Grand Journey – Valencia or the McB’s and the Holy Grail

The seas were a bit rocky on our first night of the cruise. We both passed out pretty early but each remembered some rolling. By the morning we were feeling more refreshed and ready to go after breakfast.

Since Valencia is quite easy to navigate and there was a free shuttle from the port to the historic center, we decided to forgo an official excursion. Thanks to What’s in Port and some other helpful sites, we had a game plan.

We were deposited at Torres de Serranos, one of the twelve gates that were found along the wall that protected medieval Valencia. I believe only two of these are still standing. That’s all we encountered during our extensive walking tour.

valencia_towerstower detailsIn case you don’t already know, I love details. I’m more likely to take some artsy shot than the iconic landscape photo. Compare and contrast my style with Mr. McB’s.

After getting our bearings, we were soon on our way to the cathedral. The walk included a short stop at the Plaza de Virgen.

valencia_plazavirginThe plaza is home to the Turia fountain (below) and the Basilica de Virgen de Los Desamparados (Virgin of the Foresaken). There are no photos of the basilica. We went in briefly but left when we saw how many people were earnestly praying. Neither of us wanted to interrupt such a sacred time with photographs and gawking.

valencia_fountainThat’s Neptune hanging out in the center. The fountain pays homage to the aqueducts that used to irrigate the surrounding farmland in the days of the Roman Empire.

We soon found ourselves at the Valencia Cathedral. The first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1262. It stands on the site of a former mosque.

valencia_cathedraloutsideThe admission charge was five euro and included an audio tour. Since we weren’t on an official tour, I appreciated having the guide.

valencia_ceilingThis is the “Capilla Mayor” or the main altarpiece. The ceiling features a host of angels who are framed by a brilliant blue background. These were added to the cathedral under the direction of Bishop Rodrigo Borgia who later went on to become the infamous Pope Alexander VI and the subject of that racy Showtime series.

valencia_angelsThis little dome looks like a wedding cake.


The main chapel is surrounded by many little side chapels that are dedicated to various saints. This relic below is from San Vincente Martir. After refusing to deny his faith, St. Vincent (or San Vincente) was killed. According to the story, ravens protected his body until it could be retrieved by other believers. This relic makes its way through town during the Festival of San Vincente.


Another chapel is dedicated to Rodrigo Borgia. There you will learn about his wisdom and decorum. Yeah… Even if you don’t go along with the efforts to rehab his image, you can view this Goya painting. It depicts Borgia interacting with a man who refuses to repent of his evil ways. What you can’t see in this image is the red squiggles (blood? fire?) shooting out from the cross or the scary little demons that Goya was so fond of.

This cherub sits at the base of the cathedral’s enormous monstrence. This is the largest example of Spanish goldsmithing.  The people of Valencia felt the need to have this created to atone for their bad acts during the Spanish Civil War. valencia_silverangel

The Valencia Cathedral is also said to be home of the holy chalice or holy grail. Of course there is a great deal of skepticism as to whether this is the grail. It’s interesting to me that this piece is found in a very plain chapel adorned only with intricate stonework. In this way, your attention is on the chalice, not the rest of the room.valencia_holygrailI highly recommend the cathedral. It was inexpensive and lovely. It was also very quite. While many where there to take photos, there was still a respect and solemnity.

Turning away from the peace and quiet of the cathedral, we headed toward the bustling mercado to see how the locals shop. Of course from this photo, you will also see that some tour groups were there as well. Notice the group clustered closely on the left side.

valencia_marketvalencia_paellaPaella anyone?

valencia_clementineAfter navigating the market and putting our Spanish to the test, we stopped to enjoy a lunch of clementines and circular bread. This clementine ruined me for the “cuties” you’ll find in American supermarkets. This was bursting with juice and flavor. It was sweet with a little pucker thanks to a healthy dose of citric acid. This fragrant beauty is the reason that you try the local produce whether it is an apple in Western North Carolina or a delectable citrus fruit in Spain.

