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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Iberian Peninsula: Slow-Travel Road Trip in Spain and Portugal - Page 6

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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Next we departed by bus from the Plaza Espana to Avila and Segovia- two extremely interesting Roman historical sights. Avila has a wall built around 1100 on ancient monuments - the best fortified wall is the oldest, most complete and best preserved in Europe. Avila was the battlefront between the Muslims and Christians for more than 300 years! Avila has not changed since Medieval times: fine Romanesque churches, monasteries, and great views of the mountains. A must stop. Another hour away was Segovia. What a beautiful city – a former Roman military base though it badly needed water. So Emperor Trajan’s engineers built a nine-mile aqueduct to channel water to the city. The 2,000 year old engineering feat has 118 arches and is 100 ft high. The grand cathedral, built in Renaissance times (16th C) but added to with the Spanish style called Flamboyant which was new to me. The historic castle, or Alcazar was built on a Roman fortress in the 1st-C. The 12th century frescoes are simply fascinating. The intriguing and elegant weaving of tapestries (1500’s) were masterpieces of fine art.

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We spent the next day at an oasis in the middle of the city, the Parque del Retiro. With fountains, statues, rose gardens and the large lake for canoe rides. This was a perfect time to rejuvenate, and an organic breath of fresh air in the rather polluted and crowded city.


Our last day included a 40 minute train ride to the medieval town of Toledo, which sits atop a circular hill. A bit of a confusing medieval street plan, but was small enough to walk the entire town of 10,000 residents. Tourism is the major economic mainstay for the town. There was a castle, now a parador, the Alcazar, many churches and 2,500 years of tangled history-Roman, Jewish, Visigothic, Moorish and Christian heritages make it one of Europe’s artistic highlights. Toledo echoes El Greco, the famous Spanish painter. Our quest to visit Toledo was to visit several museums: Santa Cruz Museum housing 15 paintings by El Greco, the Museo Victorio Macho with an expansive river-gorge view, the El Greco Museum, the Sephardic Museum of Sinagoga del Transito, which highlighted its Jewish past, and the Sinagogo de Santa Maria la Blance, harmoniously combining Toledo’s three religious architectural influences.

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Flying to Palma de Mallorca to spend a few days exploring the sights and neighboring villages and towns was next. Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands. Annually, over 10 million visitors search for sand, sea and sun. For us, there is more to discover in Mallorca. Palma de Mallorca is the island’s only true city. Its old quarter was a blend of tree-lined boulevards and cobbled lanes. Gothic churches and Baroque palaces, with private flowered patios and courtyards; quite a super holiday destination.


Our hotel was a bit isolated, less expensive than a city location, and we were on a rather strict budget. For exploration, we rented a car to visit a couple of Mediterranean coastal towns, specifically, Valldemossa, Dela and Soller. All are situated in the northwestern part of the island. Our reflections about these interesting coastal towns:


1. Valldemossa was a small village that resembles a Cotswold English village: honey stone, small craft shops and cafes. The town is also noted for two famous 19th century people: George Sand and Fred Chopin - It was in Valldemossa that the two resided for years and it was here that George Sand wrote her book, “Winter in Mallorca;”

2. The second town nearest the coast was Dela. This town was the home of English poet, Robert Graves. An absolutely pristine village near the coast with spectacular views;

3. The last town, edged within the mountains along the Mediterranean Sea was Soller. An absolutely touristy village with a 13th century church and building facade by one of Gaudi’s students. The port of Soller was touristy, but beautiful.


On our last day in Mallorca we explored the fabulous city of Palma Mallorca. A few highlights of our exploration included:

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1. The Gothic Cathedral La Seu (14th century): An imposing golden sandstone structure perched above the Parc de la Mar with interior elements by A. Gaudi;

2. Es Baluard - Museu d’Art Modern: A Renaissance era building with 700 works of contemporary art by many 19-20th century greats; 3. Palau de L'Almudaina - Originally an Islamic fort - Alcazar- it was converted into a thick stone walled residence for the Mallorcan monarchs at the end of the 13th century. The upstairs apartments are adorned with 15th century Flemish tapestries and period furniture. A refreshing and inspiring art history experience in Mallorca city.


After a 50 minute flight from Palma Airport to El Prat Airport, Barcelona, who greets us upon arrival? A large mosaic of Miro, and the city’s bank, la Caixa, with the star created by Miro. Another 30 minute taxi ride brought us to our Hotel located on La Ramblas. What do slow travelers do when they first arrive in Gaudi’s city? We explored one of the buildings designed by him, Casa Batllo. The next day, our de rigueur, On and Off Bus, to explore this fascinating city of 1.6 million people. As expected in mid-April the city was full of tourists. We made stops to satisfy our interests:

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(1). Parque Guell - A UNESCO World Heritage Site. A public park with gardens and architectural features. The park is certainly a reflection of Gaudi’s artistic genius. It is imaginative, with mythological elements from the Temple of Apollo of Delphi, and various symbols and designs ranging from religious to Freemasonry, all were an inspiration to Gaudi;


(2). The Miro Museum, Gothic Quarter. A place to experience the art of Joan Miro and other twenty-first century artists. This museum was created by Miro from his own collection. The design of the museum blends Miro’s artistic vision with the outside environment, with terraces overlooking the city below;


(3). Museum Picasso - A very special architectural structural. It occupies five palaces dating from the 13th - 14th centuries. This period of architecture follows the Gothic Catalan style. The museum was very busy, but with over 4,000 works of art, there was plenty of time and space to wander, wish, and wonder how Picasso’s mind operated to produce such varied works;


(4.) The UNESCO World Heritage Site - the Basilica del la Sagrada Familia, commenced building in 1882, and is still unfinished. We were all absolutely flabbergasted when we walked all around this structure. Gaudi’s gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms were accurately reflected by art critic Rainer Zerbst as “it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art.”


The remaining few days we had left in Barcelona were spent one day wandering away from the busy Gothic Quarter to a completely different and interesting residential ethnic neighborhood; plenty of cafes for people watching. That’s the marvel of slow-traveling – time to explore, observe, and appreciate how fortunate we are to be able to not have a timetable or fixed schedule. In the afternoon, we visited the European Museum of Sculpture, which was a small but enjoyable museum.


Emily had just read the "Shadow of the Wind," and said, “We must visit The Four Cats.” The Four Cats, Quarto Gats in Catalan, was a famous piece of Barcelona's folklore. Operating as a cafe, cabaret and all-around artistic space between 1897 and 1903, Els Quatre Gats was a center of Modernista thought and hosted Pablo Picasso's first art exhibition. Pablo, and many writers, painters and sculpters spent many evenings in this lively cabaret setting. The Four Cats since has established itself as something of a tourist destination and certainly its vibrant decor and ambiance made the restaurant a deserving point of pilgrimage for us. We did not partake in the Catalan and Mediterranean cuisine, but the coffee was one of the best in the city.

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(Page 6 of 7)
Last modified on Wednesday, 04 November 2020

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