Wrapping up the Impressions of Spain and Portugal Tour
08.07.2013 - 12.07.2013
My last blog post ended in Portugal, and this one will cover a few sights in northern Spain and Madrid.
French troops used this walled city as a base during the Napoleonic occupation.
My guide told me about an old movie with Frank Sinatra and Sophia Lauren called The Pride and the Passion which is set in Avila and covers this time period. My guide convinced me to watch the movie sometime soon by describing Sophia’s flamenco dance performance.
The shrine in the foreground in the picture above is dedicated to St Theresa, a prominent Catholic nun of the Carmelite order who came from Avila.
Today the nuns make these custard sweets.
This small city is known for some scenic buildings and the oldest university in Spain.
At the beginning of the trip I told my guide that I loved the Spanish Iberian Ham (Jamon Iberico). This ham is delicious and it feels like it could melt in your mouth. He told me Salamanca has some of the best ham in Spain. What makes this ham unique is that it comes from free-range pigs which feed on acorns. Below is a picture of these pigs from the cover of a menu at a restaurant.
Many bars and stores have legs of ham on display. The high-end hams run about €500. The plastic cups at the bottom catch the fat which drips out of the legs over time.
It takes a special knife and technique to cut the pieces off in thin slices.
Here is a plate of some of the best ham from a restaurant in Salamanca. My waiter didn’t think I could finish it on my own as the plate was meant for a group, but I proved him wrong.
I had to go to the hospital after eating all that ham.
My tour both started and ended in Madrid. The city is a relative newcomer to the history of Spain. It started out as an Moorish military observation post. The Moors were more concerned about the defense of Toledo, and Madrid is perched on a ledge with a good view of potential invasion routes from the north.
Madrid did not become the capital until 1561. It has a good central location, and King Phillip II needed a neutral place to govern to foster national unity. Spain remains a fractious country to this day, and there are a few regions in which some people strive for independence.
The Puerta del Sol or Gate of the Sun is a big plaza with several points of interest. It used to be the eastern gate to the city, and gets its name from the sun shining into it in the morning. The pink building is the old post office headquarters, and its clock rings in the New Year for Spain. This plaza is the equivalent of New York City’s Times Square for Madrid.
At the bottom of the old post office building a placard marks “kilometer zero.” All the major roads throughout Spain can be traced back to here.
The symbol and coat of arms for Madrid is a bear and a strawberry tree. The bear commemorates a battle in the 1212. The Madrid town council added the strawberry tree in 1222 to assert their claim for the use of nearby forests.
Madrid has put a lot of energy into renovating they landscape along the river. They went as far as to divert all their roads underground by tunneling underneath the river.
The Plaza Mayor and the Presidential Palace are some of the most prominent features in Madrid. My pictures of them did not turn out well so I am borrowing some from Wikimedia and Wikipedia.
The old town hall of Madrid.
The turnabouts in Madrid are well done. Many have fancy statues or fountains. The hand in the foreground is a work from the Columbian artist Botero. I wrote about Botero in my Medellin post.
Zara Store. All the ladies in my tour group completely lost their minds every time our bus drove by a Zara store. I went into one to see what all the fuss was about. To my knowledge we don’t have Zara in the United States. Zara features ultra-trendy clothes at reasonable prices. They only buy in limited quantities, which induces a buy-it-now-or-never urgency in shoppers. This is what Wikipedia says about Zara: "It is claimed that Zara needs just two weeks to develop a new product and get it to stores, compared to the six-month industry average, and launches around 10,000 new designs each year. " I also heard the owner is the third richest man in the world.
I looked for a new pair of jeans, but these seemed a little too much for me.
Attention style fashonistas – Elbow patches are going to be coming in style soon. Several people told me Zara is a recognized trend setter, and that other clothing companies will copy what Zara puts out there. These type of patches were on many shirts and jackets I saw.
I have to include my Spanish tortilla meal in the blog. This dish is an omelet with potatoes in it and is eaten for lunch or dinner.
A favorite desert in Spain is called the churro. The texture of this tasty is similar to a donut, and it is commonly dipped in hot chocolate.
This is how churros are made.
Last Dinner- I experienced a great meal and show on my last evening in Madrid with my tour group. I had a seafood paella dish. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish featuring rice seasoned with saffron.
Here are some of the common varieties of paella.
A traditional Spanish music group called a Tuna band performed for us. In the 13th century groups of university students started forming bands as a way of earning money, and the tradition lives on to this day. This group remains affiliated with a university, but they have long since graduated.
For those of you wondering how I finance my travels
Here is the video. It might take a few moments for the sound to kick in.