Madrid to Prague, MS version of trip
Trip Start Oct 20, 2003
20Trip End Dec 22, 2004
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Our guide, Lydia was a very kind, well educated, considerate woman who could talk intelligently about history or culture of the cities we visited and would do most anything to help us enjoy the trip more or be more comfortable. Since you can purchase antibiotics in Spain without a prescription, she helped us purchase two ten-day doses of amoxicilin. (We had used up our scripts from Dr. Terri at Cross.) She has an interesting background. Her father is British, her mother is French, and her husband is Spanish. Her maternal grandparents lived in Larache, Morocco, just south of Tangiers on the Atlantic Coast. (We had lunch there on our last day in Morocco at a restaurant across the street from their home. Lydia said she spent most of her childhood summers here.) Lydia's husband works for the Madrid Police in the Bomb Squad unit. He was called in to help with the February 2004 bombings. Before becoming a tour director ten years ago, she spent thirteen years as a cabin attendant for American Airlines. She lived in NYC for eight years during her time with American.
The group was made up of 29 people. Three women were from Thailand. We really didn't get to know them well as they stayed pretty much to themselves or with the young folks. A woman, Madame Lee, and her fourteen-year-old son Sam were from Shanghai. She was a lecturer in mathematics at a school in Shanghai. He was in secondary school and was a typical, bored teenager who spent most of the time listening to his CDs. He did come out of his shell a bit on the fifth day when he played UNO with some of the younger members of the tour on the ship from Algeciras to Tangiers. He hung around with them for the rest of the tour. He also spent some time with me and liked it when I explained some things to him like "Romanesque." One couple, Edmund and Rose Pillay, were from Durban, South Africa. They are of Indian descent. He owns a large BP service station and convenience store plaza. They also owned five fast food restaurants. They sold these and are looking to buy another franchise. Since they were near our age, we became quite friendly with them. Five members of the Hernandez family, father, mother, daughter, and two cousins, were from Texas. Since they were such a large group they tended to stay together. The two cousins, however were younger and made friends with Sam from Shanghai. Two young American girls from Tacoma, Washington, were teachers in Lagos, Nigeria. One was returning home after three years, the other was going to return to Lagos in the fall. There was a middle aged Indian couple and their female friend. They also stayed pretty much to themselves. The man was infamous for not listening to Lydia's or other guides' commentaries and then asking questions which were answered previously in the commentaries. One woman, Sue McGuire, was from New Zealand, near Christ Church. She and her husband own a large dairy farm there (600 head and four hired hands). We became friendly with her. (After the tour, her husband, Michael, joined her and they visited us in Prague.) Robert Harte was an Australian sailor from Perth returning to Australia from a four-month stint at Great Lakes Naval Base. We became friendly with him as well. Marilyn and Ray Leach were a middle-aged couple from Sydney. They travel extensively. He is an engineer. Prior to this tour they had been on a two-week tour to the NW United States, Vancouver, and Alaska. They were very friendly. Randall and Eve Millington were from the Sydney area. He is a police constable. They had been traveling for two weeks before this tour and were going to Ireland for two weeks to visit Eve's family who still live in and around Armagh. Randall was very loud and we didn't care too much for him. Eve was painfully shy. He and Eve did a lot of quarreling. John Felsch and Therese Crollick were also from the Sydney area. They registered as husband and wife. She was fairly quiet and very athletic. He was the clown of the group. They were probably in their 60s. Helen Suter and Gail Quinn were two middle-aged women from the Sydney area. We became friendly with Helen,who is an unemployed medical tech. She is divorced and has a son in Turkey. She and Gail spent two weeks there before the tour. Gail, a medical tech, became quite ill in Casablanca. They thought she had a heart attack and the doctor wanted to send her home. She refused and finished the tour.
We flew to Madrid vial Milan on Alitalia and arrived late in the evening June 11. We spent the next day on a bus and walking tour of the city. We didn't realize then but the beautiful pots of purple petunias on every light post were put up earlier for the May wedding of Crown Prince Felipe to a commoner who has been married before. Marty thought she must have had an annulment to marry this time, and the people of Spain have mixed feelings about this bride, but the prince is very popular.
The city is beautiful in the bright sunlight of June. There are many flowers in the downtown gardens. There have been beautiful roses, but it's already way too hot for them. People seem to dress in looser clothes in the heat and leave shirttails out to avoid being tightly bound up in the heat. There is also a hint in many women's clothes of the full skirts of Spanish dancers.
