12th & 13th November 2022: Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

Here’s a little secret – people don’t like flying on the 13th, even less when it’s a Tuesday. Thus, I came across a bunch of awesome offers for the 13th of December, which unfortunately I could not take up due to work uncertainties. What I could muster was a mini getaway on the weekend of the 12th/13th of November, to the northern Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela. There were a few reasons for this choice – one, cheap flights; two, I’ve recently started considering a route through the so-called Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way); and three, pandemic shuffled ‘Holy Years’ round so there was a special gate to the cathedral open that I wanted to see. I flew out around noon on Saturday and came back on Sunday night. It was a perfect plan for a decompressing getaway.

Santiago de Compostela is known as one of the most important pilgrimage cities in the world. According to the Christian tradition, the tomb of Apostle James was found in the area in Middle Ages (different sources vary throughout the 9th and 11th century), and the pilgrimage to visit the remains became one of the most important in the Christian faith, alongside Rome and Jerusalem, to the point that the pavement proudly states that “Europe was built on the pilgrimage to Santiago”. While I’m not religious, I have a thing for religious architecture, and as mentioned above I’ve been thinking about the Camino for a while, and visiting the goal felt a good way to start organising how I wanted to look at things.

However, let’s say it wasn’t the most perfect getaway ever. Though the flight was on time, and pretty short, there was turbulence – not something too out of the ordinary, but here’s something you might not know about me. Back in the mid-nineties, I sort of crash-landed in the Santiago airport, so let’s say I was not so invested in a bumpy flight.

As the flight had been very cheap (about 30€), I had decided to splurge a little in the hotel – and I found a not-so-bad offer of half-board at the Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reyes Católicos, downright at the centre of the city. It is located in the old pilgrim hospital, and it is a magnificent building, aside from a five-star hotel. I arrived around 14:00, and the room was not ready – fair enough. I wanted to get there early in order to drop off my luggage, and make sure I could arrange my dinner reservations for a convenient time. One of the reasons I decided to book half-board in the Parador was to guarantee myself a meal late in the evening, as I had booked a walking tour at 20:00, and the main restaurant served dinner till 22:45.

Wide shot of the Parador. It shows a severe building with an ornate gate. The sky is bright blue.

Unfortunately, the check-in staff “had booked me” at 20:30, and they asked if that was okay. I replied it wasn’t, and explained the reason stated above – the staff then said that they could accommodate me at 22:00 at the secondary restaurant, but not at the main one. I answered that then I’d have dinner at 22:00 at the secondary restaurant then, but the staff asked me to check the menu. I stated that it did not matter. I needed my dinner to be at 22:00, and if the main restaurant wasn’t available, it would have to be at the secondary one. The staff asked me to check the menus, and I explained again that I had a tour from 20:00 to 21:30 – I needed dinner at 22:00. I thought that was resolved, and as it was too early to get a room, I picked up my camera, left my backpack in the locker room, and went on my merry way to explore the outdoor “monumental route” within the historical city Ruta Monumental de Intramuros. The old city of Santiago is part of the UNESCO Heritage Site Routes of Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés and Routes of Northern Spain Caminos de Santiago de Compostela: Camino francés y Caminos del Norte de España.

As I had tickets for different activities in the cathedral booked for the previous morning, and the Sunday forecast was rain, I decided to do most of the walking on my first afternoon. I started off in front of the cathedral façade in the square Praza do Obradoiro (the Artisans Square), which hosts the town hall in the former Neoclassical palace Pazo de Raxoi, the Parador itself, and the main – but closed, will get into that later – entrance to the cathedral Santa Apostólica y Metropolitana Iglesia Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, with its Baroque façade called Fachada del Obradoiro.

Baroque façade: two towers and twin set of stairs, fenced away.

I walked around the cathedral, and stopped at all the other squares: Praza da Acibecharía (the Black Amber Workers Square), Praza da Quintana de Vivos (Living Villa of the Living Square) and Praza das Praterías (the Silversmiths Square).

A collage of views of the cathedral of Santiago.

I walked down Rua do Villar, which is the closest to a main street the historical town has. I strolled around the historical centre – there are many interesting buildings and churches, alongside the market. At some point I entered a bakery, but I kinda ran away when I heard the prices they were charging.

Santiago Route.  An archade, a fountain, an ornate corner with a coat of arms carved into it.

After an hour and a half or so, I found the convent-turned-museum Igrexa e Convento de San Domingos de Bonaval that has become the ethnological museum of the Galician people Museo do Pobo Galego. The museum itself was not too spectacular, but the building itself was fantastic. One of the most amazing things was the triple-helix staircase that joins the different floors on one side, and the remains of the gothic church (where I got to climb the pulpit). To the side there’s the pantheon for illustrious Galicians, including one of the few female historical figures in Spain – poet Rosalía de Castro.

Monastery and museum. The pieces include a humanoid stone idol, some Christian figures in polychromated wood, and two pipes

View of the triple staircase, from above, from below and through the door from one of the sides.

A view of a gothic chapel, showing an empty altar.

This was around 16:30, and even if I was not even a bit hungry, my legs shook a little. Thus, I decided that I needed to find a supermarket to buy a snack – I only had coffee before I left for the airport at 9:00. Before getting to the supermarket though, I walked around the former orchard and graveyard of the convent, now a picnic-friendly park Parque de San Domingos de Bonaval, full of ruins and fountains.

The previous church, from outside, on the right. There's a winter tree in front, and some old niches on the left wall.

I grabbed my snack and went back to the monumental route until I was back at the Praza do Obradoiro. I walked around to see the sunset, and caught a glimpse of the light playing on the façade of the church Igrexa de San Frutuoso, and some nice views from the adjacent park (which turned out to have been another graveyard) Xardín do Cemiterio de San Frutuoso.

Santiago sunset. Upper picture shows the church of Saint Fructuoso, and the lower one a view of the nearby park with the sun setting in the background

It was around 18:00 at that time, so I could finally check in – which I did, only to find out that the staff I had talked to had decided not to book my dinner in the end, which lead to me needing to explain about my tour again to a new staff who told me they couldn’t book me at 22:00 on the secondary restaurant! It had to be at 21:45, but they could notify the restaurant that I would arrive a bit later. I was really not impressed by the whole thing, even less when I apparently needed a bellboy to guide me to my room and carry my backpack– and of course get tipped.

I had my snack and then went on to explore the building. As I did, the sun completely set, so the different lights were cool. The Hostal Reyes Católicos used to be the pilgrims’ hospital. It is a huge rectangle with four interior cloisters named after the four Christian Evangelists, the inner areas having been refurbished into the rooms.

The four gothic cloisters of the Parador. Two have some greenery on them, the other two are just grey and built.

A few minutes before 20:00, I left for my tour. Although I’m not a big fan of tours and group activities, I had had my curiosity piqued by a “theatrical visit” of the historical centre of the town called Meigas Fóra. In the area of Galicia, a meiga is a type of traditional witch, good or bad, depending on what side the person speaking about them is – in this case, the guide being a supposed-meiga, of course they were all neat and nice. The tour was supposed to tell about the different legends and interesting supernatural trivia of the town, but just ended up being a bit watered-down walk around those graveyards-turned-parks I had walked before. The coolest thing was finding the pilgrim’s shadow Sombra del Peregrino, a fun game of light-and-shadows in one of the squares around the cathedral.

A view of the cathedral of Santiago at night, illuminated, on top. On the bottom, a column casts a shadow onto the wall behind it - it seems to be that of a man with a walking cane and a travel hat.

Hilariously though, as we were walking, someone approached me to ask in wonder if on top of taking the tour alone, I was in Santiago all by myself, in total awe of someone travelling on their own. She said that she would never be able to do so – while she took selfies of herself because the people she was “touring” with could not be any less interested…

After the tour I went to have dinner – guess what? At 22:00 h! Let’s say that it was not the greatest experience. The restaurant staff had their hands full with a table of around 20 drunk “pilgrims” who had come all the way from South America and were rightfully celebrating – albeit loudly and a bit obnoxiously (all that pilgrim wine, no doubt) – that they had reached the end of the Way. The rest of the patrons were, including myself, four one-person tables, which made me wonder if they just don’t book one-person tables in the main restaurant after the first shift. The floor staff – basically one working waiter, and one wandering waiter – was overwhelmed by the table, and it took me over an hour to finish my dinner – which was some local octopus (pulpo a feira), a roasted great scallop (Pecten maximus, not only a delicious shellfish, also the symbol of the town and the related pilgrimage, called vieira in Spanish) and a piece of the typical almond pie (tarta de Santiago).

Dinner: pulpo, a scallop and a piece of cake.

Then I went to my room for a nice hot shower and to get some sleep. I was surprised then to find no extra blanket in the wardrobe, though there was an extra pillow. This was around midnight already so I decided not to hit reception for the extra blanket and just cranked up the air-con on and off to stay warm. I slept on and off, too, but it was not too much of a long night.

The next morning I had breakfast and set out for my day at the cathedral, Santa Apostólica y Metropolitana Iglesia Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. Santiago was built around the 7th century legend that the apostle James the Great, Santiago el Mayor, was buried in the area of Galicia, after having reached Spain to convert it into Christianity. In the 9th century, a tomb was discovered among some abandoned Roman ruins, and the local bishop had “the certainty” that it was the Apostle’s tomb. The bishop informed the King, who was the reported first pilgrim, and later ordered that a church should be built to commemorate the finding.

As the number of pilgrims grew, the church became too small, so subsequent temples were erected. The current interior was built between the 11th and the 13th century in a very pure Romanesque style, but the exterior was covered in the 18th century, in a very adorned Baroque style, which is also the style of the altar.

The most important piece of the cathedral is the Portico of Glory Pórtico de la Gloria, the Romanesque entrance to the 12th-century cathedral, with 200 sculptures carved in stone in the three-archway portal. The entrance now is locked away, you have to pay to see it, and photographs are not allowed.

For starters, I climbed up to the roof of the cathedral and the bell tower – not really the bell tower but the “rattle tower”, as the bells chime on the eastern tower, and the rattle is played on the darker, western tower. The roof was restored as recently as 2021, and from there there are some nice views of the town.

The towers of the cathedral from the room, and some aereal shots - one shows the Parador cloisters from above.

Between visits, I went inside the cathedral, where the pilgrims’ mass was about to start. I might have stayed out of curiosity had I been in town for a longer period. Then I visited the portico – since pictures were not allowed, I’ve rescued some 1995 ones from when I were in town as a teen.

Three shots of the  very baroque altar in Santiago - it is heavily decorated and painted gold. On the bottom right, a silver urn, also very ornated, supposedly where the remains of St. James are.

A collage showing several sculpures of the Portico of Glory - Romanesque statues richly coloured and decorated, they look placid

After wandering the cathedral for a bit longer, I made the most out of the last hour of sunshine to head to the park Parque da Alameda to find the spot Miradoiro da Catedral next to a huge centennial eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus globulus labill) Eucalipto centenario, a 120-year-old specimen, considered one of the oldest eucalyptus trees that was planted in Europe after captain Cook “discovered” Australia and the species was introduced by Fray Rosendo Salvado.

A panoramic view of Santiago, showing the cathedral.

