Last night people crowded into Puerta del Sol. The custom here is to
eat a grape with each stroke of the clock at midnight. We did not
stay awake to see it.
Reflections on the year
Tradition calls for reflection on the past year. Since this has been
a special year for us, for once I will practice this tradition.
The year began in the often muggy and foggy winter in the St.
Petersburg area of Florida. For most of four months we had been
living aboard Meredia, our 34′ trawler. We slept in the aft cabin on
a king size bed. The forward cabin had a similarly sized berth and a
On this day a year ago we were on our boat with my mom, her boyfriend
and my sister cruising the Intra Coastal Waterway. We saw a few
dolphins from the flybridge. Later that day we visited Peg’s parents
in nearby Plant City. We had not met Tom and Kathy yet; now they are
close although far away friends. Not many days later we saw a sea cow
off our port bow.
Today we see a gray sky and cool temperatures (not normal for Madrid),
no relatives, no friends and no boat. From this point of view, it’s
easy to miss being home. Yet we would not want to trade places with
ourselves (a funny sounding thing to say). We have seen and done so
much that a day or even a month in the boat in the most beautiful of
weather cannot be easily compared.
Nonetheless we wish we could have seen and done even more. This means
that we wish we had more money. This would have required more time
mediating, training mediators and managing a legal department at a
bank. These activities were marvelous, but they demanded our time,
our freedom, in return. Here we have our time and if not as much
freedom as we would like, as much as one could reasonably expect.
Before we embarked on our journeys in Europe in May of 1997, I found
it difficult to imagine what living in Europe would be like. Clearly
it would not be the same as touring. As a tourist you are inevitably
limited to swimming near the surface, or taking short, shallow dives.
So now I probably can say what it is like.
What living in Europe has been like
More than any other aspect of living here, the sense of history and
time most strongly grips me. Additional aspects of importance are:
getting to know a few people, and getting to know some cities and
countries in a way that touring does not ordinarily allow. I feel
more relaxed than I ever have, and I think that this comes from a
changed sense of time.
The sense of history comes from reading about and then visiting
ancient cities, sites, cathedrals, palaces, old buildings, ruins on
the one hand and museums on the other. I have come under the spell of
wondering: where did our ancient ancestors – before the Romans- come
from and wander to? What were their lives like? What were their
dreams – that is, when they had enough food in their bellies to dream
of things other than food? Standing on many sites that were occupied
or made use of as long ago as three and four thousand BC is moving.
When you tour, you rarely get to know anyone. In Wales, we did have a
few conversations with Julie and a few of the very friendly locals.
In Scotland, we did likewise with Billy, whom we have just seen and
will probably see again. In Montpelier, we are staying in touch with
Olivier, the proprietor of the internet cafe we used. We would have
liked to stay in touch with our landlords there. However, we did not
like the way they tried to make us leave before our oral and written
agreement said we could. Emilia and Maria from Madrid will always be
glad to hear from us. We probably have not made any life long, deep
and close friends. Unless we stay here or somewhere longer in a
single location than we plan to, we probably will never do so.
However, we are building up friendships that are adding to our sense
of well being and our understanding of the people here. They help us
understand better how things work, where to get this or that, what to
We miss friends and family. Email has greatly helped since some of
our close ones are connected. With some relatives we communicate
regularly, especially my sister and Peg’s sister. In a way, we
communicate more and better with them than we did when all that
separated us was a cheap, long distance call. We communicate even
more frequently with Susan and Neal. Most of our friends are busy
and cannot respond as often as they would like. Others do not seem
interested in communicating at all.
Traveling and living in foreign lands has required us to learn a great
deal about the practicalities. How do you find a place to live? What
is a fair price? What parts of town are good to live in? Where
should you go for food, household goods and special purchases? What
do you have to do to get a phone? How much do local calls cost?
Living as we have means having to say, “I don’t know,” frequently. It
means having to have an “I can find out” attitude. It means having to
deal with the stress of having to figure things out, and making some
mistakes (fortunately all of ours have been minor). For me having to
deal with all of our business with the Spanish in their language has
been difficult at times. I speak a lot better than I comprehend.