In a beautiful downtown park there is a monument to Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. Later in the week we will pass by the area in Castille-La Mancha where the author saw the windmills that Don Quixote, in the novel, sees as monsters to be subdued. They were used for grinding wheat, but are now only tourist attractions. The windmills we stopped to photograph were between Toledo and Granada near Consuegra. They are now national monuments. Eleven of them are situated high on a hill near the ruins of a castle. Very picturesque. (At the present time 35% of Spain's electricity is wind generated. If that were true in the US, we might not have any more energy crises.)
We meet our tour guide early on Saturday, the 12th. She helped us with bus schedules etc. Our hotel in Madrid, the Praga, was quite nice. We had a spacious, air-conditioned corner room on the European seventh floor (the US eighth floor).
The tour begins Sunday morning as we drive to Toledo. Toledo was originally the capital of Spain and has three sections: the Muslim part on one side, the Christian section in the middle, and the Jewish section on the other side. It was famous as a center where all three faiths co-existed peacefully. At a later time, all non-Christians were expelled and the Inquisition had a field day. Since the bus cannot enter the old city, we are first taken to a viewing area on a high hill across the river and then dropped off for a long walk through the three sections of the city. We have a local guide. We walk up a gradual incline to see the cathedral from the outside; it is Sunday morning, so we can't interrupt the service. This was a big disappointment for FM and MS because we really wanted to see the interior of this gorgeous 13th century cathedral with its famous El Greco. Also, this parish is about to celebrate Corpus Christi with a procession from the church through the city. The cardinal is there and there is a great deal of media coverage. Men are preceding the procession with bags of rosemary. They scatter sprigs on the ground, so that as the participants walk along, the herb will be crushed and create a sweet aroma along the route. A long, white banner is arranged overhead to cover the entire route of the procession. (Rosemary, like lavender, grows in abundance in this part of the world. Both are used extensively as plantings. Some plants are so old that they have woody trunks more than one inch in diameter.) We were able to get inside the 14th century synagogue with its beautifully ornate plasterwork and cedar wood ceiling.
At this time of year, a few trees and flowers are blooming in profusion. One is oleander; we see thousands of huge bushes on this trip covered with pink, white, or red flowers. Another is the Jacaranda tree, which has blue flowers and is particularly beautiful to us, because we have never seen one before. We also see yellow mimosa and gorse. Magnolia trees are blooming. Wild poppies and other flowers grow in abundance. We also saw small fields of sweet corn, which we didn't expect in Europe and northern Africa; the corn was tasseled and close to being ready to pick the ears. There are also large asparagus farms. The main agricultural feature is the miles and miles of olive groves. There are ten million olive trees in Spain. Spain is the largest produces of olive oil in the world. Most of it is exported to Italy where it is distributed under different Italian brand labels. (People evidently want their olive oil to come from Italy, so it is shipped from Spain to Italy, and it goes out to the world from Italy.)
Lydia told us that, next to Switzerland, Spain is the most mountainous country in Europe. We see evidence of that later in the day when we near Granada and see the snow-capped peaks.
The next stop is Granada (the word means pomegranate). The highlight of Granada is the medieval palace and fortress, the Alhambra, a thirteenth century fortress and palace built by the Muslims after they conquered Spain and then abandoned when Spain's Christian king, Charles V, expels the Muslims and builds a few additions to the beautiful Moorish castle in a European style with a very formal garden. The combination of the two styles reminds you that Spain and Portugal have a far different history than that of the rest of Europe because of the interaction of Christian and Muslim cultures in these two countries and northern Africa. The Moorish palace is a beautiful example of the artistic ability of the Moors: keyhole doorways, delicate plasterwork, intricate wood designs in ceilings, floral and geometrical design carvings in marble and stone, archways that frame vistas, quiet gardens, simple fountains, beautiful screens, etc. We are lucky that our hotel is located just a short walk from the entrance to the Alhambra.
Our next stop is a Mediterranean coastal town of Mijas, located on a mountainside with a wonderful view of the Mediterranean. It is a white village, a village in which all houses have white outside walls, which is very attractive to tourists, so residents can't change the color and are required to whitewash their homes periodically. We swim in a pool with a view of the Mediterranean on one side and a mountainside with grazing goats on the other. We enjoy our first optional tour sitting outside by the sea and eating mostly fish and watching the people go by. The menu was prearranged by the tour; we have salad, roasted red peppers, baby clams, fried fresh anchovies (nothing like anchovies in a jar), fried grouper, fried baby squid, sea bass baked in rock salt, vegetables, and dessert. (MS has chicken soup and roasted chicken. He did try the anchovies, clams, squid, and grouper.) The waves, 50 yards away, are crashing beautifully on the shore as we eat a lot and drink lots of wine and venders put henna tattoos on their customers.
