A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Jean-and-Tony

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the

We were a bit towned out and had thought to seek a country inn to stay in after Santiago but whilst there we thought of some South African friends Richard and Debbie and in particular Debbie who had covered some of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. We texted Richard to say 'Thinking of you...' and to our surprise he replied he would be 15k away from us when we fetched up in Pamplona next day as he now was 'El Pelegrín' and on the road. Small world.

We drove to our rendezvous and sat in the sun on the terrace of a small bar and watched the walkers arrive, sometimes in groups and sometimes in ones and twos and across the age range. The camaraderie was very evident as too was the relief at another leg of the journey completed and a chance to loosen the laces of the walking boots.

Richard arrived travelling with a family of Americans. As we drove him to his luxury hotel in Pamplona I promised his walking buddies I would ensure he slept on the floor and only had a cold shower to make up for declining his bunk bed in a shared dorm and whatever variety of pork was on the menu.

It is alway a travel dilemma for us: read the travel guide and risk the guide finding only churches and monuments significant and curiously missing the spirit of the place, or risk the guide stealing the thunder by over-familiarity. Or you can find out for yourself and risk missing an essential aspect or worse end up somewhere like Castelo Branco. We weren't fussed about Pamplona and the travel guide had said outside of the bull run there wasn't much reason to go there. So our only expectation was that we would have a catch up with Richard and hear his walking tales.

Pamplona was simply the busiest and buzziest of anywhere we've been. It is not the fairest of cities but neither is it the worse. The Plaza del Castillo is a fine and large town centre square that was so rammed, it made Leicester Square on a Saturday night look like Worthing on a wet Wednesday. We think all the jollity was the result of a pinchos or tapas festival. We had a good meal, although curiously we went Italian, and Richard under the strains of road walking did need to be talked down from visiting a Burger King. Later we had yummy ice cream and meandered, by necessity, very slowly through the unbelievably crowded streets.

Pamplona was a sometime haunt of Hemingway and Café Uruña in the main square has a life size bronze statue of the man in a side bar off the main room; the cafe, a staggeringly beautiful 1920s confection, a kind of gilded shrine to the old misogynist and boor. Hemingway visited the city nine times and found here the inspiration for his first and arguably finest book 'The Sun Also Rises' (published in 1926) a roaring twenties portrait of a group of Bohemians caught in the frenzy of the bull run festival.

We shared breakfast with Richard at a totally chaotic Uruña and left him with six weeks more walking and made our way somewhat reluctantly back to France, although cheered by a revisit to Bordeaux. We haven't been for years, the last time the city was a building site as they installed a new tram system and reclaimed the river front from its industrial and port past.

Those international tourist pals of ours Clare and Stuart have again flown out to join us, this time in Bordeaux and we have rented two apartments in a house in the Saint Michel quartier. In fact Stuart couldn't come but we downloaded him as an app and so we had our tour leader and map reader extrodinaire in digital form. At times it was almost as though he was actually with us.

The apartments are a delight, modern spacious and bang in the middle of this slowly gentrifying area which for now has tiny Arab run grocers next door to trendy bars and brocantes selling the kind of brown furniture you can't give away in London.

Every day seems to have a different market, on the Sunday as we arrived we caught the tail end of a flea market with the occasional old, unloved and unsold sofa or pile of clothes discarded waiting for the bin men. We like the area so much that it is the obvious place to be in the evenings and we sample a different restaurant every night and when it's warm enough sit out and people watch.

Bordeaux, long known as 'la belle endormie' (sleeping beauty), was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 and thanks to a massive decade-long revitalisation project that restored hundreds of magnificent 18th-century buildings at the city’s center, is now a very beautiful city, and with that city list in mind, could be the most beautiful we have seen. It is a limestone built place, occasionally evident as the stone will blacken over time. But much of the city is well cared for and has almost no new building in its large historic heart. The kilometre long Garonne river facade is a wonderful showcase of the architectural design skills of the 18th century. Elsewhere the apparently uniform buildings reward close attention as the symmetry is to a degree an illusion as each part of the terrace will have different details in the decorative elements. Sometimes a building sits next to a lower one but at the top in expectation of a same height neighbour the bonding stones jut out unattached in a vertical castellation.

