Madrid, Spain—Plaza Mayor

Every Plaza Mayor in Spain is wonderful and so is the Plaza Mayor of Madrid. The Plaza Mayor measures 129 m × 94 m (423 ft × 308 ft), was built during Philip III’s reign (1598–1621). According to Wikipedia.

 

 

But before you enter the plaza I suggest you go next-door to the food market, a very pretty building, also filled with energy.

 

 

 

The Spaniards know their ham like the French know their wine.

And the sausages.

 

 

Tapas or other dishes for lunch

I know that not everybody likes fish, but there are a lot of fishermen among  the Spaniards.

 

Tapas and dessert.

And of course the ubiquitous fruit stand.

And the desserts.

 

 

 

There is all you need at the Market in Madrid. And of course drinks.

Casual and relaxed eating.

But we must go into the Plaza Mayor.

The three-story residential buildings have 237 balconies facing the Plaza.

The day we were at the Plaza Mayor there were also soccer fans in blue jerseys!

 

 

 

 

 

Helping tourists who do not know Spanish.

This is what we saw as we left Plaza Mayor. A piece of real life.

It is hard work to be a tourist.  S.

Seville, Spain

A House for Poets

Who would have thought that a veritable paradise is hidden behind stern walls like these.

We stopped in Seville only because I had seen photos of the interior, which is the loveliest hotel, five minutes’ walk from the Cathedral and La Giralda, the tower.  The old streets are too narrow for a car to drive up, so we had to walk past restaurants and small shops and ask our way there. When we left the receptionist arranged with the taxi-driver to come and help us with the luggage and roll our suitcases to a nearby park where he had parked.

In the evenings, the hotel has arranged for guitarists to come and play in the lovely courtyard. When I grew up in Sweden, there was only one channel on the radio. Luckily, they played a lot of classical music and often music played by the wonderful Spanish guitarist Andre Segovia (1893-1987).  I was transported back to that time in my youth as we sat with a glass of white wine and listened to the young guitarist in the courtyard of this lovely hotel.

Books on Spain

 

 

THE FOUR PILLAR-STONES FOR MY TRAVELS

e.g. BOOKS

 

When I get to go to Europe I want to cram in as many new experiences as possible during the weeks—and hours—between arrival and departure. I start planning my trips five, six months ahead. My four major helpers are 1. Booking.com, 2. Google maps (they have links to restaurants and hotels with comments on their charts nowadays), 3. Wikipedia (Yes. I used to contribute some money. I think it is time to do so again), and 4. Amazon.com for books.

Today it is so easy today to construct perfect travel.

Two months of catch/harvest of mainly used books on Amazon.com

I fell in love with Spain in the summer of 2015 and decided to come back for a month in 2016. I never studied Spanish, but that did not matter because I had a great time in Iberia anyway. I hope to return in April of this year, 2017.

First, I got the notion that it would be smart to read novels, set in the cities I was going to visit. I can say that I “cast a net.” I searched Amazon for books about places I would like to know more about. I started ordering novels. I thought this would be the way of understanding the soul of the country. This strategy had some flaws. My weakness is that I read mainly detective stories and the novels I could find were written by English-speaking authors, having spent time in Spain. It would have been fun to read Spanish detective novels in translation.

But I cast my net again and I found wonderful books.

The book that is now the first on my list and that was Michener’s “Iberia”. It is a “MUST” for every passionate—and diligent—tourist who wants to try to understand Spain at least a bit. “Iberia” is also published closest in time to us among the three books I found most helpful, and therefore easy to absorb.

FISHING EXPEDITION I had no idea what to find out about Spain when I started reading Michener´s book, but I learned about Holy Week, Semana Santa, especially in Seville and I have already paid for two nights at a hotel with balcony across the street from the entrance to the Cathedral, so now I have to go there. I have already paid! This year, 2017, the Holy Week starts on Sunday, April 9 and ends on Saturday April 15.

The second book I would recommend is Washington Irving´s “Tales from Alhambra”.  (There is a book by Irving called just “Alhambra,” but that text is included in “Tales from Alhambra”.)

Washington Irving starts by writing: “In the spring of 1829, the author of this work, whom curiosity had brought into Spain, made a rambling expedition from Seville to Granada…”

Wikipedia writes: “Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820)…”

Would you believe me if I told you that the buildings, the palaces at Alhambra 185 years ago, were empty except for squatters? Among the squatters were colorful gypsies. There was a Governor who kept an eye on the place and who arranged for Irving to get rooms in one palace and Irwing calls that an apartment. Irving made friends with the squatters and got to hear some good stories from them that he shares in his book. What is so important with “Tales from Alhambra” is that it made the collection of palaces famous, and got tourists interested in the Alhambra. Irving was one of the first persons who helped making Spain into a tourist country.

