Spain Smorgasbord

By the 8th day of our Grand Circle tour, we had visited Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Cordoba, and Torremolinos, with a side trip to the very British Gibraltar. Next on our itinerary was Malaga, but Mike and I decided to engage in an Australian tradition and “Chuck A Sickie”. For those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of spending two weeks with an Australian Global Volunteer, that term roughly translates to “Playing Hooky”.

Although the Costa del Sol averages over 300 days of sunshine per year, today was the first time I needed to wear my sun hat.

I’m sure our fellow travelers had a perfectly marvelous day enjoying the sights of Malaga, and the home hosted lunch in a nearby village as much as Mike and I enjoyed spending the morning strolling along the beach, taking in sights like this.

I would have loved to see what this tribute to Elvis looked like before the rain decapitated him.

But what about those other glorious cities?  Don’t worry, I’ll do a little flashback, with visuals.

We got just enough of a taste to determine that one of these days, we will be back to those lovely cities, and next time, we will linger.  

Our time in Toledo was limited to a few hours enroute to Granada. The old city sits 6 escalator rides above the new city, and let me tell you, we were all very grateful we didn’t have to climb all the way up the hill in the rain.

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Even after we arrived at the “top”, we still had some hills to climb.

Our stroll through Toledo’s Jewish quarter ended at the oldest synagogue in Europe. This unique building was constructed by Moors, because at that time they were reputed to be the best builders.   Of course, they were not familiar with synagogue construction, so the Jews ended up with a building that had a distinctive Muslim flavor.

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Notice the cross?  This building is a reminder that at one time, all three religions were able to peacefully coexist—pre Ferdinand and Isabella reign.

For anyone planning a trip to Toledo, please be aware it is much more than amazing history, great food and panoramic vistas.  Thrill seekers, take a look.

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Maybe next time, if it isn’t raining…

One of the many things that I love about traveling with Grand Circle and OAT is the unexpected stops along the way.  We had a bathroom and refreshment break in Puerto Lápice, a little village in Castille La Mancha, where we discovered a three room Don Quixote museum.

Because I spent so much time in the museum, I had to order my glass of wine “to go”, which I proudly did in Spanish.   An important phrase: “para llevar”.  But the effect was spoiled, just a bit, when the bartender started speaking to me in perfect English.

Not surprisingly, most of our time in Granada was spent at the Alhambra.  Okay, so we all know that Washington Irving wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but how many know that he also was instrumental in saving the Alhambra from being destroyed?  His “Tales of the Alhambra” caused the Spaniards to take a second look at what is now the most visited attraction in Spain.

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Alhambra ( Al = “the” in Arabic ) is a palace, a fortress, a small city, overlooking Granada.  Unfortunately, when Napoleon conquered Spain, his soldiers removed all of the furniture, rugs and tapestries, ( I believe the correct term is “looted”) but the walls, ceilings and courtyards give you a hint of the grandeur that once existed.   Check out the ceiling in the women’s quarters.

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The exteriors of Moorish buildings were very plain. All of the ornamentation was inside, in the private spaces, like these beautiful courtyards.

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The Moors ruled Spain for almost 800 years, and their impact on the Spanish language continues today.  Many places begin with “Gua”, like Guadalcanal, Guatemala, Guanajuato — all derived from the Arabic word for water.

Another city with beautiful Moslem architecture is Cordoba.  The Roman temple/Church/Mosque/Cathedral is an architectural wonder.  Walking through its spacious interior, you literally travel through time, starting with the preserved Roman tiles, below the existing floor—

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to the former mosque, built with recycled columns, which was wisely preserved by the Catholics —

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and now is in the center of the mosque.

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In this photo, you can see the Mosque’s red and white arches next to the cathedral’s main altar.

Cordoba is magnificent!

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The church’s bell tower was constructed around the minaret.

I guess some place has to be the least favorite, and for me, Gibraltar gets that honor.  Maybe it was because the limestone WW2 tunnels were dripping water, and were dark and gloomy,

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One of the few places that wasn’t too dark or wet to photograph

as was the weather.

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Whatever the reason, I was not as wowed as I was by the other places we’d visited.  Even the Barbary apes were a disappointment.  We only saw four.

