Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Another Big Trip--Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal with a Dido into Africa, Part III

I ended Part II "we rent a car." Why is this significant? I can give a few tips here if you have not rented a vehicle in a foreign country.

  • Pros: they drive on the right sided in Spain, you can travel to spots that might be hard to get to on public transit, you get to see more of the landscape, it is relatively inexpensive. ( Use a website such as travelocity because the insurance is a lot cheaper with them.
  • Cons: an automatic is much more expensive so ask yourself if you can drive a stick shift, you will need excellent backing-up skills because streets in a Medieval town were not made for automobiles, a place to park can be very difficult to find, you need one person driving and one person navigating. 
Be sure to get photos of the car's scrapes and bumps before taking off--and pray you do not add to them.

Notice how Mike and Marin are getting into
doorways to avoid becoming hood ornaments.

If you are lucky like me, you have a steady driver who can put on his big boy pants when he'd rather not. Hey, you have no choice once you made the commitment.

I will share our most stressful experience and let you imagine a few other similar adventures from there. We made the mistake of turning up the wrong street while seeking our Airbnb in Toledo. Inching up the narrow street, we came to a dead end where 2 cars were parked making turning around look like mission impossible. Marin and I got out of the car, one at the front, one at the back. Mike began the "back and fill" of the century. We guided him inch by inch, forward and back, at least 10 times. By the time we were turned around and driving downhill, we were three exhausted and sweaty people.

So back to renting a car. . . We had booked an Airbnb in Segovia. This was the place Marin had named as a place she really wanted to see months before our journey. Unfortunately, the apartment owner contacted us while we were in Barcelona to inform us that there were "structural issues" and the apartment was no longer available. That opened up 3 unplanned days. 

A car was the quickest way to get to Segovia, and then we could head South from there.

Why Segovia? For Marin, she was drawn to this castle which inspired Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. As I read about it, I was attracted to the history as well as the architecture. Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, they all preceded Christians who turned this into an illustrious place.

The still standing aqueduct dates back to the first century A.D.

The Castle was built in the early 1100's. This is where Columbus asked Queen Isabella for support to explore the seas.

The Romanesque Cathedral was burned down and rebuilt in 1525.

I'll share a few interior shots:

Cathedral Interior:

The Spanish explorers brought back gold and silver from the Americas.

There is a creepiness to the thought of so many dead below your feet.

If you get up close, you can see the amazing hand stitched faces in the scene on this religious garb.

Amidst all the glitter and grandeur, I loved this humble sculpture of Madonna and child from the 1200's.

Castle Interior

The castle's chapel
Can you imagine Christopher Columbus gazing across the landscape waiting to meet with Queen Isabella?

As the Knights in armor come and go--Ouch!! This brings getting kicked to a whole new level.

Unfortunately we only had one day in this charming wall-surrounded hilltop town.

After Mike's fine driving getting us out of the narrow streets, I found driving on the highway quite relaxing. There was very little traffic and the roads are extremely well maintained.

Since our Segovia apartment cancellation, three days opened up. There was only one night available at an Airbnb we found in Toledo. (That's where the back and fill nightmare occurred.) We finally found our apartment, which was wonderful, but it was late and we didn't see much on our way to dinner.

The next morning we headed out in hopes of seeing some of this historical place. When we got to the Cathedral we ran into mobs of tourists. We kept diving into doorways to avoid the cars were bringing up people for a wedding. The plaza was filled with a peace demonstration asking for a resolution to the Spain/Catalonia dispute. In other words, it was not inviting to wander the streets.

Next time, I would make Toledo a long lay-over. With the grandeur of the having the Royals live there until they moved to Madrid and an El Greco Museum, I know it would be a wonderful stay. But it was not to be on this trip.
A wonderful view of Toledo as we headed south.

We decided to hit the road to our next 2 nights in Ibros. Never heard of it?  We hadn't either, but we found a place to lay our heads and a new area to explore.

Along our drive south, we were reminded we were in Don Quixote territory.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Another Big Trip--Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal with a Dido into Africa, Part II

Part II

At the speed of 190 MPH, it only takes a couple of hours to get from Barcelona to Madrid. Stepping out of the train station, it is immediately evident this is a city of government with fabulously ornate buildings. The Ministry of Agriculture is across the street from the train station and is quite an eyeful with the dramatic sculptures on the buildings top.

Although Madrid has been inhabited since the Stone Age, it only became a prominent city in when King Phillip II moved his court there in the mid 1500's.  I point this out because it is so "modern" compared to Barcelona where we were looking at structures built centuries before that. The streets are broad, and there is a much busier feel to the city.

After finding our next Airbnb apartment, we decided to take advantage of of the free entrance to the Prado Museum. Marin, our super smart phone user, had discovered the free entrance from 6-8 pm. What a deal! So off we went, walking along Paseo del Prado, a beautiful boulevard. Well, the free entrance attracted enough people to circle the entire building.

Because we are impatient people, and figured we'd be lucky to get in at all and maybe have 15 minutes to look at art, we had a change of course. We still had a few hours of daylight, so we headed off to the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral across town.
For some reason that we never understood, the Royal Palace was closed to the public the 3 days we were in Madrid, so we never got inside the building. However it is an impressive palatial building.

Built in 1735, it replaced a Moorish castle that preceded it.

Across this vast plaza is the Almudena Cathedral. The construction of this Church began in 1885, but was halted by a Spanish Civil War and didn't come to completion until the 1950's. That explains why the interior looks quite contemporary. And remember when I talked about looking up? I was really impressed by the ceilings of this Cathedral.

