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Archive for June 23rd, 2008

I was lying abed not sleeping at about 3:30 a.m. the other day.   What was preying on my mind was how difficult it was for me to express how travelling to Spain and Portugal affected me. 

Everywhere we went the patterns of antiquity were written in the streets.   There were statues in Lisbon that were so old that the names that were carved into the marble had eroded away along with the features of the person.  The history of the “discovery” and subsequent conquest of the New World by the Portuguese and Spanish colored my reactions to certain buildings.

We got off the Seabourn Pride in Lisbon and immediately jumped into a cab, telling him to take us to our car rental place.   It was a little confusing to find the actual company since the title of the company on the internet was different than the name on the door in Lisbon.   We achieved car.   It was a teeny tiny little car, possibly a Renaut of some sort.   It was big enough to hold us and and all our stuff, and thank heavens it was very small because the parking spaces in Spain were sized for very compact cars.   There were even times when we were parking the thing in the underground garages when I would jump out and watch the bumpers and fenders so we wouldn’t scratch anybody’s car.   Especially not the rental car!   When we rented it we received a sheet detailing exactly how many Euros they intended to extract from our Visa card if we so much as scratched a door panel.   Every kind of repair was laid out in that sheet.

We managed to get out of Lisbon, only getting lost once.   The maps and Google Earth failed to prepare us adequately for the tunnels that the freeways dive into.   Also, the highway signs were all listing the names of central squares you were headed for, not street names.   This fact was extremely confusing for us on our return to Lisbon.   But I digress.

We figured out the speed limit signs, and headed off into central Portugal, quite warm and very much astonished.   Immediately the fact that we were on an entirely different continent imposed itself upon me.   I saw strange blobs of stuff stacked on several high tension power line posts.   I recognized the untidy nests of. . . STORKS!   The power companies had provided nesting platforms on virtually every power line support.   The cell phone towers also provided habitat.   

This cell phone tower was in the middle of a highway interchange, so we exited the freeway we were on and immediately got entangled in a series of roundabouts and confusing signage.   We eventually found our way back to the interchange, pulled over and I got a nice close up of these birds in their habitat.  During our travels we noticed that there were numerous small birds who had their nests built inside the platform of twigs and branches the storks had constructed.   Their nesting platforms were entire ecosystems.

We had such a wonderful drive across Portugal.   We left the main highway behind and headed across the mountains on a little local road.   We quickly discovered the Portuguese villages’ method of speed control.   At the outskirts of every little town there was a warning sign that your speed was going to have to diminish.   Right at the edge of town they had a red/green light with a radar gun.   If you crossed the line of sight of the radar gun going over the posted limit, the light immediately turned red, as did every light in town.   Once you were at a stop, the light would turn green.   But you had to stop at every other light in town too, and wait for it to turn green.   It didn’t take very long to figure out that if you weren’t speeding, the lights stayed green.

We stopped to take pictures several times.   I was so enraptured by the lavender, rosemary and sage that were just growing wild everywhere.   There were thousands of olive trees, planted in ancient times by the Romans during their occupation of the area.   The gnarled trees that marched in orderly rows around the mountains were neglected, allowed to grow wild.   All the commercial growers were busy planting olive orcahrds in more level areas, where they could be harvested by machine.  

What a great view!   Shortly after we made this stop, we crossed the frontier into Spain, and very soon afterwards we saw our first castle.

Soon after we stopped and thoroughly photographed that one, we came around another corner and there was another village with another huge church and another castle.    The highway department wisely provided a scenic view turnout for our convenience.

Now comes a harrowing part of our experience.   I am sure that there are young people reading this blog post who are about to believe that I am lying.   We decided that since we were renting a car it might we wise to have a cell phone that would work in Europe.   So we rented a cell phone for use in Spain and Portugal, thinking it would make contacting azahar and noggin a little easier.    Now, in retrospect I think that it might have been wise for us to  at least read the instruction booklet about how to send text messages, especially since we had never actually used that feature of our cell phone.   Somehow that booklet was buried in our luggage and so Jim learned how to make and send a text message by trial and error while I was driving through the Spanish countryside.   When we traded drivers, I had the same thrill of discovery ahead of me as we approached Sevilla and our rendezvous with az and nog, who were going to show us where our apartment was located.

