The Chapel

There is quite the story behind this blend of old gothic lines and new stained glass in the just completed chapel the New Clairvaux Trappist Monastery. You could start with the founding of the Trappist order of monks in 1664 or go back further to the source of stones you see in the upper foreground – they came from an old Spanish monastery that dates back to the 1200s.

Add more recent history, those Spanish blocks were imported by William Randolph Hearst but never used for his original purpose and so dumped in Golden Gate Park. The Trappists, when exploring where to put a new monastery, found land in Vina, California. Already this land had quite a history too as it was originally owned and developed as a winery by Leland Stanford, founder of the university that bears his name. Somehow the monks also acquired title to the Spanish stones and this is the result of their effort. 

For the curious, I’ve added a map so you can how far off the beaten trail the Monastery is. And the monastery has maintained the winery – with good results.

New Clairvaux Monastery

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New Clairvaux Monastery 39.934157, -122.059307


Alicante – Cristianos vs Moros

There is almost some kind of festival going on in Spain every day. In Alicante and in many other Southern Spanish cities, there is a multi-day festival that commemorates the recapture of Christian Spain from the Moors.

Celebrations and parades happened over a couple of nights that I saw. A bit like Mardi Gras, each neighborhood has it’s “krewe.”

Full of color, sound, fireworks and even fire breathers, it’s a visual feast.


Guessing that the Moors were in blue and Christians in red. Go Red : > )

Alicante – Why Americans Retire To Spain

Not usually listed in guide books as a must see place, Alicante turned out to be a perfect place to unwind in-between visits to Barcelona, Madrid and other high energy tourist stops. With a view of the Mediterranean Sea from my friends apartment balcony, how could you not fall in love with this place.

Out the back window Santa Barbara Castle dominates the skyline. My friends were wonderfully generous to open their place and serve as guides to this charming city. Their apartment is in the building at left.

Alicante is a sailing town. Whether you want to learn how or are a world class sailor, this is the place to be. Especially every 2 years when the Volvo Ocean Race begins. For the last few years Volvo and the organization that puts this race on have chosen Alicante to be the start. 

7 boats, 45,000 miles, 9 months with intermediate (day racing) in 12 different ports. This is not for Sunday sailors. It’s also a deep pockets kind of event for those who sponsor a boat.

Like most good sized Spanish cities, Alicante has a broad pedestrian walkway.  The Esplanade of Espana for the most part is the border between the beach and the town.

Adjacent to the promenade is Canalejas Park with its 100+ year old ficus trees – their girth and leafy spread is impressive. Mediterranean living at its best.

Madrid This & That

One can cover a lot of ground in four days in Madrid without ever going outside its core. Here are a few things (of many more) that caught my eye.

This is Madrid’s version of Times Square. There are more large screens on the Plaza Callao on the far edge of the square. 

Serendipity put me in front of this building as the noon carillon began sounding. It was the start of a delightful musical and mechanical procession of characters from Spain’s past. Leading the parade at left is a famous bullfighter, Manola, then King Carlos III and the painter Goya. The show spread out on the balcony well past the boundaries of this photo.

Spain is close to 90% Catholic. It makes sense then that there are stores for priests and religious.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by finding yucca in Madrid. Though it can get cold, this is what it means to have a Mediterranean climate – nearly the same parallel as Northern California.

Have a restaurant with rollup doors and windows? Turn them into a clever element in a mural. There were a number of other tromp l’oeil tricks in Madrid including a windowless four story building that was transformed into charming apartments with paint.

What, you thought Spain was all about neat old buildings and wonderful food? No, among others they have the “Green Dogs Motorcycle Club.” Ride On!



Mmmmm Madrid

Good gelato tops the list but then again gelato is found all over Europe. Shops are rated on social media for the best flavors and variety. I can certainly vouch for Zuccaru – they are a 5 out of 5.

Some restaurants “advertise” what’s available, like a mini butcher shop. This method didn’t lure us in. We ended eating at a place across the street.

For bar food, Casa Pueblo turned out to be so good I went back later and had the same thing – “Tatin” was an enchilada/crepe style dish with smoked chicken, several cheeses, onions and mushrooms – YUM. It was an Argentinian specialty, according to the menu. Food in a bar has a far different connotation in Europe than in the US.

This store called itself the “Museum of Ham.” Not sure where the museum portion was but this is only one bay of three, full of ham products. Some of the rare aged Iberico sliced ham will go for $220 per pound. At another place I was given a tiny taste of one of their most expensive hams – imagine a ham that was fed on acorns. Yes, it was good and different but not sure my palate could pick that out again as superior or distinctive.

This is often a breakfast food. Spanish churros are different than what you find in the US – they aren’t coated in sugar or cinnamon. What’s also quite different is the “hot chocolate” – thick as pudding. After I had eaten my breakfast at a cafe my friend ordered one of these and it was so rich, I couldn’t finish.

I could end on a high note and talk about a meal at one of the fanciest restaurants we ate at but after nearly 3 weeks in Spain it was time for a hamburger. What a surprise to find one of the most satisfying burgers out there – 5 Guys. This is their first store in Spain and judging from the line out the door, a big hit.