Travel Day – Around the World Day 11

I went back to heading west, and can now add Portugal to the 35 countries I have visited. It really blows my mind that twelve years ago I had only visited two countries, and one of those was Canada. Back then Canada was our friend, so I am glad I got that one in before they shut their borders to Americans.

Even though I did travel to a new country, I have not really had the opportunity to enjoy it yet. It took all day to get to the town of Lagos on the southern tip of the country. My journey took me on a bus, plane, and for the first time on this trip around the world, a car. It also highlighted what I dislike about travel days. They make you feel like you are doing a whole lot of nothing, but it takes you all day to do it, and by the time you get to your destination, you are completely worn out. You get shuffled around from place to place in the hopes that companies can transport people quickly and efficiently. The sad thing about it is they sometimes forget that they are dealing with people.

The day was crazy. We had to catch a bus to take us to the airport. Traffic cut it a little short for us, but we were still able to grab breakfast because on our first flight was a little delayed. This made the transfer to our second flight a little stressful because we arrived at the exact moment they started boarding, but we were lucky because the people who worked there had to get two large groups of middle school kids onto our flight. Luckily, they were there so we could make our flight. Unluckily, they were on our flight, but it was only a forty-five minute flight, so it was like teaching a overcrowded class of middle school kids. We then got a car and drove the rest of the way to our Air B+B, having a little difficult time navigating the skinny streets of the old part of Lagos. We got up at six in the morning to arrive at five and didn’t want to do anything but enjoy a glass of wine on our patio.

It was exhausting, but we were able to see some fun sites along the way. The landscape of Portugal reminds me of the northern part of New Mexico, it has small little villas tucked away on small hills dotted with short trees because that is all that will grow in this environment. But the sun constantly shined, and the air is a refreshing change from Korea’s because it is clean and you can see for miles around.

The town of Lagos is also a warm and welcoming place with many pedestrian avenues to stroll down with many small shops and cafes to enjoy. I only got to do a small walk through town, but it made me excited for what I was going to be able to see during the next couple of days. It also has a beach, but I haven’t made it to that section of town yet.

Even though the day was a little bit of a struggle, it was completely worth the effort because I now find myself in a small seaside town where the pace of things will slow down considerably. Knowing me, I will still have to get out and explore the area a little bit, and I have a car to do just that, but for now I will just enjoy this little town and see what it has to offer.

Thoughts about Guernica – Around the World Day 10

Today was the only day that I would travel east, and I only did that so I could make it to Madrid’s airport in the morning to continue traveling west. So I had a one night stay in this town, and there was only one thing that I could do while in this town, and that was to visit the Reina Sofia Museum to see Spain’s greatest painting, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. I would show you a picture of it but they would not allow me to take a picture of it, and it is heavily copyrighted. With that in mind, if you have never seen it, just google the image and you will see a million copies of it, so I am sure that I could show it on my website because I do not have enough visitors for somebody to care, but knowing my luck, they would come after me full force.

Even if you do not know what this painting is, I guarantee when you see it, you will be like, oh yeah, I’ve seen that one, and then you will wonder why somebody would want to talk about it. Because, even though I have seen pictures of it a million times, it is different when you see it live. It hits you hard, and makes you wonder why you haven’t felt the same way when you see a picture of it. It might be the fact that you can see the paint strokes up close which adds to the power of the image, or it might be because it is twelve and half feet tall and twenty-five feet long. But when I saw it live, a rush of emotions came over me.

Picasso painted it response to the Spanish Civil War and the fact that Franco allowed Hitler to test out his bombers by leveling the town of Guernica. It depicts that madness of war as it shows a woman with a broken leg trying to crawl away from the destruction, a man who has been thrown from his horse and has a severed arm still clutching a broken sword blade, a woman screaming to heaven as she clutches her dying child, and a bull, a representation of Spain as it looks on in horror and disbelief, wondering how it could ever comprehend the pain that it had witnessed. It is all painted in black and white to show the image as it would be seen in the newspapers of that time. It is a powerful reflection of that horrible time in history.