My next stop was the museum of pilgrimages and Santiago Museo de las Peregrinaciones y de Santiago, which was free due to the Covid recovery plan. It features a collection of items related to Saint James Way, and other important pilgrimages of the world, including the Japanese Kumano Kodo [熊野古道], and the Muslim Mecca Pilgrimage Ḥajj [حَجّ]. The upper floors are dedicated to the hagiography of Santiago / James through the Way and in the city.

Museum of Pilgrimages. A collage that shows a wooden statue of Santiago on a white horse, sword raised; other depictions of Santiago as pilgrim; some paper scallops decorated by kids; and a Japanese sacred gate.

Later, even though I should have gone to eat a bite, I headed to the monastery and museum Mosteiro de San Martiño Pinario, religious complex built between the 16th and 17th centuries, though the inner areas and chapels date from the 18th century. Today it’s a cultural centre, and alongside the church, it features a museum with block prints, fossils, an ancient pharmacy… The church has the most baroque Baroque altarpiece I’ve ever seen, and two choirs – one behind the altar, and the other one up on the second floor.

Exterior of the monastery, including the double downward staircase, and a picture of the interior, showing a very Baroque altar painted in gold.

Finally, I stepped into the museum of the cathedral Museo de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, which features the entrance to the cloister, library, and the upper galleries, aside from artistic and religious treasures such as the original stone choir, wooden carvings, and tapestries. I was also able to access the upper galleries and look at the rain in the Praza do Obradoiro, and later the crypt.

A collage showing the cloister of the cathedral of Santiago while it rains outside, and the former Romanesque choir, carved in stone.

Romanesque arches and columns built in stone, and a cast ceiling.

After one last visit to the cathedral and its shop, I got myself a last souvenir – a silver and black amber bracelet I had seen upon arrival, and took a taxi back to the airport in order to fly back. All in all, I was not too impressed by the city nor its inhabitant, and I was pretty disappointed in the Parador. I think it has put me off the idea of doing the Camino as much as I thought I wanted to, but not every trip is perfect, I guess, and I hope my memories warm up with time.

A silver and black amber bracelet. The silver is very fine, and the gem is bright black.

Walking distance: around 11.68 km (18659 steps) on Saturday and 10.58 km (16931 steps) on Sunday, not counting airport transits

9th October 2022: Atémpora, Sigüenza (Spain)

Sigüenza a Medieval town in the centre of Spain that is currently trying to gain the status of UNESCO Heritage Site. It has a castle, a protected historical centre, and in the heart of it stands the cathedral Catedral de Santa María La Mayor de Sigüenza . The cathedral dates back to 1124, when the original Romanesque building was was erected. The construction finished in 1326 , with remodelling and decoration elapsed several centuries, with different add-ons, until it was “declared” finished after the Spanish Civil War, with later works being just conservation.

Cathedral in Siguenza, a late-Romanesque / early-Gothic building, in a reddish colour. Left: side view, showing the bell tower. Right: façade, with two side towers.

In summer and autumn 2022, there is an exhibition in the cathedral – Atémpora. Sigüenza entre el Poder y la Gloria, which translated to something akin to “Timeless. Sigüenza between Power and Glory”. It displays some of the treasures of the cathedral and the museum, along with a few archaeological devices. We had seen most of the religious artefacts in a previous visit, but the historical chronicle was rather interesting.

The first block, around the cloister, deals with Celtiberian (the Arevaci tribe) and Roman weapons and everyday life. The second block deals with the Goth conquer and the newfound Christianity.

Upper Left: entrance to Atempora, flanked by two angels. Upper right: Celtiberian Daggers. Bottom left: oil lamp looking like a bird. Bottom left: clay bowl.

Interwoven with the exhibition are the treasures of the cathedral, including two collection of Flemish tapestries, one focused on Athena, the other on the story of Romulus and Remus. Another highlight is an Annunciation painting by Domḗnikos Theotokópoulos “El Greco” a Greek artist of the Spanish Renaissance (since he moved to Toledo in his prime). Of course, the cloister is fantastic. There is a tiny gothic altarpiece in one of the chapels that is delicious. The problem? As always, Baroque trends building choirs in the middle of the naves, blocking the view, and overdecorated altarpieces. The wooden ceilings are extremely beautiful where they have been preserved.

Upper left: tapestry collection, hanging from walls. Bottom right: Annunciation by El Greco. Bottom left: decorated wooden ceiling. Bottom right: Cloister of the cathedral.

The three final blocks present different Christian symbols and pieces of art from the Middle Ages onwards, and interestingly enough, a watermill from the old salt marshes. The exhibit makes a particular emphasis on Wilgefortis, a Catholic folk saint which is supposed to be buried in the cathedral, with the silver arch where her body lies brought from the altar. Other pieces include coins, sceptres, and even a few elements from the times when there was a Medieval university in town – one of them being a human skull with “anatomy notes” on it. There are also late Medieval sculptures, most importantly crucified Christ representations and Virgins with the Child, though probably the nicest one is the one which is permanently at the entrance of the cathedral. Next to it, a mill from the nearby salt mines (Salinas de Imón) has been brought – I really want to visit those at some point too, so great reminder.

Altar of St. Wilgefortis on the left. On the right, a coin, a scepter and half of a skull with writings on it.

Top left: Romanesque virging with child. Bottom left: watermill. Right: Crucified Christ with four nails on his hands and feet.

The most important monument, or area, in the Sigüenza cathedral is the chapel called Capilla del Doncel. It holds the tombs of Martín Vázquez de Arce and his parents. The de Arce men participated in the war against Granada Muslims during the 15th century, where the son was killed in an ambush, as the Muslims created a flash flood from the watering system they had to control the waters of River Genil. Though he was already 25 years old, too old to be called a doncel, teenage boy, the name has stuck for centuries. The parents’ tombs are traditional burials, however, the Doncel’s grave is an arcosolium, with the decorative sculpture showing the young man awake and reading a book, rather than lying in death as it is the typical representation.

Chapel of"El Doncel", showing the traditional burials in the foreground, and the Doncel's tomb in the background.

We went to have lunch after the visit, we went to have lunch at La Taberna Seguntina, where we shared some typical cheese, sausage, and roasted pork before we went home.

Typical Siguenza Dishes. Top: sausages and cheese. Bottom: roasted pork leg with potatoes.

24th September 2022: Manzanares el Real & Alcalá de Henares (Spain)

My friend, whom I had not seen since January 2020 as the pandemic kept us apart, dropped by for a visit as she was in the area. Since the weather forecasting had not been promising, I had not booked anything, but given her a bunch of options to do. She was particularly taken by the castle in Manzanares El Real, a town in the Madrid area, so we drove there.

The palace-castle Castillo Nuevo de Manzanares El Real was built in the late 15th century as a replacement of the previous one by the House of Mendoza. The noble family was given control over the area the previous century, and after a hundred years living in the older castle, the new one was commissioned to Juan Guas, who designed the building in a on a Romanesque-Mudejar style. It was built in granite stone, with Isabelline Gothic decoration, mixing defensive / military, palatial and religious architecture. It was inhabited for about a century before it was abandoned. The castle was declared a Cultural Monument in 1931, and it has undergone several restorations. In 1961, it was used as shooting location for Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren’s “El Cid” film.

Considered one of the best-preserved castles in the Madrid area, the building it has four towers, six floors, and a central patio. It holds a collection of tapestries, and most of it can be walked. Unfortunately, the towers cannot be climbed, but you can walk around the walls, both in the terraced gallery and outside. It was a bit overpriced, but well-worth the visit.

Collage showing the castle. It is reddish with hard corners and rounded towers. The decoration is white and ornate.

We made a pause for lunch and tried the best wild asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius) that I have had in ages – just grilled with salt and lemon. We had some croquettes too.

Plate of perfectly-round croquettes and some crisps in the middle + plate of roasted green wild asparagus

As we had walked into the village for lunch, we only had to walk a little further to find the ruins of the original castle Castillo Viejo de Manzanares el Real. At the moment, only the foundations can be seen, though it is similar to the new one. The archaeological excavation started in the year 2022, but nothing much is known of it, except this one was an actual military fortress that predates the new castle. From there, the views of the new castle and the local church make a nice skyline of sorts.

Foundations of the old castle. Not much is seen, there is a sign reading "Old Castle Archaeological Excavation"

View of Manzanares el Real, showing modern roofs, the church tower, and the castle in the furthest background

It was still early in the afternoon, so I suggested stopping by Alcalá de Henares. I wanted to make a stop at a shop to check for something, but after a quick visit to the shopping centre, we moved on to what is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting buildings in town – the small palace house Palacete Laredo. Built in the Neo-Mudejar style, it is a bizarre combination of mosaics, moorish-like decorations, and vibrantly-coloured windows that somehow work, somehow. Though only about half of the building can be visited, I just find it bizarrely alluring. My friend loved it. Furthermore, the building has a few Complutensian Polyglot Bibles in display – the first polyglot edition of the Christian Holy book, published in the 16th century under the patronage of the Cardinal Cisneros, a key figure in local history.

Palacete Laredo: exterior and interior decorations + close up of the open bible, in Latin and Hebrew

We continued on, and walked round the city. We saw two back-to-back weddings at the cathedral Santa e Insigne Catedral-Magistral de los Santos Justo y Pastor – that meant we could not snoop into the cathedral, but we did see one of the brides arrive in a Rolls Royce.

Finally, we dropped by the archaeological museum Museo Arqueológico Regional, which has opened a very interesting new palaeontology ward – holding reproductions and real fossils of animals that used to live in the Madrid area, with a few coming from the palaeontological site of Cerro de los Batallones – most interestingly a Tetralophodon longirostris and a Machairodus aphanistus sabretooth cat.

Skeletons and skulls: mastodon, giant prehistoric giraffe that looks similar to a humongous goat, and sabretooth cat

We did a little more shopping afterwards, and eventually we drove off into the sunset… and the traffic. We ended up walking for 12.47 km (19078 steps), and driving for a good three hours, though M40 was so busy it actually felt like much much longer.

30th May 2022: The Slopes of Mount Teide {Tenerife, birthday 2022}

Due to the amount of near-misses, I had started thinking about this as the luckiest unlucky trip in a long time. Unfortunately, this was the day the luck ran out. As I woke up and turned on the phone I received the notification that the cable-car to go up Mount Teide was closed due to bad weather, which was a bit of a blow. I mean, I was in the middle of the natural park, without anything to do within a couple of hours by car as the hiking trails are closed on Monday mornings as it is then when the mouflon population is controlled – using rifles. I did not want to end up shot.

If you consider that the island Tenerife is one big volcano, Mount Teide is the most famous eruptive fissure. Considering it an independent item, it is a stratovolcano. The cone stands around 7500 metres from the sea floor, with an emerged 3715 m above sea level. Its base is located on a previous crater called Las Cañadas. Mount Teide last erupted in 1909, so it is still considered an active volcano, and it hosts a bunch of towns on its slopes, that might get obliterated in an eruption. Aside from being a National Park, the area is a UNESCO heritage site.

Historically, an eruption was reported by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Most recent eruptions happened in 2805, 1798 and 1909. Looking back, Mount Teide formed around 160,000 years ago, after the collapse of Las Cañadas. The last summit eruption happened in the 9th century, which caused the black lava blocks that seem to run down the slopes.

The whole point of my being there was going up the mountain, so I resolved to try and do that. I knew there was little chance I could make it to the top even with the access permission, but I would try. I decided to gamble the track Sendero de Montaña Blanca, which is the most typical one. For this, I had a good breakfast and started walking around 9:45 am. The track runs 8 km and starts at an altitude from 2348 m. If you have the permission, you can access the track Sendero de Telesforo Bravo that peaks the volcano at 3718 metres.

