Come the winter it is time to head off on our own travels. Paris is our first stop where we meet up with friends to celebrate our birthdays at Bofinger and La Petite Chaise. We got around town on the new bicycle scheme provided by the Mayor of Paris - simply pop your credit card in the machine select a bike and drop it off where ever you like at 1,000 locations all over the city. It really beats walking all day long and you don't end up exhausted after the end of a days sight seeing. You just pick up another bike and cycle off to dinner!
Cycling up to the Sacre Coeur was a challenge though but we had to go and see Paris's only vineyard - Clos Montmartre. A madame on the way up told us we would never make it beyond the 3rd level - well foolishly we did and were rewarded by the fantastic views of Paris from the steps at the top.
Our favourite spot is in the Rodin Sculpture Garden. Here you can see The Thinker in the shadow the Eifel Tower. This sculpture is a study for Rodin's final masterpiece The Gates of Hell which you can also see in the gardens. The house also has a magnificent display of marbles including one of the versions of The Kiss along with some paintings by Van Gogh and Monet. A hidden treasure.
Oporto is our next stop in Portugal. The Duoro River is stunning as the evening light fades and it is here that we have come to sample the port that is produced all along the river. The city is one of extreme contrasts of more affluent times during the thriving port trade. Now the ruined facades wait for redevelopment as a UNESCO site.
First stop Kopke Port House. Here we tried a 1998 Late Bottled Vintage and a 10 year old port as a comparison. Look at the difference in colour. The LBV is a vintage port only using grapes from that year. The 10 Anos is a blend of wines that average 10 years old. We discover how delicious LBV wines can be. The 1976 Colheita was fab.
When you have tasted enough port hop on the old tram and rattle down to the beach. There are plenty of cafes along the seafont to chill in.
Can't really get any closer to a beach restaurant than this and it is December and not long to go until Christmas!
Back to Ramos Pintos to taste another amazing array of ports. Perhaps we'll choose one here to take home to have with the Christmas pudding. One down and only ten more to go and we haven't even been to Nieeport, Calem, Crofts or Sandemans yet!
How is this for an enviromentally friendly reading light. Must remember to make one of these for La Grande Maison one day!
Madrid and the sun is still shining. We head for the Prado Gallery which I have wanted to visit ever since I studied History of Art all those years ago. It is a stunning gallery with Spanish painters its main attraction such as Goya, Velazquez (the chap you see here) and of course plenty of Picasso's. Also take time to go to the Gallery Reine Sofia and the Thyssen as they all have amazing displays of art from all over the world. Picasso's Guernica at the Sophia is worth studying just for the enormity of the canvas which is painted in greys and blacks.
Art of another kind and I am pretty sure this is a Banksy? Spotted this graffiti in a Madrid sidestreet. Banksy, if you haven't heard of him is the most inspirational grafitti artist of this century. His politically tongue in cheek works of art have been spotted all over the world and carry a very powerful message.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from The Bear symbol of Madrid.