valencia_circlebreadUmm, circle bread

valencia_allbranKellogg’s, why are you saving your tastiest All-Bran for Spain? Why is someone ruining their latte with All-Bran? So many questions…

After taking a break and grabbing sustenance, we began the heavy walking portion of our day. This included stops at the Plaza Ayuntamiento (town hall) and the Plaia de Toros (bull fighting ring).

valencia_fountainvalencia_citybldgvalencia_plaiadetorosvalencia_matadorJudging by the bandage on his leg, I believe this poor toreador (torero) has been gored. Mr. McB and I had a little discussion about whether this fella was a matador or a toreador. I’ve since learned that bull fighters are toreadors. You become a matador when you actually kill the bull. In other words, all matadors are toreadors but all toreadors are not matadors.

Our walk continued to the Quart Towers, another of the medieval constructions almost identical to the Serranos towers. This one used to be a women’s prison.

valencia_quarttowerdoorMcB is trying to keep all the other tourists out of the city.

Below, you’ll see the little bat that is the symbol of Valencia.

valencia_batFrom here, we continued on  through the Turia gardens. The site of a former riverbed, this park features lots of green space and pathways. It’s a welcome break from Europe’s tiny, crowded sidewalks. It’s also home to the cafe where we enjoyed churros con chocolate and Coca-Colas. By this point, we’d walked at least five miles and still had a lot of ground to cover. This was a glorious spot for a sit, snack, and bathrooms.

valencia_churroThe last stop on our tour, was the City of Arts and Sciences. This complex features some of the most modern architecture I have ever seen.

valencia_palaceartssideThe Palace of Arts is primarily used as an opera house. It reminds me of a very stylized Spartan helmet. Here’s a view from in front of the building.

valencia_palacefrontNext there’s the Hemisphere (IMAX theater and planetarium) and science museum.

valencia_asIn this shot, the Agora comes into view.

valencia_artssciencesAs you can see, Valencia is not content to rest on the laurels of its historical sites. The city seems to be very forward-thinking by combining historical preservation efforts with these gorgeous new structures.

It was a great day. We both agreed that by touring on our own, we had a “soft,” though not slow, start to the trip.

Our next stop is sunny Palma de Mallorca. Look for more to come.

The Grand Journey Begins…

After a year of planning, Mr. McB and I left for our Mediterranean cruise on Saturday, Nov. 9. The details and photos from the trip will be shared in a series of blog posts. I’m thinking one from each port. I’m also thinking this could take from now until mid-December since I have more about 2,000 photos to cull down.

On Saturday morning, we drove to Charlotte for our flight to Barcelona. For all the rocking chairs and Southern hospitality inside CLT, the long term parking lot and shuttle service is not the least bit welcoming. There was a small shrub growing up from the pavement in our parking space. By time we returned, we were dealing with Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. The shuttle drivers were not friendly and did not assist with the bags. They growled when spoken to. Clearly, we were spoiled by the sweet and helpful drivers at CMH.

We took a puddle jumper down to Miami and a few hours later, we were on an American flight for BCN. We don’t fly American frequently so I don’t know if this happens on all flights but they played the truly bizarre “piano pop” tunes while we were getting on and off the plane. “Radioactive” greeted us as we found our seats. “Can’t Hold Us” was there the next morning as all us sleepy, stinky passengers jockeyed for position as we deplaned.

After going through passport control and grabbing our bags we were in a cab and off to the ship. Here’s a tip, always check the price of a cab verses the cost of the cruise line’s transfer from the airport. We paid less than 35 euro, tip included, for the cab and would have forked out almost $180 to take the transfer. There are certainly countries where I would not have felt comfortable with this option but our Spanglish is pretty solid and we had a printed copy of the address so we went for it.

We originally had this crazy idea that we might head into Barcelona after dropping off our bags. This went out the window when we realized just how tired we were. We took the time to explore and get acquainted with our new home.