A stone and tile marker, with a map of the trail.

The first part of the morning, I spent on Montaña Blanca. I hiked around 3 km upwards in an hour or so. A park ranger told me that the bad weather was actually strong winds and to be careful. I’d never hiked with wind, so I decided that I would not do anything stupid. As I walked, I went by the accretion balls affectionately called “Teide Eggs” Huevos del Teide.

Collage: The Montaña Blanca trail. The landscape is desertic, reddish and brown, and there is barely any vegetation. When turning back, the sea peeks in the distance, and when looking up there are black rocks from an eruption.

Eventually, I reached the actual foot of Mount Teide, and this is when things got hard – and spectacular. The slope became much steeper and the wind made it hard to move forward. I walked between the two dark petrified lava flows, and could see Montaña Blanca and the Atlantic Ocean beneath.

View from the slope of Teide. Montaña Blanca is underneath, in red-gold. To the sides, the black and dark grey rocks trailing the old lava flows

I reached Refugio de Altavista at 3260 m around 14:00. At this point I was two kilometres away from the next station and 650 m away from the crater. Unfortunately, the elevation was still around 500 m. At this point the wind was very strong and shortly after the refuge I saw an area of the slope I knew I could climb up… but I knew I wouldn’t climb down with such strong wind, not safely. So I realised I had to turn back, even if that meant I wouldn’t see the peak, much less reach it. However, it was the sane thing to do.

Standing in the middle of the two solidified coladas - looking down there are black and grey rocks, and the sea in the horizon. Looking up, only more rocks.

It took me two and a half hours to hike down, and I made it back at the Parador around 17:30. I had a shower and I felt tired, though not as sore as I imagined. For dinner, I tried some local speciality “wrinkled potatoes” papas arrugadas, which are boiled in saltwater, and they are so high-class that can be eaten without being peeled. They come with some dips, a bit too spicy for my taste, but they were delicious.

Small voiled potatoes and three small bowls of sauces. The potatoes are unpeeled and they look wrinkled.

I was a bit bummed that I did not manage to reach the crater, but I think I did a good job, almost 1000 metres up and down. I guess it just meant I had to go back at some point…

26th February 2022: A Medieval Fair in Tendilla (Spain)

Tendilla is a tiny village in the area of Guadalajara, Spain. It was declared a town – by Medieval standards at least in 1394. About a century later, the County of Tendilla was founded. By that time, the local cattle fair, around the festivity of St. Matthew, was considered one of the best in the Kingdom of Castile, with the Catholic Monarchs bestowing their blessings on the town. Among the most interesting areas are the long covered arcades, and the unfinished church dating back from the 16th century, Iglesia de la Asunción.

The cattle fair was rekindled in the 1990s, and today it is called Feria de Mercaderías de San Matías. The closest weekend to the 24th of February, St. Matthew’s day, a Medieval market is laid along Main Street, with edibles, trinkets and artisan items. The village becomes decorated with flags, pennons showing off real and assumed heraldry items.

This year, I decided to get there as some family members were going to be in the house they own in the village. I arrived at around 10 am, and by that time most the village was already full. I got deviated, but it was not hard to find a parking spot. Unfortunately the weather had not decided to accompany and it was rainy and freezing all day.

The fair stalls had begun to open, but first we made a run for the local grocery stores to grab some ingredients for lunch. The typical thing to eat in this time are migas, which are basically fried breadcrumbs with paprika, pork, garlic and a fried egg on top. We also bought sweets and confectioneries, just because we could.

At noon, we walked along Main Street Calle Mayor. The stalls were already open, and even in the bad weather there were quite a few people. Some were even in costume, dressed in Medieval outfits, as dames, knights or noblemen.

A wide street. There are flags hanging above and from the balconies, and shopping stands on the right. the sky is dark and heavy, as in all the pictures taken

A wide street. There are flags hanging above, and shopping stands on the both sides, selling hand-made jewellry and trinkets.

A Romanesque church with a bell tower. The church is unfinished.

Main square. It has a pole in the middle, and colourful ribbons run from it to the buildings around the square. The floor has been covered in sand, and the houses are decorated with flags. Lots of people walk around.

To the end of the village, a small “farm” had been installed – oxen, horses, cows, goats, donkies, sheep, rabbits, piglets… Due to the ‘health situation’ which for once was not Covid but avian flu, there were no ducks or hens or any kind of bird. You could hold the bunnies, but I really really wanted to hug the huge draft horses.

Farm animals: a donkey, two piglets, cows, rabbits, a sheep trying to eat the camera, a working horse.

Farm animals: goats trying to escape the pen, oxen ignoring the camera, a black-and-white cow wanting pets, and a working horse looking tired.

Someone had not really thought positioning carefully though, and right in front of the farm – and the piglets – stood the food stalls, especially a roaster, whose cooked pork was… suspiciously similar to the piglets in the farm *coughs*.

On the other side of the farm, the locals had started preparing the communal migas – every visitor is entitled to a plate of them, but it was way too cold to queue. Instead of being topped with an egg, though, they are sprinkled with torreznos, pork lard fried and preserved.

A huge barbecue with pork roasting and sausages. The barbeque itself is round, and it's big enough to fit at least a dozen ribcages, ten pork legs, and twenty or thirty sausages.

A person using a shovel to stir a huge pot of breadcrumbs being cooked, and a close up of the severd plate: orange-looking breadcrumbs with dried fried pork lard on top.

On our way back we ran into the horse parade and show, which was held in front of the town hall. The riders of El Duque Espectáulos, dressed in Medieval and Templar costumes, trotted and galloped along the music.

A group of medieval-looking horse riders making their way through the crowds

An older man making a golden horse trot and gallop on command, the horse is photographed mid-hop

Riders in medieval clothing galloping on the Main square

We stopped to buy some torreznos to take home, and we got given the tourist treat – a cloth bag with a huge box of fried pork skin. It is tastier than it sounds, honest!

A tote bag reading Tendi (the rest of the writing is obscured), with a box of torreznos inside

We had lunch at home, and not to show off, but I do think our breadcrumbs looked much better. We made them ourselves, with chorizo meat and eggs sunny side up! They looked so much better than the communal ones, right?!

A plate of migas. The breadcrumbs look golden, and there are pieces of pancetta and chorizo mixed with the bread. On top, there is a fried egg, sunny-side up

Finally, after lunch, we took another stroll, but the weather was miserable, raining and cold – which was so mean because the following day when I had to work it was nice and sunny, and there was a bird of prey exhibit.

Romanesque and Baroque buildings, deserted in the rain. One of them is a tiny hermit church, the other a column, and the third a palace that has seen better times

But all in all I spent a nice time with family and got to pat horses and goats. I guess there are much worse ways to spend a Saturday.

Walked distance: 6.20 km (9866 steps)

18th – 20th February 2022: Extremadura, the not-at-all-wild west of Spain

With everything that keeps going on in the world, my little travel gig seems insignificant. Here it is, anyway, for the sake of completion.

18th February 2022: Jam and Ham

After a crazy crazy period, and within a just-slightly-less-crazy period, we made space for a mini escapade – just under 48 hours, but it was an interesting mental reset. We took the car and drove off to Cáceres after I finished work in the afternoon. The trip should have taken a little over 3 hours and 15 minutes, but we spent about 70 minutes caught in several traffic jams – or just a very long jam with different instalments.

Sunset from the road. The orange light zigzags through the grey and blue clouds

Cáceres is located in the autonomous community of Extremadura, which is famous because of its particular grassland with dwarf trees called a dehesa. The typical animal farmed in the area is the native Black Iberian pig – a traditional breed of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus). Through breeding with wild boars and millennia of adaptation, the Iberian pig has grown accustomed to eating oak acorns, and thus it has become a key part of the ecosystem. Furthermore, the breed has great tendency to accumulate intra-muscular fat. This means that its meat is delicious, especially as sausage. The most famous treat is the “Black label” (Etiqueta Negra or Dehesa de Extremadura) ham: a pig raised in the dehesa, fed acorns and natural grass, and whose meat has been cured for at least 20 months.

The area of Cáceres is also known for its sheep-milk cheese, Torta del Casar. It is a strong-flavoured creamy cheese that comes from controlled sheep, also raised in the dehesa. The cheese is especially curded with rennet made from cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Another typical food from the area is the local paprika Pimentón de la Vera, which is made from smoked local red peppers. All three – ham, cheese and paprika – hold European Protected Designation of Origin certificates.

Of course, not everything is food in Cáceres. After we checked into our hotel near the historical centre, we headed off to the Main Square Plaza Mayor de Cáceres, which features the town hall, the former wall gate called Arco de la Estrella (Star Arch), and one of the watch towers Torre de Bujaco.

The medieval square of Caceres by night. It looks like a castle, with arches, battlements. The sky is completely black.

We found a place inside to grab a bite, and we tried the sausages for dinner before turning in – acorn-fed pork ham, loin, chorizo, morcón (similar to chorizo), salchichón, and patatera (pork mixed with potato and paprika in sausage form).

A plate of sausage slices and ham

Walked distance: 1.79 km (2838 steps)

19th February 2022: The Old Town of Cáceres

The Old or Walled Town of Cáceres, Ciudad Vieja de Cáceres was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1986, and it is easy to see why. It is a small knot of streets between the ancient city walls and the gorge where cars can barely drive, sprinkled with Medieval and Renaissance palaces and manors. After finding an open café, we had breakfast, then headed off to explore that. Since it was a bit before 9 am, most everything was closed – but it was also empty, which was good. We crossed the Arco de la Estrella next to the Torre de Bujaco and walked into the walled area.

The medieval square of Caceres by daylight. It looks like a castle, with arches, battlements, and irregular bricks making up the walls.

We walked past the co-cathedral – to which we would come back later and several palaces, and we ended up at a two-level square called Plaza de San Jorge (St. George Square), towered over by the peculiar-looking church Iglesia de San Francisco Javier – note the white-painted towers.

A church with two twin bell towers, both in white. Between them, the body of the church, in grey rock. In order to access it, you have to climb a staircase, which has a small sculpture of St George attacking the dragon

There was a small palace to the left, and while the building was closed off, the gardens Jardines de Doña Cristina de Ulloa were open, albeit as it was early February, still in winter mode but for some berries and roses.

Wintery garden with bare tree. There are also evergreen bushes and trees, stairs, and benches.

We wandered around for a while, the headed off to a visit we had booked in advance – the manor / palace of the Lower Golfines Palacio de los Golfines de Abajo, which has nothing to do with their position in the social scale, but literally the position within the city hill – in the lower part. The family is known to have owned the palace from the time of the Catholic Monarchs, in the 15th century, till the death of the last descendant in 2012. This woman willed all the heirloom to a foundation that today manages the palace. The foundation got the palace renovated and brought some of the furniture from other properties belonging to the family – among them a glass lamp way too big for the room it was set in, and a sofa which was identical to the one that used to be in my great-aunt’s living room… The lower floor holds the recreated rooms – with more or less success and taste – and a smaller area decorated with Medieval paintings which were discovered by accident. The upper floor holds a small ethnography museum and some documents from the family’s library. Unfortunately, the foundation takes itself a little too seriously and won’t allow you to roam freely in the palace or take pictures, except for the inner Castilian patio.