With regard to our physical conditioning, we walk a lot more than we
did at home. But at home we went to the YMCA everyday. The two seem
to balance out if we continue to stretch daily and keep the muscles in
tone. Walking a lot takes care of the legs but does not do much for
the arms, back and stomach muscles. Generally we were better off
going to the YMCA since all these things were taken care of in our
daily visits. If you factor in the stress of work, we are better off
We have learned that you must have things to do to keep you as busy as
you want to be. Hobbies. Anything legal and healthy. Even if you
have the money, you cannot just go see monuments and visit museums all
Variety of activities is important. I have enjoyed reading as much as
I want, but after a while, I just have to take a break. The internet
has been great, but you cannot do that all day long. The satellite tv
we now have is surprisingly good. I love doing this journal. I need
all of the above and more to stay psychologically fit.
I stopped working last May. I did not feel completely relaxed until
we arrived in Spain. I now feel a deeper sense of calm than I recall
ever having felt. I do not feel rushed. I worry less about money
than I ever have.
Common wisdom says that as you are dying, your whole life passes
before your eyes. I have not had to wait that long. A flood of
memories has washed over me. This began in Glasgow and has just
recently abated. Most of these memories were of the most embarrassing
moments type. Although many of these situations are unlikely to be
repeated, I feel that these images serve to deepen my grasp of human
relations, to encourage me to listen more carefully.
Perhaps this phenomenon is occurring because I have the time and
energy for it. Why have I been more relaxed, more content than I have
ever been while this flood of memories was still washing over me? It
could be because none of these memories are really horrible. Though
they were stressful at the time, I would not call any of them
shattering. In the big picture, they are very small.
We now know how much it takes for us live here comfortably, a middle
to upper middle class life style. This does not allow for luxurious
quarters, but comfortable and safe ones. Since this is what we are
accustomed to, it is not a disappointment for us. Other than having
to wait for Don Gas to bring bottled gas here, there have not been any
significant inconveniences. Otherwise the worst we have faced is
running toilets here, a loose kitchen counter in Glasgow and a minor
conflict with the landlord in Montpelier which was resolved as we
If we had come directly to Spain, we would probably be spending
considerably lower rate than we have been, perhaps as low as
$15,000/year. It would depends on what else we did besides seeing
what there is to see locally. If you were sufficiently gripped by a
hobby like painting or writing, and did not give a hoot about touring
outside Madrid, you could have trouble spending all of the $15,000
(per couple). These figures are for two people, and include health
Keeping track of our finances from Europe has been easy. It would not
work as well if we had to rely on the mails, but it would still be
adequate for most purposes. Long distance telephone calls to the US,
if they were necessary for this purpose, are not as expensive from
here as they once were. It is now cheaper to use your home phone or
even telephone booths than using, say, AT&T, Sprint, etc. I can call
Fidelity Investments toll free or ‘cobro revirtido’ (collect). To
reach Smith Barney by telephone, we call our broker and he calls us
This journal has been an excellent choice. Writing is not easy for
me, but I enjoy the challenge. Editing is a chore I do not wish to
face. It was especially hard for me when I entered into the computer
the months of May through mid-August; if you recall, our computer was
down from June until mid-August. I would rather allow a few weeks to
pass before I edit my own work. Only then can I begin to be
objective. Even so, there is a wise rule that says you cannot be your
These last six months have been well worthwhile. Doing this was the
right thing for us to do. I feel heavenly. Vertigo ergo sum.
Via Digital came and installed the satellite dish. They drilled a
hole in the wall to pass the cable and connected it all in less than
an hour. I could have done it myself easily if I had a drill and a
We met Billy, our Scottish landlord, and the fellow who came over with
him for lunch today, then did a two-hour walk. They are in a hotel
near the Opera, a high rent area. They bought a package deal: hotel
and all transportation for about $900. Saturday was beautiful here,
although cold, so their first day was a good one. Yesterday was a
little cloudy, and today was cloudy, foggy and pretty yukky in general
– just like Scotland. Billy was impressed with how beautiful Madrid
is. As it does most people, Madrid surprised him.
We went to the National Library to check out that show they’ve put
together about ancient Rome. The show was made up mostly of books
from the 15th-17th centuries, open to engravings and drawings of Roman
buildings, maps, monuments, etc. There were also some large
reproductions of engravings from that period. Apparently, about the
time of Pope Leo X, they realized that Ancient (Roman) Rome was
deteriorating due to lack of interest. Amazingly, that thought
coincided with the beginning of the Italian Renaissance (1450), when
classical learning began to be appreciated again, after the ignorance
of the Dark and Middle Ages. They began to capture the architecture
on paper, and to restore some works. However, when you look at the
maps of the city that were drawn from the 1500’s-1600’s, it’s obvious
that there were a lot more ancient buildings then than are left today.