The next stop is Algeciras from which the ferry leaves Spain, passes close to Gibraltar, and arrives in Tangiers, Morocco after a couple hours. We spent most of the windy, rather rocky, ride on the deck enjoying the view of both coasts and ships in-between. (I s (FM) should have done the same thing on the way back but was reading inside; those who stayed out saw a whale breach the surface of the water and spout and also saw dolphins.) In Tangiers we begin what will be an 1,800 mile journey through north, central, and eastern Morocco. Although we are just across 20 miles of water from Spain, the time is now two hours behind Spain. I think it might be that since it is a Muslim country, they rely very heavily on the sun and thus don't go on daylight savings time. When we disembark we get our first taste of the police state. We very carefully, with no mistakes, must complete an entry form. Any mistakes and you don't get in. We see several tourists turned back to the boat at the bottom of the gangplank because they didn't have the paperwork correctly completed. We don't know if they ever got in or had to return to Spain. Our passports are stamped with an entry stamp and a special number.
In Morocco we acquire another guide, Najeeb, provided by the government to give us the best possible interpretation of what we are seeing. He will stay with us during our whole six days in Morocco. He is lavish in his praise of the king, who is outrageously rich in a country where most people are poor. He maintains a huge palace in every major city of his kingdom for his visits, and he enjoys an income of some 6 billion dollars a year. The palace grounds in Fes cover 200 acres and include a 9-hole golf course. His picture graces the walls of houses and businesses almost as much as did that of Saddam Hussein before he was overthrown. The portraits show a very sinister, unsmiling man in his 30s or 40s. One of the five tenets of Islam is "Give to the poor," but the king believes in moderation in all things. His father, Hassan 2nd wanted to build a mosque (really a monument to himself) in Casablanca. He taxed every wage earner 12% of earned wages. The mosque cost 900 million US dollars. That's less than 20% of the king's annual income! Our "guide" said the Grand Mosque in Casablanca was built with "donations" from the people. Najeeb reminds us that Morocco was under French control until Mohammed V brought freedom from France in 1956.
Some celebrities, the king and his entourage, have just been using the road we are on when we leave Tangiers for Fes. Soldiers are positioned at 24 or 30 foot intervals to secure the road; this goes on for miles. We find this really amazing. It suggests how cheap labor is in Morocco-the government can afford to post hundreds of guards any time it wants to. People do jobs in Morocco that would bring in so little income that you can hardly believe what you are seeing. Many men are shepherds caring often for flocks as small as fifteen sheep or goats; you'd think it would be more cost-effective to have a series of fences rather than a shepherd, but they don't have fences, and they have lots of people who work for practically nothing. We see men winnowing wheat by throwing it in the air by the rake full, hoping the grain will separate from the chaff. We see small tents in open country for men while they travel away from home to find work.
Much of the land in Morocco is irrigated; where it is not irrigated, much of it is virtually desert with a few scrub plants growing. Large cement troughs, a few feet above the ground, run for mile after mile. Periodically there are small pools of irrigation water; boys play in these in the hot midday sun.
We have traveled to a third-world country and have a rude awakening when we stop for a break in mid afternoon in a small Berber town. (We had to buy a lunch for today the day before in Granada or Mijas because Lydia didn't feel there would be a safe place to eat between Tangiers and Fes.) Berbers are the natives of Morocco. It is a bar with bathrooms for men and women but no running water. Both men and women stand above a hole in the ground; they don't wash their hands or wipe themselves unless they brought their own paper. Muslims apparently eat only with their right hands because they use their left hands for cleansing. There are many bugs in the air, and the rooms smell bad. Interestingly, we do not encounter quite such a dusty, dirty place again throughout our trip, but we pay exorbitant prices sometimes for water or coffee to get cleaner toilet facilities.
In Morocco, in cities and in the country, there are trucks for transport, particularly of farm produce-including sugar cane, melons, etc.-but mules, which are overloaded with huge piles of boxes or cartons of bottles or animal skins, and people, who are overloaded as well, are the beasts of burden. Mules are everywhere, particularly in farming areas and in the marketplaces.
