Sun 05/18/08 (day 19)
Day nineteen: Today was another driving day; 564km or 348 miles from Hondarriba to Toledo . Our trip took us through the mountains on two lane highways sharing the road with Sunday cyclists climbing the hills up to a memorial at the top then coasting back home as we went on towards Madrid . I drove into Madrid while Ron assured us that he could navigate us through the big city. “My dad taught me that you need only find a sign to Toledo and don’t worry about using a map; it’s not a problem.” “But Ron,” we asked; “when you’re driving into Atlanta when do you first see a sign to Macon ?” As we approached Madrid Ron turned to our map, a map of the full country of Spain , a big map, he fought with it in the front seat. Avie told him, from the back seat, “You need to find A-42, which is the highway that will take us to Toledo .” We spotted the high-rises of downtown Madrid , thank God it was Sunday afternoon, “Head for those buildings, don’t worry, and he pushed the map over his head into the back seat, “this thing is worthless.” Three of us feared we were heading to Portugal , when we spotted a sign for Toledo . “See Ron was right, just look for the sign, you can depend on Ron, Ron wasn’t panicking, the three of you were panicking. Now find me a restroom, I have to pee.” We arrived in Toledo and found our Parador on top of a hill overlooking the old city. We will explore Toledo tomorrow.
Tue 05/20/08 (day 21)
Day twenty: Today we explored Toledo , a city built on a hill overlooking the river. As in most 2000 year old cities it was built around a system of churches, in this case Catholic, Jewish, and Muslin. The city grew in harmony until the mid 1400’s when the Spanish government expelled the Arabs and the Jews. Today there are no Arabs or Jews living in Toledo jet their heritage has been restored as a part of the cities history. Today we visited three Catholic Cathedrals and two Jewish Sinagogs. The Cathedral de Toledo, built over 1226 to 1493, was magnificent and more accessible then those visited earlier on the trip but they did not allow any photography. Sculptors Narcisco Tome’s famed hole in the ceiling and depiction of The Last Supper were grand. The biggest bonus for me was the art by Greco, Van Dyke, Goya and other noted artists paintings. The biggest turn-off for me was all the gold gilded monstrance, allegedly made from gold brought back by Christopher Columbus. We all decided the Greco painted all the Apostles with his own facial features and body structure; either that of he was a direct descendent of all 12 of them. The Iglesia de Santo Tome is a small chapel which contains El Greco’s painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, well worth seeing and filled with self images. Sinagoga del Transto and Sinagoga de Santa Maria La Blanca were of particular interest to Nita and me because the history and explanation of the religion filled in a lot of holes in our understanding to the evolution of the Jewish faith. I suspect the same was true for Ron and Avie relative to the Catholic faith. After a long day in the old city I insisted that we drive into the newer part of town to see the bull ring. It was closed and we could not get in, but it was quite old and smaller then we and each imagined. Our lunch was from the ‘Menu of the Day’ for a bright clean restaurant in old town, you’ll see in my “pictures of the day” my Salmon with clams, shrimp, and red and green peppers, this was preceded by a serving of two fried eggs and French fries, (you read that right) and followed by a piece of chocolate cake, and of course wine, all for 12.50 Euro. Tomorrow we go further south to Carmona, three nights, outside of Seville , this is a change in plans; we had been scheduled to go to Cordoba but I moved us closer to Seville because of the concentration of our activities in the Seville area.