Gothic palace, with an ornate roof and a small cloister or patio.

After the palace, we walked a whole minute and a half for the co-cathedral Santa Iglesia Concatedral de Santa María. It is the oldest church in town, built around the 15th century, in a Romanesque-going-Gothic style. Outside the church, at the base of the tower, there is a sculpture of Saint Peter of Alcántara. Inside, the altarpiece was carved between 1547 and 1551, in unpainted pine and cedar. The tower can be climbed, and I decided that I wanted to do that, despite not being what I usually do. It was empty enough that I felt comfortable doing so, and I was treated to some nice views.

Collage: a gothic church with a bell tower; the inside showing a bare-wood altarpiece; the sea of columns from above, and a view from the belltower, showing another church and the roofs of some low houses.

By the time we went out, the city had already been taken over by walking tours and guided visits. There were so many companies that the guides put stickers on their tourists so they could herd them round. We backtracked to the Baroque church with the white towers Iglesia de San Francisco Javier (also known as Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre), where there is no worship today. Instead, there is a huge collection of nativities (hundreds of them, literally). In order to visit the nativities you have to go up a perilous metal staircase. Once on the second floor – after having survived the peril – I decided to continue on the relatively safer stone staircase to one of the towers – only one, I did not climb up both of them. The lower floor holds two last nativities, a classical one and a hilarious set up made out of Playmobil, a German company that makes plastic figure toys.

Collage: The interior of a church with a baroque golden altarpiece, and a collection of Nativities.

We moved onto the following manor, to the side of the square, Casa Palacio Becerra, which shows some antique elements, and the house structure.

Inside a Renaissance palace, with a low arch, a glass lamp and a red carpet that try to look eclectic and end up looking bizarre

Later, we walked to Stork Square Plaza de las Cigüeñas. European white storks (Ciconia ciconia ciconia) are typical birds in Extremadura, and one wonders how they have not decided to make food out of them. In the tower stands one of the few towers that has kept its merlons, as the Catholic Monarchs were very into tearing tower tops down when they conquered a site. The adjacent manor, Casa de las Cigüeñas, hosts the military museum Museo de Armas Aula Militar.

A building with a tower. The inside is a museum, and there are some swords, firearms and Moorish decoration

At the end of the square, in yet another palace – two of them, actually – lies the Museo de Cáceres, the local museum. The part in the Casa de Las Veletasis a regular archaeological museum, with the kind of things you would expect – prehistoric, Roman and Celtic remains, more modern artefacts. The other area, Casa de Los Caballos, hosts the modern art gallery.

Gothic building turned into a museum. The pieces shown are funerary stelae, prehistoric animal representations - bulls or pigs - and jewells, a boat, and Roman emblems

However, the palace was erected on top of the local Arab cistern or aljibe. It is the best preserved in Spain and it has been gathering the rainfall water since the 10th century. Pretty impressive piece of engineering if you ask me.

The aljibe: a moorish basement filled with water. The columns sustain horseshoe shaped arches

Afterwards we still had some time to kill until it was time for lunch, so we wandered around the area of the Jewish quarters or Judería, under the watchful gaze of the local Cerberus.

Narrow streets, and a guarding dog looking suspicious

We had lunch in the local Parador de Cáceres, so I of course got my stamp. As a started we ordered the famous local cheese Torta del Casar cheese.

A tray with bread slices and breadsticks, and a cream cheese with spoons to be spread on the bread

In the afternoon we had a look at another church Iglesia de Santiago de los Caballeros. The church of St. James of the Knights was built in the 14th century over an older temple dating back from the 12th century. The altarpiece was carved and coloured by one of the most important sculptors of the Spanish Mannerism, Alonso Berruguete (1490 – 1561). This time I did not climb the tower – which had been happily colonised by a couple of storks.

Gothic church with a golden altarpiece. A stork snoozes on one of the towers.

After a little while, after sunset, I decided to skid around and have a walk through the old city at night. The artificial light made it look eery and romantic in the most… historical sense of the word. I came across some cats begging for food from a bunch of schoolgirls, and one of them very indignant because the girls would not beg it to take the food!

Different buildings of Cáceres at night. The are lit wit strategic lamps to give a mysterious feeling. There is also a white fluffy cat sitting and expecting food

Walked distance: 9.04 km (14766 steps)

20th February 2022: Trujillo & Oropesa (Toledo)

On this day I managed two more Paradores stamps. Trujillo is a town a meagre 30 minutes away from Cáceres. It also has a traditional / Medieval city centre, set around the main Square Plaza Mayor de Trujillo. It was the birthplace of one of the so-called conquerors during the colonisation of South America, Francisco Pizarro, whose equestrian statue, Estatua ecuestre de Francisco Pizarro (by American sculptor Charles Cary Rumsey). Other highlights in main square include the corner balcony in the “Conquest Manor” Palacio de la Conquista.

The large Reinassance square of Trujillo with decorated palaces and a sculpture of Hernan Cortez on his horse

One of the most interesting churches in the area is Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor. Its tower dates back from the 13th century, but was almost completely rebuilt in the 16th century. Inside the richly painted altarpiece was erected around 1490. Apparently, my newly-discovered activity of climbing towers yielded to a new adventure, as for a few minutes I ended up locked down in the bell tower – I guess I’m a Disney Princess now (≧▽≦).

Gothic church with gothic golden altarpiece.

I got an hour and a little to wander round the town, so I climbed up to see the Muslim fortress Alcazaba de Trujillo (also called castle). Built between the 9th and the 12th century, it is a huge building with a defensive wall, an aljibe or cistern, several towers and a Christian chapel.

Moorish castle, from the outside and the inside. The walls and the battlements are amazingly well-preserved. It seems that the castle is built around the natural rocks defending the area

Then I hurried towards the other edge of the city to get my Parador de Trujillo stamp (only cheating slightly. I was there, after all). On my way I happened upon the Torre del Alfiler, with a family of storks happily clattering away the late morning.

Storks on top of a bell tower

I backtracked to the Plaza Mayor and I had twenty minutes before our rendezvous time, so I decked into the church Iglesia de San Martín. Its origins date from the 14th century, but it was not finished till the 16th century – which makes it so that the thick Romanesque walls are mixed with Gothic and Renaissance elements. No tower this time, but the second floor holds a religious museum.

Romanesque turning Gothic church. The inside is plastered in white and the celing above the altar and the nave retains the original decorated stone ceilings

After getting a general idea of the Medieval town of Trujillo, but it being a “working Sunday”, we moved on rather quickly, and drove off until we made it for lunch in Oropesa (Toledo) which also holds a Parador – Parador Museo de Oropesa, the first monumental Parador opened in 1930. That makes three stamps in two days, I’m almost impressed with myself!

Plain building with ornate balconies, and cars parked on a row in front of it.

The Parador is adjoined to the castle Castillo de Oropesa, which was unfortunately closed, but I shall put in on my list of “to re-explore”. It was built by the Arabs during the 12th – 13th century, probably on a former Roman fortress. Today, the Old Castle is joined to the New Palace and both belong to Paradores.

Classical Romanesque castle with towers and turrets. It looks heavily restored.

After that, we drove back home, and as we got a couple of wrong turns, we ended up avoiding the traffic jam we had found on our way to Extremadura, which was convenient!

Walked distance: 5.57 km (8836 steps)

21st August 2021: Fossil tracks and Roman ruins {Spain, summer 2021}

Enciso is a couple of hours away from Sos del Rey Católico, but to be honest it is barely even on the map. It is a tiny little village in the area of La Rioja that I had not even heard of a year ago. But at some point during this year I became aware of it – and its palaeontological importance as it is the reference point for a dozen or so sites where ichnites have been found. Ichnites or fossil tracks are marks left by dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals on the mud that eventually become fossilised. In this little village in the middle of nowhere there are around 1,400 dinosaur foot tracks. When we were in Albarracín, we saw a bunch of fossils from the time Spain was submerged under the ocean. During the Mesozoic, the area of La Rioja, and the neighbouring Soria (Castilla y León), were somewhat swampy, which lead to a lot of mud. When dinosaurs and other animals moved through the mud, they left trails that sometimes became fossilised.

Our first stop in the village was the palaeontological museum Centro Paleontológico de Enciso . This one we could have skipped – it has next to no original pieces, and it basically just has a few infographics and reproductions of different types of dinosaur legs, but we had to start somewhere.

We visited two fossil track sites. The first one was a long strip of rock called Yacimiento de Valdecevillo . In this site, there are tracks of theropods (carnivores with three fingers, usually bipeds that left clawy marks), ornithopods (herbivores with three fingers, also bipeds, that left somewhat more rounded tracks), and sauropods (four-legged dinosaurs with less-defined fingers). Some of the tracks are very easy to identify (especially the ones fenced off), others are chalked on, and sometimes they even cross each other.

Next to the rock formation, a few reproductions have been built, in order to illustrate what dinosaurs roamed the area. A family of iguanodon has been clearly identified. The sauropod looks like a generic brachiosaurus, but it could have been a turiasaurus, even. I have to say though that the carnivore theropod needs a bit of an update – but it looked adorably like those that they drew when I was a kid back in the 80s. Oh, and we also saw a real-life present-day minisaurus (aka lizard, maaaaaaaybe Spanish psammodromus Psammodromus hispanicus).

It was too hot to walk around the trail, so we hopped onto the car and drove off to the other site, Yacimiento de la Virgen del Campo.
In this formation you can “feel” the mud – the rock has ripples (water marks), and here is even a small mud collapse from an earthquake. Here we saw foot tracks again, marks of skin, and even tail trails left by ancient crocodiles. In this site there are indications of a carnivore attacking a herbivore, represented by 1:1 sculptures (maybe a ceratosaurus and an iguanodon).

Around 13:00 we got back on the car and drove off to the town of Garray for lunch and a rest near the river…s. Río Tera, a smaller current, joins one of the most important rivers in Spain, Río Duero (Douro River) under the unnamed stone bridge.

We managed to have lunch in one of the few restaurants in town, in front of the municipal fountain and the church of Saint John the Baptist Iglesia San Juan Bautista. After lunch we stayed at the river bank for a while before we moved towards our next stop.

The archaeological site of Numantia Yacimiento arqueológico de Numancia holds the remains of a Roman town, built upon an earlier Celtiberian settlement. The Celtiberian town was the centre of a number of hostilities against the Romans in the second century BCE – the Numantine War, the third of the Celtiberian Wars broke out in 143 BCE. After a decade, the Romans sent one of the heroes of the Third Punic war to suffocate the rebellion. The general cut down all the trees in the area and built a barrier around the settlement, in what has been called the Siege of Numantia, in 133 BCE. The town was completely cut off the rest of the world and after eight months of siege, the inhabitants set the town on fire. Most of them committed suicide in order to avoid being taken as slaves.

After the Roman conquerors levelled the ruins, a new town emerged, and a Roman settlement existed in the area between the first and fourth centuries CE. The last remains date back from the sixth century before the town vanished from existence and memory until it was located in the late 19th century.

Today, the site holds remains and patterns for several houses, and it has a reconstructed Roman house, an Iberian house and two pieces of the wall. The most visual building is a Roman house of the later period which still keeps a couple of columns. Unfortunately, this was 16:30 and the guided visit was long and full of useless and dull information – guess who got a sunburnt, even under an umbrella?

