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Spain/Portugal 2011

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S: Spain/Portugal 2011

BC: "where the earth ends and the sea begins"... | Spain & Portugal: June 2011

FC: Spain & Portugal 2011

1: Plaza Mayor | Madrid, Spain

2: The Plaza Mayor was built during the Habsburg period and is a central plaza in the city of Madrid. Rectangular in shape, the Plaza measures 129 by 94 meters, and is surrounded by three-story residential buildings that have a total of 237 balconies facing the Plaza. It has a total of nine entranceways. The origins of the Plaza go back to 1576. The Plaza Mayor has been the scene of numerous events: markets, bullfights, soccer games and public executions. The Plaza Mayor also has a ring of old and traditional shops and cafes. Celebrations for San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid, are also held here. The Plaza Mayor is now a major tourist attraction, visited by thousands of tourists per year. Amongst the many "performers" in the plaza, Abi and I were pretty enthralled by the multi-colored.... goat? Multi-colored is a theme in this area of Madrid. Buildings of different hues line the narrow, cobblestone streets. It's easy to get turned around and lost in these areas, but there's plenty to see while you try to find your way through the hilly streets of the city.

3: The Palacio de los Cibeles (the Palace of Cibeles), now serving as City Hall, is one of the most prominent landmarks of Madrid. The cathedral-like structure was built in 1909 to serve as the headquarters of the postal service. The Cibeles Fountain, named after Cybele, the Roman goddess of nature, was designed between 1777 and 1782. The fountain has been adopted by the football club, Real Madrid, whose flag is often wrapped around the statue. Madrid is known for its elaborate design within its many roundabout intersections. Impressive fountains, statues and intricate floral designs create the center of the roundabout, with additional design at the entrance of each street. The attention to detail is amazing and something that I remember each time I think of Madrid. | Plaza de Cibeles | Madrid, Spain

5: At the east side of the Puerta del Sol stands the statue of the Bear and Modrone Tree, the heraldic symbol of Madrid. Following a dispute in the 13th century over hunting rights on the land, which was owned by the church, agreement was reached that the church owned the soil, but the Madrilenos owned everything above the ground - namely game. With this, the symbol of Madrid was born and is found on numerous things pertaining to the city. Madrid is, by far, one of my favorite cities. The weather was amazing - 70 degrees and sunny. June was a great time to go, and even better than the first time I was there. (May 2003) The first day seemed endless, and while jet-lag and arriving in the morning contributed to that, I'll never forget looking at my watch thinking that I must seriously be struggling with the time change... all to realize that it was after 10 pm and still sunny. No wonder the day seemed like it would never end! Walking through Madrid you never know what you're going to see next - whether it be an odd little car (photo on the left) or a very universally stated sign (to the right). Abi got introduced to gelato here - one of the many things that these two cousins have in common is an obsession with ice cream. And freshly-made gelato can't be beat! We had a great time in Madrid and while excited to move along in our trip, were sad to say goodbye to the city. It's a great place...

6: The Puerta de Alcalá ("Alcalá Gate") is a Neo-classical monument in the Plaza de la Independencia ("Independence Square") in Madrid. It stands near the city center and several meters away from the main entrance to the Parque del Buen Retiro. Its name originates from the old path from Madrid to the nearby town of Alcalá de Henares. Madrid, in the late 18th century, still remained somewhat drab in appearance, because it was surrounded by medieval walls. Around the year 1774, King Charles III commissioned Francesco Sabatini to construct a monumental gate in the city wall through which an expanded road to the city of Alcalá was to pass, replacing an older, smaller gate which stood nearby. The current gate was inaugurated in 1778. | Puerta de Alcala | Madrid, Spain

7: Parque del Buen Retiro | The Buen Retiro Park, meaning "Park of the Pleasant Retreat," is the largest park in the city of Madrid, consisting of about 350 acres. The park, filled with sculptures, monuments, galleries, a lake and host to a variety of events, is entirely surrounded by the present-day city. The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became open to the public.

8: The Monument to King Alfonso XII (above) is located at the east edge of the lake near the center of Retiro Park. Coming to the throne at an early age, Alfonso had served no apprenticeship in ruling, but he possessed great natural tact and a sound judgment. Benevolent and sympathetic in disposition, he won the affection of his people by fearlessly visiting districts ravaged by cholera or devastated by earthquakes. His capacity for dealing with men was considerable, and he never allowed himself to become the instrument of any particular party. During his short reign, peace was established both at home and abroad, finances were well regulated, and the various administrative services were placed on a basis that afterwards enabled Spain to pass through the disastrous war with the United States without the threat of a revolution. He was the 996th Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece in Spain, the 104th Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword in 1861 and the 775th Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1881.

