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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Iberian Peninsula: Slow-Travel Road Trip in Spain and Portugal - Page 4

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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The city of Balboa is beautiful! The Gehry Museum has revitalized the city. The city has parks, playgrounds and is very quiet. Bilbao is the heart of the metropolis where more than 1 million people live. The great architectural and infrastructure projects have been the driving force of the urban and economic regeneration of the city, including Norman Foster’s Underground system.


We wished that we had more than four days here, but we were off early the next day to drop off the vehicle at the airport and fly to Sevilla (pop. 703,300). As luck was with us, our flight was on-time. Fortunately, our hotel was located in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, near the old Jewish Quarter, the Cathedral and the Alcazar.


We explored the neighborhood, the Alcazar (a 10th century Moorish Castle) and saved the Cathedral and the Belle Arts Museum until another day. Also called al-Qasr al-Muriq, the Alcazar royal palace is a premier example of Mudejar architecture style – displaying ornamentation used in the Christian kingdoms from the 13th -15th centuries in the Iberian Peninsula. Incidentally, the Moorish palace complex was used for several episodes of Game of Thrones. Also, part of Star Wars (episode two) was filmed at the Plaza de Espana.


The Seville Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built over the great 12th-century Almohad mosque, to demonstrate the city’s power and wealth. The construction lasted over 100 years. After its completion the cathedral was bigger than Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. What was overwhelmingly beautiful, when approaching the cathedral from any direction, was its height and width; the third largest church in the world.


Slow traveling is a wonderful excuse to take unplanned diversions whenever we wish. For example:


1. We explored the university - a grand series of buildings, including the old Royal Tobacco Factory. This in now part of the university buildings. The Royal Tobacco Factory was the setting for Bizet’s, “Carmen.” As Carmen was the cigar maker and her relationship was with the security guard. After a long walk to the Plaza Espana we stopped to admire this complex;


2. The Plaza Espana was a principal building built on the Maria Luisa Park for the 1929 Expo. The complex is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over a moat by numerous beautiful bridges. In the center was a large fountain. The walls of the Plaza had many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain; today the Plaza de España mainly consists of Government buildings. Another diversion, full of surprises for loving memories.

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We only had four days in Seville – again, we should have scheduled more!


We left Seville to pick up the car at the rail station, headed south with a leisurely 3 hour drive through the countryside to Granada (pop. 240,000). The mountains of the Sierra Nevada were covered with winter snow, the green fields soon to be harvested before the burning summer sun turned them to a burnt orange. This drive took us through the heart of Andalucia: the legendary brandy adverts - the Osborne Bull (Toro de Osborne) in black silhouette of the bull standing on the hilltops; fields of glossy black bulls; troops of horses; the glittering silver leafed olive trees; the pueblos blancos - whitewashed exteriors, in the traditional Hispano-Moorish architectural styling. This had to be one of the most inspiring sights of the entire road trip.


Granada is located at the foot of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains and the city is surrounded by them. The River Darro flows through the old town. Granada was under Islamic rule for over 700 years. The Alhambra (Red Castle in Arabic) took the entire day, and for very good reason. The Alhambra is the only monument of its kind anywhere and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace was called red castle because of its mostly red (from tapia earth) walls. The marvelous Islamic architecture, along with the Renaissance - 16th century- Christian buildings and elegant gardens are an inspiration for many stories and songs. As part of our research we read Washington Irving's “Tales of the Alhambra,” a collection of essays, sketches and stories. There are intriguing descriptions, myth and narrations of real historical events - A fascinating read before a visit to the actual Alhambra.

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We were learning much about our own travel capacities, nuances of European driving habits, proper “behavior” and cultural awareness as a foreigner, preferences of modes of travel and types of accommodations that met our comfort and budget.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 04 November 2020

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