78E241BD-2388-4088-9601-C9A028433F2BTwo more days in Spain, three in Portugal, and then we are back to the USA.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Roof of the World – Part 3

When you hear “Seven Years in Tibet” what comes to mind?  The movie starring Brad Pitt?

Well, I never saw the movie but I HAVE read the book  by Heinrich Harrer, and I must say, it was pretty phenomenal.   Harrar escaped from a British POW camp in India during World War II.  Interestingly enough, POWs back then were able to keep their money and  supplies, so when he escaped, he had a rucksack, some provisions, and enough money to trade with Tibetans as he made his way through the Himalayas to Lhasa.

The Tibetans were gracious hosts, providing Harrer and his traveling companion,  Peter Aufschnaiter (another escaped POW) with shelter and, when they ran out of money, gifts of food.  Harrer and Aufschnaiter were able to repay this kindness by generously sharing their scientific and engineering knowledge with a country that at that time was closed off to the rest of the world.  In addition to helping with flood control, translating foreign news, providing agricultural advice, they also introduced  the Tibetans to a new sport,”walking on knives”, what we call ice skating.    Eventually, Harrer met the young Dalai Lama, becoming a trusted friend and tutor of the isolated adolescent.  Harrer not only oversaw the construction of a movie theater in the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, he also created the films that were shown there, using a 50’s era movie camera to photograph Tibetan festivals.

After Charlie Carroll discovered Seven Years in Tibet in his elementary school library, he became fascinated with this remote Himalayan kingdom.  It was a bit like me and the Wizard of Oz, except HE could actually visit HIS magical kingdom.  And he did, in 2009.  The end product of his journey is the wonderful narrative Peaks on the Horizon.  Two parallel stories alternate chapters, chronicling Charlie’s travels, and that of a young Tibetan refugee he met just before leaving the country.

Seven Years in Tibet and Peaks on the Horizon are great introductions to Tibetan religion, history and culture.  Although I quickly skimmed through  Demystifying Tibet by Lee Feigon and Conversations with the Dalai Lama by Thomas Laird, I found them more difficult to get through and not as entertaining.  I’ll admit it.  I’m a sucker for the personal narrative.

So, if you have been following along The Yellow Brick Road to Asia, you know that now is the time for ten very random, fun facts uncovered through reading about Tibet:

  1. At 13,000 feet above sea level, Tibet’s nickname, “The Roof of the World” is fitting.  It is the highest inhabited area in the WORLD.  Yikes.  I’ve packed a supply of Diamox to make sure I don’t have a problem with the altitude.  
  2. The first major character in its recorded history is Songtsen Gampo, who conquered and united a multitude of tribes to create the nation of Tibet.  Sources claim he became king at the age of 13.  I guess during the the seventh century, they dealt with adolescent angst by sending the boys off to pillage, plunder and start a new nation.  Before he died in 649, he managed to acquire one wife from China, one from Nepal and four from among the local girls.  There are two versions of the Chinese bride story.  Songtsen Gampo  ordered the king of China to send him one of his daughters and when his “request” was refused,  he attacked and pillaged.  Version two describes Songtsen Gampo as a lovesick warrior who became a vassal of the Chinese emperor to obtain his lovely wife.  See if you can figure out which explanation belongs to which nation.
  3. But it wasn’t ALL fun and games.  Songtsen Gampo is also credited with bringing Buddhism to Tibet (and to Bhutan).  He built the first Buddhist temple in Tibet, the Jokhang, to house the statue of the Buddha his Chinese wife, Wencheng,  brought from China as part of her dowery.  One account mentioned that the Nepali wife also brought a Buddha with her, but the Chinese one appears to be more sacred and more famous.  it will be interesting to see what we are told when we are in Lhasa.
  4. There was a gap of almost a century until the next important emperor came on the scene.  Trisong Detsen (755-797) conquered the areas along the Silk Road.  But he too was more than just a warrior.  He also  built Tibet’s first monastery at Samye and invited Padmasambhava (Remember him from the Nepal post?  Also known as Guru Rimpoche, he emerged from a Lotus in a lake) to come to Tibet to help spread the word about Buddhism.
    Unfortunately, Trisong Detsen met an untimely end.  Rumor has it that he was 
    poisoned by his wife, who may also have disposed of her son in a similar manner a mere two years after he was crowned.   Talk about dysfunctional families.  Even Dr. Phil would have had trouble fixing THEIR problems.  
  5. The next notable character appears in 838.  Lang Darma joined with members of the Bon religion to strangle his brother, the current king.  He tried to reinstitute Bon, the local religion, by suppressing Buddhism.  Here’s the interesting part. Lang Darma was thought to be a devil, complete with horns on his head.  After forcing girls to comb his hair, he used his horns to kill them, then ate them.  Lhalung Palgyi Dorje, a monk, came to the rescue, killing Lang Darma by shooting an arrow through his heart.   
  6. Remember Ghengis Khan and the Mongol Hoards?  I sure do.  I have a strong visual of him and his buddies, galloping across the steppes, flags flying in front, long hair streaming behind.  So, what has that got to do with Tibet, you ask?  Well, bet you didn’t know that the term “Dalai Lama” came from the Mongols.  I certainly didn’t.  Altan Khan, who ruled Mongolia in the 1500’s (yes, we’re skipping WAY ahead!) invited Sonam Gyatso, the abbott of Tibet’s largest monastery, to his country to spread Buddhism throughout Mongolia.  Dalai Lama is the Mongol translation of Sonam Gyatso’s name, which in English means “Great Ocean”.  Tibetans, however, refer to their their spiritual leader as “Kundun”, which means “the presence of Buddha”, but since I’m not Tibetan,  I’m going to stick with Dalai Lama.
  7. Tibetans believe they are descendants of Chenrizi (also spelled Chenrezi, Chenresig and Chenrezig, depending on the source), who took the form of a monkey to seduce a demon.  The demon gave birth to six “long haired children” complete with tails (the first Tibetans) that disappeared when they grew to adulthood.   The Tibetan creation story explains human behavior by uniting the pure (Chenrizi is the Buddha of compassion) with the animalistic (the demon/ogress).  And all we westerners get is a talking snake and an apple.  I like their story better!  It even has evolution going for it.
  8. The current Dalai Lama is believed to be the fourteenth reincarnation of Chenrizi.  The THIRD Dalai Lama was the first granted the title by Altan Khan.  That Dalai Lama decided to declare his two deceased predecessors as the first and second Dalai Lamas.  After the third Dalai Lama’s  death,  Altan Khan’s grandson (surprise, surprise)  was declared to be next reincarnate — the fourth Dalai Lama.  He didn’t last long–he was dead before he was 28.
  9. The NEXT Dalai Lama was a powerhouse. The “Great Fifth” started construction of the Potala, Tibet’s iconic building.  He died before the building was completed, but his death was kept a secret for 10 years to ensure that construction would continue.  This huge complex is 13 stories high and contains color coded administrative (red) and religious (white) sections, which include the winter quarters for the Dalai Lama,  prison cells, torture chambers and stupas where prior Dalai Lamas are entombed.
  10. Yaks are as important to the Tibetans as Buffalo were to the Native Americans.  Yak butter is the main ingredient in yak tea, which is consumed by everyone, many times every day.  Yak butter is also used for the candles that are burned throughout all three Himalayan countries.  Yak dung is burned for fuel and is also used as an ink substitute.  The burnt yak dung becomes soot, which was used as ink for books during Heinrich Harrer’s seven years.  By the time Charlie Carroll visited a few years ago, Yaks had become endangered.  What is common now is a cross between a yak and a cow, called a dzo.  

How’s that for random facts?

There is so very much more to say about Tibet, but as with the posts on Bhutan and Nepal, I need to save something for when we are there, don’t I?

A Tale of Two Cities, Part One

“It was the BEST of times…”  Charles Dickens

That’s it. There was no “worst of times”.  Lucky me.  But good times do not make good novelists, so fortunately I’m content to be a sometimes blogger.

My other posts have all been about Querétaro, a delightful historic city–and I am far from done talking about it.  But this post is about  a SECOND undiscovered gem.  Undiscovered by most USA tourists, that is.

Global Volunteers are free on the weekend, so several of us took a bus to Guanajuato,  a two and a half hour ride from Querétaro.

