in Cebere before we could enter the station. The police barely gave my British passport a glance (I am a citizen of both the USA and the UK), but they did scrutinize the passport of a thin, shabbily-dressed black man and that of a woman from Thailand.

The other passengers hurried through the station and to the tracks on the French side of the railway station. Apparently they had trains that left immediately. I had a long wait for my train, and I was left in the station alone. Well, almost alone. the man in the background in the following picture is a railway worker buying himself a cup of coffee from a vending machine. Even the ticket office closed about 15 minutes after I arrived, and after I snapped the selfie, the railway worker took his coffee and left me alone again.

From Cebere, I took a regional train to Montpelier, where I was scheduled to have an hour’s wait for my train to Arles. However, for some reason that I didn’t understand, the train stopped several times, and we waited for something. The conductor did explain the delay on the PA system, but French is the weakest of my languages, and I could understand little of the announcement. I did understand that we would be delayed “a few minutes.” We were delayed almost an hour.

When the train finally arrived in Montpelier, my second train was due to depart in three minutes, and passengers are supposed to be on board three minutes before the train departs. Luckily, my second train was five minutes late in arriving, and I managed to get on board with minutes to spare.

For some reason, this train was crawling with French customs agents. I had my suitcase sniffed by a dog. Then another customs agent came by, shook my suitcase, and asked it it was mine.

This morning, I had breakfast and an interesting conversation  with a Dutchman. Like all Dutch people, his English was perfect.

Girona, Spain — Monday May 22, 2017

Today is my only full day in Girona, but I have visited this city several times before. I skipped some of the sites I have seen  and remember well such as the old wall around the city and the cathedral one previous trips and basically walked where my nose led me.

I have to show you one of the purchases I made last night. I have a whole closet full of cycling jerseys, but I couldn’t resist purchasing yet one more. My credit card company must be overjoyed at the big bill I am running up.

Of course, after I wear the jersey once on a ride, the novelty will have worn off, and the jersey will spend the next 20 years hanging in the closet with all of the other cycling jerseys that I seldom wear. Nevertheless, if you are a cyclist yourself, you know that one can never have too many jerseys.

If I lived and cycled here in Girona, I would certainly not buy Cliff Bars. The cycling shop wanted 2.50 euros or $2.80 each! I seem to remember that they are less than a dollar each at Walmart when bought in a 12-pack and even cheaper in a 24-bar pack at Costco.

I spent much of yesterday evening and this morning at breakfast discussing international politics. Yesterday evening I discussed it in Spanish with an Argentinean who has immigrated to Spain and in English with an Italian who speaks no Spanish. This morning  it was with a local who works at the hostel and whom I had previously met several years ago. When the newspapers arrived, he gave them to me to read, but all three of them were in Catalán. I thanked him cordially, but unless I move here to live, Catalán will never be high on my list of languages to learn.

Incidentally, I have not met a single European or international traveler who does not have a negative opinion of our exalted president.

I photographed the staircase shown below, because an adjacent plaque in Catalán said they were built in the sixteenth century. There was some additional information about them on the plaque, but my ability to read Catalán is very minimal, and I didn’t understand the rest.

After photographing the staircase, I continued walking uphill on the narrow streets of the Old City when a young woman and a young man passed me. One reason I photographed them, besides the interesting view of the narrow old street, is because both were rolling bike shipping containers.

Girona is a Mecca for cyclists. Some of the professionals make this city there winter home and train in the surrounding mountains, and I suppose that fact attracts amateur cyclists from all over the world. There are a lot of people cycling around Girona. Watching  them today, I became envious. I wish I had my bike, helmet, and cycling shoes here with me. Well, at least now I do have a jersey.

After walking the narrow streets of the Old City, I decided to walk to the railway station to buy a ticket to the French border for my departure tomorrow. I could have bought a single ticket from Girona to tomorrow’s destination in Arles, France, but that would have been more expensive than buying separate tickets from the Spanish and French national railway companies, but I had to buy the Spanish ticket for the regional train at the station instead of online. The ticket to the border cost me 3.60 euros or $4.04 in US currency.

As I mentioned above, tomorrow I am taking the train, actually three trains, to Arles, France. I will arrive in the late afternoon, so I will probably have little to blog about. I have never been to Arles , so I am staying three nights. Here’s hoping that I can make the mental switch from Spanish back to my basic French.