We visit the extraordinary Cité de Vin museum, a high tech hymn to the pleasures and the complexity of squeezing fruit. It is slightly a triumph of presentation over content but is so impressively designed outside and in it was irresistible. Later our ticket bought us a wine tasting which although serving predominantly French wine had offerings from Georgia, Mexico, Serbia and Moldavia. We strolled down Rue Sainte Catherine, claimed to be the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe but it is necessary to keep our eyes above the international and over familiar shops fronts to enjoy the exquisite architecture. We also visited the extraordinary Tribunal de Grande designed by Richard Rogers in 1998. Each courtroom is set within a very high wooden pod and the pods line up in a row all housed in a glass building on raised stilts. Very odd and very beautiful.

Bordeaux is a city with a growth agenda. Happily this is happening on the other side of the Garonne River but is relatively low rise with some very interesting new build architecture with bold colour palettes and striking materials.

We drive Clare and Stuart back to Merignac, Bordeaux's airport and head north for a two hour drive back to our farmhouse, where the grass on its usual steroids will be as high as an elephant's eye. It's been an exhausting trip which with hindsight had too many cities and not enough downtime and sometimes not enough time in the larger cities. It's also been very thrilling, rewarding and exciting.

We have had less cause to complain about the coffee than we expected, we sought and found exemplar coffee artisans (thanks to Jean's determination) in back alleys and have eaten, by and large, excellent meals. We have stayed in really good places (thanks again to Jean) whether apartments or hotels and always in good locations, sometimes in the thick of it, sometimes on the edge looking in. It's still difficult to find a bathroom where the lighting makes it possible to shave without blood loss, or a hairdryer that emits heat warmer than a spaniel's breath. It remains a mystery why so few hotel guests are respectful of other guests.

But those few carps in no way define our trip. As Proust never wrote, though is often misquoted as writing, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. It's a neat aphorism and might have some merit but we have tried to do both.

A city or town in Spain, France or Portugal that has an historic heart of stone is a stirring place of wonder, likely to be well preserved and best of all unmolested by dreadful mid to late 20th century additions. It does though need to be acknowledged that without exception the expanded outskirts are uniformly grim. Great disasters or great visions, and sometimes both, have given most of the places we visited a scale, symmetry and grandness that has never been equalled at home even including cities like Bath or Edinburgh. For 150 years in the 18th and 19th centuries the new wealth of Europe, created by relentless and selfish colonial expansion was in part poured back into the creation of well planned and designed streets and buildings. A design code that is still successful, relevant and appealing today.

It is with mixed feeling that we have sold our house in France but it also has to be admitted that we both prefer Spain to France. For us the food, the coffee, the national temperament, the driving style, the landscape, the cities (except lovely Bordeaux) all are better done in Spain. Perhaps because unlike the French they seem more open to international influence and incorporate this without losing their own identity.

We still have the rest of Southern Europe to explore and then north and east so we'll be busy planning for these trips as we fondly remember the one we have just completed. Do feel free to fly out and join us, or bump into us accidentally.

And now we wend our way back home after an enjoyable week with family ....dog and all!

Hemingway statue at Café Uruña Pamplona

Hemingway statue at Café Uruña Pamplona


Richard - you are not going in there!!

Richard - you are not going in there!!


Interior Café Uruña

Interior Café Uruña


The Cité du Vin museum Bordeaux

The Cité du Vin museum Bordeaux


Who would have thought ...

Who would have thought ...


Beautiful limestone building we we stayed

Beautiful limestone building we we stayed


Saint Michel spire Bordeaux

Saint Michel spire Bordeaux


The justice court

The justice court


Another view of the courts

Another view of the courts


Bizarre sculpture by Mational Theatre

Bizarre sculpture by Mational Theatre


There is always another perspective

There is always another perspective


Reflections ....even got the tram in this shot!

Reflections ....even got the tram in this shot!