Progress and increasing population always put pressure on old
Nonetheless, the exhibit was extensive. We’ve seen a couple of other
shows like this – temporary exhibitions – and all of them have been
After that, we walked back up toward our neighborhood up a major
street. We passed three or four major plazas, mostly with fountains
in the middle, and surrounded by beautiful 5-story buildings. I’m
looking forward to seeing the many tree-lined streets in the spring,
when they’re green.
Emilia and her sister Nina (I called her Tina most of the day) picked
us up. We are meeting six of their friends to do what many Madrileños
do every weekend: go to their cabin in the mountains. Their cabin is
in the foothills northeast of Madrid. It took about an hour to get
there. Large, rounded rocks stick out of the dry soil. Peg thinks
this area looks glacially formed. Some large rocks stand
independently, poking 15-30′ into the air.
Nina-tina is a part owner of the cabin with her bosses, Jaime and
Maria Eugenia. The latter are both dentists with offices in downtown
Madrid. Jaime is from Bolivia. Most everyone spoke some English.
Herman was born in Germany and learned Spanish just by living here.
He has been here for 20 years. I think he is married to Julia, who is
with us today. No one in the group was born in Spain though most had
lived her a long time.
Julia refers to Herman as ‘her man.’ Peg and she discuss the
connotation of ownership. In Spain, ‘husband’ is ‘marido’ while
‘wife’ is ‘mujer.’ Translated, you say my married one for husband and
my woman for wife. They could say marida for wife, but they say ‘my
woman’ instead. They could say ‘my man’ for husband, but they do
not. Thus ownership of the wife by the husband is implied, but not
the husband by the wife. Peg and I explained this but the distinction
seemed unimportant to Julia.
We bought two kilos of beef, chorizo and murcillo (blood sausage)in
the town nearest the cabin, Manzanares Real. It is a tiny town but it
has a large but not very old looking castle in it. Nearby is Lake
From the town we climbed a dirt/stone rode, at times feeling like we
were driving in a dry stream bed. Emilia tells us that during heavy
rains the road does flood. Although the cabin is not more than a few
miles from the road to Manzanares, it takes about 45 minutes to reach
The cabin is made of stone. There is a fireplace, a few beds, a
large, crude wooden table, and shelves for storing kitchen utensils.
Outside is a picnic table. Nearby and nestled against large boulders
are a grill and an oven, both charcoal powered. The charcoal used is
not as compressed as the one used in the U.S. It does not get as hot,
but it is easier to light and achieves maximum output quickly.
Herman grilled the beef (1000 ptas per kilo, about $3 per pound). We
ate some guacamole on bread while we were waiting, and when the mean
was done, we sat outside. We drank some wine and, after the meal, a
The sun was shining brightly. It was about 40 degrees. On the way up
we were driving in a light fog. The cabin was above the fog, so we
could look down upon it as it covered the valley. Occasional wisps of
fog blew over our site. When the fog cleared from the valley we could
see that we were in a desert. There is shrubbery, but it is low and
The cabin normally offers a great view of Madrid. Today, though, we
had to be content with the warm, friendly company of our new friends.
I am sure they will invite us back. Peg, who was hesitant to go
because of the weather, is eager to return. I could live here awhile.
Too bad there is no running water.
These people seem typically Spanish: charming, engaging,
unpretentious. I love to watch and listen as they talk with friendly
The holiday season here officially ended yesterday with the Day of the
Kings. Epiphany (January 6th) is the day the children get their gifts
– the Kings alias, the Wise Men, bring them. The next time a child
asks you how Santa manages to get the gifts to so many children all
over the world in only one evening, you can tell him/her that he
doesn’t have to go to Spain – the three Wise Men deliver the gifts
here. The evening before the children get their presents, there are
huge parades in all the towns, celebrating the arrival of the kings.
We just got Via Digital-satellite TV, so we could watch parades from
three regions of Spain. In some towns, the kings came in on horses,
in others on camels, and in others, on floats. Quite the to-do!
There are parades everywhere in Madrid. Each local council – in
Madrid there are several ‘ayuntamientos’ – sponsors a parade.
Fernando, our landlord, came by to get the rent. He prefers to be
paid in cash. He arrived around 9 and left at 10:30. We told him
about our journeys and new found friends. We learned that the area we
live in has an underground stream or used to have one coming flowing
at ground level. He gladly gave us hints on things to do, excursions
to make, places to visit. He obviously enjoyed talking to us; he
speaks very little English so most of our discussion was in Spanish.