The third book I wish you would read if you are interested in Spain is by H.V. Morton, “A Stranger in Spain.”

The book was published in 1955 after Morton´s extensive travels in Spain the year before.  I was curious about how he would describe the emotional climate of General Franco’s Spain, but he mentioned very little about the contemporary politics of his time. Morton’s book is an extremely pleasant read.  It cheered me up. Morton was a journalist and author. He was present when Tutankhamun´s tomb was opened in 1922.

These are the three books I wish everybody would read.

I will also mention Richard Ford because serious writers mention him with respect. Wikipedia writes about Ford that “he published his delightful Handbook for Travellers in Spain in two volumes in 1845.” I would like to call Richard Ford “Rick Steves of the 1830s.”  Ford´s Handbook is very interesting, especially as Ford was traveling on horseback with only one servant on and off for three years, 1830-1833, through the countryside. He had brought his family to Spain from England because of his wife´s failing health.

First, I made ´sort of a mistake´ in ordering from Amazon Richard Ford´s “Gatherings from Spain.” It turned out that it was the left-overs from his Handbook.  Apparently, he did not intend to publish it from the beginning. Ford was highly educated and wrote in long sentences with erudite words and that is fine with me except he was so negative about everything in this “left-over-book.”. I made a note “finally something positive!” on page 68.

Ford was older than Dickens, but started writing later. In that way they are contemporary and maybe it was fashionable around the middle of the 1800s to wallow in the misery among the very poor.

FOOD I mention Richard Ford for two reasons: his writing is a valuable document about the standard of living in Spain 180 years ago and the other is that in his book Gatherings from Spain has 25 pages, (pages 125 to 150), on food in Spain at that time, around 1830.  Somebody might be interested as that is the foundation for today´s food in the Spanish-speaking parts of the world. Then there are chapters on wine and also on inns and hostels.  The inns in Ford´s Gatherings from Spain are awful and have nothing in common with the beautiful hotels of today all over Spain. It might be interesting to compare. But it is a great cultural document for those who are historically inclined.

More about FOOD 

The most ingenious FOOD-book is a tiny, little, very small menu dictionary—actually three—

HOW TO READ THE Menu IN FRANCE  ITALY AND SPAIN

by Herb Lester Associates and the copy that I got was printed in 2016. They are so small that they cannot even be called booklets and you can keep it in your coin purse. Lester and Associates saved a lot of trees. Great.

 

Booklet: MADRID RESTAURANT GUIDE 2017  Which restaurant is number one?  El Sur. Google it!

Personally, I think that Rick Steves is our contemporary master of travel. I will bring with me his book for the area I visit, and take it to restaurants he recommends, and put it next to me on the table.

 

FISHING EXPEDITION Among the many books I ordered is the diary BBB or Bulls Before Breakfast, an amusing How-To-Book about running with the bulls in Pamplona in Navarra.  Peter N. Milligan is a lawyer, and he meets with his adopted brother once a year in Pamplona to run with the bulls for a couple of hundred yards every morning during the Fiesta de San Fermin that starts on July 6 at noon every year. Six bulls run about 800 yards through the city from the stables to the bullring.  The two brothers have run well over 50 times as of 2017. It is an informative book and I know today everything there is worthwhile knowing about RUNNING WITH THE BULLS IN PAMPLONA. I am glad I read it. But this FISHING EXPEDITION gave me information about something I always have wanted to do, listen to one of the world-famous Vespers that are open to the public. This one is at the Benedictine Monasterio de San Salvador de Leyre.  It is a bit hard to get to the monastery. It is about an hour bus-ride from Pamplona. Wikipedia tells me that it is the first king of Pamplona, Íñigo Arista, made a donation to the monastery in 842. The Vespers on Sunday evenings are world-renowned. Buses go from Pamplona on Sunday afternoons and back after Vesper.  If you have your own car you may stay at the monastery that is now also a hotel.

If you are a true TOURIST you love FISHING EXPEDITIONS, unexpected adventures.

Among the books about the Camino routes, the Pilgrimage  way across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela I find this one the best researched one.

There are some series of guide books I find very inspiring.

Footprints

and there is a series with ALL  – A CITY’S – NAME.

People feel creative and they love their city and they want to share. There are many, many, pretty books that people have loved to make. I just got in the mail this glamorous book about  a fabulous port city on the northern coast

About BULLS… everybody knows that Hemingway was passionate about bullfighting and wrote about it. I shall end this post with a photo of my best painting.  On the painting you see Hemingway´s house (to be more precise…. His wife´s house) in Key West in Florida. My painting is super-realistic and measures more than 5 by 7 feet. I worked on it for ten (ten) years. Yes. You can work on an oil painting for every if you just keep it semi-dry. Oils are wonderful.

