Sensational, Sunny Spain
Trip Start Aug 08, 2006
36Trip End Oct 11, 2006
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Monday, Sep. 25, 2006
I woke up at 5:15AM under gray skies and a cold September drizzle in Paris. Making my way across town to the airport, I noticed that even in the autumn rain, the capital of France still retained its elegant charm on a wet Monday morning. The blushing illumination of the wide boulevards, the golden leaves scattered on the streets, the damp neoclassical facades lining Boulevard de Courcelles, the Eiffel Tower draped in a misty haze, the Seine River dotted with punctuated raindrops -- all evoked a sense of romanticism one could only find in this city.
Today was going to be a full day of travel from France to Spain via Italy
I came to Spain to attend the wedding of my friends Marta and John. Marta, a post-doctoral fellow at the prestigious M.D.Anderson Canceer Center, originally came from Spain, but she met John, a native of Mississippi, while working in Houston. All of us being good friends, I was very much looking forward to seeing them again. Marta invited me to stay with her family in Lodosa, a town of about 5,000 people in Navarra, a province of northern Spain about less than 80 km from the French border. She had arranged for me to be picked up by her friend Patricia, a native of Zaragoza. However, Patricia never showed up. Marta's uncle Jesús, a polyglot of 7 languages including Chinese, graciously drove 150km to the airport to pick me up and take us back to Lodosa. During the ride, we were engaged in fascinating conversations in such topics as history, linguistics, politics, and the culture of globalization
WEDNESDAY, Sep 27, 2006: PAMPLONA, "ARRIVAL OF THE AMERICANS"
Today was the day when John, his family, and friends were to arrive to Pamplona from Jackson, Mississippi. Their itinerary took them from Jackson to Atlanta, Madrid, then Pamplona. They went to the airport in style in a limousine with champagne to celebrate John's upcoming European wedding. Flying on Delta Airlines, they landed at Barajas International Airport in Madrid only to encounter an extremely long line at Immigration and Customs. They almost missed their connection to Pamplona.
Meanwhile in Lodosa, Marta's parents rented a tour bus to come greet the arriving Americans
Marta and her parents took all of us around the super cute historic center with its quaint narrow medieval streets and flower-decked balconies. Negotiating through the town center's winding alleys where frightened people would run like crazy from the mad bulls, I tried to imagine the intense atmosphere of terror, adrenaline, excitement, and delirium that would permeate the air once a year during San Fermín's Festival from July 6-13. Before lunch, we stopped at a tapas bar for a drink and also had a sumptuous snack. Instead of letting us pay for the food, Marta's family covered the food for 12 of us. For lunch, Marta's family took us to one of Pamplona's finest (and expensive) restaurants, Casa Manolo
We were taken to the cafe, Bar Iruña, where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out in Plaza del Castillo. Next to the cafe was El Hotel La Perla, an elegant building with a very noble facade, where he used to stay. I was very fond of his work, so following in the footsteps of this American Nobel laureate was definitely interesting to me. In short, Pamplona was a city that evoked a mystical, charming, romantic appeal to me. Its ancient streets and festive atmosphere, together, with its exemplary northern Spanish cuisine, made it one of my all-time favorite places in the world.
THURSDAY, Sep. 28, 2006, BRIONES and LOGROÑO, SPAIN
Today, we left Lodosa together in a private tour bus at around 9:15AM to head to the wine country of La Rioja Province, Spain. The gentle rolling vineyards of La Rioja rose and dipped like playful waves on the verdant hills of this region. Tall impressive mountains guarded over the vineyards like watch towers. We went first to a Bodega, which in Spanish, meant Winery Estate. The Bodega Dinastía Vivanco, a palatial building set amidst the orderly rows of lustrous vineyards, had an exceptional museum of wine. Everything one wanted to know about wine production from the ancient Egyptian-Greek-Roman methods to the ultramodern technology was well presented in a Disney-like, informative multimedia manner. Marta's father bought admission tickets for 15 of us as well as rented English audio devices for the non-Spanish speakers. At the end of the tour, we all had a chance to savor some delicious red wine from La Rioja.
We then went across the street to visit the gracefully alluring medieval town of Briones, perched dramatically on a hill overlooking the fertile wine-producing valley of La Rioja. Like Pamplona, but on a much smaller scale, Briones had a fascinating charm of a pastoral Middle Age town in Europe
Later we traveled to Logroño to visit the famed Cathedral. It was a very beautiful medium-sized town located 30km from Lodosa. Afterwards, everybody came back to relax a little bit before we all congregated outside the local bar, Cafe Central. John's friends from Chicago and Jackson, MI had flown in earlier in the afternoon. Marta's friends from London also arrived. Together there were almost 20 of us sitting outside in the autumn night, drinking, socializing, laughing, and getting ready for the wedding of the year in this town. Excitement for the wedding was visibly pulsating in the air; as it was the talk of the town. Everybody in this small, friendly town knew about the wedding, and they were curious to meet the arriving Americans, family and friends of John.
On Friday evening (Sep 29, 2006) will be the rehearsal dinner hosted by John's family at a local restaurant in Lodosa. The big wedding will take place at 18:00 (11AM Houston) on Saturday, Sep 30, 2006, which coincidentally will also be the wedding anniversary of Marta's parents. As the hours draw closer to the big day, more of Marta and John's friends are arriving, and the energy, exhilaration, and ebullience are all easily felt in the air. Like in a dream which mesmerized Don Quixote, I feel entranced in this special, peaceful town in northern Spain.