Our only journey to Spain took place during our honeymoon way back at the start of the new millennia. The journey started in Spain, went across to Morocco (read here), came back across to make a diversion to Portugal before rounding up the rest of the days in Spain. We also spent a whole week in Barcelona on our own, exploring the city and the environs.
Oh how time flies and it has been more than 16 years that we last set foot on Spain. In Mel’s last role, at least there was a major plant in Spain for which he had the “excuse” to visit. In his present role, no such pretense even exist! So, in order to journey once again to Spain it will be a conscious effort.
That this sole journey was so memorable is testament to the fun that we had there with the folks we toured with. So many colorful characters we met : from a Tom Hanks lookalike to Whoopi Goldberg impersonator, the 2-weeks was filled with laughter and adventure. It was international too, turning the coach into a mini United Nations of ambassadors from across the globe. To this day we still keep in contact with the friends made from the wonderful journey.
So, what’s about Spain?
The country that is Spain did not come about naturally. Originally a province of Rome, Hispania produced generals and emperors and fell to the barbaric Vandals whose legacy still remains us in the form of Andalusia (stripped of the V in the front of the world).
But it would soon fall into Moorish hands, led by the leaders of the caliphate. Southern Spain would be under Islamic influence for nearly 700 years, eventually fracturing into a mosaic of Christian and Moorish kingdoms before the last sultanate of Granada surrendered in 1492.
From that point, ‘modern’ history began, with the unification of Castile and Aragon (1469) and the voyages of discovery changing the entire course of lives for millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic ocean.
As an imperial power that conquered and colonized most of the Americas, Spain grew wealthy from the vast amount of precious metals that was mined and shipped back. The country also benefited from the agricultural resources that eventually came to influence Spanish cuisine too. Potatoes were brought back from the ‘new world’ to eventually make its way as a staple in almost every European cuisine. We have Spain to thank for early globalization, eventhough it is not without controversy over how it occurred.
From these exceeding wealthy times came the embarrassment of riches. While wars drained the treasury, it did not stop the continued embellishment of the country by the nobility and merchant classes. Inheriting the wonderful Moorish architecture in the south, this added to a long list of monumental locations in the north. Today, the country is home to 44 world heritage sites. There are also 14 other cultural sites.
Our adventure in Spain was split into three segments, with us spending the eve of the new millennia back at the hotel and watching the fireworks from a distant. It being winter and cold for us, we had stayed for as long as we could in the main square of Madrid. Practicality took over and determined us to get back to the hotel before the transport system shuts down…
Driving south we first run into the religious capital of Toledo. Set on a hilltop, the city appeared out of the mist as we came up to the town early in the morning. And coming under Moorish influence for hundreds of years meant that there are many cities in south and central Spain that boasts of beautifully preserved architecture from that time. Granada is a prime example of how such a city was – especially its famed Alhambra. Built at a time when most of the rest of Europe descended into the dark ages, the palace was not only a luxury home for the Sultans but also a cultural center for science and arts.
Fortunately for us the Spaniards are practical folks who did not demolish all traces of the Moors. Rather, they refashioned it and modeled most if not all of the legacy they inherited into something uniquely Spanish and distinct from the rest of Europe.
Many folks from Europe like to spend their holidays in Spain mainly because of the climate. In the lowlands, snow seldom stay for long and along the southern coast it is relatively warm compared to the rest of the continent.
One of the largest cathedrals in the world (3rd we were told) can be found in the city of Seville. The city is known for having a plaza where the 48 provinces of Spain are represented. Each one has its own section, replete with tile mosaic of its herald coat of arms as well as unique attributes of that province. Truly a remarkable place to be, and you could say you have toured all of Spain after walking around the plaza.
The crowning feature of our Spanish adventure was our stay at Barcelona. Being independent travelers, we booked a cheap 2-Star (we are not even sure now) hotel for the week. Suan swears it was the worst hotel she had stayed in her entire traveling life! Anyway, we did not let that stop us from enjoying the very artistic city. From the never completed (well not yet) Sagrada to many of Gaudi’s buildings, we explored the length and breadth of the city.
A funny story was how we walked all the way up the spiraling stairs of the Sagrada only to find out that for 1200 pesetas (yep it was that long ago) we could have taken the lift up and saved the energy for other walking tours. We also need to report that at that time (hopefully not these days), many of the tourist facilities do not operate in winter. The funicular to Montjunc for example was closed for winter when we were there!
Well we did not simply stay in Barcelona alone and took a train 60km west of the city to Montserrat. An active monastery, we hiked a little along two of the trails. Just recalled that at the monastery we saw very many cats.
Yes it’s true there is no business consideration for a journey to Spain for Mel. But truth be told we are eager to explore the northern side of Spain that borders the bay of Biscay and southern France. On the other side (France that is), we had skirted the true southwest while on the way to Provence.
Until 2014 we were still bent on traveling to Burgos on the way towards Galicia, and then the opposite direction back towards Barcelona, but then detouring to Andorra. Just to claim another country on our list of handprints…before heading over to France’s Aquitaine region. That road trip is one of many options we have for Spain, and we hope to make it come true soon!