Girona, Spain — Sunday May 21, 2017

I’m in Gerona, as we commonly spell the city’s name in English, or Girona, as it is spelled in Catalán, which makes this the official spelling.

I only have one photograph to upload today, so I’ll put it up right now. I took it out the front door of the hostel where I’m staying, and it show the street named Carrier dels Ciutadans.

Catalán is the first language in this part of Spain, and Spanish or Castilian, whichever you prefer to call it, is the second language. On the regional train from Barcelona to Girona, as I guess I’ll spell it, most people where chatting away in Catalán, and I didn’t understand a thing. In the streets here, I heard some Spanish but more Catalán, although I was spoken to in Spanish in the first grocery store I visited on my arrival and in English in the second one. I guess I look like a tourist.

I took the train from Logroño to Barcelona using the first-class ticket I had picked up at a promotional price over the internet. There are some real bargains on Spanish trains if one buys a month in advance.

In Barcelona I had to buy a ticket on the regional train in the ticket office, but I also got it at a discount using my Golden Card, which gives special low prices to people over 60 years of age.

There is not much more to tell about today’s journey, so I’ll stop right here.

Logroño, Spain — Saturday May 20, 2017

This is my last day in Logroño, and I imagine that those friends and family who feel obligated to read my blog (I quiz them on it to make sure they do read it) will be glad to read that this will be a shorter entry. Better yet, tomorrow I will spend a good part of the day traveling to Gerona as I make my way in stages back to Paris for my flight to Phoenix on June 1.

I plan to spend several hours this afternoon working on the novel I am writing, but I spent this morning alternately walking through the city and sitting down every few blocks to read another page of the Gabriel García Márquez autobiography, Vivir para contarlo. I believe the title in English translation is Living to Tell the Tale. I should easily finish it on the train tomorrow. To anyone who is interested, I say that I only recommend it to Márquez fans who have already read several of his novels. It’s a series of anecdotes about his early life from childhood until in his mid 20s.

Like Zaragoza, Logroño seems to me to have a train station that is much too big. 17 trains a day pass through this city, which may seem like a lot to those of us living in the Southwest of the USA but is nothing by Spanish standards.

Below is a shot of part of the station’s main hall. As you can see, there is almost no one there.

I took the following picture in front of the train station. That’s it on the left. Although they don’t show up as well in the photograph, the mountains in the background made the scene quite attractive in person. I like mountains in the distance. I didn’t think so highly of them when I walked the Camino and had to walk across several of them.

Finally, there was some sort of fair going on not far from where I am staying. I walked over and found out that it was a basketball tournament for little kids, both boys and girls. Small teams of four kids each were playing half court basketball with lowered baskets.

Logroño, Spain — Friday May 19, 2017

I had a good night’s sleep and woke up early this morning to discover that I was the only male sleeping in the hostel. My eight dorm mates were all Iranian women who were hiking together. Seven of them live in Sweden, and one lives in France. I chattered away with all of them. Six spoke English, one spoke fluent German, and the woman who lives in France spoke French of course. I took a goodby picture of them in front of the hostel just before they left. They said they would look for it tonight on the blog.

By the way, this is the first time I have had good, low-cost cellular data coverage in Europe thanks to Google’s Project Fi. If I get lost, I open Google Maps, and a blue dot on the map shows me where I am, .and will give me directions to where I want to go. If you’re interested in it, let me or some other user know, because you get $20 off your first bill if a current user refers you. I believe it’s only guaranteed to work with Google phones, Nexus and Pixel models, but I ordered a spare SIM and managed to get my old LG phone working on Project FI as a backup device. Others report getting to work with iPhones and have posted instructions on the Web.

I decided to improve my nutrition today. Breakfast was coffee and a crescent roll, which is about the best you can do for breakfast in Spain. The crescent roll was excellent, of course. I don’t understand why decent-tasting crescent rolls are almost unobtainable in the USA. The French and Spanish have no trouble making them.

Lunch was a Caesar salad. I bought one of those salad kits in a supermarket, mixed the ingredients together, and enjoyed eating it while sitting on a park bench. I don’t know yet what supper will be, but I’ll try to avoid potato chips and beer. Well, I don’t promise that beer won’t be involved.