10: Abi and I stumbled across the Retiro Park as we walked our way through Madrid on our first day of the trip. Paired with a beautiful day, the park was alive in every aspect. People were everywhere; the gardens were in full bloom. We aimlessly walked through the pathways curious about what came next and I must say that the park continued to be more impressive as we went. It provided such solace - both visibly and audibly - in the middle of the hustle of the large city just outside the gated walls. There were people everywhere selling things - art to sunglasses - and apparently illegally, as we watched many get chased out by the "policia." I could have spent hours walking through this park.

11: Fuente de la Alcachofa | The "fountain of the artichoke," located near the southwestern corner of Great Pond in the Retiro Gardens, is one of the most symbolic places of the park. The fountain was designed by Ventura Rodriguez in 1776 and sculpted between 1781 and 1782. With a circular basin, its center withstands a column made up of two bodies - a newt (left) and a sea nymph (right) - around a coat of Madrid.

12: Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas | Regarded as the home of bullfighting in Madrid, the "Bullring of the Sales" was inaugurated in 1931 with a seating capacity of 25,000. From 1913 to 1920, the national celebration of bullfighting gained such an important status that Madrid's former main bullring in Carretera de Aragon was not big enough. It was José Gómez Ortega "Joselito" who declared that a new "monumental" bullring had to be built to open this piece of heritage and culture to the whole city of Madrid. The construction of the bullring would cost 12 million pesetas (4.5 million dollars) over budget, and it would replace the old bullring, dating from 1874. "Las Ventas" was finished in 1929 and two years later, June 17, 1931, a charity bullfight was held with a full capacity crowd to inaugurate it. Bullfighting had stopped during the Spanish Civil War and did not resume until May 1939.

13: Currently, the 1,450,000 square foot building, with 2,800 rooms, is used for state ceremonies. The palace is owned by the Spanish State and administered by the Patrimonio National. The current king of Spain, King Carlos, and his family do not currently reside in the palace, but in the more modest "Palacio de la Zarzuela," on the outskirts of Madrid. Construction of the current palace spanned from 1738-1755. I remember thinking the palace looked so.... clean. Everything on the building was white or a light gray. The grounds were clear of any litter and the gardens were, as Spain tends to be, impressively manicured. | Palacio Real de Madrid

14: Plaza de Oriente | en Palacio Real de Madrid

15: Plaza de Oriente is rectangular and can distinguish three main plots: the Central Gardens, the Cabo Noval Gardens and the Lepanto Gardens. The Central Gardens are arranged around the central monument to Philip IV, in a grid, following the barroque model garden. They consist of seven flowerbeds, each packed with box hedges, forms of cypress, yew and magnolia of small size, and flower plantations. These are bounded on either side by rows of statues paths, popularly known as the Gothic kings, acting as line of division of the other two quadrants. I had particular interest in the lions (below) as they reminded me of one of my favorite places in London - the lion statues in Trafalgar Square.

17: The Prado Museum features one of the world's finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, compiled from the former Spanish Royal Collection. The collection currently comprises around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of works of art and historic documents. | Museo del Prado | and the San Jeronimo el Real Church | The St. Jerome Royal Church is a Roman Catholic church from the early 16th-century. The church, which has undergone much remodeling and restoration over the centuries, is the remaining structure of the Hieronymite monastery that once stood beside the royal palace of Buen Retiro. A portion of that monastery now serves as part of the Prado museum.

18: San Lorenzo de El Escorial | Above is one of my favorite photos from this trip. The town of El Escorial sat within the Guadarrama mountain range. To get to the monastery, we climbed uphill through narrow cobblestone streets, covered with color, patios and a great backdrop of the mountain range.

19: El Escorial | Monasterio de

21: Patio de los Reyes | "The Courtyard of the Kings" | Upon arriving at the monastery, you are faced with three doors: one leading to the school, the other to the monastery and the third, and middle, leading to the Courtyard of the Kings. This is the main facade of the Monastery. You certainly felt the heat of the sun standing in the middle of this stone courtyard! No shade to be found, unless standing alongside the building, the courtyard was a huge, open, rectangular courtyard leading to the entrance of the monastery.