After visiting the crypt, underneath the cathedral we watched the Royal horse-riding guards put their horses into a large horse trailer and stuck around for a beautiful sunset from the palace grounds. Then it was time to seek out yet another dinner of tapas, beer, and lemon Fanta.

So we didn't get into the Prado for free, but the next day we went all out and hired a personal guide to take us through the museum. I found the art history fascinating, Mike was pleased that I was so pleased, and Marin tolerated it. My take away was that El Greco is an artist I have previously overlooked. I found his exaggerated figures, use of value, and use of ordinary, if not ugly,  faces captivating. The gallery was full of other greats, such as Goya and Valáquez.

Our visit to the Thyssen-Bornemuz Museum was on our own, no guide. I knew it would have wider appeal to our younger traveler. Her favorite painting was pop-art by Roy Lichtenstien.

Woman in Bath

Since I am an artist always struggling to come up with a title for a painting, I got a kick out the the title of this Salvador Dali piece. He certainly did not spare the words!

Marin chose this piece as one of her favorites, an orchid and hummingbird, painted by an American painter I had not heard of: Martin Johnson Heade.

Always happy to get a bird's eye view, we visited the Communication Palace, City Hall, built in the 20th century. For a small fee you can go up into a tower and get a great view. Being modern in Spain is not at all like the cement blocks we were building here in the U.S. And the message to refugees is very clear!

The tower at this palace sitting in the Plaza de Cibalees, allowed us to enjoy a beautiful view on a beautiful day.

Finally, I guess it is near impossible not to go to Plaza Mayor (1617) which has been the venue for bullfights, coronations and other celebrations for the last 500 years. A statue of Phillip III has center stage. In today's world, I would describe it as a plaza of overpriced food with souvenir shops and some oddball street performers. 

Next : we rent a car!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Another Big Trip--Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal with a Dido into Africa

Part I:

Here are my two traveling companions having our last American dinner (Portland Airport) for twenty days. We had planned this trip for over a year, inviting our soon to be 13-year-old granddaughter to join us. A few hours later, with a brief stop in Frankfurt, Germany, we landed in Barcelona, Spain. Landing in the evening there, we were anxious to get into the city and find our airbnb home for the next couple of days.

It's never easy to adjust to a new place, language and ways to travel from a foreign airport to the city. We looked at public transportation, Uber (which doesn't exist in Barcelona), and finally decided on a taxi. After some very broken up conversations between Mike and the airbnb host, we found ourselves waiting to meet him at an outdoor plaza with plenty of cafes covering the cobble-stone square. It didn't help that the host's native language is French and our Spanish is sparse. But soon, we were headed into what looked like the setting of a European mystery movie.We were in the Born District.

It is always difficult to adjust to an 8 hour time change. We didn't sleep well, but we were in Barcelona! Everyone had the up and at'm approach. We only had a couple of days to see a small part of this beautiful city. 

I already knew I wanted to see as much of Gaudi's architectural fantasies as possible. So the first place we visited was the Sacra Familia. This landmark has been under construction for 130 years and continues toward an unknown finishing date. Gaudi was dedicated to the project for decades until his death. So what makes his work so unique? I'd say he followed few rules of what others thought a building should look at. He combined Gothic, Art Nouveau, and Modernism. He created organic rather than geometric shapes. Marin and I fell in love with everything Gaudi.

The front of the Sacra Familia has the organic drippiness that says "Gaudi." As the building has continued, it has been transformed from the 1880's vision to a much more modern look.

Since Barcelona is such a tourist destination, we were not able to get tickets to the interior. 

Next on our day of everything Gaudi, we traveled up to Güell Park. This hillside park is full of Gaudi's fairytale-like buidings. (Did Walt Disney visit here?)

One of Antoni Gaudi's most famous architectural wonders is Casa Batllo. This was a total remodel of one house in a row of very traditional multi-storied homes in what was the prestigious area of Barcelona. This makeover defines risk taking in architecture, and the Casa Batllo stands out like a colorful thumb. 

An additional event occurred during our memorable visit to Barcelona. We were there on voting day. The people of Catalan voted for the Catalan independence referendum. We saw no violence as the Spanish government attempted to stop people at the voting sites, we did see crowds and hear chanting and speeches, which, of course, we could not understand.

From the architecture of Gaudi, we went back a few centuries. There are the magnificent cathedrals and churches to visit and admire. These places teach me to always look up and down. The design and art are not only on the walls.

The Barcelona Cathedral dates back to the 12th Century. 

For 5 Euros, we took an elevator to the top to get this fabulous view of the city. So much art is on the top of the buildings that one cannot see from the streets. As Mike pointed out, they were created for the eyes of God.

Then moving up a century to 1300, we arrived at the church of Santa Maria del Mar. This location was a sacred spot for centuries before a large church was built on the site. There is a certain sadness to this church because it was burned by revolutionaries in 1936. The interior wood and centuries of art were destroyed as the building smoldered for 11 days. The stone stood and the floor remains where you look down to see you are standing over someone's remains.

We visited the National Museum of Catalonian Art where there are surrounding artifacts from various events that happened in Barcelona: the Magic Fountain (from an International Exhibition in 1929) and Greek Columns (from the 1992 Olympics). The building and statuaries are impressive. We even learned (from Marin on her Smart phone) something about the invasive species of parrots that were nesting nearby. They originally came from South America and love the climate of Spain and Canary Islands where they've become pests.

The following morning we boarded the speed rail to Madrid just an hour before the city closed down in protest to Spain's resistance to accept Catalonia's vote for independence.

Enough for one read. Stay tuned for further posts about this trip!