Not far from the hostel is the city’s bull ring. I was sorry to see that it is relatively modern, because I had hoped that bull fighting was on its way out. I don’t understand how people can make a spectator sport out of seeing an animal tortured to death.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Ebro River flows through both Logroño and Zaragoza. Here in Logroño there is a primitive dame build of large rocks and pieces of concrete that appear to have come from some building that was knocked down. The building on the far side appears to be a hydroelectric generator.

Every Spanish city I have visited has a cathedral, and Logroño is no exception. This one, formally named the concatedral de Santa María de la Redonda. It was build over centuries, so it is a mixture of styles. To my untrained eye, the exterior looks Roman with its heavy, thick walls that only permit tiny windows on its front side. The Romans had not yet developed the technology to support the heavy roof with lighter walls with larger window openings. That knowledge was developed later in the Gothic period. However, because the church was added onto century after century, this cathedral does have some Gothic construction.

Roman-style churches are dark inside due to the small windows. This cathedral has been divided into two sections in modern times. The main part of the church seems to be left to the tourists. At the back, there was a separate, glassed-off area where mass was being held under bright electric lights. There were perhaps six people attending mass, on of whom had a backpack and appeared to be a pilgrim on the Camino. I did not photograph them out of respect for their religion.

Speaking of pilgrims, they seem to be the reason that the original church was built here in the eleventh century. It was a natural stopping place for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela after they had crossed the Ebro. The city still is a stopping place for pilgrims. The pilgrimage to Santiago has been going on for more than 1,000 years.

I had trouble getting a picture of the main nave of the cathedral with my small, primitive camera. The flash was not bright enough to illuminate the scene, so I had to take a long exposure holding the camera as still as I could. As a result, the picture is a bit blurry.

You can’t see it in the photograph above, but near the front of the church on the right side there is a confessional. Inside the confessional, a priest was seated alone reading what appeared to be a Bible, although for all I know he could have had a copy of Playboy stuck inside it. As I say, he was alone. There was no one there for him to confess.I felt so sorry for him, that I was tempted to give him something to do, but how would I have begun if I had knelt at the side of the confessional? “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 55 years since my last confession?”

As gloomy as it was inside the cathedral, outside it was bright and sunny, although quite chilly. On top of the column pictured below, a stork has built its nest. As I took its picture, the stork looked down at me from its high perch with seeming disdain.

The bridge shown below is the same bridge that pilgrims have been using for centuries to cross the Ebro. Of course, it has been renovated and given a modern surface, because it also carries automotive traffic, but the original Roman-style construction can been seen in the large blocks of stone that form the bridge’s arches.

Not all pilgrims do the Camino on foot. Many do it on bicycles, usually mountain bikes, and a few do it on horseback. I have even seen one pilgrim walking the Camino with a donkey.

The young lady in the picture below at first didn’t want to give me permission to take her photo. She said she didn’t like being photographed. However, then she relented, and she posed for the picture with her loaded bike.

She said she is an American married to a German and living in Germany. She also said it is her second time biking the Camino. She and her husband plan to do it on foot when her husband retires and has more time.

I will close today’s post with a picture of one of the countless thousands of yellow arrows and clam shell images that mark the Camino’s route along 800 kilometers from Southern France and across much of Northern Spain. This one is more elegant than most. Most are simple yellow arrows made on a rock or the side of a building with a few strokes of a paint brush. If pilgrims walk for too long without seeing a yellow arrow, they know that they have wandered off the route.

Logroño, Spain Thursday May 18, 2017

What a difference two days make! Two days ago I was suffering a heat comparable to that in Phoenix in June. Yesterday it was partially cloudy, and the temperature was comfortable. This morning I awoke to the sound of thunder. Then it started raining. By the time I left Zaragoza this afternoon, I was wearing a jacket to protect me from the chill.

Yesterday evening before going back to the hostel to read myself to sleep, I took a walk along the Ebro River. I had to clamber down between some trees and bushes to reach the bank so I could take the following picture. The Ebro is not a major river by international standards, but it’s one of the more important rivers in Spain. Much of the Camino de Santiago follows the Ebro, and the train from Zaragoza here to Logroño also followed it.

I had breakfast in the hostel in Zaragoza this morning with an Ecuadorian, an American, and a couple from Italy. The conversation switched back and forth between Spanish and English, as I was the only one who was fluent in both languages. Then it turned out that the Italian woman also spoke German, so she and I started prattling away in that language until we realized that we were being rude to the others and switched back to English.