We learn today the difference between Fes and Fez. Fes is a city in Morocco. Fez is the small, tasseled, hat that you see on many Moroccans. Apparently the wearing of the fez is declining in favor of the small skullcap. That doesn't stop the street vendors from trying to sell them to tourists. John and Theresa bought two. Actually Theresa traded her cap for one.
We get another rude awakening at the hotel. Every time we register at a hotel in Morocco we have to fill out a police form with all the information from our passports. Of most importance is the entry number stamped in our passports.
In Fes the highlight of our trip is the 9th century medina or old city, where people shop for virtually everything; it has stalls for meat, fish, vegetables, silver, brass, carpets, etc. We were told not to buy the brass because it would discolor in weeks. We now have three guides, Lydia, Najeeb, and a city guide; we also have a boy hired to help keep us together and his friend as well as another man, who says he thinks he has been hired to guide us; I don't know if he gets paid. We are guests at a rug store, which is very large while most shops are tiny. We are offered hot, mint tea, the national drink. We see a display of carpets and are invited to buy. One after another is brought out and unfolded for us to see; some are woven by Berber women; some are more sophisticated products of Morocco. A salesman sees that I am interested almost before I realize it, and then there is no peace until we pick out a 5x7 rug and it is paid for and taken back to be stored in the bus, but it's a beautiful rug and we are happy new owners. Our rug is a traditional pattern with a green theme. It is of "superior" quality which means that it has 500,000 knots to the square metre. It took the maker 18 months to complete. Three people bought rugs, so this was a worthwhile business venture for the owner and his large staff. We go to a fabric store, and a clerk puts a traditional cloth headdress on Randall, one of the men from Australia; he's happy with it on his head and buys a man's loose-fitting, ankle length robe with hood, a jellaba, selling for about $100. The Moroccan guides are all men and all wear this robe usually with pants and shirts underneath.
A lot of us are happy to relax at the pool in the afternoon, and then we are off to our second option: dinner with entertainment. The first performer is a belly dancer; many people will think the one we se the next night at our hotel was better. She was followed by a man who balances things-trays of drinks, and then by a mock wedding of two members of our group in Moroccan costume. Accompanying all of it is a musical group with a singer and three musicians playing Moroccan music on an amplified violin, gourd shaped guitar, and various hand drums, tambourine, etc. The big problem with the evening was that the music was so loud you couldn't carry on a conversation at your table.
After a long day's drive south, our next stop is Marrakech where we enjoy our next option and see a beautiful light show in a park that symbolically depicts the history of the city, which has been conquered in its history by Spain and France. It is not a political, but a cultural story. It takes place partly on an island on an artificial lake in front of you. The first character is an observer like you. There is also a narrator and princesses and conquerors who played their part in the city's history. It is beautifully done though we can't follow the story. Fortunately Lydia, who knows a lot of Moroccan history and has seen it before, explains it to us. We really enjoy it. It includes fountains that spray out fan-shape in fine droplets, almost a mist, beautiful costumes, excellent dancing and a fire works display. Pictures appropriate to the story are projected on to the sprays of water which act like screens. Sue, our friend from New Zealand, wonders who pays for it. There is only a small audience, and it is an expensive production, so the city or a benefactor has decided to keep it going long after the intended schedule. I'm glad we saw it.
We all enjoy the next option, a visit to a Berber village in the Ourika Valley south east of Marrakech. This is the place where Winston Churchill used to come to relax and paint. It's such a popular idea to take tourists to this village that when we arrive, we have to wait for another tour group to leave the house we plan to visit, so we go to a nearby hotel. Lots of vendors find us whenever the bus stops. Lydia tells us a story of a woman who bought so much stuff that she couldn't take it home, so she had to have a flea market in her room the night before she left for home. We get the point but that doesn't keep several people from buying enamel decorator teapots. Then we walk up the dry, dusty hill to the village. The houses are made of clay (adobe). The roof has a base of wood strips, possibly small tree trunks, then a layer of plastic to keep out the rain, and then straw and mud, like the walls. This is a somewhat larger house than many, and they have lived there a while and added rooms. In the kitchen there is an oven, which looks like a very large clay pot upside down, in which she bakes bread. A much larger upside down pot is a sauna for the family, but it would be like walking into an oven to go into this sauna. In the main room she serves us bread and butter, olive oil, and pancakes with honey. Everything she serves was made in the house. She also serves us mint tea. The tea ceremony is very elaborate. She uses only fresh mint. The amount of lump sugar she uses amazes us. She is very adept at pouring tea into glasses from a height of eighteen to twenty-four inches. It all tastes good, and Najeeb talks to her and translates her answers about her house. We are in the main room, which has couches and low tables like coffee tables. (Sometimes she has guests who stay as long as two weeks. They sleep in this area.) There is a staircase in the corner without a roof overhead. Najeeb says there is not much rain, and there is a drain hole when it does rain. If it gets cold, they will use the side rooms which can be closed. Behind a curtain, there is a refrigerator, which is probably kept out of sight because it doesn't exactly fit the theme of this visit, which is life in a peasant village, but it's probably the only refrigerator in the village. This woman entertains groups like this all day and is probably much better off than her neighbors; her husband is a farmer and greets us as we leave and go back to our bus.