No. 1 Chevrefueille with more iris

No. 1 Chevrefueille with more iris


More iris at chez nous

More iris at chez nous


Ahh the bluebells in our woods

Ahh the bluebells in our woods

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

''Out of the city and down to the seaside..."

Truth be told we have rather rushed through Portugal. We don't have time to visit Porto but instead enjoy driving through the countryside with a mountain range always in view, and sometimes beneath our wheels.

We spot a town on the map, Espinho and decide to stop at the seaside for lunch. It doesn't look very large on the map, but when we arrive in a large, ugly town we realise we not going to get our adventurer badges from Akela (AKA Stuart), the Scout Leader.

Espinho is clearly a resort which is a little odd as the town is dissected from the beach by a railway line, and not of the kind where you can saunter across the track. We have a pleasant enough lunch looking over the wild, wide beach and since we didn't bring our cozzies, thank goodness, we keep our feet dry.

The sat nav, still stinging from our suggestion it has no idea what country it's in never mind what street, takes us on a small, and as it turns out serendipitous diversion and we drive by a huge street market. Of the kind of size that London or Paris would find difficult to stage. We're not sure if it's a kiss and make up gift from sat nav, or if like us he'd welcome a post-lunch snooze. Either way we spend a happy hour, agog at the cheapness and the variety in this giant one day market.

There are many plant sellers with species of triffid proportion and tropical colour. We wonder about this, as apart from municipal planting, we have not seen anything like a garden anywhere. Perhaps it's like France where the marketeers sell vegetables, presumably under government license, with the strict proviso they must never be served in a restaurant.

Soon enough we cross another border and are back in Spain, a little relieved to hear a language we don't understand, compared to the Portuguese we could neither pronounce nor understand.

We are staying in Vigo a large, possibly Europe's largest, fishing port. Our hotel is 5 star but 3 star prices, well located in a more or less private and lavishly planted and be-sculptured boulevard and mid way between the port and old town. Our room is spacious and quirky- there is a bath in the room. The lighting system is of the highest tech. There are controls for 7 million combinations of ambient, dimmed and zoned lighting. We soon discover it is necessary to plan for lights out, as no lights on at all is the most complicated and unachievable of all the options.

We take a morning stroll to the port and see buildings that take their architectural cue from ship design. We spot another monster building that looks even more like a ship. Oh goodness, it is a ship, 14 stories and all glass verandas and docked here. Within moments all we can hear are the golden tones of northern accented English. Readers we ran for it.

Vigo is an elegant town, lowish rise but wide-streeted and with good granite buildings with the familiar by now mix of late 19th and complete 20th century design built by the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie . It has a lovely modern art museum, set in an imaginatively restored building of the kind where you chose with difficulty between looking at the rooms or the art.

Some friends have recommended a particular restaurant and we set off to find it, glad as so often of Googles turn by turn help. It's nothing in particular inside and is apparently empty but then it's only 2.30 am and the locals haven't come out to play yet. The restaurant has a back room where they seat everyone and that slowly filled As our friends said it is not the kind of place you'd find on your own, but it was a brilliant recommendation: we had delicious fish of the kind of freshness so rarely tasted.

A couple of nights in Vigo and then we're off to Santiago de Compostela but first another recommendation to follow, this time from the chef in the mountain park hotel which takes us to a seaside port that specialises in mussel fishing and to a particular restaurant. Sadly it is entirely without merit but a break from driving is always welcome. At Santiago Jean has a yen to see happy pilgrims crawling the last few yards of their 600 mile journey. It's a little disappointing as the Cathedral won't allow rucksacks inside so we don't know which are fakers like us or the real McCoys. The old stone town is super busy mostly with teen school parties but quietens down after dark.

Our final recommendation is an hotel, chosen by dear friends and located opposite where the pilgrims come to have their 'passports' stamped, or used to be, sadly it is now relocated so the dream of lazing and sipping coffee under the stone porticos sharing their achievements is again lost. We take a light supper in a cafe of St Pancras proportions and style but soon slightly regret this as a wine tasting starts up at the other end of the room and a much amplified presenter talks forever with precious little sign of the attendees sniffing and sipping.