The crazy thing is that it still had power behind it today. You do not need to think of it tied to the terrible leader of Spain, Franco. It is applicable to any world leader that allows destruction to take place within the borders of the place they have sworn to protect, and then ignore that pain and suffering because they are safe in their comfortable home eating a slice of the best chocolate cake they have ever had. Picasso gave a human face to the horrors of war, and what the madness would be like if you were down there among the pain and suffering. Some leaders do not want to see this so they chose to ignore it because it does not fit into the ideology that they wish to practice. Human beings are still human beings, and nobody should be held on too high of a pedestal to forget that. They should forced to witness that sense of confusion and despair no matter what level it arrives within their area of influence.

Now many people would associate this with war, but that is not always true. There is pain and suffering that is happening because of the decisions made by the world leaders that is reflected in the eyes within that masterpiece. It could be from a natural disaster that gets ignored because the people who have endured it do not necessarily concern the person who is supposed to help them. It could be a group of people who do not have the natural resources they need in order to survive because a larger corporation can make money by destroying those common needs. It could be people who are looking for help in order to avoid the destruction that is happening in a different community, but are getting ignored because it might mean losing face with a group of people who do not care about those in need.

These were the thoughts that ran through my head while I looked upon this painting. It shows the power behind it if someone can still be affected by its true intentions long after its intended audience has left this earth. It is the reason that art is important. If you have ever been moved by a painting, or a sculpture, or a story, you will know what I am talking about. And it might not happen every time that you appreciate one of these pieces, but the reason I keep on searching out for them is because it is profound when they actually hit me in this way. I hope someday that my art might be appreciated in the same way.

Day Trip – Around the World Day 9

Salamanca has been a great town with a lot of interesting things around every corner, but I have been there for four days already and it was time to go check out other locations. Another town in the area that attracts tourists is Segovia, and even though this town is smaller than Salamanca there are a lot of get things there to look at, and makes for a perfect day trip from the my home base in the college town. It is only an hour train ride away and the people are warm and friendly, willing to take in the thousands of visitors that travel here during the summer months.

The most obvious feature is the old Roman aqueducts that run through the town. They were built in the first century A.D. without using any mortar, and I am told that even though they are not in use right now, they could still supply the town of Segovia with water. There are many spots in town that you can inspect these impressive feature because they run 15 kilometers throughout the city landscape, and they are always in the background.

But this is not the only feature of the town. Of course there is a cathedral, and I did not chose to visit it because I have been to enough of them on the course of my travels already. Instead I went to the other place that you do not get to see as much in European towns, the Alcazar. Alcazar is Spanish for castle, and this is one of the more impressive castles that I have ever seen. It is also an important part of Spanish history as this is the place where Isabella was crowned Queen of Spain and set off one of the most impressive times in European history.

The place holds many pieces of artwork from the time period as well as a bunch of suits of armor, medieval weapons, and maybe one of the largest collections of cannons ever. The castle sits on top of a large wall that would have made it a very difficult building to siege, making sure that the monarch was safe against any attacks that might have come their way. The artwork can be a little disturbing from time to time. There is a depiction of one of the kings ridding the land of moors by decapitating them and riding over their heads on his white horse. There is also a large painting depicting the coronation of Queen Isabella, but the painter only left black holes in place of where the subjects eyes should be, giving it a feeling that everybody in the picture actually belongs on another plain of existence. I am surprised that parts of the picture have not been used in some horror movies, but I can see how it has been the inspiration for some of them.

Wandering through the town is also a treat. There are many places where you can grab some tapas, or a cool cup of gelato. There are also tons of shops in the area if that is your thing to do, even though they are pretty much the same as you can find in any other town in Spain. In other words, they sell lots of zapatos here as there seems to be at least two or three shoe shops on every street.

But the real joy from this place comes from looking at the building that come out of many different periods of time as it is easy to see that Segovia has been around for many centuries. Every corner has a new statue or government building, castle, or cathedral. It is a wrapped safely in the confines of a medieval city wall that would have protected the citizens from conquering armies but somehow cannot keep out all of the visitors that come here all of the time.

I was not the only person going on a day trip to this great little town. It seems as if a lot of Spaniards had the same thought that I did because the train station was packed when I decided to head back to my little hotel room in Salamanca, except they were going the other way to the even closer town of Madrid. There are tons of towns like this all over Europe and it is worth taking the time to find them and journey away from your home base to enjoy a change of scenery. I would be willing to bet that you wouldn’t even need to travel to Europe to find that little small town in your corner of the world, so maybe the next day you have off, instead of spending it milling around the house, you could go enjoy a day trip.