Signed up to do a second English class today – 8:30 am – 10:00 am on
Monday and Wednesday. That is in addition to the one I’m doing from
8:00-9:00 on Tuesday and Thursday. The class I started last month is
really TOO easy. These marketing people don’t want to do any
homework, don’t want to read, just want to spend a couple of hours a
week chatting. All I have to do is bring in something to get things
going, and we just talk. I note a couple of things down that they
consistently do wrong, and we spend about 10 minutes the next session
talking about that. They apparently like it – I got some good
feedback from the agency when I went to pick up my check today. I do
structure it a bit on most days – if not, the extroverts do all the
talking (that includes me).
Actually, I tried to get them to do an hour last Thursday without my
saying anything (a valid technique in advanced classes, so I read) but
it’s apparently too much effort for them to sustain a discussion for
that long on their own. I kept having to ask questions to keep things
They have no idea what they’re going to have to do when they get to
class. As I don’t really know what I’m doing, and as they don’t seem
to care. I’m just trying stuff out.
They are uncomfortable with past and future tenses, so Tuesday they’re
going to have to work hard. I thought I’d give each of them a page of
a daily calendar, with meetings and stuff scheduled in. The day is
February 13. Each one will have to tell the class what is scheduled
on his sheet. For some of them, Feb. 13 will be last week, for
others, it will be next week.
I’m teaching 5 hours a week, on four days. That’s enough for now.
It’s lots of fun. To really support yourself, you’d have to work
quite a few hours, and you’d have to schedule them so that you’re not
spending hours a day on the metro. Also, I think that once you’d
established a reputation, you could get better choices on times and
locations, to minimize travel and down-time between classes.
Muslims in Spain
It is generally said that the Muslims were “expelled” from Spain in
1492. This is misleading. In 1492, Muslims and Jews were given the
choice between expulsion and conversion to Christianity following the
reconquest of Granada, the last holdout of the Moors. The Spanish
began trying to reconquer Spain starting in 718. Efforts continued
during the next several centuries. Toledo was retaken in 1085.
During the thirteenth century the Spanish made great progress toward
their goal. By mid-century the only Moorish enclave left was Granada.
The Portuguese won back their country in the previous century.
The Moors were generally tolerant of other religious, although I have
read that there were some brutal exceptions to this rule. They
brought a great deal of learning to the Iberian peninsula. Much was
lost from Spain because of the expulsions. Some of that learning went
to our previous city of residence, Montpelier, where the Moors and
Jews helped establish schools of medicine that are still well
Some converted Moors and Jews were subsequently ill-treated.
The F.M. stations here are outstanding. There are two all classical
stations and both are commercial free. Their selections are generally
very good. In Montpelier, the classical stations offered excessive
amounts of opera, usually women singing heavy stuff. Each offering
would be followed by endless discussion. Here, they offer a nice
selection and little chat. Just enough to tell what they played and
maybe a little about the piece or the composer.
Radio Ole has few commercials and plays flamenco and flamenco infusion
music. They may throw a little Zarzuela in from time to time, but I
am not sure what that is, so I cannot be sure. The flamenco is often
good, although the singing, with its exaggerated vibrato (if that’s
the right name for it), can be annoying. Flamenco infusion is of
modern origin. It takes basic flamenco elements, such as the rhythm,
the clapping, the guitar, and adds a variety of other instruments such
as the violin. I think some the of the clapping is canned, being just
too regular for strictly human hands. Unlike France, at any rate, you
can hear traditional folk music that is distinct to the country.
On shortwave I can get BBC on two frequencies. The VOA comes in only
occasionally. Late at night I might get Radio Holland and a few other
European countries offering programs in English. The reception here
is not as good, or the offerings considerably less than in Montpelier.
We met Ana today at 5:30 p.m. Ana is also seeking to improve here
English. I suggested that we meet in the afternoon, say around 2:30.
“Later,” she plead, “as I will not have yet eaten lunch.” So now its
5:30 and we are searching for her here at the Puerta del Sol. She
suggested that we meet at a bakery and I am standing in one scanning
the crowd. Peg walks around to see if there is another one and she
finds one and at about that moment, Ana taps her on the shoulder. My
description of Peggy worked.