We are glad to be staying for just one night as those same dear friends forgot to tell us that the cathedral bells strike on the quarter hour, including the hour and every hour all through the night. No problem, we ask the sat nav to switch to auto drive mode and take us where it will. Possibly and we hope León. Possibly Lyon. Lagos, Lucerne or Lilliput. We snuggle down in the back seat, push the handle into drive with a foot and wait to see where we've been taken.

Feed me Seymour, feed me now...

Feed me Seymour, feed me now...


The Merman presiding over Porta do Sol

The Merman presiding over Porta do Sol


Another perspective!

Another perspective!


Fishing port at O Grove

Fishing port at O Grove


Basket shop in Weavers Alley

Basket shop in Weavers Alley


Stylish but odd building

Stylish but odd building


Urban decay next to elegance

Urban decay next to elegance


Pretty or what?

Pretty or what?


Old part Santiago

Old part Santiago

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Lovely Lisbon

Woo hoo, Castelo Branco is not even a memory and we are on the uncrowded auto via to Lisbon, driving south into bright blue skies past hills of yellow and purple polka dots, the gorse and the heather vibrant in the sun.

Actually Castelo Branco was a daymare, still evident on our car tyres and by way of exorcising that demon here's the story:

Our sat nav is at the best of times a bit vague, denies places exist or has a hissy fit and recalculates just when you need it to be certain. Unsuspectingly as we arrive we follow it's bidding and quickly find our selves in narrow streets with instructions to turn right. Fine if you car is a scooter. Then it takes us up a a very steep and cobbled hill to a dead end. Jean very capably reverses back down and later we are obliged to make the impossible 90 degree turn somewhat up hill. Aside from needing to make a 42 point turn the types aren't happy on the cobbles and we add wheel spin and going nowhere to our joy. Eventually Tony lays under the car and Jean gets the necessary traction. We turn on google and try again. There that's out of our system. Oh and in case you forgot the hotel and the town was crap.... but no matter -

We are meeting our friends Clare and Stuart, who are flying over in their own 747. Clare never travels light and Stuart doesn't like back seat pilots so this is their solution.

This is not true. What is true is that it is exciting to meet up and we are looking forward to Lisboa, a city we have only seen for half a day previously. We're staying in a cute 'boutique' hotel - the quotes necessary to demonstrate our ironic distaste of the trend, naturally we had wanted to stay in a unmodernised shepherd hut on a lonely Serra and wee discretely into mountain streams, remembering to wash upstream.

Instead we settle for charming rooms at the top end of the main and expensive shopping boulevard Liberdad and a 10th floor terrace bar with views to the impossibility wide estuary of the river Tagus. It's there we catch up with C and S already into beer and fizzy wine.

Our touring routine has developed so that the first afternoon of arrival we mooch with no plan other than to see what we will see. And for 5 miles we wander, noting where we will return, making our way slowly to the waters edge to Praça do Comércio a large square where musicians, beggars, people 'statues', an azure sky and plenty of tourists like us mark this as the ground zero from which the town radiates.

Lisbon stands on the Tagus estuary, the largest in Western Europe and looks more lake a giant lake than river and has the longest bridge in Europe, the Vasco de Gamma bridge at a total of at 10.7 miles in length. It averages 265 days of sunshine and after a surprisingly cold Spain we are counting on being warm. Lisbon like many places has districts formed by its history and often its immigrant populations. It was pretty much destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 1755. Stuart tells us that like Rome the city is built on seven hills and there is certainly no shortage of steepness, and often when you think you are at ground level you cross a bridge with another road beneath.

The hop on and hop off system in Lisbon is the best we have seen. Often in other cities the routes are few and the areas visited only the very central parts. Here there are 6 or more bus routes visiting even outlying areas as well various trams and funiculars we can use. The trams are original early 19th century, some English made and we are surprised to see the word Sheffield in the rail track points system. The trams go up the hills with apparent ease, and would go down them extremely quickly were it not for the skills of the driver applying additional breaks. The locals have learnt to finely judge where they can park without being side-swiped by very heavy trams.