A Different View from a Cathedral – Around the World Day 8

As I’ve stated before, when you go to Europe, you spend a lot of your time touring various cathedrals. You become well versed in the ways of architecture, and you can start to tell the difference between the gothic style and the baroque style. You also get to see the Catholic church’s collection of great pieces of art. After awhile they start to blend together unless you come across something completely new and unique with the cathedrals that you tour. Catedral Nueva in Salamanca is one of the cathedrals that adds a new twist to the experience.

It has its various chapels like all the other cathedrals in Europe. It even has a special artifact, the left forearm of saint that they have preserved in a case that you can pray to. It even has a boring audio guide that explains all of the things you are looking at by some old British guy with a monotonous voice. So then why should this be one of the places that you visit while you are in Salamanca. Well, because after you take the tour, you will notice a small door off to the side of the building that will give you access to the roof. This is where the views are spectacular, and you really get to see Salamanca from a different perspective.

The winding paths that they give you access to will allow you to view the main cathedral from up above, and will actually take you all the way to the bell towers high above the streets of Salamanca. The give you access to this part of the cathedral even at night while it is all lit up and Salamanca looks completely different from this perspective. I do recommend that you watch out while in the bell tower because they do ring the bells every fifteen minutes and they are really loud when you are right next to them.

But you start to feel like Quasimodo in Notre Dame Cathedral as you get to skip around the rooftops. Not many people know about this access either, so while I was up there I ran into only a handful of people, and there are so many hidden little corners up there that even when I did run into these people it did not feel like I was overrun by tourists. And you just want to take pictures of everything because there are so many photo opportunities up there.

And you do get to watch the people as they make there ways down the winding paths to their jobs or their lunches or to their classes. It is the hidden gem of this city. If you do find yourself in Salamanca, I do recommend that you visit the cathedral because it is a nice example of gothic architecture, and it is connected to the old cathedral, so in one visit you can see two great buildings. But make sure you find that door that gives you access to the roof because that is where the great views actually are, and it makes the visit to this site truly memorable.

 

Wandering the Streets – Around the World Day 7

Yes, Salamanca has some great sites that as a traveler I will visit, but that was not the goal of my first complete day here. When I get into any new town I like to get my bearings by wandering around the streets, and I did not do that the first evening I was in town. I had an important soccer match to watch. (I know I should call it futball because of where I am, but some habits die hard.) But it was a beautiful day to see what the city had to offer today.

I enjoy this activity a lot, and Salamanca is the perfect place to go out and stroll its streets. It is an old city filled with a tannish brown stone that makes every street I wandered down feel as if I was back in the twelfth century. But it also has little gems that the guide books do not like to highlight. There are numerous plazas, and shady spot to escape a hot summer’s day, and my camera went crazy trying to capture all of them.

There are also lots of cafes and restaurants all through the windy streets. It is not an officially a car free zone, but so few cars come down these streets that it gives it that pedestrian mall feel. The center of the city is ringed by a single busy road, and this is the heart of the tourist’s place. It houses the university, and Plaza Mayor, and it is big enough that you could easily spend a day exploring all of the crooks and crannies. In this way it reminds me a little of Venice. You can get a little lost wandering the streets and never get so lost that you will never find your way back to your hotel room. Any time you come to the major road that rings this area, you just dip back into the old streets and get lost some more.

This is when you can find the small little details that the city has to offer. There are enough carvings into the buildings or crazy models in shops that you will easily be entertained all day. And you do not have to do the usual tourist thing in Europe by visiting the cathedrals, or watching people at the major plazas. That does not mean that I still won’t do those things, but by doing Salamanca this way I felt like I was being a tourist on my own terms.

And by doing this I got to enjoy the city on a different level. I was able to watch the street performers and their unique style. I got to stop in a cafe to get a cafe con leche any time I felt a little thirsty or needed a boost of caffeine. I got to sit in the shade of the trees and laugh at the herds of tourists being led around by their tour guide. It wasn’t a busy day, and I can’t say I saw anything that was worthy of a guide book, but in a way I saw a whole lot more.