When we were done with Numantia, we decided to skip the complementary exhibition in Garray and drove off towards Soria, where we would be staying the night.

The Parador de Soria, our hotel, is the first modern Parador I’ve stayed in, though it stands on the mountain where the castle used to be, and the views were astonishing (I also almost forgot my stamp!!). We had dinner in the parador, which included some freshly-fried torreznos de Soria. Torreznos are a pork-based snack especially typical in the area. The pork belly is marinated with salt and paprika, cured or smoked, and finally fried – delicious but for sure a “sometimes food”. After dinner, we went to our rooms to compare the day-view with the night-view and admire the moon.

Total driven distance: 196 km. Total walking distance: 6.57 km.

8th – 12th July 2021: Beach weekend (El Campello & Elche, Spain)

The sea is far, far away and due to a number of situations coming together, we rented an apartment near the ocean for a couple of days. Our usual summer destination was not a good option this year due to – as everything that is going less than great these days – to Covid, so we gave a try to the town of El Campello. The town likes boasting itself as a beach paradise-resort, while it’s barely a standard Mediterranean village eaten which boomed along other, bigger resorts such as Benidorm. The apartment was not anything marvellous, but it was extremely close to the ocean – just beyond the waterfront promenade, Paseo Marítimo.

8th July 2021: The arrival

We arrived in El Campello at around 4pm, did a fast sweep of the apartment in order to feel safer Covid-wise and I decided to go for a walk at the beach, jeans and all. There were surprisingly fewer people than expected, and not as hot as I thought it would be – all in all we were pretty lucky, weather-wise.

El Campello is built parallel to the coastline. The more traditional area has a small marina Puerto de El Campello to the north, and then a sand beach that extends towards the south divided into Platja de la Illeta and Platja del Carrer de la Mar. Though the beach has a couple of breakwaters, they are for protecting the beach against erosion and not to separate the different areas – the east of Spain has a reputation for building quite close to the beaches. Over the years, that caused the winds and waves to shift and the once amazing and long beaches started being washed away – now all those groins are necessary to keep the sand in place, and are liberally built along the Mediterranean coast.

I climbed on one, of course, more than once – and more than one too (≧▽≦).

In the evening we walked along the waterfront promenade. While most of it is fronted by restaurants and souvenir shops, I did see this cute little house.

Eventually, we chose a place to have dinner – some fish and the area speciality: honey-soaked aubergine (berenjenas con miel), which is not actually made with honey, but a type of molasses – which actually makes this a vegan dish, as bees are not involved in making the “honey”, what do you know? The first time I tried this I was not too convinced, but if prepared well, this dish is absolutely delicious.

9th July 2021: The lady’s town

Elche is a nearby town a bit inland, and the third most populated in the area. It is famous due to the Iberian sculpture bust found nearby and because of its palm grove. The history of the town can be traced back to the current archaeological site Yacimiento Arqueológico de La Alcudia, whose stratigraphic sequence dates to the Bronze Age. There are ruins and artefacts, mostly from the Iberian and Roman ages, though there are findings until the Islamic era.

In 1897, a young farmer found the bust named La Dama de Elche, the Lady of Elche, which can be seen in Madrid’s archaeological museum Museo Arqueológico Nacional – it is the limestone bust of an Iberian woman, probably with funerary purposes, what was carved around the fourth century BCE. Since that time, a great deal of work has been carried out in the area of La Alcudia, and today is a full-fledged archaeological site with a Roman wall, several Iberian and Roman houses, a Roman temple and an Iberian one, a basilica, and hundreds of sculptorical and clay artefacts.

We visited the site in the morning, hoping to finish the stroll before it became too hot. There are still works carried out in the site, but you can visit and walk around the area – as long as you don’t step on the red ground. There are two museums on site, aside from the outer ruins. In one of them there is a reproduction of the lady, which yields to easier pictures than the glass protection in the National museum. There are also interpretations and reconstructions about what the Lady may have looked like when she had her colours. Unfortunately, reaching the site is hard, and probably not worth the detour unless you’re an expert in archaeology, but it turned out interesting to see.

… Except for the “commemorative site” of where they found the Lady. That was hideous.

After La Alcudia, we drove off to the town centre to walk around Palmeral de Elche, the biggest palm grove in Europe, with around 200,000 – 300,000 trees, most of the date palm species, Phoenix dactylifera. The palm tree grove originates in the 10th century CE (planted by the Caliphate of Cordoba conquerors), and it has been a UNESCO heritage site since the year 2000. The most important palm grove is in the centre of the town (and we missed the dragon that stands on one of the trees 。゚(゚´Д`゚)゚。).

Close to the grove stands the local archaeological museum, Museo Arqueológico y de Historia de Elche, divided between the new building and the old Moorish castle or alcázar, Palacio de Altamira, which drinks from La Alcudia and other findings from the area.

After the museum, we headed off to see the main church Basílica de Santa María, but we had just missed opening times. It stands on the place of the original mosque, and the current building – the third church that has been built – is Baroque. The bold blue dome is typical of the area, found all over the region on towers and churches.

As we could not see the basilica, we just had lunch! After a bit of a banter with an over-friendly waiter we had some fish-based lunch to share – salt-preserved fish bits, grilled octopus and tuna tataki.

On the way back we got to see a different view from the palm grove and the castle and the palm grove – maybe it looked like this in the old Arab times?

It was too hot to stick around and wait for the museums and church to open up again, so we drove back and after a while I headed back to the beach. This time I reached the end of the sand beach and got to the boulder one at the end of the waterfront promenade.

We had a quiet dinner at the apartment, then went out for ice-cream. We ended up walking to the marina, Port d’El Campello and caught sight of the Torre Vigía De La Illeta in the background.

10th July 2021: Not much to report

Just some pizza and a night-time walk along the waterfront promenade yielding tries to take artistic pictures without much success.

11th July 2021: The Tower

I woke up with a lovely reaction to the sun – not a sunburn, more like an allergy flare-up (here’s the plausible explanation for that), so we went out rather early for a walk, to then shield from the sun.

From the Roman times, a number of watchtowers were build along the Mediterranean coast to be on the lookout for pirates. The tower in El Campello, Torre Vigía de la Illeta was built between 1554 and 1557 (and restored in the 1990s), was part of a watch system commissioned by the Viceroy of Valencia at the time. The tower was manned by two infantry and two mounted soldiers – in case a pirate ship was spotted, the former would make smoke signals and the latter would ride to raise alarm in town.

The tower overlooks the marina, the town, and the archaeological site Yacimiento Arqueológico La Illeta dels Banyets, with ruins and artefacts dating from the Iberian and Roman times, but we did not walk to them as it was early in the morning and it was not even open.

It was hot, so most of the day was spent under the air-con, to later have dinner out – some mussels, more aubergine with honey (not so good this time), and squid rings. But the highlight of the night was the final ice-cream waffle, which is a great, great idea.

And that was it, as we left early in the morning the following day, as soon as we could check out, as the trip is – as mentioned – long.

29th & 30th May 2021: The Walls (and churches) of Ávila (Spain)

There was a little-talked about consequence of the Industrial Revolution in Spain. While it is widely known that it drew a large number of people to the cities and towns, few stop to think of the subsequent steps that had to be adopted. More people in town required housing, and thus a number of projects denominated ensanches or “widenings” were projected and carried out. Even though such a thing makes sense, here lies the problem – in order to enlarge the urban area, many Spanish cities and towns tore down their Roman and Medieval walls, leaving either bare traces or nothing at all.

Legend has it that the town of Ávila lacked the money to demolish the wall. In retrospect, that was a good thing, because today, the walls that surround Ávila, Murallas de Ávila are among the most impressive Europe, some say that even better preserved than Carcassonne (France).

Ávila is a couple of hours away by car, so we drove off on Saturday morning at around 8 am and were there just before 10 am. We entered the city through one of the city wall gates, Puerta del Carmen.

Approach to the walls

We parked (100% ditched the car) at the hotel and checked in – even if it was quite early, they told us that one of the rooms was already prepared and gave us the keys. Unfortunately, it was not, and since the blunder was a Covid-protcol blunder, they upgraded us as an apology. The hotel, Parador de Ávila, belongs to the Spanish network of Paradores, and it is located in a 16th century palace, Palacio de Piedras Albas. We booked late-check-out for the following day, which can be done “for free” booking lunch in the restaurant (which is obviously not free).

Parador

Our first stop was the tourist office, but not the one that is clearly signalled in the middle of the town – the one that is located outside the wall and you have to turn around and around to find. But we needed it to buy the 48-hour pass to the monuments. Then we stuck around to wait for the nearby church to open, which gave way to observing the wall for the first time.

The Muralla de Ávila has been a UNESCO Heritage site since 1985. The structure is clearly defensive and it was built towards the end of the 11th century, quite probably as extension or reinforcement of a previous one, either Roman or Arab – though the Roman theory is the most credible as some pieces used in the original wall seem to come from a now-lost Roman cemetery, and there are documents about a Roman camp with similar shape. The wall has been restored in several occasions, and after surviving the ensanche risk, it was declared national monument and cleared of attached houses. Today most of the wall belongs to the Spanish government, and it is managed by the town hall, though there are some private parts, such as the ones that are part of the cathedral. The walls close off all the historical centre. They have a perimeter of 2,515 metres, with around 2,500 merlons, almost 90 turrets, and nine gates. Our second gate was Puerta de San Vicente.

Puerta de San Vicente

The first monument we stopped by, as soon as it opened since we were already there, was the basilica church Basílica de San Vicente (officially Basílica de los Santos Hermanos Mártires, Vicente, Sabina y Cristeta, three Christian siblings who were martyred nearby). It is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in the whole country, built between the 12th and the 14th century. It is protected as part of the World Heritage Site declaration. One of its characteristics is the golden rock in which it is built – sandstone-looking granite.

Iglesia de San Vicente

The inside of the basilica is, in the typical way, a mix of more modern styles. The grave of the martyr siblings is Pre-gothic, and the large altarpiece is Baroque. In the crypt there are proto-Christian pieces and a Romanesque Virgin which we did not get to see and which is the patron of the town.

Iglesia de San Vicente

Afterwards we headed off to the cathedral Catedral de Cristo Salvador, which is considered the first gothic cathedral in Spain (something that other people say about Cuenca), with clear French influences. It was designed as a fortress church as its abse dubs as one of the turrets of the city wall.

Catedral de Cristo Salvador

In later years, a choir was added, along with a Baroque altarpiece. The walls are also sandstone-looking granite, but some elements inside are limestone and wood.

Catedral de Cristo Salvador

To the side of the cathedral stands the cloister, which holds the grave to the first modern president of Spain, Adolfo Suárez, and the entrance to the cathedral’s museum. It yields to views of the tower and… the storks that squat there.

We headed off towards the Museum of Ávila. First we stopped at the former church Iglesia de Santo Tomé, which today is a warehouse for the museum, but can be visited anyway. When I was young, I studied the statues / sculptures called verracos, built around the 5th century BCE by the Vettones, a Celtic pre-Roman civilisation that faded upon the arrival of the Romans. The verracos are crude statues that represent four-legged animals – bulls, boars or pigs. At the time, I had only heard about a number of them, and was somehow under the impression that there were two or three around. I was quite wrong, apparently they pop up from the snow like daisies or something. In the church-turned-warehouse there were like twenty, one outside, there was one at the hotel garden… so no, apparently they are quite common. Other artefacts in the building include some carriages, Roman sculptures and mosaic, Muslim funerary artefacts and roof boards…

Iglesia de Santo Tomé

Then we moved onto the museum itself, Museo de Ávila, with a beautiful patio and a number of archaeological and ethnological items which represent the history and folklore of the town.

