June 22, 2007

Back in the U.S. of A.

Well, we’re back! Our Spanish travels are complete and we are now in Tucson at Brady’s parents house, recovering from jet lag. And we have a lot to catch all of you up on. This is a really long blog entry – probably the longest yet – but it’s the last one.

Last we wrote, three weeks ago, we were still in Salamanca and had rented a car one weekend and driven around some areas west and south of Salamanca. We spent two more weeks in Salamanca, including one weekend during which we went to Lisbon, Portugal, with a school excursion. Lisbon was very big and beautiful, but a little dirty. The neighborhood of Belem, in western Lisbon, was the best part. That’s where the president’s house is (La Casa Rosada, or pink house) and it’s generally an old, quaint, and well-preserved area of town.

We also visited Cascais, a town west of Lisbon on the coast, at the mouth of the Rio Tagus, which is the river Lisbon is built along. Visiting Cascais fulfilled Natalie’s desire to see the Atlantic Ocean from the coast of the Iberian peninsula. It was beautiful, and Cascais was a very quaint, relaxed seaside town. We decided to stay in Cascais the rest of the day, and didn’t go back to Lisbon with the group on the bus and instead took the commuter train back late that night because we preferred Cascais over Lisbon. We laid on the beach a bit. And we shopped a lot. We found that shoes in Portugal are cheaper than in Spain and are actually still handmade in Portugal by real cobblers, like Spain’s used to be.

The next day we saw a few more Portuguese sites (old town called Obido, big beautiful cathedral … the usual European stuff) and returned to Salamanca.

We left Salamanca the day after classes ended, on May 31, and began Natalie’s favorite part of the entire trip -- Catelonia, Spain’s most northeastern province that includes Barcelona and runs north to the French border along the Mediterranean Coast. We flew to Barcelona and stayed an hour north of the city with friends of friends, named Scott and Maria. Scott is American (and has been an artist for The Simpsons for 17 years… so we felt cool just meeting him) and his wife is Spanish. Catalan, to be specific. She and her family are from Barcelona. Scott and Maria were so generous and hospitable, and their house is beautiful and was very relaxing and a wonderful way to decompress after our unfulfilling homestay in Salamanca with a woman who, well, we’d rather just forget.

From Scott and Maria's house, we took day trips into Barcelona and saw as many sites designed by architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) that we could, namely – Casa Mila (a.k.a. La Pedrera), Casa Batllo (the coolest), Parc Guell, and La Sagrada Familia. To the left is La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral Gaudi worked on for the last 40 years of his life, eventually moving in. He never finished it, and it remains unfinished 80 years after his death, although the city of Barcelona is making an effort to eventually finish it.

We also took a day trip to Montserrat, an hour west of Barcelona, where there is an amazing, old monastery. Napoleon came through and destroyed the monastery, which had been built in the 13th century, and killed all the monks. But eventually it was repopulated and rebuilt, still in the same picturesque locale. A picture of the mountain as we approached is below. We took a tram to the monastery and then another tram a little higher, and then hiked two hours to the highest hikable point.

After 5 days, we rented a car and drove north through Catelonia, near and along the coast. Catelonia is amazingly beautiful, and we found Catalan people to be exceptionally friendly. It is a fiercely independent, and international, part of Spain, where they speak their own language – Catalan. But everyone also speaks Castillian Spanish. Catalan is not a Spanish dialect at all, but really its own language, an interesting mix of Castillian and French. It is just one of Europe's many Latin languages, with apparently very complex grammar. During Franco’s dictatorship over Spain from 1936 until his death in 1975, he forbid the use of Catalan, which of course ensured that it thrived after Franco died, at which point Catelonia established Catalan as the official language of the province. All signs are written in Catalan and Castillian, and since the province is so international, also very often in French and English.

Catelonia includes Spain’s Costa Brava along the Mediterranean Sea. First we went to Cadaques, the most easterly point of Spain, a small peninsula that juts east into the Mediterranean just south of the French border. Salvador Dali lived here and we visited his house, which is now a museum. The picture at right is at Dali's house, near the pool. He had a thing for tires... there are three plastic Michelin Man statues surrounding the pool, plus this 'lips' couch underneath four Pirelli tire signs.

Near his house is a picturesque rocky point with a lighthouse called Cap de Creus where we ate dinner.

We also visited, for an afternoon, the town of Figueres a bit inland to see Dali’s museum, which he created himself. It was fascinating, and both the house and museum gave us new appreciation for Dali, especially his sense of humor, and new understanding of how broad his work was. He didn’t paint only those odd, surrealist, Freudian paintings.

On our way back to Barcelona, we stayed the night in Tossa del Mar, a very quaint, beautiful, seaside town. Then we drove back to Barcelona, walked around a bit more, and flew that night (June 7) to Madrid.

We stayed in Madrid until the end of our trip, June 13, and took a day trip to Toledo. Toledo is gorgeous and very old, and in fact is one of 11 cities in Spain listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Jewish neighborhood was especially cool and provocative. The picture at left is a synagogue in Toledo: Sinagoga de Santa Maria La Blanca.

In Madrid we took a couple hours to see dozens of famous Velasquez and Goya paintings at the Prado Museum. The last day, Brady also visited the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, a great place with a fabulous array of art, but despite the fact that Natalie had never been to this museum and really wanted to see it, she was exhausted and knew standing in another museum in front of more art would make her cranky, so she sat in El Parque del Buen Retiro instead, like Central Park for Madrid, and relaxed to the sound of running water and chirping birds.

The next day we flew back to Tucson. We are currently packing the van back up, and we expect to be back in Portland on June 28. We can’t wait to see our own bed again…. Thanks everyone for following along and reading about our 2006-07 year of adventure.

For more pictures: www.flickr.com/photos/bradyandnatalie


Anonymous said...

That is the prettiest picture of you with the sunset.... You should have that framed.

I'm so jealous about the Dali, like I told you.

Glad you guys are back now! The trip seemed amazing, all around!


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