Day twenty-one: We said good-bye to Toledo and headed southwest to Carmona, 24 miles east of Seville . Our drive took us through varied terrain; starting with a red earth and rock landscape with the bulk of the land used to raise olive trees and some grape vines. Ron and I got out of the car along the highway, at the protest of Nita and Avie, to go into the fields to examine the olive trees; you’ll see a picture of baby olives in the photo album. As we went further south we climbed mountains and started to see different kinds of cultivated trees, we believe them to be almond trees. Further south the villages turned whitewash and the field turned green and brown, grain mostly wheat, then they turned yellow, sunflowers as far as you could see. We turned into Montoro; see the photos, which is in a time warp dating 1808 Spain . Take away the cars; add horses and wagons and nothing has changed in 200 years. South of Cordoba we found our turnoff for Carmon which turned out to be a hill top village that has a history dating back 5000 years. The architecture is Moorish, with horseshoe arches and painted tile. Our Parador is in the remains of a Moorish fortress situated at the back side of the village of small streets; turn your mirrors in if you can as you pass through the double stone arched gate into the Parador square. Our rooms are overlooking the current agriculture of the area. As I sit here I hear a roster crowing, a dog barking, and I see the goats and sheep grazing in the fields below. For the past week we have stepped back 2000 to 5000 years into history with all the connivances of modern day, (flush toilets, electric lights, and modern meals) but our surroundings and the pace of life definitely has a link to the past. Spain is different, no billboards along the highways, no pick-up trucks, solar and wind farms, menu of the day, 2000 to 5000 year history, quaint villages, and the Espana Bull.
Thu 05/22/08 (day 23)
Day twenty-two: We spent the day in Seville , The Cathedral de Sevilla and Giralda Tower , Plaza de Espana, and the Maestranza Bullring were the only sites that we saw today. First we had to familiarize ourselves with the city. We drove in to the railroad station where we parked, avoiding the heavy traffic of the city, took a city bus, the C1, to the Plaza de Espana, where we caught a double decker tour bus from which we got a tour of the city. The Cathedral, the largest Gothic structure in the world, Nita and I had seen the second largest when we visited the Doma in Milan last November, and the third largest church in Europe, was spectacular but disappointing because of its exterior presentation compared to the Doma. The interior, to me was once again a display of opulence, it was grand, spectacular, beautiful, and impressive as you will see in my pictures but when you compared all it had to how the people lived it’s hard for me to understand and get too excited about. We did climb the Giralda Tower , a 35 floor assent to the top which provides a magnificent view of Sevilla while among the bells. Lucky we weren’t there at the hour. The bullring was interesting; I gained a better understanding of how the bull fight and matador grading works and why the people of Spain are so enthralled with bullfighting. There is a bullfight tonight, and the King of Spain, Juan Carlos will attend, but the Juan will have to deal with our absence. While in Toledo I found a bottle of 1993 Cabernet for 2 Euro. It doesn’t have the character that I had expected but I am resolved to finish it non-the-less. Most of the wine that I have drank is what is served with our meals as a part of the meal and is thus not Spain’s best, but I find it quite good and comparable with California wines. When I look at the wine selection in stores I find the same labels that I have seen in the US for about half the price. We will not be bringing wine home; we have made that mistake before.
Day twenty-three. It was our intention to go back to Seville for a second day to see the Alazar (the king’s palace) and the Flamingo Museum . As we entered Seville we all noticed something different; there was less traffic, more parking available, and many police in the train station and few people on the bus. In Old Town there were more people; locals all dressed up, many church bells, and a heavy smell of incense. Having Avie seek out some locals we discovered that today is a Holiday , the celebration of Corpus Christy, to recognize the poor and downtrodden and their suffering. Each Parish had its own celebration in its respective plaza. The celebration consisted of a precision of the church elders, alter boys, former alter boys, and a display. The procession wound through the city streets as the onlookers, many parish members stood at streets edge throwing smoking rosemary into the streets ahead of the procession. The elders and alter boys carried little candle shafts and medallions, most in dark suits and some in church robes. The entire procession marched to the beat of a bugle and drum band. The street was filled with the smell of burning rosemary, the music of the band, the cheers of the onlookers, and most important the orders of the display Captains. The display had to weigh 2000 pounds and it moved through the winding streets at a methodic pace. As best as I could determine there were as many as 48 small boys, probably 13 to 15 years old carrying the display through the narrow winding streets. They could not see where they were going so the Captains, older men, would lean into the side of the display and shout orders into the lifters. It reminded me of the movies I have seen where men with oars moved massive war ships into battle. We never did see the Alazar (closed) or the Flamingo Museum (closed by the time we found it).