Museo de Ávila

It was almost time for lunch, so we headed off towards the restaurant where we had booked. Before, we made a small stop at an old palace Palacio del Rey Niño, built in the 12th century, today turned into the Post office and the public library, with a patio closed off by the Walls themselves.

Palacio del Rey Niño

Then we walked by the modern marketplace.

mercado

Which happened to be right in front of the restaurant, named La Lumbre. Aside from its walls, Ávila is famous for its cattle, a particular breed called Raza Avileña – Negra Ibérica, and of course the meat the animals produce, especially the matured and grilled meat from older oxen. After the animal has been sacrificed, the meat is matured in a traditional process called “dry maturation” for six weeks before it is grilled. We ordered the rib steak, chuletón to share, along with some grilled vegetables, a “tomato salad” that was a… one-tomato with dressing. And then there were desserts, aside from chocolate cake, we ordered yemas de Ávila – a typical confectionery made with egg yolks, lemon juice, cinnamon, and caster sugar. Lots of typical stuff, as you can see!

lunch

Our next stop was the main square, called “little market square”, Plaza del Mercado Chico, along with the town hall or Ayuntamiento. The square was rebuilt in the 19th century and is flanked by arcades. The town hall was built in 1862.

Plaza del Mercado Chico

Plaza del Mercado Chico: Ayuntamiento

After a brief stop at the Parador for some rest, we headed off to find a convent / monastery on the other side of town. On the way we came across some ruins that I assume are the church Iglesia de San Jerónimo, as they sit in the square of the same name.

Ruinas de San Jerónimo

We reached the convent Convento de San José, a reconstruction of a previous monastery and church, the first founded by Santa Teresa de Jesús (Saint Teresa of Ávila), a Christian “doctor of the church” and mystic Carmelite nun, known for her ‘raptures’, her reforms, and her literature work. More on her later though. The convent and church were a little… underwhelming, even if is a World Heritage building.

Contento de San José

Then we walked back towards the historical centre, and walked past the church Iglesia de San Pedro, a 13th-century building with a great rose window, but which was closed (reforms).

Iglesia de San Pedro

On the other side of the square, Plaza del Mercado Grande (Big Market Square) stands another of the wall gates, Puerta del Alcázar, and a monument to Saint Teresa Monumento a Santa Teresa: La Palomilla.

Puerta del Alcázar

Next we separated and I went off to climb the walls Murallas de Ávila. Well, to walk on the parapet. Due to Covid, there is only one access, next to the Cathedral and its gate Puerta de la Catedral. The walkable area is around 1.4 km, including walking over some of the gates and up and down more than a few turrets. It allows for some amazing views of the town and its outskirts…

Views from the walls

… but also of the wall itself, both the original walls and the add-ons from later eras (and a magpie).

When I reached the end of the walk, I went down and crossed the bridge gate Puerta del Puente, named that way because it overlooks the bridge over the Adaja river. I could not take a picture of it because the traffic police was checking cars at the roundabout in front of the gate. Thus, I headed off to the pedestrian bridge to cross over towards the tiny hermit popularly known as “the four posts”, Los Cuatro Postes, which yield to an impressive view of the town and its walls.

Cuatro Postes

Views on the wall

Avila and View

I walked back to see the walls from the base. Then I crossed the gate we had driven through in the morning, Puerta del Carmen, and I headed back to the hotel for a drink.

At the feet of the walls

Puerta del Carmen

After a while we headed off for dinner and tried another of the typical dishes in Ávila, patatas revolconas – mashed potatoes with paprika and pork rashers, and waited for the sun to go down so the city lit up.

Patatas revolconas

A walk around the town yielded to views of the Iglesia de San Vicente and Puerta de San Vicente, some of the inner streets leading to the town hall Ayuntamiento, the longer area of the Muralla and the Puerta del Carmen.

Night view

And then I had a very, very long shower and went to bed.

In the morning, breakfast was had – not a fan of the “we can’t have a buffet so we prepared this and this is what you get” plate, but whatever. I mentioned Santa Teresa before, let’s get into that a bit further. She was a 16th-century nun born near Ávila, canonized in the 17th century, and elevated to doctor of the church in the 20th century. She is conisdered one of the great mystics and religious women in the Roman Catholic church, author of a number of spiritual classics, and the reformer of the Carmelite nun order into the Discalced Carmelites. She founded convents all over Spain and was known for her mystics raptures which may have been messages from God or epileptic attacks. She is one of Ávila’s most important historical figures and wherever you go there are traces of her. In the place where her house stood now there is a convent, a church, a reliquary room and an interpretation museum, with really strange hours on Sundays. We could see the convent / church Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesús / Iglesia de la Santa and the reliquary room where no pictures were allowed Sala de Reliquias between services.

Iglesia de la Santa

On the way, however, I found some interesting ruins – the gate to the former hospital Hospital de Santa Escolástica, and we walked past a bunch of palaces.

Portada de Santa Eulalia

Then we moved onto a long walk to the 16th- century Gothic monastery Real Monasterio de Santo Tomás, which we could see due to lucky timing as there was a First Holy Communion Mass happening and the local little old ladies were not to keen on cultural visits of the church.

The monastery has a church, three cloisters and two adjacent museums. The church has an impressive Gothic altarpiece (by Pedro Berrugete, one of the key painters riding the wave between Gothic and Renaissance arts), and hosts the grave to the Catholic Monarch’s only male son.

Santo Tomás

The three cloisters: Claustro del Noviciado, Claustro del Silencio, and Claustro de los Reyes Católicos (Novitiate, Silence and Catholic Monarchs).

Santo Tomás Cloisters

The Museum of Natural Sciences Museo de Ciencias Naturales, an occupational therapy project could… be better, and sets the expectation bar rather low for the next one.

Museo de Ciencias Naturales

However, the Museum of Eastern Arts Museo de Arte Oriental is pretty impressive. It contains pieces and artefacts that the Dominican missioners brought from China, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Museo de Arte Oriental

And in the end, that was it for the weekend. We walked back, decided to give the museum of Saint Teresa a miss, had a drink, had lunch and went back on our merry way – with a a view of the train tracks over the dam of the reservoir Embalse de Fuentes Claras.

Train tracks over Embalse de Fuentes Claras

Walked distance (Saturday): around 12.5 km
Walked distance (Sunday): around 6 km
Total distance driven (both days): around 340 km

12th September 2020: Sigüenza (Spain)

We took a drive to Sigüenza, in Spain. This medieval town? big village? had a big relevance through the Middle Ages, and the historical centre reflects that. The most prominent point is the castle on top of a hill. The Castillo de los Obispos is a fortress that can be traced to Roman times. However, the actual castle was a Moorish alcazaba. After the Christians took it over in the 12th century, it was remodelled and enlarged. Due to its vantage point, the castle was a key element in different wars and strife, including the Napoleonic invasion and the Civil War, thus resulting pretty damaged. In the late 20th century it was decided to restore it turn it into a Parador with around 50 rooms.

During our planning stage we called and tried to book a restaurant for lunch, and we were told they were not taking them, we had to call on the same day. Of course, when we got there, it was impossible to book – there was a course and the celebration of a communion (seriously, people, learn to say no so others can get organised). Unfortunately, you could not see the interior or even the yard if you had no reservations, so I can only share a picture from the parking lot, where we left the car.

We walked down the main street Calle Mayor, a clobbered slope that ends (well, technically begins) at the town’s main square.

Main Square or Plaza Mayor is home to the Town Hall or Ayuntamiento de Sigüenza, an old palace with a typical Castillian inner yard or patio.

Opposite the town hall stands the cathedral Catedral de Santa María La Mayor de Sigüenza. The Gothic building was built upon a previous Romanesque one and it had some Neoclassical and Baroque additions. Thus, the façade sports Romanesque doors and rose window, and the main body is Gothic. The altar and the choir are awfully Baroque too, and some of the chapels sport Cisneros, Plateresque and Renaissance decorations. All in all, an interesting pout-pourri of architectural and decoration styles.

The most important piece of art of the cathedral, however, is a funerary piece to the right of the altar. It is the sepulchre of Martín Vázquez de Arce “El Doncel” (“The Young Man”). The chapel holds him, his parents and grandparents, but the sculpture on his sepulchre is the most impressive one. The Vázquez de Arce family were vassals of the Mendoza family, the most important family in the area during the Middle Ages. During the war to conquer Al-Andalus, the Vázquez de Arce males followed the Mendoza to the war in Granada, where Martín died in a trap set by the Arabs, which consisted on damming the River Genil to a creek, and then releasing the dam so the water took over the enemies crossing (which… kinda sounds like something out of the Lord of the Rings, doesn’t it? At least, it makes me think of Arwen and Treebeard). The sepulchre, commissioned by Martín’s brother, presents him taking a break during training and reading a book. He even has pupils, so if you could climb up, you’d see what he’s reading!

The cloister is also Gothic, as the previous Romanesque one was torn down. It holds a central garden and a number of side rooms where there is a collection of mythology-themed tapestries. In one of the chapels, there is also a painting by El Greco, a Greek painter rooted in Spain who was one of the key artists during the Spanish Renaissance.

The cathedral ticket also allows a visit to the Diocesan Museum Museo Diocesano, which holds many pieces of religious art, along with a few models of the cathedral in its different construction stages. These days I’m trying to learn some hagiography, which means how to identify religious figures by how they’re presented. Getting there, three out of ten times or so, because half the time they cheat.

After the cathedral we climbed up towards the castle, and we stopped at the former church Iglesia de Santiago, now transformed into a mini-introduction centre for all the “hidden” or “unknown” Romanesque in the area. The church itself had some beautiful paintings, but it was destroyed during the Civil War.

Continuing our way up, we turned a little to see the house where the Vázquez de Arce family used to live, now turned in a museum, Museo Casa del Doncel. There is a little paintings exhibition and a guitar museum, along with some ancient artefacts such as vases or looms. The most interesting part are the Moorish “Mozárabe” decoration. Here is a bit of historic trolling: when the Christian “conquerors” hired Arab craftsmen to do decoration, one of the things the Arabs did was decorate using Quran verses.

Then we saw the outside of the church Iglesia de San Vicente Mártir, Romanesque to boot.

Afterwards, we ended up at the square Plazuela de la Cárcel, where the old gaol jail stood.

Finally, we headed over to the restaurant where we had booked a lunch table, a traditional grill called La Taberna Seguntina where I chose to have a “summer menu” with salmorejo (a thick soup or purée made with tomato, oil, and bread and sprinkled with boiled egg and cured ham) and roasted cochinillo (suckling pig, roasted whole) with potatoes and herbs. For dessert I had a pudding!

And that was it, really – Medieval Sigüenza has nothing else to see. As the façade of the castle was being restored, we did not even take pictures of it as we drove away.

4th September 2020: Alcalá de Henares (Spain)

After looking for a place to park the car for 12 minutes, I left the car and I went off on foot towards the centre with a relative who is living in Alcalá de Henares. The town centre has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1998.