And what a bus it was!  I only wish airplane seats were so comfortable.  Imagine being able to recline your seat without incurring the wrath of the person behind you.  How about having a foot rest so you can stretch your legs out, just like you are in your favorite Lazy boy.  Throw in free movies on your individual TV.  Of course, you have to watch Renee Zellweger speaking Spanish,  with her very full lips out of synch with her words.  That’s the Premiera Plus ( the name of the bus company) experience.   I preferred watching the countryside flash by, but that’s generally how I roll.  

The bus stations In both cities had snack bars, clean bathrooms (the 5 peso entry fee gets you the best seat in the house, toilet paper, soap and paper towels),  and comfortable waiting rooms, for those of you that care about such things.  (I’m definitely in that category.)

Taxis to the historic center were plentiful and inexpensive — 50 pesos, or a little more than $3.00 –got us delivered to our hotel off La Plaza de La Paz.

Check out my luxurious room.  The bathroom was also beautiful--complete with hair dryer, and huge towels.

Check out my luxurious room. The bathroom was also beautiful–complete with hair dryer, and huge towels.

Like Querétaro, Guanajuato is safe, clean, inexpensive, beautiful, friendly, musical, historic—AND it has a miradora–a panoramic view, something I can’t resist.

The pale blue building to the left of the yellow/orange cathedral is our hotel.  The hotel de la Paz

The pale blue building to the left of the yellow/orange cathedral is our hotel. The hotel de la Paz

I rode the funicular to the top of the hill, the site of the statue of el Pipila, who is clearly visible from just about everywhere in the city.

El Pipila

El Pipila

Those so inclined can climb inside, sorta like the Statue of Liberty. I decided to take one for the team, so I climbed to the top, and I’m going to tell you–the view’s not worth it.
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See how narrow the stairs are? The ladder to the top is even narrower, and just a tad scary.
So, how did el Pipila get his very own statue at summit of Guanajuato?  Are you getting tired of the history trivia? I hope not, because I’m going to tell you.

The Mexicans decided they had had quite enough of Spanish rule, so they started a rebellion (actually this is more of a Querétaro story, which will be a future post, but I’m drinking wine while I’m writing this, so let’s just go with it. Okay?)
El Pipila put a flat stone on his back to protect him from the Spaniards, who were holed up in a granary and tossing dreadful, dangerous things at him. He set fire to the door of the granary, which allowed the Mexicans to enter, slay with Spaniards and win the battle. Oh my God. Am I REALLY talking about battles and wars? Has it come to that?

Time to change the subject.
Guanajuato has an abundance of museums, and I was able to visit several of them. The things hanging on the walls were all very lovely, but what floats my boat are the buildings that house the exhibits. The Diego Riviera Museum is his childhood home.

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I don’t know whether he and Frieda actually slept there, but who cares? The architecture is fantastic, and the cutouts weren’t half bad.
Guanajuato has its fair share of churches, and if there is a wedding happening, I never miss an opportunity to crash it. This lovely bride’s veil was pinned to her groom’s shoulder. After the ceremony was completed, they were unpinned. Don’t know the background, but I thought it was an interesting custom.

imageWhat else can I tell you about Guanajuato?  The food was excellent.  The Mexican wine was delicious, and of course I felt compelled to take photos of everything, so you can see for yourself.

This bread was AMAZING!

This bread was AMAZING!

 

Enchiladas with mole (my guy's favorite) and green sauce, with frijoles.  For less than $12...including that great bread Nd a cappuccino!

Enchiladas with mole (my guy’s favorite) and green sauce, with frijoles. For less than $12…including that great bread and a cappuccino!

 

Mexican wineries?  Who knew their wine could be so delicious?

Mexican wineries? Who knew their wine could be so delicious?

I could keep posting photos till your eyes roll back into your heads. But I won’t. I’d encourage you to enjoy visiting this amazing city and will leave you with just two more photos.

One of many bars in the town.

One of many bars in the town.

 

I'm not sure why Don Quixotes is so big in Guanajuanto.  That's my Ssignment for my next visit.

I’m not sure why Don Quixote is  is so big in Guanajuato. That’s my assignment for my next visit.

I’m almost out of power, so I’ll post. Please forgive the typos…drink a little wine, and this will all make sense to you. Visit this wonderful city and fall in love with it!