Sometimes people ask me why I stay in hostels when I travel instead of hotels. It’s not just a question of money. I meet so many interesting people. If I had stayed in a hotel, I would have had breakfast by myself while reading the newspaper and would not have had the chance to yak about international politics.

By the time I finished breakfast, it had started to sprinkle rain. I could have taken a bus to the train station, but it was a long walk to the nearest bus stop, so I decided I would walk all the way to the train. Even though I had hours to spare before my train left, I thought it best to set out before the rain became heavier.

I was about halfway to the station when the light sprinkle turned into a heavy rain. I ducked into a doorway to wait it out. I wasn’t worried about getting myself wet, but my luggage is not waterproof, and when I travel I carry many more electronic devices than any reasonable person should.

Finally it seemed to me that the rain was letting up, so I set out again. I was mistaken. The rain came down heavier than before, and there were no more places to take shelter. The train station is immense but sits by itself isolated from the surrounding buildings, so there was no way to get to it while staying under cover from the rain.

I had a lot of time to kill in the station, but it is so big that there was plenty of room for me to walk around and get exercise. I have no idea why someone decided to build such a large train station in a small city. It is at least ten times bigger than it needs to be.

Because I bought my train ticket well in advance on the Internet, I was able so snag a first-class ticket for the same price as second class, just over 10 euros or about $11 US. The Spanish Railways or Renfe often sells a few very cheap tickets to those who buy well in advance. If you buy though a travel agent, you will pay several times as much.

Here in Logroño, it appears that it didn’t rain, but the weather is chilly — sweater or jacket weather. Below is a shot of the street I walked along from the train station to get here. The two times that I walked through this city while doing the Camino de Santiago, it seemed to be an attractive place, and that was also my impression this afternoon. Now I will have two full days to explore.

While I was looking for the hostel where I am staying, I discovered that there is a YMCA right across the plaza. I didn’t know that YMCA was also the name in Spanish. I always thought the Spanish name was ACJ, Asociación Cristiana de Jóvenes. Perhaps today YMCA is just a collection of four letters and no longer stands for the Young Men’s Christian Association.

The hostel where I am staying is a pilgrims’ hostel, so it is primitive although modern. If I had stopped in this city when I did my pilgrimage to Santiago, I might have stayed here. Or perhaps not. This place charges 12 euros a night. When I was on the pilgrimage, I used to look for a place that charged five. When you fall asleep after a long day’s walk, it makes no difference whether you’re sleeping in a luxury palace or in a 50-person dormitory.

There is only one big dorm room in this hostel, and both men and women sleep in it. It’s not as bad as it might seem, because the rule is lights out and dead silence at 10 pm. People want to get up early to get onto the Camino.

Below is my bunk. I haven’t made it yet. I get a lower bunk due to my great age. Blankets are for rent here, but the señora who runs the place lent me one for free, as it is likely to be quite chilly tonight. As to sheets, I brought my pilgrim’s sheet sleeping sack with me just for my stay at this hostel.

I’m trying to fix myself a healthier meal tonight. Two nights in a row in Zaragoza, and Australian woman caught me eating potato chips and drinking a can of beer. She shook her finger at me and said, “You can’t live on chips and beer, you know?” I can’t? What do Australians know about nutrition anyway?

Today I have two giant apples that I bought at a supermarket on my way from the train station. Oh, and I have a French-style baguette that I bought at the same store for 39 cents. Then I have part of a jar of peanut butter left. What more does one need for a nutritious meal?

By the way, I am up to date on the special “councel” appointed to investigate possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. There is nowhere in the world where one can go today to escape Donald Trump’s tweets.

Zaragoza, Spain– Wednesday May 17, 2017

My roommate here in the hostel is an Englishman, whom I have only briefly met. He was gone all yesterday afternoon and evening. After I went to bed, he popped in to drop off a small backpack. He asked me to leave with him. I don’t know where he wanted us to go, but I was in bed and planned to get a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t going anywhere. He left again without me.

He finally returned about 5 am and fell into bed fully clothed. Apparently he then slept all day, because when I came  back from my walk around Zarqgoza late this afternoon, he was sitting in bed as if he had just awoken. I am glad I didn’t go with him to wherever he went. I am too old to be out drinking until the wee hours of the mornings.

Today was a day for visiting churches. There seem to be a lot of them here in Zaragoza. But, before I went out this morning, I got some work done on the novel that I am pretending to write, and I plan to write some more as soon as I post this blog entry.