22: Constructed at the order of Philip II, a great lover of nature, these constitute an ideal place for repose and meditation. Students at the school still use it today to study and pass time between sessions. I don't recall ever seeing anything like this. These gardens mentally take you to a different era. This is what I always envisioned the gardens of fairytales to look like. We weren't able to actually go into the gardens, but were able to view it from an area next to the Courtyard of the Kings. | El jardín de los frailes | "The Garden of the Friars"

23: One of my favorite things about nighttime in Madrid (and later in Lisbon) is that nightlife isn't lit just by streetlights. All major buildings in these cities are lit from the ground up. I can't imagine the lighting it takes to accomplish this throughout the city, but it's actually quite impressive! (and made the city feel extremely safe to walk around at night) During the day, the attention to gardens and architecture are put on display, showing pride for the city. But at night, the city quite literally GLOWS. We found a great sports bar one night and stopped for some Mahou drafts on our way back to the hotel. Although a little bit of a walk, our hotel wasn't too far from Centre City. We were able to see a lot just by walking around those first few nights.

24: Driving throughout Spain and into Portugal, the climate was definitely warm and dry - leaving the terrain much more brown than I was anticipating. Summers in Spain are very hot and dry, with very long days. Still, the countryside was beautiful!

25: Segovia | Spain

26: The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia, consisting of 166 arches, transfers water from the Fuente Fria river, situated in the nearby mountains, into Segovia. Although unable to determine its exact date of construction, researchers have estimated its original construction between the second half of the 1st Century AD and the early years of the 2nd Century. The aqueduct is built of unmortared, brick-like granite blocks. During the Roman era, each of the three tallest arches displayed a sign in bronze letters, indicating the name of its builder along with the date of construction. Today, two niches are still visible, one on each side of the aqueduct.

28: The Alcazar Castle of Segovia is believed to be the inspiration for the original Cinderella Castle in Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. The original 14th-century structure was destroyed by a fire, but its cylindrical turrets, peaked roofs, and stone walls were faithfully recreated in the 1880's. Segovia was one of my favorite stops on this trip. I loved walking through the medieval town, looking in shops and buying handmade pottery from street-side vendors. This was the first castle I ever saw that was actually surrounded by a moat. It sat at the top of the hill, about a 30-40 minute walk from the aqueduct at the bottom of Segovia. Now out in the countryside of Spain and away from modern city-life in Madrid, this is the first time that Abi really felt like she was far away from home.

31: Founded in the 11th century to protect the Spanish territories from the Moors, Ávila has a magnificently well-preserved city wall, a historic cathedral, a number of Romanesque churches, and an authentic medieval atmosphere. Avila is associated to the patron saint of Spain, Teresa, a 16th-century Carmelite nun who reformed her order and had many ecstatic visions. The photo above doesn't do the height and overall size of the wall justice. Considering its use in medieval times, there is no doubt the wall did exactly as intended - protectively encompassed the city. | Avila | Spain

32: Salamanca | Spain

33: Salamanca, known for its grand plaza and Spain's oldest university, sits about two and a half hours northwest of Madrid. The plaza (above) was built from 1729-1755. It hosted bullfights until 1893. Salamanca's university, the oldest in Spain (est. 1230), was one of Europe's leading centers of learning for 400 years. So well-known, it was believed that Columbus visited the university for travel tips.

34: Salamanca is the only place that we got really lost. I wasn't feeling well this day and certainly wasn't thinking clearly. I didn't pay attention - at all - to where we were going once we walked out of our hotel on the first day we were here. We knew that our hotel wasn't far from the city square, but after walking through the city for a few hours, things became interesting when we realized that there were a few squares - and cathedrals - to this city. Our usual navigational points weren't going to work here!

35: The courtyard shown above welcomes thousands of locals and visitors for one of frequent services held daily. The city is famously known as a location of Marian apparitions, recognized by the Catholic Church, that took place in 1917. Three shepherd children reported several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The town souvenirs consist of rosaries or statues of Mary. Very uncomfortable by the intensity of the religion, finding a small cafe that had pizza, Nestea and an English-speaking Canadian native were graciously welcomed! | Fatima | Portugal

36: Lisbon - Something told me that I would love Portugal, but I had no idea how much! Driving into the city didn't give me that impression. It looked rather rundown, but upon exploring, I fell in love. Lisbon continuously became more and more intriguing to me. The more I saw, the more I loved it. This is the view from our balcony (above). Shown in the photo on the right, the Castle of Saint George sits on the top of the hill to our right. Hotel Mundial provided a great view, especially at night when the city is lit, with emphasis on its treasured structures, like that of the castle. My usual "last night in Europe" depression was at its worst in this city.... I had a very difficult time preparing to leave when it was time to go home. | Lisbon | Portugal