The Spanish call well-known places “Monuments.”  Hemingway´s House in Key West is a “Monument.”  This is where Hemingway worked on among other novels and short stories his great epos For Whom the Bell Tolls about a man who is assigned to blow up a bridge outside the city of Segovia during the civil war in Spain that started in 1936.

Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954 for his novel The Old Man and the Sea.

 

Salamanca, Spain

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Salamanca is known as La Dorada, “The Golden City.” The buildings glow. Salamanca is so unique and you will be astounded by the golden color of this city. The whole city is beautiful, gold-and-white-colored due to the sand stone, quarried from the nearby town of Villamayor. Not only is the stone beautiful but this particular sand stone is not quite dry when taken from the quarry and therefore easy for sculptors to work with. They have made what is called plaquerettes. The whole city is decorated with pretty plaques with images and curlicues. Personally, I like ornaments and decor because that eases the monotony of city blocks. You will pass many ornate buildings, decorated with plaquerettes.

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Salamanca is not a big city. It has about 230,000 inhabitants, many of whom are students at the University. Officially founded in 1218, the University of Salamanca, according to all the tourist brochures, is the oldest university in Spain and the fourth oldest western university. They have summer courses for international students. I wish my grandchildren could participate in courses like that at this prestigious university. The University has 30,000 students, the university is, together with tourism, “a primary source of income in Salamanca.”

Salamanca does not have a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus (the hoho), but Salamanca does have a miniature-train that takes tourists around the University and central part of town. You get on the train by the New Cathedral, next to the University. The train will take you through the University, first of all. The train also takes you to areas with impressive private houses. Everything is so clean and orderly on the narrow streets.

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You only get to go once for the fare you pay. I mention this because I, or we, tend to travel around a new city on the hoho-busses twice. We usually buy 48-hour tickets.

The whole of Iberia seems to be a huge museum. When you travel in Spain and Portugal you are constantly reminded of their history. The tourist industry tells us about the many ethnic groups of people that have inhibited the peninsula. Many people have conquered and owned the entire Iberian peninsula or parts of it over thousands of years and they have all left their imprints. Tourists are treated to beautiful ancient buildings or to ruins of these buildings and to artefacts. The different people also left their names of places.

A little bit of Iberian history: A modern tourist soon learns that what has happened in Spain during the last 1300 years is still very much a part of everyday life.

The first important date to remember is 711 A.D. This is the year when the Moors began their conquest of the Iberian peninsula. They were mainly Berbers from North Africa and there might have been some Arabs among them. They brought with them their Muslim beliefs. The area where Salamanca is today fell to the Moors in 712. The people that lived there, eventually fled as Salamanca ended up in the war zone between the Moors and the Christian kingdom of León and the Christian kingdom of Castile. After a battle in 939, the Christians reconquered the town of Salamanca. By the way the two powerful kingdoms were sometimes combined and sometimes separate states, but after the year 1220, Castille and León became one state.

The next historic event to remember occurred in 1085. Alfonso VI, king at that time of both León and Castile, conquered Toledo just south of Madrid. If you visit Toledo you will be in awe of what a feat it must have been to conquer the high cliff. Alfonso VI was a strong and energetic person. Do look him up on Wikipedia. It appears that he was married at least five times and that he had two mistresses in between marriages. I promise you this is not idle gossip. It is gossip, but not idle gossip because his offspring by two different ladies had a definitive historic impact on the Iberian peninsula. Alfonso VI lived between 1047 and 1109. With one of the women/queens whom he married he had one (surviving) daughter Urraca (1079 and 1126). She was married to Raymond of Burgundy (1070 and 1107). Then, by an interesting lady who probably was Basque and who became his lover Alfonso VI had a daughter Teresa (1080 and 1130). She was married to Henry of Burgundy (1066–1112). Urraca and Teresa were half-sisters, and married to two men, cousins of the family Burgundy. As there was tension between the women the two men eventually drifted apart. Urraca and Raymond were put in charge of large areas of what we today call Spain while Teresa and Henry were given some influence in today’s Portugal, but their station in life was to be vassals under half-sister Urraca and her husband Raymond. We can imagine the irritation. Eventually Teresa proclaimed herself Queen of Portugal, which was not accepted everywhere. However her and Henry’s son Alfonso Henrique became Portugal’s first king. He is still seen as a hero in his own right in Portugal. By the way, Salamanca is situated only 50 miles, 80 km, east of the Portuguese border.