We spend pretty much the whole day on the buses, sometimes circumnavigating spacious squares, sometimes in winding streets and then way out of the centre to the site of Expo 98 where many interestingly designed towers and facilities still remain including the Gare do Oriente a fantastic lattice roofed gothic influenced station by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Back in the centre Lisbon has a spacious feel in its newer parts, the architecture a familiar story and part of the wonderful thrust of Art Nouveau style that spread across much of mainland Europe and even across the Atlantic in the early 20th century. What is always fascinating is the local variation. Like wine the terroir defines the exact detail - the curvaceous lines of Paris and the more geometric lines of Vienna and Glasgow. In Spain and Portugal it is more restrained but effortlessly combines with the stone and metal building methods already developed in the industrial expansion of the mid 19th century. The city has many cobbled streets - or calcada portuguesa, and come in many mosaic patterns, painstakingly laid down by hand. The only downside is they are treacherously slippy and often laid on uneven beds.

Perhaps conscious of its literally shaky past the city is fairly low rise. It's not as grand as Madrid, and all the better for it, preferring squares and plazas with grand statues to status bragging monumental buildings. The older area spared the earthquake have their winding narrow streets and Lisbon like Portugal in general is just a little run down in places, a consequence of its long history of doing less well like Greece under the Union.

Stuart is the master of the maps, and Jean no slouch in the HQ department so Clare and Tony follow the tour leaders hither and thither happy to be organised. It has to be said though the quest for artisan coffee brings more than the reward of good coffee and milk pouring skills. These cafes are always off the beaten track and it's thanks to the efforts to find them we see parts of the cities other wise so easy to overlook. As luck would have it, the walk Stuart wants to make, coincides with where the coffee is that Jean wants to drink. We meander our way through the Barrio Alto area to our destination and are suddenly in a different city. It is calm, lower and oozing that charm you get when the best bits of gentrification transform a neighbourhood. Even now, whether or not it actually happened we can hear the jazz slipping lazily from the cafes and players in the park.

Portugal is famous of course for its Fado, a folk music that can be sentimental or satirical, comic or sad. Jean and Tony have been fans for years, in particular liking Mariza who sounds very much like the most famous Fadoist Amália Rodriguez. We take in a performance at something of a tourist trap but have excellent if expensive food, or not if the music is factored in. Later we see a theatre doing an Amália show and to the tunes of ABBA we recreate our own Fado and demonstrate our inner cultural philistine selves.

Portugal's language is very curious to hear, lots and lots of 'sh', and in fact sounds Eastern European, even Russian quite often. Sometimes in written form it is close to Spanish but there the similarity ends. And so does our weekend in Lisbon, we four have no socks left, all have been walked off and we take our final dinner together in a real tourist drag where countless waiters try to lure the customers in. Clare finds no fizzy wine despite the waiters promise and the food barely passes muster, so we grab ice cream from a cafe and take port on our roof top terrace

But this isn't the end of the fabulous four's adventures - we are due to meet in a weeks time in Bordeaux. Gluttons for punishment the four of us....

English tram control

English tram control


These are pretty special

These are pretty special


Street art

Street art


Amazing

Amazing


Roasting Today

Roasting Today


Something to go with that coffee

Something to go with that coffee


Modern architecture in Expo 98 area

Modern architecture in Expo 98 area


Antique tram

Antique tram


Bi-lingual street poster

Bi-lingual street poster


Street art 2

Street art 2


Street art 3

Street art 3


Tile detail

Tile detail


Moorish Art Deco?

Moorish Art Deco?


Elegant terrace

Elegant terrace


Typical Lisbon building

Typical Lisbon building


Fine metal work balconies

Fine metal work balconies


Cobbled streets

Cobbled streets


Cobbled streets

Cobbled streets


Cobbled streets

Cobbled streets

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Oh, the Yin and the Yang of it all...

The road up and the road down are the same thing. (Hippolytus of Rome (170 – 235 AD) No they are not.

Leaving Salamanca we point ourselves toward Portugal. It is ridiculously thrilling to cross a border from one country to another, even if that crossing point is more or less unmarked and barely acknowledged.