You have to wonder how the people of the village feel about these rich people who come on luxurious buses and stop to look briefly at their lives but cannot speak and then drive on. They often wave to us, as when we stop where women are washing clothes and rugs in the river and children are playing and we stop to take their pictures. Sometimes they ask for things. Lydia gives them small coins and pens when they ask and then explains that we shouldn't give presents to children who beg, because they will want to beg rather than go to school, but she is more warm- hearted than practical, and she gives us this warning after she gives out a few gifts.
A tour of the Marrakech includes viewing the outside of the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque. This mosque's minaret is a model for the bell tower of Seville's cathedral. Interestingly, there is a legend about the four orbs on the top of minarets. The story goes that one of Mohammed's wives, Aesha, sinned. There are five holy tenets of the religion. They are: there is only one God; pray five times daily; fast during Ramadan and no sex during daylight; give to the poor; and make the Haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) at least once in your lifetime if you are able. Apparently she failed to keep one of these tenets (no one knows which one). In reparation for her sin, she melted down all of her jewelry to make the four golden orbs that top the minaret to symbolize the four tenets she didn't break. When I asked Najeeb which wife it was, he spun around and looked at me and demanded where I had heard that story. I mumbled something about having read it. Actually Lydia had told us the tale when Najeeb wasn't around.
The Moroccan flag is red with a hollow, green edged, five-pointed star in the center. The five points symbolize the five tenets of the religion.
We are given time to shop in the souks around the main square in Marrakech. Here we see trained monkeys, fortune-tellers, snake charmers, and all sorts of interesting people. Marty wants a picture of a snake charmer and ends up with a snake around his neck.
From Marrakech we travel north and east for the short ride to Casablanca. It turns out that our hotel was not expecting us. Lydia goes into a state of controlled panic. She gets on the phone to Trafalgar in London and Najeeb gets on the phone to find a hotel. Most of us go to the bar. No one is really upset. As it turns out, we end up at the hotel Lydia originally wanted. We notice guards, barriers, and metal detectors as we enter the front door but we are used to high security in Morocco.
We have lunch along the Atlantic Coast. The big catch is we eat at McDonalds because Lydia doesn't know of a really safe place. She announces that we can have lettuce and everything they serve. It is after this visit that FM and MS develop diarrhea and we wonder if it had anything to do with the sudden intake of all that grease. Of course we had Big Macs and fries.
During the afternoon we are taken to the Medina of Casablanca. It is newer and the streets are wider than the one in Fes. Lydia hurries us through because she feels these shopping areas are unsafe for us. Actually her concern detracts from our enjoyment of this area. (All she can think of are the horror stories like the man who had his passport stolen here but didn't realize it until he was ready to board the ship for Spain. He had to stay behind. Lydia constantly told us not to carry our passports, airline tickets, or extra cash. She suggested leaving them in the lock box if our room had one or locking them in our suitcases.) Most of us are more interested in the pool.
After dinner that night, Trafalgar provided free dinner wine for everyone because of the hotel mix-up, we go to "Bogart's" a bar down the street in the Hyatt. It has a Harry's Bar theme from the movie Casablanca. The piano player, a native of Arkansas, is very friendly and has a wonderful bass voice. He spends lots of time playing our favorites and, of course, "As Time Goes By." After joining us for a drink he stands next to the table and does a heart wrenching a capella version of "Old Man River." He then drops the bomb (no pun intended). He asks where we are staying and we tell him. He says, "Oh, that's the old Hotel Sofia where they had the bombing last year." We later check it out with Lydia, and she fesses up and tells us the story.