There’s the sea and the sundeckHere’s the port. barca_portHarbor cruisebarca_harborcruiseThe first of two lattes from Barista’s, Marina’s coffee bar. Mr. McB enjoyed a couple of Americanos before our cabin was ready for us. I highly recommend high-octane European coffee as a fabulous way to fight off a headache.

barca_latteAfter we settled into our cabin, our stewards stopped by to introduce themselves. We then took much-needed showers and prepared for our first night aboard. The most important matter of business before leaving port was our lifeboat drill. As you can see, McB took this very seriously.

barca_drillAfter the drill and dinner in the Terrace Cafe, we returned to our stateroom to watch the ship leave port. How lucky were we to have this kind of sunset? That’s another, much larger, ship pulling out of port.

barca_sunsetLook for photos and stories from Valencia, Spain, our first stop, in my next post.







Hubba Hubba Smokehouse

A couple of weeks ago, I spend the day in Flat Rock, North Carolina with my grandmother and aunt.

The primary reason for our visit was Lost Highway, a musical about the life of Hank Williams. We saw this wonderful show at the Flat Rock Playhouse. I look forward to seeing other performances at the playhouse. It is a simple setup but offers professional sound and lighting. We were seated in the third row and had a great view. The seats were comfortable. Patrons can also enjoy beverages during the show as long as they have lids. It might seem like a small thing but I was dealing with a persistent cough when we were there and having a cup of coffee helped me avoid a hacking fit.

Before the show began, my grandmother treated us to lunch at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse. Like most things in Flat Rock, it’s only a short walk from the playhouse.

entrance to Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flat Rock, NC

Located at 2724 Greenville Highway, Hubba Hubba has been featured in Southern Living and O Magazine. It is open Tuesday-Saturday and does not take credit or debit cards. There is a small ATM in the courtyard of the restaurant.

You don’t have to get very close to Hubba Hubba to smell the fire and smoke that are responsible for their delectable food.

Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flat Rock, NCOrders are placed at a window and then diners can pick from a number of seating areas including outdoor, outdoor under patio heaters, and indoor.

The menu includes pulled chicken, pulled pork, brisket and ribs (Thurs-Sat only). The meat is smoked and served dry. If you want to augment that delicious flavor, they offer a variety of serve-yourself sauces. On our visit the selection included hot chipotle, sweet and spicy tomatillo, vinegar, sweet and “regular.” All were good but I really liked the tomatillo on my pulled pork.

Most folks selected the meal which included bread and two sides. The pulled pork meals is $9.95.  You can decide whether you want cornbread or a bun. The cakey cornbread was tasty and studded with kernels of corn. My aunt got a bun and found that the sandwich came with Hubba Hubba’s “sauteed slaw” and pickles.

While there were a number of sides, we all went with the collard greens and baked beans.

pulled pork dinner Hubba Hubba Smokehouse in Flat Rock, NC

The collards were some of the best I have ever had. They are prepared with sauteed onions and garlic. I’m not a big garlic fan but it works with these tender, flavorful greens. They are a must. 

The beans were definitely homemade and included a mix of varieties. I believe this is commonly known as cowboy beans. They had a good flavor but I found them to be a little saucy for my taste. On my next visit I’ll be ordering the cream corn, succotash, or tomatoes and okra over rice in lieu of the beans.

If you are Flat Rock or Hendersonville, take time to try Hubba Hubba. The food is made with love and it shows.



Jump Off Rock

Located just outside Hendersonville in Laurel Park, Jump Off Rock is touted as a place to enjoy views of western North Carolina’s sweeping mountain vistas.

jump off rock, nc

Legend states that a mourning Native American maiden jumped from the rock to her death after her true love was killed in battle. Some believe that her ghost is visible on moonlit evenings.

Mr. McB and I took a side trip to Laurel Park during the summer. The drive from Hendersonville to Jump Off Rock is a curvy one. Mr. McB is prone to motion sickness and had close his eyes to ward off nausea.

There is ample, easily-accessible parking at the site. We walked toward the rock and were expecting to be blown away by the view. As you can see from the photo below, it is a nice view but not quite what we were expecting. The leafy trees near the rock obstructed the view. The photo below is one of the better shots I got that day.

jump off rock viewWe wanted to take a walk around the park but found that the trails were not clearly marked. They also involved uneven, rocky stairs that just seemed like an accident waiting to happen.