Our first stop, at 10:30 almost sharp was the Palacete Laredo, a small palace built in the Neo-Mudéjar style, a type of Moorish Revival architecture. It was designed and built between 1880 and 1884 by the Spanish artist Manuel José de Laredo y Ordoño. After a century in private hands, it passed to the town hall, which allows the university to use it as a museum, showing a collection of ancient documents.

The palace is built in brick, it has two floors and a minaret-like tower. The inside is decorated with coloured-glass window, tiles and paintings. The visible ceilings on the first floor are wooden artesonado (decorative beams joined together). There is also a garden, but it was closed.

Afterwards, we headed off towards the centre. We walked by the church Parroquia de Santa María la Mayor and is inhabitant the stork on photo duty.

We had tickets to see the Corral de Comedias, a theatre built in the site of an ancient “theatrical courtyard”. These were open-air theatres that were common during the late middle ages and exploded in popularity in the 16th century. The Corral in Alcalá de Henares was built in 1601 by Francisco Sánchez, member of the Carpenters Guild. It suffered several changes – the ceiling was built in the 18th century, then it became a cinema, and eventually was “lost” in the 1970s. In the 1980s, it was rediscovered, restored, and finally opened as working theatre in 2003.

Alas, we were too late for the 12:00 visit to the university, so we wandered around the town’s main square Plaza de Cervantes – Alcalá de Henares was Cervantes’ birthplace. Miguel de Cervantes was a 16th century Spanish writer, most renown for his novel “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha”, which many authors consider “the first modern novel” and “the best literary work ever written” (though… I disagree). The square features a bandstand, the statue of Cervantes, and is surrounded by several buildings of importance – the ruins of the church Iglesia de Santa María, the Town Hall and the Círculo de Contribuyentes, former casino, and the Corral de Comedias.

Then we walked down Main Street Calle Mayor, until we got down to the Obispado de Alcalá de Henares, the bishopric, with two towers from the former wall at their sides. That reminds me – we did not visit the cathedral or any religious buildings because they were all closed to tourism.

At 13:00 we took the guided visit to one of the university buildings, the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso. The university was established in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros, an influential Spanish religious and statesman in the time of the Catholic Monarchs. A colegio mayor is basically a dignified “classic” dormitory. The façade was built between 1537 and 1559 in the Plateresque style, an architectural style that developed in Spain between the late Gothic and the early Renaissance. The architect was Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón.

Inside, we saw the cloisters and yards, the gate of honour (from where the successful students left the university), the classroom where the students defended their final thesis, and the chapel, with the tomb of the founding Cardinal (but not his body, which is in the cathedral).

We had a reservation to have lunch at the Parador de Alcalá de Henares, which is a rather modern building and not a historical one, but a stamp was needed (≧▽≦). Lunch was a looong affair because our waiter might not have been the… most efficient. We tried the combos with a little bit of everything to share (entrées and desserts), and some bull tail. Oh and coffee. Yay coffee. (Also, kudos to me for cutting that nut in half.)

After lunch, we walked down the Calle Mayor again and we made a stop at what is supposed to be the house where Cervantes was born, or at least a reconstruction, with a bunch of ancient objects thrown in – the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes. There was also a photography exhibition. To be honest, it had a great quality-price relation. It was free, and the quality was… lacking. Or maybe I’m old and I have seen most of the stuff they showed in action, and used a few.

We continued on to the regional archaeological museum Museo Arqueológico Regional, located in the old Archiepiscopal palace. That was unexpectedly good, with the fossil record and the old Roman mosaics.

Pending for a future visit to Alcalá de Henares: Roman and Medieval areas, and the religious buildings, as the day finished up doing some necessary and work-related shopping before I drove back home.

Driven distance: Around an hour? I dumped the car as soon as I could and we walked the hell out of the town (≧▽≦)
Walked distance: 14.61 km

8th August 2020: Astorga {Spain, summer 2020}

We left Pontevedra in the morning and we drove off towards Astorga, in León. It should have been an all-motorway trip, except half the motorway was under construction so it took us a while longer than we thought to arrive.

The hotel was… shabby – and I’ve been in “bad” hotels before, but I’d never before been to one where there was food from the previous (?) guests in the mini-fridge, nor one with such… untrained staff.

After checking in, we went to see the cathedral Catedral de Santa María de Astorga and its religious artefacts museum, including some neat codices.

Then we had lunch – and did not die out of trying the local cachopo (huge stuffed and breaded fillet that we shared (≧▽≦).)

After lunch, we went to visit the palace that a bishop had commissioned Gaudí with, the Episcopal Palace of Astorga, or Palacio Episcopal de Astorga, also called Palacio de Gaudí, built within between 1889 and 1913, and obviously Modernist. I’d been wanting to visit this for a while now, so finally!

Later, we went out to buy “souvenirs” – namely local beef jerky cecina and chocolate! Although the chocolate museum was briefly on the plan, we forsook it because it was not significantly different from the one in Villajoyosa. and in the end the final product is what is important (≧▽≦).

Driving distance: 301 km
Walking distance: 5.89 km

7th August 2020: Seafood {Spain, summer 2020}

We headed out for a guided visit around Pontevedra (personally, not a fan, but the downsides of travelling in a group…). These are some of the monuments / places we visited:

Alameda de Pontevedra and Monumento a los Héroes de Puente Sampayo.

Casa Consistorial (Town Hall) and Fiel Constraste sculpture by Ramón Conde.

Casa de Campás (palace house where a local pirate used to live).

Theatre and Liceo.

Plaza del Hospital (square).

Monument to the Parrot Loro Ravachol

Santuario de la Virgen Peregrina, church and fountain.

Plaza de la Herrería (Blacksmiths’ square), along with the convent Convento San Francisco and Wall Gate; Jardines de Casto San Pedro (gardens), with another fountain, and the other squares around: Ourense, Estrella, Casto San Pedro.

Casa de las Caras (House of the Faces).

Plaza de la Leña (Firewood Square), a cruceiro (stone cross) and García Flórez Building.

Iglesia San Bartolomé (St. Bartholomew’s church).

Plaza Verduras (Greengrocers’ Square).

Statue to Valle Inclán, who was an important Spanish writer born in 1866.

Plaza de Teucro (Teucro Square) along with the powerful family shields (Montenegro Family) on the buildings.

Casa Valle Inclán, where the writer used to live, and cruceiro.

Basílica de Santa María la Mayor (basilica).

Ruinas del Monasterio de Santo Domingo (ruined monastery).

After the visit, we headed off to a restaurant called Casa Román for some seafood, which is typical of the area. We had Goose barnacles (Pollicipes pollicipes), which are supposed to be an amazing delicacy of the area – I had never tried them before, not the real thing. Then we ordered velvet crab (Necora puber) and a fried lobster (Homarus gammarus) on a potato bed.

Can you say food coma? Yeah. Me too, because we did nothing else that day except going out for a salad dinner, that turned out to be this:

To be honest we did some walking around beforehand, and came across a couple of bridges over the river Lerez: the modern Puente de las Corrientes and the Medieval Puente del Burgo.

Then we went back to the Ruins of the convent Ruinas de Santo Domingo to see them at night.

Walking distance: 7.20 km

6th August 2020: Monforte → Ourense → Pontevedra {Spain, summer 2020}

We left behind Monforte de Lemos and drove off to Ourense, one of Spain’s thermal cities. Unfortunately most of the thermal water stuff is closed due to Covid and it was 40ºC anyway (≧▽≦). Upon arriving we left the car, and walked to the cathedral Catedral de San Martín de Ourense, an amazing piece of Romanesque / Gothic art with an amazing 13th-century chromatic Portico of Paradise [Pórtico del Paraíso] and a horrible Baroque Chapel of Christ [Capilla del Santo Cristo].

Ourense: Romanesque portico with wooden figures painted in bright colours (by JBinnacle)

We walked past Plaza Mayor or main square.

And we reached the area called As Burgas, where the old Roman baths and fountains of thermal water stand.

Then we took a stroll upwards and found an interesting church – the Iglesia de Santa Eufemia, very, very Baroque and climbed about five hundred stairs.

After arriving at the cloister of Francis, Claustro de San Francisco, we took a walk around and then went back to the car to drive off to Pontevedra.

On our way out we could spot the Roman bridge, Ponte Romana, but could not take any nice pictures due to the railing of the actual bridge we were on.

It did not take long to Pontevedra, where we had lunch, rested for a while, and then took a stroll around the town centre. Oh, and I got stamp number four as we stayed at the Parador de Pontevedra, which is an old city palace. Pontevedra is the town of a thousand squares, or so it feels. The truth is that the following morning we had booked a guided visit, so just a few highlights here.

Santuario de la Virgen Peregrina, a shell-shaped church in the centre of the town:

Plaza de la Herrería (and a few others surrounding it), with a friendly mask-concerned dinosaur (don’t judge, their hands might not be too good for the knot-tying).

We had dinner a splendid dinner: scallops (both zamburiñas and vieiras, or king scallops (Pecten maximus), empanada(pie) and lacón (pork. Not quite ham, but yummy anyway).

Driving distance: 168 km
Walking distance: 6.28 km

5th August 2020: Monforte de Lemos {Spain, summer 2020}

After so many curves, we deserved a calm day, which included some art in Monforte de Lemos . We started off at the river Cabe, crossing the bridge Ponte Vella and the newer iron one.

We had booked to visit the Christian Art Museum in the Clares’ convent Museo de Arte Sacro / Convento de las Clarisas, which features some interesting pieces of art, among them a dead Christ by Gregorio Fernández, and hundreds of reliquaries with supposed remains of Saints.

Then we moved to the Piarists School, the church, and their painting collection Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de la Antigua / Pinacoteca de los Escolapios . The school is built in a Renaissance Herrerian style and the guide constantly tried to one-up San Lorenzo del Escorial.

Then we found a good meat restaurant, Mesón JM for some local beef T-bone that we could prepare ourselves, although I get the nagging feeling they actually short-served us as they never showed us the meat piece. Please excuse the reddish tint of the pictures. It was the parasol and at the time I did not notice (≧▽≦).

After lunch and a break, we took a climb into the old castle keep Torre del Homenaje, and walked around for a little.

We ended the day at the tapas bar La Fábrica for some seafood.

And finished the day with some in-accomodation exploration at the Parador de Monforte de Lemos.

Walked distance: 9.03 km

4th August 2020: Meanders and Curves {Spain, summer 2020}

The area we were visiting that day, called Ribeira Sacra, is sprinkled with Christian monasteries [mosteiros] and churches [Igrexas] in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. These religious sites became commonplace during the Medieval times, along the way that leads up to Santiago de Compostela, an important Christian pilgrimage site. The route is called Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way).

We started off with a fierce battle against the car’s sat-nav as it refused to take us to our first stop, the church of St. Michael in a tiny hamlet. I managed to trick the navigator and we arrived at the Iglesia de San Miguel de Eiré only a little later than expected. The church is small and it was built in the Romanesque style, which is common the Ribeira Sacra. The church was built in the second half of the 12th century, and has a remarkable archway. Back in the day, it belonged to a monastery.

Afterwards we backtracked to what is probably its successor – another monastery, the Monasterio Cisterciense del Divino Salvador in Ferreira, which was built in three styles – the church is Romanesque (12th century), the main building and the walls are Baroque (18th century) and the inner cloister is Renaissance (16th century). There are also two Romanesque wooden sculptures.