Together we walk in the crowd of chatting Spaniards to a plaza that is
a few blocks away and near the Zarzuela theater. The latter is
reopening after renovations. Ann says that getting tickets means a
wait of perhaps a month.
Anna tells us how important it is to have a good command of English if
you are job hunting here. With an unemployment rate as high as 20%,
an employer may use language skills in English as a way to select one
applicant over another, even if the job does not require the use of
the language. This accounts for a good deal of the fervor with which
so many here take lessons. It does not account for why the people who
do take lessons do not seem to study hard.
Anna lives with mother. Since she is unemployed, and single, this
appears to be necessary for her survival. Anna is fairly fluent but
after an hour she is becomes tired of talking English. After an hour
in Spanish and I am as tired as she is.
I found this on the web:
A Timeline: Prehistory to the Visigoths (To A.D. 711)
c.13,000 B.C. Prehistoric people create cave paintings at Altrmira.
c.1,300 B.C. Iberians inhabit Spain, perhaps migrating from North
c 1,000 B.C. Phoenicians colonize Cádiz and Malaga.
c. 900 B.C. Celts reach Spain, perhaps migrating from France.
c. 650 B.C. Greeks colonize the eastern coast of Spain.
250 B.C. Carthaginians take over the south coast.
206 B.C. The Roman general Scopio Africanus defects the
Carthaginians, beginning six centuries of Roman rule.
19 B.C. Caesar Augustus completes the Roman conquest of Spain.
A.D. 74 Rome bestows citizenship on the Spanish.
A.D. 380 The emperor Theodotius declares Christianity the state
religion of the Roman Empire.
c. A.D. 400 Germanic tribes invade Spain.
c. A.D. 500 Visigoths conquer Spain.
A.D. 711 Muslims from Morocco conquer the Visigoths.
Moors and the Reconquest (711-1250)
711-716 Morocco conquers Spain in the name of Islam.
722 Pelayo achieves the first Christian military victory
over the Moors, initiating the reconquest.
756 Moorish Spain, let by Abd ur Rahman, secedes from the
caliphate of Baghdad.
c. 800 Santiago de Compostela, alleged burial site of St.
James, achieves fame throughout Europe as a pilgrimage
912-961 Abd ur Rahman III reigns as Spain’s greatest caliph.
1012-1109 Alfonso VI reconquers most of Spain for the
Christians, aided by El Cid.
1090 The Almohades from Morocco reconquer Spain for the
1147 The Almohades from Morocco conquer the Spanish Moors.
1212 Christian forces break the Moors’ hold on Spain in the
decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.
1236-1248 Fernando III captures two of Spain’s three remaining
Moorish stronghold, Cordoba and Seville, leaving only
Grenada under Moorish control.
I am part Sicilian (which probably makes me part Greek, Spanish,
Norman, African, and who know what other groups, oh, as yes,
Phoenician (from around modern Lebanon) and, of course, Greek and
Roman, and who knows what else). My other part is Scottish (which
probably makes me part Celtic, Saxon, Norman, Danish, Norwegian and
who knows what else).
Somehow there may be some Visigoth’s way back there, making me what I
really feel like, somehow: Spanish.
Most consumer items are cheap here. There are a few exceptions.
Shoes are not cheap, although they are comparable to what I am
accustomed to paying. Sunglasses are very expensive. Since I broke
mine, I have been trying to find something reasonable and most
everything is $30-$150. Today I finally found a pair for $17.
I also found an decent pair of walking shoes for $7.00! I tried them
on and was thrilled that they fit. There are shoes on sale everywhere
but the least expensive thing I could find that I trusted was $50.
That is not much more than in the states. These cheap shoes were in
El Campo, my last resort for shoes and sunglasses. There are no shoe
salesman around to help. I walked with the new shoes on to a customer
service desk. I said I needed help with these shoes, pointing to the
ones on my feet.
“Digame,” she said. This is the Spanish way of saying, “Can I help
you?” Literally it means “Speak to me!” It is in the imperative
form, so it is a command. To us this seems rude, but to them, it is
not. They also answer their phone with “Digame.” Not, “Hello.” Not,
“This is El Campo, can I help you.” No matter where you call or go,
they greet you with, “Digame.” I wonder if I’ll ever get used to it.
I have to answer the phone with, “Hola.”
I said that I was not sure if the price was correct. She said, “You
will have to take those shoes off before you go to the register.”
