travel article by Pierre Mainguené, Circa Tours
memories of Spain go back to the early seventies. I will forever remember my first
encounter with the Spanish lifestyle: late lunches, long evenings and endless
nights. That was in Barcelona.
Things were very different in those days: Francisco Franco was in power, Prince
Juan Carlos was busy training for the 1972 Olympics, and we paid for things with
then, there have been a few changes: Franco is gone, King Juan Carlos I is now
the head of a constitutional monarchy, and the euro has replaced the old currency.
But my attraction to Spain has not left me. I keep going back.
can one resist green Galicia
(the Romans called it "Finis Terrae" - the end of the earth) and a "pilgrimage"
to the tomb of St. James in Santiago
de Compostela? Picture this: in the middle of Mass, a large - very large
- incense burner is swung by a half dozen strong men, from one side of the cathedral
to the other, while the fragrance fills the air and the clouds of white smoke
gently waft to the high Romanesque arches of the sanctuary. Out of this world!
better to feel the presence of Don Quijote de la Mancha riding Rosinante than
in a small town, south of Madrid, called Campo
de Criptana? True, you're not very likely to run into Sancho Panza there,
but it's like he just left. The place is a world of fantasy. As far as the eye
can see, the hills are dotted with the gigantic white windmills described in Cervantes'
famous novel. And Dulcinea's house, in nearby El Toboso, is open for visits.
little farther south is Córdoba,
the doorstep of Andalusia - at one time the home of the Caliph and largest city
in Europe. There, you go into "La Mezquita" and you're literally transported
into another age - another world: before your eyes is the simple, stylized Moorish
architecture of a tenth-century mosque and, only steps away, you walk into the
most extravagant, ornate designs of a Baroque cathedral - all under one roof,
the heart of Andalusia, you find the city of Seville.
Two roman emperors were born there. Later, the Moors ruled the place for a few
centuries, followed by Ferdinand and Isabella, the sponsors of Christopher Columbus'
voyages to the New World. In Seville, there is nothing like the feeling of getting
lost, in the heat of summer, in the "judería" (Jewish Quarter).
You wonder whether you'll ever get out of there. But, who cares! The streets are
so narrow and the walls of the stone buildings so thick, that it actually feels
cool in this ancient labyrinth.
there is Valencia.
A sense of awe and admiration overwhelms you as you walk through the "Ciudad
de las Artes y las Ciencias" (City
of Arts and Sciences): a museum in the most avant-garde modern style,
a performing arts center reminiscent of an Etruscan helmet, plus a glass-domed
planetarium with two giant hydraulic glass "eyelids" sitting in the
middle of a turquoise lake, smooth as a mirror. Hard to visualize, isn'it? You
need to see it with your own eyes.
say nothing of the aroma and taste of a tender, succulent, farm-raised roasted
lamb in Aranda de Duero (Castilla y León) accompanied by a glass of robust,
Rioja red wine.
I could go on, but let me just say this: España
is an enticing place. The history and culture have no equals. The music grabs
your soul. The cuisine and the wines are a combination of rich, tasty, simple,
hot, refined, creative and sophisticated. And let's not forget the people... they're
warm and friendly and they speak such a wonderfully musical language.
can I say? I fell in love with Spain at one point in time. I hope you do, too.
If you go there, I'm sure you will uncover other aspects of the culture I haven't
seen yet. So, go and find out for yourself. The experience will warm your heart
and enrich your mind forever.
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