Soon enough we begin a steady climb into the Serra da Estrela mountains, the highest in Portugal and home to a national park and the only skiing available in the country. Gradually the roads become narrower and more winding. We are much relieved that we meet no other vehicle and eventually with the altitude at 1500 metres we arrive at Casa Penhas Douradas in Manteigas. It doesn't look especially enticing from outside, a slightly disconnected collection of very red roofed buildings, clearly modern but also very simple architecture. Huts with chutzpah.

We check in and are shown around and given the choice of two rooms. We immediately go back to the car and remonstrate with the sat nav. We explain to it we are clearly in Sweden, what part of take us to Portugal, we ask, did you not understand?

The sat nav says nothing but displays some graphic evidence to support its position. So we happily go back inside and continue to investigate this trendy blonde wood everywhere including the ceilings, walls and furniture boutique hotel, with its mid 20th century chairs and sofas, its collection of ancient skis and ice skates and it's enchanting rugs and tapestries and wall coverings apparently made of felt, of which more later...

It's mid afternoon and we are invited to help ourselves to coffee and cakes whilst the chef arrives to discuss our requirements for dinner. There is bacalhau (or bacalao in Spanish) the salted dry cod that can be disgusting and despite our reservations we take the risk, and are very glad later as it is delicious because it is prepared in house.

At 1500 metres the snow is still very evident, thick but patchy and as we walk down the winding road to a lake, the spring temperatures have started the melt and water tumbles downhill through gullies and water carved courses to the lake below. Across chiaroscuro mountains we can see Spain perhaps 50 miles away. The air is markedly fresh if a little thin and the uphill takes our breath, a small price to feel so free and cuddled by the natural world.

Dinner there always starts with a cocktail and in the lovely sitting room warmed by the wood burner we sip a sweet something adorned with a giant grape. The dinner that follows is our best meal of our trip, the slightly stodgy but yummy pudding the only misstep. We have a good Brexit moan chat with the English fluent chef, and learn a little of the Portuguese point of view.

We have an overnight in another small city on our way to Lisbon, where we will meet with friends who are flying over for the weekend and despite the indulgent pleasures of where we are, we have to set off again but have a rendezvous at a factory back down the mountain in Mantegais.

The 'felt' so evident in the hotel is in fact Burel, an artisanal and ancient product initially made to keep the shepherds warm and dry. This is made from woven wool that is boiled and shrunk and then pounded and compressed so that weave is no longer visible. It is very strong and water resistant. The owners of the hotel also own the factory, 'exhumed' in 2012 to give back to and help the local community and populated with resurrected cadavers of early and mid 20th century looms.

The factory has two lines the burel and traditional wool weaving. Some of the patterns are traditional but many are modern. What's intriguing, particularly for the burel is that the material has attracted the attention of designers world wide. This rather odd, and on the face of it, not very useful fabric, has been adopted in very clever ways - 3 dimensional wall coverings, handbags and wallets, sculptural furniture covering, duffel type coats, even shoes.

We leave Mantegais climbing back up the mountain even higher than our hotel and thrilled at our lovely stay and interesting factory tour. We expect to again go back down the mountain but instead find ourselves on a mountain plain, still elevated at 1200 metres but almost flat and only very slowly flattening over many miles.

We arrive at Castelo Branco, chosen for no reason other than it is halfway to LIsbon and is said to have some interesting museums. And thus we discover that the Roman sage quoted at the start of this account has never been to this 'Aldershot' of Portugal. We drive around and around looking in vain for some reason to get out of the car and instead retreat to our lackluster hotel, eat a boring vegetable stew of once frozen items and give a wink and a nod at the god of tourism who has balanced our previous highs with our current, thankfully brief, descent into dullsville. We high-tail it on our sturdy bronco (Peugot) out of Castello Branco.

Mountain lake at 1500 metres

Mountain lake at 1500 metres


Reversible burel made as wall covering

Reversible burel made as wall covering


Yew table - what a beauty.

Yew table - what a beauty.