I figured out where the steeple is that I saw down two different streets yesterday while walking to the hostel. The steeple on the left belongs to the church San Juan de los Panetes. That’s the church itself to the left of the picture. The steeple to the right belongs to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar. As if that weren’t enough churches to be in one spot, to the right outside the picture is the cathedral. There was a charge of four euros to enter the cathedral, so being very cheap, I skipped it. I did enter the other two churches.

The picture below is of the interior of San Juan de los Panetes. This is the only church I entered today where there wasn’t a mass in progress.

The photograph below shows the exterior of the Basilica de Nuestra Senñora de Pilar. The church, basilica, and cathedral are so close together in this location that it is difficult to tell where one leaves off and the next one begins. There were two entrances to the basilica. Part of one of the entrances is in the lower left corner of the picture, and the other is below the steeple.

Inside the basilica, mass was being held in one of the side chapels. The picture below shows the main part of the church’s interior. What impressed me most was the immense size of the square columns supporting the roof.

The first record of a church in this location dates from the year 40 after Christ, but major renovation was begun in 1293. Just how old the present construction is, I don’t know, but the style of the interior obviously dates from more recent times.

The church below is another basilica, the Basilica de Santa Engracia.

Inside this basilica, a sparsely attended mass was being held. I took the picture during communion, when everyone present went to the went to the front to receive what faithful Catholics believe is the body of Christ. Only one other person remained in the pews, a woman two pews before me and to the right outside of the picture.

I am no longer a believer, so I didn’t defame the ceremony by taking communion. In any case, if my childhood memory is accurate, one is supposed the go to confession and have a clean soul before partaking of the body of Christ. If anything can be said about my soul, it is the fact that it is far from clean.

Before communion, the part of the mass took place where everyone is supposed to shake hands with the others. A woman in the pew in front of me turned around and shook my hand.

Even though I stopped believing in the Catholic Church and even in God when I was still in my teens, I still find the ceremony of mass to hold an attraction that I can’t explain. There must be something in the human mind that is attracted to ceremony, even when the ceremony is devoid of meaning.

Tomorrow afternoon I take the train to Logroño, the most westward stop on this trip. Both Zaragoza and Logroño are on the Ebro River, so I will try to take some pictures of the river here tomorrow morning before I leave town.

Zaragoza, Spain — Tuesday May 16, 2017

I am sitting here in the hostel in Zaragoza where I just finished a nutritious supper consisting of a bag of potato chips and a can of beer. I have a second can of beer in the fridge, which I am about to start as desert.

My excuse is that it is very hot here. It feels as if I am back in Phoenix. I need the liquid, and I need the salt. You do believe me, don’t you? Given the heat, I’m having a sensible supper, am I not?

Because I traveled from Barcelona here to Zaragoza on the train today, I don’t have a lot to write about. Much of my time was spent waiting for my train in the Barcelona Sants railroad station, which I should probably have photographed. It is a very modern station. Before  boarding a train, passengers go through a screening process and have their luggage scanned. It’s not quite as strict as the security check to get aboard a plane. For example, I have a Swiss Army knife with me, and that was not a problem.

The reason for the security checks before boarding a high-speed train in Spain is because of the terrorist attack of March 11, 2004, when al-Queda exploded bombs simultaneously aboard several trains approaching Madrid.

I walked from the train station to the hostel instead of taking the bus, and I did snap a few pictures on the way, I got a bit off my intended route walking here, and without planning it, I walked past the Palacio de Aljafería by pure chance. It is pictured below. I have since read that it was a fortification built by the Moors in the second half of the eleventh century, I understand it can be toured, so perhaps I will do that tomorrow, my only full day in Zaragoza.

The other two pictures I snapped are both of the same church steeple as seen down two different narrow streets. I’m guessing from the shape of the steeple that it is the Church of Saint Paul (Iglesia de San Pablo), but I haven’t confirmed that.

Here is the second snapshot that I took looking up a somewhat wider street.

Tomorrow I should have more to write about Zaragoza. I was actually here once before, but I’ve forgotten most of what I saw. The day after tomorrow, I go to Logroño, a city I walked through without stopping for more than a cup of coffee twice while doing the pilgrimage of the Camino de Compostela. I thought I would go back, stay a few days, and see what I missed.

by Jack Quinn, Phoenix, Arizona USA paybay1(at)mosmicro.com