Salamanca’s Living Room – Around the World Day 6

I have left behind the busy pace of Barcelona on my quest to constantly head west to the slower pace of Spain’s college town, Salamanca. The major feature of this town is its university which was established in 1154 and at one time was considered one of the more prestigious learning institutions in Europe. Even though it is still held in high regard today, it is not considered at the level it once was. It does not matter much because it is not like I am going to take the time to enroll in a class, and I am pretty sure that there are not many classes going on right now due to the fact that they are probably out for the summer. Either way, it will be a change of pace from Barcelona.

Most of the day was spent on a train transferring in Madrid, so when I finally arrived at my final destination I was looking forward to some tapas, a quick beer, and an early night so I could really explore this town the next day. I was in for a little bit of a treat though. Christine had booked a hotel room overlooking one of Salamanca’s greatest features, Plaza Mayor.

A plaza is the main feature of any Spanish town. Barcelona has a few of them, and they were interesting, but nothing like the one in Salamanca. The whole square is surrounded by one single large building with arches placed strategically in many places to allow entrance into the place. On the ground floor, there are numerous tapas bars, gelato shops, and restaurants. Because of this this is where the people of Salamanca come together to catch up on their days.

On a typical Wednesday night this might mean a few people, but the thousands of seats were all taken up last night because what better way to enjoy your city’s family than to get together to watch a World Cup match where Spain is looking to overcome the tie they had the opening night against Portugal. There was a lot of excitement as people found a place to settle in to watch the game, and even though I was hoping for an early evening, I knew I wasn’t going to get it because this place was going to be loud tonight and my room overlooked the noise.

Now as an American, I don’t understand the mass appeal to World Cup soccer, but as a world traveler, I do understand that it is the largest sporting event in the world, and if your country happens to make it, any time there is a game, it becomes a major event. It becomes a completely different sport when you find yourself in a large group of people who are excited about the outcome, and it is also a way to show national pride as people wore Spanish jerseys, waved Spanish flags, and even draped them over their shoulders to wear like a cape. It made for a memorable start to my visit to Salamanca, and I can’t wait to see what other exciting things this town has in store for me.

Let’s Talk About Food – Around the World Day 5

People love to travel the world for many different reasons, but the one reason that is included in what everybody says when they talk about the places they will be visiting is they are excited to try the food there. The dishes that places make are the things that make one culture distinct from another one, and there is nothing more enjoyable than experiencing what these cultures have to offers. Plus it something that we have to do on a daily basis. If we do not eat we can not live, so why not enjoy it while you have the opportunity.

But it is not only restaurants where this experience can be enjoyed. Many places around the world have markets where you can try many different types of food, or get the fresh ingredients that you need to make an amazing meal. There is a great one right off the Ramblas in Barcelona call the Boqueria. Even if you do not buy any food there, it is still a fun place to visit to see all the city has to offer in fine ingredients. There have been many times on my travels where I have had more fun going to these markets without a clue as to what I was going to make, but finding great ingredients and putting together one of my favorite meals I would have on that trip. It is one of the advantages of staying at a hostel because they usually have a kitchen that you can use. With the inception of Air B+B, this perk has been made available to more people without having to cram into a room with a bunch of strangers.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to make a meal yet, but it has not bothered me much because I am in Spain, the land of the tapas. A tapas bar will serve small portions of food, allowing you to have many different bites along the way. There are some traditional dishes that all bars will include, but it is fun to see the different creative ways a chef can piece together a meal out here. One of the best ones that we were able to experience was called Tapeo. It is a small place next to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. They have many traditional items, but they also blend in some Japanese flavors into their dishes such as this salmon potato dish that included a wasabi sauce that you could sprinkle on the top of the dish.

The dish was really amazing, but it was the bombastas they were so good that we kept ordering them right after we had finished eating them. They are a meat a potato ball that is fried so when you bite into them you get an explosion of flavor. It is dishes like this that make me know that I am in Spain and I will only be able to find these flavors in this corner of the world.

And of course, if small dishes are not your thing, you can still wander the streets of whatever place you are in until you find the perfect dish that you would want to try. If you are near the coast, try a plate full of fresh seafood. If in the center of a country, enjoy the hearty dishes they have to offer. The point is that wherever you go, make sure you eat, and eat well. It is part of the experience of travel and it makes each voyage even more memorable.