37: We took a cab to the top of one of Lisbon's seven main hills to tour the Castle of Saint George. The cobblestone streets allowed room for one car and one single line of pedestrians at a time. At the top of hills, when coming to an intersection, stop signs were apparently not enough. Concrete barriers would rise from the ground to stop traffic, even on the steepest of hills, to prevent from collisions in the very tight-knit streets. Our first "dead-end" was a bit of a surprise when suddenly the barriers disappeared and we proceeded up the hill. The streets of Lisbon, as in all over Portugal, house buildings painted in vibrant colors and covered in multi-color tile. Other than the vibrant color, everything throughout the city was stone.

39: Immense riches, fires, plague, Europe’s worst recorded earthquake, revolutions, coups and a dictatorship – Lisbon has certainly had its ups and downs. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Lisbon boomed as the opulent center of a vast empire after Vasco da Gama found a sea route to India. The wealth continued into the 1800s, when gold was discovered in Brazil. Merchants flocked to the city, trading in gold, spices, silk and jewels and the city took on a look of extravagant architecture. But at 9.30am on All Saints’ Day, in November 1755, everything changed. As residents celebrated Mass, three major earthquakes hit. The tremors brought an even more devastating fire and tsunami. Some estimate that as many as 90,000 of Lisbon’s 270,000 inhabitants died. Much of the city was ruined, never to regain its former status. Immediately the current chief minister began rebuilding in a simple, cheap, easily-managed style that created today’s formal grid.

40: Saint George's Castle can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. Its oldest parts date from the 6th century, when it was fortified by the Romans, Visigoths, and eventually the Moors. It served as a Moorish royal residence until Portugal's first king Afonso Henriques captured it in 1147, with the help of northern European crusaders, on their way to the Holy Land. It was then dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, commemorating the Anglo-Portuguese pact dating from 1371, and became the royal palace until another one (that was eventually destroyed in the Great Earthquake) was built in today's Comercio Square. | Castelo de Sao Jorge | "Castle of Saint George"

43: Most of the castle was destroyed over the years, especially due to the Great Earthquake, but still includes a long extension of walls and 18 towers. Walking through the castle, we came across a lot of open spaces and steep stairways leading from one corridor to the next. With the castle being situated on one of the highest of Lisbon's hilltops, the views from the top of the castle were amazing. However, after centuries of people climbing the stone stairways, the smooth texture of the rock made the climb to the top a bit challenging - only to be more difficult on the way back back down... This was Abi's first time in a medieval castle and quickly became one of my favorite. Historians must be right when they say that people were smaller years ago - everything is short, from the entryways to the steps. Fortunately, many of the stairways were open at this point; much of what would have been an overhead was gone.

45: City squares are interesting places. Usually surrounded by cafes and restaurants, outdoor seating is very popular (and actually slightly more expensive to dine) than sitting inside. Europeans relax during their meals, much more than Americans, and "people-watch." On the last full evening in Lisbon, Abi and I grabbed an outdoor seat for what we made as "happy hour" and watched the gypsies "work." Sitting at a restaurant in a foreign country is relaxing to me. You easily get lost in your own thoughts and conversation when you can't understand what is being said around you. It's a complete escape and to me, everything a vacation should be.

47: Looking out this window was my view during our last dinner in Lisbon - paella, pizza and a great red wine sangria.

48: A Roman Catholic parish, the cathedral is known to be the oldest in the city. Since the beginning of the it's construction, in the year 1147, the building has been modified several times, and survived many earthquakes, resulting in it's current mix of architectural styles. | Lisbon Cathedral | Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major

49: Lisbon cathedral is a Latin cross building with three aisles, a transept and a main chapel surrounded by an ambulatory. The church is connected with a cloister on the Eastern side. The main facade of the cathedral looks like a fortress, with two towers flanking the entrance and crenellations over the walls. This menacing appearance, also seen in other Portuguese cathedrals of the time, is a relic from the Reconquista period, when the cathedral could be used as a base to attack the enemy during a siege.

