Quick Trip Through Spain, September 24 - 25, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Spanish Basque country is much more densely settled than southwestern France with many urban tower blocks and the multitude of cranes of Spain's current construction boom much in evidence.  The expressway took us high over the green hills southwest of San Sebastian, a lush landscape that abruptly changed a short distance further south to the parched brown fields and general emptiness of central Spain's Meseta plateau.  Our night stop was a campground some distance from the expressway in a quaint village named Covarrubias.   
Our predawn start the next day took us through some more nearly empty countryside very similar in appearance to the landscape I'm familiar with in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.  Ideally this would have taken us through Madrid after the morning rush hour, but there were still huge late morning traffic jams.  I spent a week in Madrid six years ago but then didn't venture far by road from the city's historic center and don't necessarily recall the development on the outskirts from the train routes to Avila, Segovia, and Toledo.  The outskirts of Madrid, however, are now undergoing a spectacular building boom that looks almost like that of a city in China or America's Southwest, including a huddled foursome of several of Europe's tallest skyscrapers. 
I find Spain's transformation from one of Europe's most backward nations 30 years ago at the time of Franco's death to one of its most prosperous and perhaps its most progressive to be particularly impressive.  Consistent with this change are the large-scale renewable energy projects visible from the expressway north and south of Madrid, both huge fields of solar panels in Castile-La Mancha and modern 21st century versions of the windmills Don Quijote chased on the ridgelines throughout the Meseta. 
At our lunch stop in semi-desert scrub and irrigated farm country south of Madrid we were met by a man a real man from La Mancha, a shepherd with some of the sheep responsible for the region's delicious Manchego cheese.  While the sheep that swarmed around the truck and our lunch table were certainly quaint, the thick clouds of flies they brought with them were far less welcome.  We were forced to cut lunch short as they lingered about us.  A canyon through a low mountain range took us from the world's biggest vineyard region in La Mancha to its largest olive groves around Jaen in Andalusia.  From there it was just a short distance through the hills and past white mountainside villages surrounded by olive groves to Granada.
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