Then we set off towards a salad of curves the heart of the Ribeira Sacra, the area of the River Sil where the water has excavated a deep canyon – well, ish. There was a lot of tectonic activity going on in the area a long time ago that helped the development of the river canyon, the Canón do Sil. It is dammed at the moment, which has made the river depth increase.

We had booked a “cruise” in a “catamaran” that turned out to be a plain-old boat and way too packed for my peace of mind. Fortunately everybody wore masks, we had the N-95 that protect both ways ones, and used a lot of hand sanitiser – my nails are really, really off due to the use and abuse of hand sanitiser. We sailed off the wharf Embarcadoiro do Santo Estevo and the views were pretty nice. Both the narrator and narration not so much, though the bit about the “special” vineyards perched on the canyon walls was interesting.

After a ninety-minute sail, we disembarked and took the car again to drive to the Parador de Santo Estevo to have lunch (cue stamp number three), where I tried the local beef with foie, while the rest went for the octopus.

Then we took a stroll down the Parador, which is an old monastery that has not one but three cloisters, as the Monasterio de Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil has existed since the tenth century and buildings have been added. Two of the cloisters are Renaissance and the third is Baroque / Gothic.

Finally we stopped over at the church, whose interior is late Romanesque but with a later façade (and a very Baroque altar).

And then we went back to the curves. Lots and lots of curves. The road ran along the canyon, so we stopped over at a couple of viewpoints to observe the canyons – Miradoiro de Cabezoás:

Miradoiro Balcones de Madrid:

Then we continued onto the ruins of another Romanesque Monastery, Mosteiro de Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil, with some very nice paintings and a very pretty cloister.

Afterwards we drove back up the road and we found another viewpoint Miradoriro Xariñas de Castro (a.k.a. Miradorio A Mirada Maxica) for more views of the canyon.

We continued to the monastery Mosteiro de Santa María de Montederramo, where we had booked at 19:00 but could join the 18:00 visit instead. Shifty, I know, but we were there at 18:04 and… yeah. Not really worth the wait, even though the Gothic church and cloister were neat, even if a bit unkempt.

And as we were finally driving back towards Monforte de Lemos, we came across the castle Castelo de Castro Caldelas, which was actually on the planning for the next day but we thought we would… how to put this… avoid some curve-driving if we took the stop.

All in all: 135 km driving; 6.96 km walking; around 20 km sailing; hundreds of curves.

3rd August 2020: On the road again {Spain, summer 2020}

After having to cancel London and Greece, we decided to try to at least take a few-day’s worth road trip within Spain as some sort of consolation prize. We were, of course, very careful, using a lot of hand-sanitizer and never taking off our face masks except within the car, hotel rooms or when we were eating – strictly so.

We started off just in time so we surrounded Madrid right after rush hour so we did not get caught in any traffic jams. We drove northwards towards Medina del Campo, a town which played an important role in Spanish history, specially around the time of the Catholic Monarchs and their direct descendants. We were there at 11:00 sharp, right at the time when the castle Castillo de La Mota opened to visitors. Mota is the Spanish word for motte, which is a raised area of ground where a castle keep, and a walled courtyard or bailey, are built. They are protected by a ditch and a palisade. These castles are thus called motte-and-bailey castle. In particular, the castle of La Mota is made of red brick, typical to the area, but it is heavily restored today. The visit included the outer building, the yard and the chapel of St. Louise.

We stopped for a quick lunch at the Parador de Puebla de Sanabria. Paradores is a Spanish brand of state-owned hotels and restaurants which have a good reputation all around the country. In our lunch stop, I got my stamp passport because I can find stamp rallies wherever they are (≧▽≦), and Paradores has launched one.

Then, as we were a couple of hours ahead our very informal schedule, we decided to take a small detour and check out the Parque Natural del Lago de Sanabria y alrededores, the natural park that surrounds the biggest natural lake in Spain, Lago de Sanabria. It is also one of the few, if not the only glacier-origin lake in Spain. It was full of people swimming and sunbathing, but the landscape was still beautiful.

After lounging for a while we continued on our way towards Galicia and our destination, Monforte de Lemos. We stayed at the Parador de Monforte de Lemos, situated in the Monastery Monasterio de San Vicente do Pino at the top of a hill. It is part of a monumental compound, along with the former castle Keep and the palace of the former Count’s family, Palacio de los Condes de Lemos . Due to some kind of fluke, my room was doubled as “supreme” and the door came out to the actual cloister of the monastery, which was super-cool! (Also: Stamp number two)

We took a short stroll down the village, and we passed by the small sanctuary to the Virgin Mary’s image Santuario de la Virgen de Monserrat.

Then we saw the walls and the old gates.

Finally, we went back to the hotel to have dinner over there. Our choices included trying a species of scallop I had not tried before, the zamburiña, variegated scallop (Chlamys varia). We also tried the local pie, empanada. For dessert, they had a ‘variety of chocolates’.

The day finished watching the sunset before turning in for the night.

Driving distance: Aprox. 600 km
Walking distance: 5.02 km

26th January 2020: Royal Palace and Norwegian salmon (Madrid, Spain)

A friend was over visiting for the weekend and we headed off to Madrid. It had been raining and the weather the previous evening had been rather miserable. Actually, when we left home it was rather foggy and dark, but upon stepping out the Avenida de América bus station, it had become sunny and not cold at all.

My friend wanted to see the Palacio Real de Madrid, the Royal Palace – we had been playing Madrid Cluedo the day before and she had mentioned that she had never been there. At first, we only wanted to see building. As it was Chinese New Year, the blunt of tourists was somewhere else watching the Parade, and we had a short queue to go inside, so she decided to wait as it was not expensive, either.

You can’t take pictures in most of the palace, but the yard looked really nice and you could see the cathedral from there. We also heard all the bells tolling at noon, which was fun. When you go into the palace you see several rooms, including the throne room and the old sleeping quarters. One of my favourite rooms is the one with the Stradivarius violins and other instruments.

While there aren’t that many pictures taken inside, here is a shot of the cathedral, Catedral de la Almudena .

After visiting the Palacio Real, we went to have lunch. She wanted ham, and I wanted a poke bowl I had seen announced in El Corte Inglés cafeteria, so it was a win-win situation. I had a “Poke bowl de salmón noruego”, Norwegian salmon poke bowl that was amazing – a sushi rice base with avocado, spring onion, purple onion, wakame, a soft-boiled egg and Norgweian salmon marinated with soy sauce, rice vinegar and kimchi.

She declared that she was happy after this, so we called it a day.

22nd – 26th August 2019: Food at San Juan and Alicante

This was a quick three-day trip for my father to have some diving time, and even if I had just landed from Japan I tagged along to make sure that my mother was not alone. I was understandable a little beaten from the big exiting trip, so there was not much that I was up to visiting. However, somehow we had a bit of a gastronomy splurge at the hotel and around.

For example, one day we had some awesome arroz caldoso con bogavante , Spanish rice with lobster for lunch:

For another lunch, I discovered that I could actually eat poke bowls in Spain – behold the Poke bowl de atún rojo de Almadraba , almadraba-caught tuna poke bowl. An almadraba is an ancient Mediterranean fishing technique in which nets are suspended mid-water that lead the fish to a central trap from where they are caught – as a curiosity, let me tell you that somehow orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar have learnt to use the almadraba to fish too! Anyway, the poke bowl had a rice base with avocado, spring onion, red onion, wakame, poached egg, and tuna marinated with sesame oil and soy sauce.

We shared some Spanish ham with that.

And finished the meal with a latte with vanilla ice-cream and a caramel biscuit because… yes, I needed something to prevent me going into a food coma.

We had granizados mid-afternoon – behold my lemon almost shaved-ice.

And one of my desserts was whiskey-cake ice-cream.

Not that much of an exciting trip, but there were some nice things to take from it.

28th July – 3rd ‎August ‎2018: The Spanish “Levante”

My parents sometimes vacation in this tourist-like complex in a little town called San Juan de Alicante in the east of Spain (the “Levante”). My father uses it as a base for diving trips, and sometimes I tag along to keep my mother company. When we arrived this year we found out that there was a new resident family in the garden – a family of squirrels that had apparently shown up travelling in trees that were going to be planted. The complex management decided to make squirrel-nurturing the local sport. Guests were encouraged to watch out for them, and leave them nuts. Also, there were educational signs about what was safe or unsafe to feed the little critters. I caught sight of them at some point or another.

One of the selling points of the complex – aside, of course, from the swimming pool and the great room service – are the big gardens, with lots of trees and plants, and the rescue bunnies. Now the squirrels came over to complete the scene.

31st July 2018: Chocolate & Lobster. Not together.

A meagre 20-minute-drive away from this little town stands the village of Villajoyosa, which translates into something akin to “The joyous village”. If you’ve never heard of it, I’ll just have you known that it has a chocolate factory, the Fábrica de Chocolates Valor, and the chocolate museum (and of course the shop). As it is a working factory, the visit is of course guided. We were told that there was usually a long queue, so we were there before 9:30 for the 10:00 visit, and we were quite literally the first to arrive. Once inside, you get to see what they call the museum, with a short video about how they used to and still make the chocolate, and you visit some of the old equipment. Then, there is a short trip around the factory using some hanging planks – when we were there, the production was halted due to pre-Christmas-campaign holidays. So FYI Christmas chocolate is made in August. The visit was done in one hour, and then we splurged in the shop.

After the visit we went back to the complex, where we had booked a made-to-order lobster “paella” (traditional rice dish) for lunch, and boy was it awesome. I totally sinned with the apple pie afterwards, too.

1st August 2018: Alicante

The day started awesomely with coffee and pancakes, and that alone worked to make me happy.

Besides, twenty minutes in the opposite direction from Villajoyosa we had Alicante. And we could also be lazy and not take the car out, we could just take the bus. We wanted to see the archaeological museum, Museo Arqueológico Provincial MARQ de Alicante, and that was out first stop. However, for some reason a bunch of pictures got lost – and I can only show you this of the library, where pictures were not allowed anyway. It was a… photography accident.

After the museum, we walked around the base of Monte Benacantil, the mount in the middle of Alicante – again, literally – until we were exactly on the opposite side to find the entrance to the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, Santa Bárbara’s castle. The castle is of Arab origin, it may have been built the 8th century. However, there are archaeological remains in the mount dating from prehistoric times. The castle gave the city of Alicante a vantage point towards any kind of threat, whether it originated on land or the ocean. The castle was reconstructed in the 16th century, and later, in the 18th century, it played a part in the war against the French.

After this we walked over to have lunch at a restaurant we had read over in the tourist complex magazine, a prime Japanese restaurant called Nigo, which has the best sushi I’ve ever tried outside Japan.

After that we headed back to the complex and planned our next move.

2nd August 2018: Valencia Diversion

My father was unable to go on his two planned diving outings, so we decided to head home early. However, he was feeling a little disappointed over the cancellation, and I suggested that maybe we could take a detour somewhere else instead. In the end, we decided to book a hotel in Valencia and use the time to visit the Oceanogràfic over there. This is a large aquarium complex. We also reserved a table at the “Submarine Restaurant” and had lunch there.

The aquarium opened in 2003 as part of a big project called “the city of art and science” in Valencia. It has a double layout, over- and underground. The underground area is the big aquariums are built, while the upper enclosures hold most the mammals and the birds.

Once we were done, we said goodbye to the sharks and hi to the nice sunset. Next morning we drove back home.