50: The Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos), is located near the shore of the parish of Belém, in Lisbon. The monastery is one of the most prominent monuments of the Manueline-style architecture, also known as Portuguese late-Gothic, in Lisbon. Construction of the existing structure began in 1495, with the monastery and church beginning, specifically, in 1501. The monastery is one of the few major structures in Lisbon that survived the earthquakes that famously destroyed Lisbon. | Mosteiro dos Jeronimos | "Jeronimos Monastery"

51: The Tower of Belem, or the Tower of St. Vincent, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the significant role it played in the Portuguese maritime discoveries in the era of the Age of Discoveries. The tower was commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus River and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The Monument to the Discoveries is located along the river were ships departed to explore and trade with India and the Orient. The monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery (or Age of Exploration) during the 15th and 16th centuries. In addition to the main statute of Henry the Navigator, holding a model of a carrack, on either side of the ramps of the monument are a total of 33 prominent figures from the history of the Discoveries. | Torre de Belem | "Belem Tower" and the Padrao dos Descobrimentos "Monument to the Discoveries"

52: Lisbon | a night out in

54: Comercio Square (left) is the waterfront square marking where the royal palace stood for over two centuries until 1755, when it was destroyed by the Great Earthquake. At this time, the royal family moved to a new palace in the area of Belem. Toward the center of the square stands a statue of King Jose I. Prominently lit and displayed, the statue measures 14 meters in height counting from the pedestal. The archway behind the statue and leading away from the river, toward the city's center, dates back to 1782. Although it was a bit chilly along the river (and chilly enough to force us to eat our paella dinner inside), the square was filled with people. We spent a lot of time walking around this area.

56: Located at the foot of the Sintra Mountains, the earliest documents describe a built-up town in the 11th century by the Arab geographer Al-Bacr. In 1493, Christopher Columbus, sailing for the Spanish crown, was blown off course by gale force winds and fearing for the survival of the ship, spotted the rock of Sintra. Despite the awkwardness of seeking safe harbor in Portugal, Columbus had no choice under the circumstances and later sailed from there into the port of Lisbon. With a population of approximately 33,000 inhabitants, the town of Sintra falls in the middle of the three civil parishes: Santa Maria e Sao Miguel, Sao Martinho and Sao Pedro de Penaferrim. Following traditional Portuguese tradition, much of the city is covered in tile, including the streets. Unprepared in flip-flops, Abi and I found ourselves sliding down hills and holding onto buildings as we navigated our way through the city's streets. | Sintra | Portugal

57: The National Palace of Sintra is the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal, having been inhabited more or less continuously at least from the early 15th to the late 19th century. It is an important tourist attraction and is part of the Cultural landscape of Sintra, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The history of the Sintra Palace goes back to the times of Islamic domination, when Sintra had two different castles. One of them, located on top of a hill overlooking Sintra is the so-called Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros). What is now known as The Sintra National Palace, located downhill, was the residence of the Moorish rulers of the region. Its first historical reference appeared in the 10th century by the Arab geographer Al-Bacr. The wall covering shown in the photos on this page isn't paint, as many suspect - each variation of color is a small piece of cut tile. The entire palace was covered! | Palacio Nacional de Sintra | The Sintra National Palace, "Town Palace"

58: Most buildings around the central courtyard - called the Ala Joanina (John's Wing) - date from a rebuilding campaign in the 15th and 16th centuries. This includes the main building of the facade, with the entrance arches and the mullioned windows in Manueline and Moorish styles (called ajimezes), and the conical chimneys of the kitchen that dominate the skyline of the city. The ensemble suffered damage after the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, but was restored back to its "old fashion", according to contemporary accounts.

60: The Estoril Coast | Portugal

63: the Estoril Coast | Driving along | Portugal

64: Carponbrotus edulis, a plant native of South Africa, served as ground cover along the Estoril Coast. Also known as "ice plant," it grows year-round and can reach the height of three feet.

65: The most western part of Europe, the Roca Cape, is shown in the image on the left. Granted, I'm sure that the time of year came into play, but this coastline was breath-taking. I kept taking photos here - I couldn't get enough...

66: Cascais | Portugal

67: Cascais is a cosmopolitan suburb of Lisbon and one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. The former fishing village gained fame as a resort for Portugal's royal family in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Nowadays, it is a popular vacation spot for both Portuguese and foreign tourists. The beach area (left), known as the Praia da Rainha, sits in the middle of Cascais, with direct access from the city center.

69: Cascais is beautiful. A quaint little village, each building is a different color and adorned with window boxes overflowing with flowers. Wrought iron gates and tile are other popular accents noticed as we walked through the streets. We came across another gelato place while we were here. It was their first week open and the very nice owner was more than happy to allow us to sample a few flavors - making him an instant friend. The Bailey's Irish Cream gelato was amazing. Learning that actual Bailey's was used to make it, made it all the better! I will miss the simplicity of Cascais and like most of the other places we experienced on this trip, already long to revisit.

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