What we noticed as we entered Seville is that there were no street signs, rather than an occasional tile work label on a building near a corner.   There were hundreds of signs directing us to hotels.   Honestly, we got into Sevilla and followed azahar’s impeccable directions and found ourselves tooling down a broad avenue that had an identity crisis about every two blocks.   We found a blue “Park” sign, but were not sure it was the parking garage we were looking for.   We were about to have a real fit at each other in our complete confusion and frustration when a lovely dark haired woman (that would be azahar) tapped on our window and asked “Are you Ellie and Jim?”    Thank God!   We were in the right place at more or less the right time and our guides were there to meet us.   We parked the car down in the bowels of the parking garage in the incredibly narrow and short parking space, and introduced ourselves to each other.

I cannot say enough good things about the wonderful help we received from nog and az when we got to Seville.   I know that tourists find their way around that warren of streets in the old town all the time, but we were glad we didn’t have to figure it out on our own.   Not only did they show us the way, they helped carry our baggage!   Azahar made several print outs for us, helpful translations of food items, locations of wonderful Tapas bars.   Thank you so much, azahar!  You made our trip to Sevilla so much easier and more pleasant!

The trip though the streets of Old Sevilla put many historical romances I read in my youth into perspective.   I’m sure every visitor to Sevilla marvels at the narrow cobble streets, and I did too.   I also marveled at the wonderful convenience of whole blocks of street dedicated to only pedestrian traffic.   I wish there was more of that in my town!  

At the places where automobile traffic was allowed, I wondered how people managed to get around without crunching their cars.   I waited and waited at this corner to get a repeat of the vision Jim and I had of delivery vans coming around this little jog in the street that served a hotel.   I had to settle for cars, we were back with the camera at the wrong time of day.

This is the street that our apartment was located on.   We are about three doors up from it in this picture.

That is Jim walking along.   I regret to inform you that I never took any pictures of our apartment.   It was lovely and cool, completely floored and walled with white marble.   This is the view out our window.

We had our very own gargoyle downspout.

We were right across the street from the Hospital de los Venerables, which apparently was an old age home for decrepit priests in the distant past and is now a museum.   Right out our bedroom window was this bit of statuary, fully illuminated all night long.   It gave me a real start one rather inebriated evening when I caught it out of the corner of my eye as I was negotiating my way to the bathroom.   You had to be careful or you would put a foot wrong and tumble down the marble stairs rather than entereing the actual bathroom.

After we settled into our new digs, we met with Az and Nog for our first tapas experience.

The next day, we walked around and got oriented, went to the supermercado for necessities: coffee, bread, cheese, wine, olive oil, fruit, water.   On our way down there I was caught by the following advertisement.  It was worked in tile and occupied a wall along the street.

Billboards are not meant to be temporary in Sevilla!   I mean, when was the last time a Studebaker was ever made?   And this whole thing is an amazing piece of art.   I love Rodin’s “The Thinker” in the background.   And the tile work is actually a work of art, as is the artistry of these ads for Armeria Z which weren’t far from the Studebaker ad.

I found myself taking many pictures of tiles and doors during our time in Spain.   Another thing that beguiled us was how often we saw rows of old millstones worked into the walls of the buildings along the street.  There must have been a lot of milling going on in Sevilla over the years.  

There were so many things to see as we walked about the streets of Sevilla.   Many people left the big wooden doors that protected their courtyards open so you could glimpse the beauty within.

We found several fountains to admire.

Even though the streets were narrow and the houses were built right up to the edge of them, you could see that there was life gowing on above, on the rooftops.

If you got up higher, you discovered a whole world of gardens, patios, pools and even restaurants existed up there.

Everywhere the weight of years surrounded us.   And so, we decided that we had better take in some of the historical sights available to us.  

Tomorrow:   The Alcázar and its gardens, The Cathedral of Seville, The Gardens of Marie Louise.

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