The following day Najeeb gives us the formal tour of the city. It includes a viewing of the gorgeous mosque of Hassan 2nd. Only Muslims are allowed inside Mosques in Morocco, but if they have the time and money, non-Muslims can get in this one. Unfortunately we weren't able to get in. The mosque is all white marble with green (the holy color) glazed tile decoration. Two-thirds of it is built over the ocean. It is truly a beautiful site.
After our morning tour of Casablanca we head north to the capitol of Morocco, Rabat. Here we see the mausoleum of Mohammad V (the grandfather of the current king and the father of Moroccan independence) and Hassan 2nd (the father of the current king). We are allowed in to view it wonderful plasterwork, gilded wood ceilings, and huge candelabras all under the watchful gaze of very stern guards.
After returning to the bus, we are treated to a showing of Casablanca to while away the boring journey to Tangier. The copy and sound are very good. Lydia says the events of the movie Casablanca would really have happened in Tangiers, a major port; during World War II, many people were trying to go from there to neutral Portugal and then, for many, to the Americas.
At lunch we are treated to another police state problem. It seems that many people try to smuggle their way into Spain. The way they do it is by climbing into various recesses of tour busses and hoping they won't be found. When we come out of the restaurant in Larache, Lydia and our bus driver, Felipe, have all these different doors on the bus open and they are yelling at some people. It turns out that two boys have hidden themselves on our bus while it was parked on the street in front of the restaurant. Lydia said that she tries to check the bus before the bus arrives at the ferry terminal because the Moroccan police are very thorough at the terminal and are brutal to anyone they find trying to flee. She has seen them beating young boys. The boys are desperate to get out and find a better future, but this is an extremely dangerous way to escape for a boy, who would leave his family behind and be too young to thrive in Europe, especially without identity papers. At the hotel that night, the bus is locked in a secure spot in front of the hotel and a guard is posted for the night. The next morning Lydia and Felipe do another check but find no one.
We arrive in Tangiers in time to see the two Capes on each side of the city and take very expensive and short camel rides. We declined. On the west is Cape Spartel where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic and on the east is Cape Malabata. We also drive through the area where many potentates and extremely wealthy people have their winter palaces.
Because the summer schedule has begun, we must get up at 05:00 to take the 07:00 ferry back to Algeciras. The schedule changes not so much for foreign tourists as for those who work outside of Morocco, primarily in France, and return home for their summer holiday. Because things are so expensive in Morocco, you see cars and vans loaded down with refrigerators, washing machines, etc. Another strange thing about Morocco is that there are no taxes on a home until it is completed. Many of these expats start building homes and take ten or more years to complete them. You see many of these partially completed buildings all over the country. Some people play it to the hilt and never complete the building by leaving a rebar or something like that sticking out the roof.
Lydia points out that all words beginning in "Al" are Arab in origin, suggesting how pervasive the influence is in Spain. The other major evidence is the architectural elements-minarets (towers, some of which are now attached to churches rather than mosques), keyhole shaped entrances, delicate plasterwork, archways framing vistas, and floral and geometric carvings in Marble and stone.
After adjusting our watches forward two hours, we take the short drive from Algeciras to Seville. More olive groves and fields of lavender and poppies. Nearby are also cork trees; taking the bark to make the cork doesn't seem to kill the trees. Seville is beautiful. It has orange trees that fruit constantly, rather than in one sudden crop. There are 40,000 orange trees in the city. Their fruit is the very bitter orange that is used to make marmalade.
Unfortunately the hotel doesn't have a pool. After dinner we head out for an optional evening of Flamenco. As it turns out, the place where the Flamenco is performed is right next to the famous 18th century bullring. We get an excellent view of it. The Flamenco evening is very enjoyable. Lydia explains the history and background of Flamenco on the way to the performance, so we have some appreciation of it. She thinks these dancers are very authentic; if you could go into the streets of Seville where Roma people live, you would see much the same dancing
Flamenco is gypsy in origin and is unique to Andalusia. There is no set choreography. The dancers act out their feelings at the moment. The guitar is special. It has a lighter and shallower construction than a classical guitar and has a thickened plate below the soundhole for tapping out rhythms. It is a very colorful and lively performance. The men's outfits are black and white, but the women's range from fuchsia and lime green to red to brown with cream trim. Most skirts are very full and have long, fluffy trains.
After the performance Felipe drives us around the city so we can see it in all of its evening splendor. The buildings are beautifully and dramatically lit and we really enjoy it. These evening tours of cities are benefits of taking the optional excursions offered in the evening.
