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Impressions of Spain and Portugal, Part 1

4th Time is Still a Charm

Spain has a way of pulling me back. This is my fourth time visiting the place, and I still have many parts to explore in the future. I signed up for a Trafalgar company tour titled “Impressions of Spain and Portugal.” I went with this tour because it promised to venture a little deeper into Spain. So far I have not been disappointed. The map below highlights my tour route.

The Spanish Schedule – Only mad dogs and English tourists go out in the midday sun.
Spaniards are a nocturnal people. They typically don’t eat dinner until 10:00 p.m., and will spend the next few hours chatting with friends and family until 1:00 a.m. This doesn’t keep them from getting up at 6:30 a.m. for work. Most of them do take a nap or siesta after a 2:00 p.m. lunch before getting back to work. The afternoon heat in Spain is a contributing factor for the siesta. I have also read the human body’s circadian rhythm is geared to fall asleep in the afternoon. I know a lot of people who feel sleepy after lunch. Spain and other siesta cultures probably have it right by following the cues of the body with a nap instead of slugging through it.

La Mancha
Traveling by motor coach is not for everyone. One advantage is the traveler gets to absorb the countryside and delight in a few scenic landscape along the way. Below is a picture of the central plains, known as La Mancha. Our guide quipped the plains in Spain received a lot of rain this year.

Don Quixote
Our first stop was the town of Puerto Lapice. A famous scene from the fictional novel Don Quixote took place in this town. Don Quixote was one of the world’s first novels. The protagonist, Don Quixote, has read too many books on chivalry of old and deludes himself into thinking he is a knight charged with solving the social problems of the world and bringing back chivalry. He rides around Spain with his squire Sancho, a simpleton farmer. The two have a series of humorous adventures, and some of the stories carry deep meaning under the veil of humor. The author, Cervantes, is regarded as the Shakespeare of Spain. Coincidentally he died on the same day as Shakespeare.

Sierra Morena
This mountain region forms the physical boundary between the central plains and the southern Andalucia region of Spain. For several hundred years they also harbored bandits who raided gold trains on their way from Seville to Madrid. At one point the Spanish government tried settling farmers from Central Europe in the area to tame it, but the immigrants ended up becoming bandits as well. Many of the bandits were known to be dashing, well-groomed, and well-educated.

For centuries what is now Spain was a collection of small kingdoms. Several regions such as Andalucia cling to a strong and separate identity to this day. For several hundred years the Andalucia region was known as the Moorish kingdom of Granada. We know the year 1492 for Christopher Columbus and the discovery of the new world, but this is also the year Queen Isabella drove the last elements of the Moorish kingdom on the Iberian peninsula from Granada.

Olive Oil Museum:
Spain has over 600 million olive trees. For miles all we saw was an endless sea of olive trees.

Our tour included a trip to an olive oil museum, which has traditional harvesting and processing equipment on display. The museum features a garden of about 30 different types of olive trees from around the world. At the end we tasted a few varieties of olive oil.

My first adventurous meal in Spain was tail of an oxen in the town of Baeza. The meat was a little fatty but the sauce was good.

Here is a view of the Sierra Nevada mountains from my hotel window. Locals commented on how unusual it was to still have snow at the top in early July. The spring and early summer seasons were unusually cold this year.

View of Granada from the Alhambra Palace.

Alhambra Palace
I am cheating on my blog a little bit here as I am using a few pictures from a 2009 trip to the Alhambra palace as well as a few photos from Wikipedia. This is where the last Moorish kings of the Granada kingdom held court. It features beautiful artwork, gardens, and scenery.

Gypsy Flamenco Dance
Several gypsy families have built nice homes and restaurants utilizing a string of caves across from the Al Hambra palace. These families make their living entertaining visitors with flamenco dance shows. Michelle Obama dropped in for a show when she visited a few years ago.

A plate of tapas from a Granada restaurant:

The southern coast of Spain is known as the Costa Del Sol, or Sun Coast.

Barbary pirates used to plunder along the Costa del Sol. Small lookout towers dot the coastline. They were built within sight of each other so they could send signals back and forth.

On a hot summer day in Spain a bowl of Gazpacho is a refreshing treat. It is a tomato-based soup that is served cold, sometimes with ice cubes.

Sea bass is one of my favorite seafood dishes. In Malaga they bake it under a thick bed of salt. I enjoyed this dish and was surprised it did not taste too salty. I had some lightly fried sardines as well.


I am cheating again here by recycling pictures from my 2009 trip to Gibraltar, which is located on the southern tip of Spain. The British captured this area in 1704, and to this day it remains a British territory.

A similar rock formation rests at the northern tip of Morocco. Ancient Greeks said these pillars came from Hercules ripping apart the land to let the Atlantic spill into the Mediterranean Sea.

The monkeys at Gibraltar are known for stealing items from tourists and running away with them.

Ernest Hemingway made the town of Ronda famous in his book The Sun Also Rises. Orson Welles fell in love with the town as well. Hemingway stayed at a hotel which has these very scenic views around it.

Spanish bullfighting has its origins in Ronda from the 18th century. Before that bullfighters would only fight the bull from horseback. During one match a bullfighter fell from his horse. He started waving his hat to divert the bull’s charge to his hat instead of his body. The crowd loved it and bullfighting on foot with a cape became a staple of bullfights.

Bullfighting is display of form over function. A good bullfighter wows the crowd with his ability to artfully steer the bull in perilous ways around himself. The bull has a rigid spine and cannot turn easily. The trick is to stay close to the bull and move around in angles. The movements the bullfighters use are inspired by flamenco dance. Successful bullfighters have rock-star status in Spain and can earn around 6 million Euros a year. The sport is dying out though, and more people are taking issue with the death of the bull in these events.

A picture from a bullfight I saw in another part of Spain in 2009:

Field of sunflowers in south-western Spain.

Posted by clarkmw78 16:59 Archived in Spain

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Matt, We're on opposite sides of the world now but would love to share the tapas with you. Don't know about the sardines though....could try one I guess! Mal.

by Malcolm Hammond

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