Thursday, July 20, 2006

More Iberian Adventures

DAY 3--26 June 2006 Mon

Left Madrid traveling first to Segovia where there is a 2000 yr old aqueduct. Then we drove to Avila where the town wall still stands with 88 towers intact. The town was an important stop on the medieval pilgrim routes—so one of the photos I took is of the four posts & cross, to mark the pilgrim’s way. The pilgrims were going to Santiago de Compostela (Santiago meaning James in Spanish).
By afternoon we arrived in Salamanca, which has a marvelous series of medieval vintage buildings. There was an old (vieja) and new (nueva) cathedral. Carlin & I walked from the hotel (a lovely hotel named Alameda Palace) to old quarters. The whole area has been declared a World Heritage site. We ate lunch along the way, then walked all through the university buildings. Salamanca was a famous university in medieval days.
Once back at the hotel, we had a group dinner. It turns out we have many teachers in our group—2nd, 3rd, and 5th grades, also kindergarten and a speech therapist. These folks are in addition to the university professors!
Tomorrow—Carlin’s long held dream of visiting Portugal will come true!
DAY 4--27 June 2006 Tues

We left straight after breakfast and drove for Portugal. On the way, we stopped at
Fatima to see the place where the shepherd children had a vision of the Virgin Mary & subsequently received 3 prophecies. Hard to get into the scene as a Protestant. But there were some petitioners there going on knees to the chapel to pray to Mary. There is a long shiny sidewalk that on holy days is filled with people, all going on their knees to the chapel. Mass is constantly being said—or at least Hail Mary in whatever language. I am too Protestant.
From there we drove to Lisbon. Amazingly, it is wonderfully cool here right now, some 22 o C. We got to our hotel—a Marriott which is another lovely facility.
This eve, we went across the Tagus River (major river on the Iberian Peninsula, beginning in Spain and continuing for some 625 miles, emptying into Lisbon harbor) for dinner. We had a wonderful meal, described as “typically Portuguese” food—mostly seafood based. Big hit of the evening—green wine. Also Carlin bought roses for all women at the dinner. What a guy!

DAY 5 28 June 2006 Wed

We began the day with a city tour of Lisbon—or Lisboa as it is written in Portuguese. Our city guide, Helena, was excellent. She pointed out that Portugal is the oldest country in Europe, having consolidated into a single nation long before other European countries. The Romans were in Portugal, then barbarians, then the Moors, who were finally expelled in 1136.
We went first to Alfama, an old section of Lisbon that still has tiny winding streets and old houses close together. The whole area is gradually undergoing renovation with outside walls being retiled. Depressing amount of graffiti everywhere.
Our guide told us that any words in Portuguese or Spanish with AL as a prefix come from Arabic, so Alfama was where the Moors first settled. Also many towns have an old section called the Alfama.
We then went to see the Torre (Tower) de Belen—it was originally a fortress along the Tagus which is so wide at Lisbon it appears to be a sea. This tower was also the place where explorers sailed from as they launched out into the world. Nearby the tower is a monument, modern vintage, to Prince Henry the Navigator, with portraits of various explorers such as Vasco de Gama.
We next visited the Monastery of St. Jerome (Jeronimo) where Vasco de Gama’s tomb is. The architectural style is uniquely Portuguese—called Manueline. Among its features—rope, carved in stone.
The big historical event in Lisbon was an
earthquake in 1755 on Nov. 1 which destroyed much of Lisbon—either the earthquake itself or the resulting tsunami which killed thousands.
When Lisbon was rebuilt, then Prime Minister Marques de Pombal took charge and required wide avenues to be built. Lisbon’s appearance reflects his design.
In the afternoon, we went to Cascais, a sea resort. What a lovely place. We had lunch, walked around a bit. The weather is cool & breezy, atypical.
Then we drove to Sintra, a World Heritage site—it is a valley in the granite Serra Hills. The location protects it & gives it a cooler climate than Lisbon. We shopped buying some pottery to take home.
On our way back, we stopped at the Palace of Queluz (pronounced Kay-loosh), the “Versailles” or Portugal. We walked through the whole palace and exited into the gardens. Ahead of us was a group of school children with one little boy who had slipped away from his classmates to urinate in the garden. Surprise to him—he was in FULL view of our group as we all walked toward him. He beat a hasty retreat.
Tonight we went to a restaurant where Fado singing is held, along with folk dancing. A bit of local culture. Tomorrow we leave Portugal to go to Seville, Spain.

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