After a late rising, 07:15, and a leisurely breakfast we head out for the regular tour of the city. It truly is interesting, although it is very hot. Many of the buildings in the city were pavilions built for the 1929 Pan Hispanic exposition. All countries with Hispanic origin and US states with Hispanic origin were invited and built wonderful buildings. The center of all is the huge Spanish pavilion in the Park of Mary Louisa (we have the group picture taken here). We take a walk through the Santa Cruz area which is the old Jewish quarter. It is a maze of beautiful, narrow streets with brightly colored buildings and wonderful vistas. We also see the tobacco factory that plays such an important part in the opera Carmen. Tobacco was such an important commodity that the building actually has a moat around it to keep it safe.
Many of us take the optional tour of the Cathedral. According to the guide, this 15th century building is the third largest cathedral in Europe but is the largest in area, (St. Peter's not excepted). We see the tomb of Christopher Columbus but the major sight is the huge reredos, a screen behind the altar that depicts religious themes. I believe the tour guide said it is 80feet high and the figures on it grow proportionately so they all look like they are the same size. The cathedral began its life in the 12th century as a mosque. The side entrance is still the original entrance to the mosque. This entrance is actually to a large courtyard which is also part of the original mosque. In fact the fountain in the center is the one that was used for purification before entering the mosque. The church itself is truly a magnificent gothic structure. The bell tower was originally the minaret for the mosque. It is a sister to the one in Fes. The top has been changed, but you can still see the original 12th century tower below the Christian belfry added in the 16th century.
After lunch Fred and Marty head off to find the Calatrava bridges. It is hot and steamy. On the way MS steps into a large hole and does his usual. We did get to see the large cable stayed bridge, Puente de Alamilo, called the Trojan Horse because the top of the main tower looks like a horse's head. We also looked down the river to see Ponte de la Barqueta, called the bowl because it looks like an inverted bowl. It is also cable stayed. The next day we get a closer view of this bridge.
From Seville we head out for Lisbon. We saw lots of cork trees, but the most exciting thing was coming to the border. Because of the European National Soccer Championship being held in Lisbon, the borders are closed and you have to enter the way you did before the days of the EU. At this point Lydia discovers that the three Thai women only have double entry visas into Spain. That means that if we are checked going back into Spain, the women won't be able to go. (They have already used two entries: the day they got there and returning from Morocco.) She gives them a little lecture about visas. We are lucky going back because we aren't stopped.
Lisbon is much cooler than Seville. Lisbon (pronounced Ligzboa by the residents), is the only city we see in Portugal. Portugal is a small country whose borders have never changed, unlike most European states. Our Lisbon guide tells us this s sound, like gz, is the most prominent element of the spoken language when you hear it because there are so many sses and all plural words end in s. Like Spain, it was ruled by a dictator for a large part of the latter 20th Century, which put it out of touch with Europe until the dictatorship ended in 1974. It's a beautiful modern city; we were there in the middle of the semi-finals for the European cup in soccer but left before Greece defeated both the Czech Republic and then Portugal to win the cup. So the city was even more lively and crowded than usual in the summer, with hordes of fans from all the countries in the competition wearing their team colors and hair or wigs with team colors and draping themselves in their countries' flags.
Our hotel has a lovely pool, but it is really too cool to swim.
After dinner we take the optional tour to see the Fado. The Fado is the musical expression of emotion like the Flamemco is in Spain. There is not as much dancing. we enjoy a big meal and fado music, which is played on guitars and other stringed instruments like mandolins and sung by women or men-sometimes one man sings and another responds from the audience, as if it were spontaneously, but it is too well done and beautiful to be accidental. They sing about love and disappointed lovers and so on. It's a national specialty, and we were glad to see it in a large restaurant with a small stage for the performers. There were also Portuguese folk dancers performing dances representing different part of the country's cultures, with emphasis on the culture of fishing villages. One of the men plays the 12-string guitar and performs a solo that is breathtaking. An interesting sidelight is the way they blow into wine jugs for rhythm rather than use a drum or other instrument. The group did sing "April in Portugal." The dinner is wonderful, but since we spend too much time on food, I won't go into the menu here. After the performance we are treated to a delightful tour of nighttime Lisbon.