Blonde wood everywhere; note the stool fabric

Blonde wood everywhere; note the stool fabric


Quirky interior

Quirky interior

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Super Salamanca Murders Madrid and Zaps Zaragoza

We leave Madrid through surprisingly light Monday morning traffic and are quickly on a pretty drive through low mountains and fertile plains, with higher pine clad snow capped mountains in the distance. It's a two hour drive to Salamanca our next stopover and though we have researched museums and sites we have no expectations.

We are staying in a Parador (a state run hotel chain, usually in ancient buildings) on a hill overlooking the historic centre. But in a break from the usual, it is a modern hotel, though quite stately and clad in corten - deliberately rusted steel - and the rich red tones remind us that wine is waiting for us later. For 10 euros we upgrade our room for a town view. Money well spent we think.

Salamanca is a university city with claims to global significance and the sixth oldest in the world, and dating back to the 11th century. It is particularly known for its language school as the Castilian Spanish spoken in the region is the equivalent of received pronunciation English or Oxford English. It is a stunningly beautiful place, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site . The centre and right up to the more modern parts are all built with a glowing, softly mottled sandstone, sometimes roughly hewn sometimes more polished. Any new buildings, always sensitively designed are sandstone too. It is generally low rise and the monumental buildings soar up from their neighbours, the Cathedral anyway already on the highest ground.

It's a perfect city for walking and our feet are the only complainers as they notch up another five miles. It's a perfect city too for coffee and pastry shops and we are doggedly munching our way through some horrible things, some so bad we have two of them so some other luckless person doesn't have to suffer.

We went to a fabulous museum set in an art nouveau palace, of the small kind (for a palace). It had a very beautiful inner courtyard with an atrium roof of glowing abstract stained glass. There were very good collections of Art Deco glass and ornaments particularly Émile Gallé, a French artist. Plenty of good art nouveau and Deco furniture and paintings and a slightly disturbing and very large collection of dolls, marionettes and clockwork mannequins. One charming and unusual detail is that the town has its own font, a kind of art nouveau style and every building of interest has its name and sometimes other details hand written on it in a rusty colour.

Another city and another cathedral, actually two here as they built a new one right next to the old one. Built of course in sandstone, the style is 'Plateresque' a kind of exotic blend of gothic and Mudéjar. Plateresque means in the manner of the silversmith and the decorative elements do indeed have that aspect. Apparently when the cathedral was being renovated in the 90's one of the stone masons carved an astronaut into a new section, as well as faun eating an ice-cream, though I confess we missed this detail.

The university has buildings all over the city and we walk around oasis cloisters glad that after some very chilly days in Madrid we can bask in some warming sunshine. We take our lunch in a busy pedestrianised street enjoying a veggie paella and thirst quenching cerveza.

After five cities an inevitable list is forming. We don't set out to make a list but as we experience the difference between one place and another our emotional responses begin to coalesce into preferences. Despite being irresistibly drawn to the large and capital cities, twice now we have felt most at home in the smaller more intimate ones where the scale horizontally and vertically is much more welcoming. Salamanca is winning the city competition right now, partly because it is so lovingly restored and maintained, partly because it is so very beautiful to look at, and partly because it has an interesting intimacy. And pastries.

For now though we have done with Spain and on our last night in Salamanca we enjoyed a very fine meal in a local restaurant which knocked the pants off the restaurant in the Parador. Tomorrow we cross into Portugal and are staying in a national park and intend to do very little except hug trees and sit still, ideally in the sunshine. We have walked more than 50 miles in the past few days and need some down time. Scary update... may only be 14 degrees up on the mountains...

Elektra coffee machine

Elektra coffee machine


Wow

Wow


Lovely city centre buildings

Lovely city centre buildings


University cloister

University cloister


Salamanca art nouveau type face

Salamanca art nouveau type face


Street view of the Art Nouveau museum

Street view of the Art Nouveau museum


Interesting house decoration detail

Interesting house decoration detail


Close up of sandstone blocks

Close up of sandstone blocks


One of many lovely plazas

One of many lovely plazas


Keeping your insides clean

Keeping your insides clean


One of Spain's premier squares

One of Spain's premier squares


Handsome sandstone carving on ugly building

Handsome sandstone carving on ugly building

Posted by Jean-and-Tony 17:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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