It wasn’t a total bust. The park did have crisp, fresh mountain air. This little fellow was enjoying the afternoon on the rocks and provided some entertainment.

lizard at jump off rock

I can’t give Jump Off Rock rave reviews but it’s free and has some positive points. If you want to visit, learn more here. 

Traveling Thursday – Upgrades, Add-ons and Travel Insurance

Yes, I’m going back to the topic of travel insurance. Forgive me but I haven’t written about it in quite some time and there is more to share.

If you make any travel plan upgrades or add services or extensions to your trip, don’t forget to update your travel insurance coverage. Yes, it will take some extra effort on your part and will involve an expense but if there are problems, you want to get your full refund.

If you purchase a $300 upgrade to your accommodations, you will likely pay $25-35 to have this added to your plan. Isn’t it worth that amount to ensure that you will get a full refund?

If your original plan had features (like cancel for any reason) that had to be purchased within a certain number of days after booking the trip, the same rules apply to your add on.


Mountain Magic – Hendersonville, NC

For more than a year, Hendersonville was just an exit off the interstate for us. We zoomed by on our way to Asheville without even considering a stop. I’m glad someone tipped me off to the wonders that await in this adorable little town.

Yes, I used the word “adorable” but don’t let that turn you off. Hendersonville is sweet but still manages to be genuine. It’s not the fake preciousness you get in some more touristy spots. The town went through a major revitalization in the 1990s so all this cuteness is the result of hard work. It’s also magnified by the friendly people you’ll find working and visiting here.

hendersonville, nc train stationThe 1902-1916 train station located in the Seventh Avenue Depot District.

The depot is definitely a fun stop for train enthusiasts but the real fun lies on Hendersonville’s Main Street. You’ll find a wide variety of shops and restaurants. This is a fantastic place to do window shopping or pickup unique gifts. Many stores have an international flair while others specialize in handmade items.

train shop in hendersonville, ncA scene from the window of the train shop

catamountA catamount lurks in the flowers on Main Street.
The dome of the Hendersonville County Courthouse is also visible.

hendersonville, nc bear drinking beerThis is one of the many themed bears that reside on Main Street. He’s cool and casual like most things we encountered in Hendersonville.

hippie van greatful deadHendersonville is very popular with retirees. As you might guess from this photo, it is also hippie-friendly.

what do you call a cow with no legs? ground beefThis sign was outside a shop on Main Street.

mike's on main hendersonvilleGiven the name, we had to go with Mike’s on Main for our lunch. This is an authentic soda fountain with lots of retro appeal.

mike's on mainmike's on mainWe both had sandwiches and found them to be enjoyable. Unlike Rocky’s in Brevard, Mike’s might depend a little too much on the kitsch and not quite enough on the cuisine. It was a good solid meal but nothing exceptional.

On the other hand, Kilwin’s is amazing. We first went to Kilwin’s in Boone, NC several years ago. They have handmade confections and a wonderful ice cream parlor. As soon as you enter the door, the sweet smell of chocolates and goodies fill your nose. It’s difficult to describe this pleasant aroma. It is equally difficult to stop one’s tummy from rumbling inside Kilwin’s.

kilwin's root bear floatMr. McB’s root beer float
His other favorite is the black-cherry ice cream soda.

ice cream cone kilwin'sMy coconut fudge cone. Ohhhh my goodness! This makes a belly happy!!

white chocolate popcornWhite chocolate popcorn is made fresh in the store. It’s cooling on the marble slab. The employees are always sharing free samples of some sort of delicious treat.

kilwin'sWe’re looking forward to many more trips to this little mountain town. I’m looking forward to visiting the Team ECCO aquarium and finally making a selection from McFarlan’s Bakery. This from-scratch bakery has so many options that I couldn’t make up my mind and walked out empty-handed. I look forward to telling you all about my victory over analysis-paralysis.

If you’re in Western North Carolina, make some time to check out Hendersonville. It’s also a quick, and enjoyable, trip from South Carolina’s Upstate.