The next morning we have a tour of Lisbon. We have a local guide and different bus and bus driver. Because Felipe has been on the road for 10 days or more, he is given two days off to spend with his family outside Lisbon. He's very happy because Portugal plays England and he wants to watch the match. (When Portugal wins, we are given a full night of screaming, blaring horns and honking auto horns.) We are reminded that Portugal is a country that was built on exploration. Also, it is the only country in Europe whose borders have never changed since its founding in 1139. Lisbon suffered a devastating earthquake in 1755, so much of the old part of the city had to be rebuilt. The rebuilt section was the first in Europe to be done by design in grid fashion.
Our tour starts in the high section of the city in the Alfama area and works its way down to the waterfront. It is essentially the same route that we took the night before. Our first stop is in the Belem area at the magnificent 16th century monastery of dos Jeronimos. This huge structure was built in just 12 years with money made from the spice trade. The king stopped all construction in the city and required all workers to work on it. It also houses the tomb of Vasco de Gama. The style of the building is Manueline, named after the king who commissioned it. It is interesting because it makes use of many nautical themes like twisted ropes, seaweed, coral encrusted masts and the armillary sphere (a navigation instrument of a globe with circles around it). The Cross of the order of Christ, a cross with four arms of equal length, is also prevalent.
After another stop at the 20th century Monument to the Discoveries, we stop at the 16th century tower built on the river, the Torre de Belem. It was built as a fortress and is now the symbol of the City of Lisbon. From here we have a beautiful view of the Ponte 25 de Abril, a suspension bridge modeled after the Golden Gate and named for the 1974 revolt which overthrew the dictator Salazar's chosen successor, and the Statue Cristo Rei, which stands high on a hill across the bridge. It is modeled on the famous Cristo Redemptor in Rio de Janeiro.
For some of us we embark on our optional tour along the coast north east of the City to the Golden Triangle, the Estoril, Cascais, and Sintra. We lunch in Cascais. Lydia recommends either the fried fresh sardines or the seafood rice. We are warned about the size of the portions. Six of us order two orders of Seafood Rice, and it is more than enough. (We had lunch with three Aussies and Sue McGuire. Two things are reinforced in our memories: Australians don't tip and people from "down under" have more vacation and do more traveling than anyone we have come across. Their explanations are: we work for a living and no one gives us a tip and Australia and New Zealand are so far away from anything and it costs so much to travel somewhere that when you get there, you stay as long as you can.)
After lunch we board the bus for the ride into the mountains to Sintra. This is a beautiful village built high in the Serra Mountains. It is the summer home of kings and has an interesting 14th century castle with two conical shaped chimneys that are its distinguishing feature. The signs warn that you can't take pictures and someone follows us throughout the whole tour to be sure that we don't. After our tour of the summer palace, Helen Suter, Sue McGuire, and we walk around the lovely village. Portugal is a place for bougainvillea. Magnificent!
Our trip to Salamanca through Fatima is uneventful. We have Felipe and our regular bus back. At our stop in Fatima, six of us light a candle for Lydia's safe recovery from the female surgery she is to have next week.
Our hotel in Salamanca is ideally situated in the heart of this medieval university town. After we check in, we head for the cathedrals. Salamanca is unusual in that when the new cathedral was built in the 16th century, the old 12th century building was not destroyed. They were built side by side and only one transept of the old building was razed. We walk down the Rua Mayor past the 13th century university. The Rua Mayor runs from the cathedrals to the Plaza Mayor. Down the center of the street for its whole length run one outdoor café after another with the sides lined with shops. The cafes are all crowded with people enjoying the warm evening. Quite a site. We feel we have to return here. There just isn't enough time.
At dinner tonight we celebrate two birthdays, John Felsch and Ray Leach. Lydia orders cake and champagne.
Today is our last day on the road. The trip has covered 4200km (about 2,500 miles). The highlight is a wonderful stop at the 11th century city of Avila (home of St. Theresa). The walls are the most famous and best preserved in Europe. They are wonderful to see. Because Avila is a medieval city the bus can't enter and we don't have time to tour. Another place for us to return to. Segovia is nearby, so when we return we can do Segovia, Avila, and Salamanca in one grouping.
On our way to the hotel in Madrid, we take a quick sightseeing tour of the city. We had taken much the same tour the day after we arrived. Unfortunately we didn't really have time to explore the city and the Prado Museum.
The last morning we have a group come to say good-bye to us. Rose and Edmund Pillay, Robert Harte, Sue McGuire, Helen Suter, and Gail Quinn all come down. After hugs around, Lydia puts us on the bus for our trip to the airport and an uneventful trip back to Prague.
That night we sleep for ten hours.