THE FOUR PILLAR-STONES FOR MY TRAVELS
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.
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.