The history of Spanish and Portuguese royalty are relatively easy to follow compared to the impenetrable thicket of royal and aristocratic family trees in the rest of Europe, which has ignited so many small and big wars due to conflicts of succession after the death of dynastic rulers. In that respect Spain lived in peace for 600 years.

Raymond of Burgundy started the re-settlement of the Salamanca area in 1102 on his father-in-law’s order. Raymond is the hero of Salamanca where he was called “Re-populator” for getting Salamanca on its feet again.

Salamanca has two Cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral.

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After the ride with the mini-train for tourists we, went into the New Cathedral. The majestic building took 200 years to build, beginning in the 16th Century when the city had grown and a larger main church was needed.

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Luckily, the people of Salamanca did not tear down the Old Cathedral. You walk through an opening into the Old church that dates back from the late 12th Century and has beautiful medieval paintings. I like architecture and I like churches. I am a bit religious, but I think anybody can enjoy the beauty of these two cathedrals, its craftsmanship and aesthetic impact.

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From the Cathedrals we started walking around the University. We were looking for the bookstore and above all for a special building, the “old University Library” with a famous painting on its ceiling from 1480 by Fernando Gallego. The painting is awesome! We were not allowed to take pictures of it, so I urge you to look up “Images of the Sky of Salamanca” on the Internet. In the many pictures you can see the beautiful painting of the sky and stars as perceived in Spain in 1480.

I want here to make an odd little aside. Although we were at a University, we had a hard time finding anybody who spoke English. It took a while to locate the painting. Yes! We know that we should learn Spanish! On the other hand when we were in Portugal we found that “everybody” spoke English. We found it odd that two countries that are so close and that are perceived—by us at least—to be very similar had such differences. Portugal is more of a seafarer nation, and I assume that has created other social norms.

Plaza Mayor, the Main Square. We had a very pleasant room with a small balcony over the Plaza. I woke up several times during our two nights there, and I could take video and photos as the light was fine. The whole Plaza is lit up during the night.

Plaza Mayor has its own rhythm. It is like a self-sufficient, huge beautiful being with its own life, not caring about what us humans are doing. Between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. I did not see any person except the cleaning-personnel and their machines tending to the Plaza, vacuuming, and doing what they had to do. Around 6.00 the trucks that deliver drinks and food to the many restaurants arrived. Then at about 7 a.m. people started to trickle in and use the Plaza as a shortcut, walking diagonally across between the four main exits.

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On the Plaza, every night during summer, people stay long after midnight in small groups or couples. They just sit on the pavement enjoying the fine atmosphere. The Plaza reminded me of the cheerful paintings by Brueghel, father and son, with people, having a good time, scattered all over the canvas.

As more and more people came walking past it looked like a ballet with dancers crossing each other’s paths. I actually thought about the Esther Williams movies I saw in my youth with synchronized swimmers.

 

I enjoyed so much standing by our opened French windows just watching the people.

 

During the day, people, covered from the sun, stroll under the Arcades around the square, looking at the store windows or heading for their favorite coffee shop or restaurant. During one of the evenings when we visited Salamanca, Spain was playing in the European Soccer Championship. All the restaurants provided huge TV-screens, placed in front of their tables out on the Plaza. That night, people were dressed in the Spanish colors of yellow and red, and were waving Spanish flags. Of course that evening the atmosphere was tense and excited.

Pleasant travels, S

Salamanca, Spain—Plaza Mayor

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If you allow me to say that people can “fall in love” with a city or place then I shall tell you that I fell in love with the Main Square, Plaza Mayor in the Spanish town of Salamanca.

What made me interested in travelling to Salamanca was James A. Michener’s book Iberia where he writes that Plaza Mayor is one of the four most beautiful city squares in the world. I had already fallen in love with one of the others, Piazza San Marco in Venice.

I do think that Michener’s Iberia is the best tourist guide for Spain and Portugal, although more than fifty years old. Today, it is so easy thanks to the Internet and e.g. Amazon to find literature about places one wants to visit, books out of print, older books. It costs to little to take a chance on some of those used old books and sometimes one makes great discoveries. I discovered Plaza Mayor in Salamanca in out-of-print books I bought through Amazon. What made it so fantastic for us was that we discovered—via the Internet—that one hotel on a side street had managed to buy up a few floors in a corner of the Plaza and connected these rooms with long corridors. The price for these rooms was a bit higher but not bad and what we got was a (tiny) balcony over the square—one of the four most beautiful squares in the world.

There is another hotel that is half a hostel with shared bathroom and partly a regular hotel and it too has rooms with a view over this fabulous Plaza.

Pleasant travels,   S