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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Iberian Peninsula: Slow-Travel Road Trip in Spain and Portugal - Page 3

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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Doing some research before our visit to the Romanesque church, we knew that the Basilica of San Isidoro was dedicated in 1149, and San Isidoro stands on the site of a Roman temple. The first Christian structure on this site was a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist and rebuilt in stone in the Romanesque style in the 12th century. Further on, the Leon Cathedral, is a French-style Gothic cathedral built in the 13th century over the ruins of ancient Roman baths. Probably the finest Gothic building in Spain, it was closely modeled on Reims Cathedral and St-Denis Basilica. The highlight, and sunshine, our good fortune, were the 125 medieval stained glass windows illuminating a harmonious, French Gothic interior.


Accordingly, Leonese customs include the Semana Santa, which features numerous processions through the center of the city. We had a wonderful view along a side street filled with exuberant “holiday makers.” We found out today that associated with “holy week” is the procession called “The Burial of Generin.” Generin was an alcoholic beggar who was hit and killed by the first garbage truck in the city of Leon in the year 1929. This is a celebration of alcohol, and the main purpose of the people who attend it is getting drunk in honor of the alcoholic beggar. This is why the west end of the old city is called “the wet side.” We are noting that art and architecture are intertwined inexplicably; I think we might be comprehending the connections?


Up and out early for our three and half hour drive to Santillana del Mar in north coastal Spain. Santillana del Mar (Cantabria region of Spain), is undoubtedly one of the best preserved, most picturesque medieval towns in northern Spain. It is one of the villages featured in the new "The Most Beautiful Villages in Spain" volume of that series.


The first day of April. Lucky for us we have brilliant sunshine, cloudless skies, and we are off to explore the wonders of this paradise in Spain. We learned what makes this village so special was it has had building and zoning restrictions to keep it exactly like it was in 1575. Only residence or hotel guests can drive in the village. It is proudly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The little nooks, cobblestone streets, Gothic houses built in the 15th-17th centuries and artisan shops make this a very special village indeed. With its vibrant and caramel colored architecture, colorful flowers and black wrought iron balconies, you might imagine it as a Van Gogh painting. Accordingly, Paul Sartre called it “the prettiest village in all of Spain.”

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The next day we drove 18 kilometers through the varied rolling hills, dotted with medieval villages to the town of Comillas. It is important for its Art Nouveau buildings, and the brilliant El Capricho by Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi. There is a golden beach, tiny fishing port, cobbled old center and mountain tops crowning the original buildings. You notice the solid sandstone buildings with wooden balconies, similar to Santillana del Mar. The town is another medieval center that has been maintained perfectly.


Another gorgeous sunny, but chilly day in Santillana. We saved today for a full day visit to the Altamira Museum, which has the replicas of the rock paintings in the Altamira Caves. The caves are closed for preservation. Seventeen decorated caves of the Paleolithic age were inscribed in the Altamira Cave. The property represents the impressive Paleolithic cave art that developed across Europe from 35,000 to 11,000 BC. Because of their deep galleries, isolated from external climatic influences, these caves are particularly well preserved. The caves are masterpieces of creative genius and are humanity's earliest accomplished art. They are also an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition and outstanding illustrations of a significant stage in human history. Now we have seen the location of the “Cradle of Humankind,” in South Africa and the rock paintings of the Paleolithic era.


Thirty minute drive along the coast and we arrive at Suances, which is a small, beautiful town with a lively market. The natural harbor and beaches are backed by cliffs which is why its so popular with tourists. A bit tired, we only came for a delightful lunch. We decided on the Restaurant Bonito Verde near the coast, a family owned restaurant with great service and fresh grilled seafood. We had a large mixed salad with anchovies, house-warmed baked bread, and a glass of the local red wine. We shared the lunch as there was so much food. It was not very expensive and stupendously delicious. A leisurely drive along the coast took us back to Santillana after a very full day of sightseeing and anthropological exploration.


We left early the next morning for a drive to Bilbao (pop.350,000). Our 2.5 hours drive was not a pleasurable one, but we managed to find the Hotel Silken-Gran-Domine. We immediately dropped our luggage off at the hotel and crossed the street where the Guggenheim Museum awaited us. Em was so excited! Photos, and more photos from every angle. The building speaks volumes of the mastery of modern architecture (Frank Gehry, architect). We spent many hours outside and inside the museum as we wanted to see the building at different times of the day.

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The emerging museum collections change periodically, however, the permanent exhibition of Richard Serra’s “The Matter of Time,” demanded the physical space for the nature of his eight sculptures, weathering steel and huge dimensions.

The three current exhibits were amazing in variation of themes:


1. Art in War, France 1938-1947 - from Picasso to Dubuffet, where art is created in defiance of the political atmosphere in France around WWII. Picasso’s work was moving as he was confined in his tiny studio in Paris during the occupation;


2. Inhabited Architecture: Reflecting on the occupation of space on human habitation;


3. Various selections from the two other Guggenheim Museums: Pop-Art, representing Jean- Michel Basquiat, Rauschenberg, Warhol and our favorite, Cy Twombly - USA and Rome; The Fine Arts Museum - The collection was in chronological order beginning with the 12th century to 21st century. The Basque artists dominated the museum’s collection. Outstanding examples of ancient, modern and contemporary paintings from the Spanish artists. Well known artists included: El Greco, Gentileschi, Ribera, Zurbaran, Murillo, Rebera and Mary Cassett, our American contribution.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 04 November 2020

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