Did I miss something? Of course, I said, I will do that. To myself I
said, “Did you think that I came to your desk to find out if I could
wear the shoes out of the store?” Out loud, “But is the price
correct?” Without my having told her the price, or it being visible
on the shoe, she said, “Yes, it is. 995 ptas.” Exactly right. Sold,
to the gringo who can’t stand the expression ‘Digame.’
A temporary exhibit of Spanish life circa 1898 has opened at Ciudad
Universitaria. This is a university complex which houses la
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and la Universidad Complutense de
Madrid). The exhibit is near where I lodged and studied in 1967 and
going there brings back memories. Unfortunately I can not recognize
any particular thing. The memories of what things looked like is too
vague, I guess, or they have changed too much. The sparseness of the
landscape, which consists of desert sparseness, is unforgettable.
The first room you enter is a small theater where there is a
continuous slide show. Since it seated no more than, say, 50 people,
I assumed that the rest of the exhibition was of modest dimensions.
How foolish of me. “Modest dimensions” and “Madrid and Spain” just do
not seem to go together except in stores where you snuggle with
everyone buying vegetables, especially short, older woman who sneak
into line in front of you. This exhibit is enormous, far too big for
anything temporary. But it is temporary nonetheless.
Madrid overwhelms me with its extensive exhibits of mind-boggling
collections, its wealth and beauty. Here, I am over-whelmed by
thousands of excellent photographs of women in typical dress and in
fancy-go-to duds. Men and women at work and play. Paintings galore
of everyday life and special events. Decorative art. Eating and
cooking utensils. A well-preserved horseless carriage. Toys. Books,
including commonly used school books: grammar, geography, history,
etc. Too much to remember.
If there aren’t 100,000 pieces in this exhibit I’d be surprised. The
halls were loaded with people and their well-behaved children.
Nearby is the Museo de América, packed with stuff brought here from
the Americas. There is also a high tower with a restaurant on top
that affords a view of the city. Both have to wait another day.
Today is Sunday. Museums are generally free Saturday afternoons and
Sundays. We make a brief trip to the Prado to see if their book store
has any models which Peg could send to her nephews. There are not
many book stores whose entrance way is the Prado. A delightful way to
Nearby is our real destination: the Museum of Decorative Arts. Glass
objects from the III-II Century B.C. sit casually behind thin glass.
Movie with Marie. The Ice Storm, Kevin Kline, Sigorney Weaver. I
think they did an excellent job capturing the neurotic excitement of
the early 1970’s. Been there, had that zany, anxious feeling that
something was amiss somehow. A feeling of being so close and yet so
far. The feeling of going Beyond Alcohol, nervously, to explore the
inner self and other realms of what I now see as illusions and non-
sense. The teenager who was elecrocuted struck me with his wide-eyed
innocence as he casually watched power lines fall onto the guardrail.
There was something wide-eyed and innocent about the times, so much of
both that in some ways we all casually watched as something about us
was destroyed by jolts of reality.
Long walk to El Campo.
Today our journeys take us to the other Municipal Museum of Madrid.
This one contains art and costumes. The earliest objects are
prehistorical. There is an excellent coin collection from Roman
onwards. Goya’s ‘Dos de Mayo’ is here. There are several fine models
of the city displayed here. Pedro Texeria did one in 1656, which is
the oldest plan of the city. A model from 1830 shows the city in all
The front facade of the building is a baroque portal by Pedro de
Ribera, one of the finest such facades I recall seeing. This
building, which is near the heart of Madrid, once housed the Hospicio
de San Fernando (a hospital).
Portraits of kings line the walls.
The Basque Country: Bilbao to Pamplona
Having decided to go the Basque country at the last minute, it is not
until noon that we get the car. We arrive in Burgos, almost due north
of Madrid, by around 2:30 after passing through the Sierra Guadarrama.
The day that began cloudy now is sunny yet still only about 10C (about
50F). We are in the Basque country.
El Cid (1026-99) was born here. He is entombed in the Cathedral,
which also holds one of his swords; the other is in the Museo Ejército
(Army Museum) in Madrid, which we saw recently. El Cid was made
immortal in the poem of the same name. Charleston Heston played him
for the big screen Hollywood production.
Born as a military camp in 884 on the orders of Alfonso III, Burgos
has lots of outstanding architecture from the Middle Ages. The most
fabulous is the Cathedral, started in 1221 and finished in 1731. It
is mostly Flamboyant Gothic. It looks to me like several distinct
structures glued together. It has two enormous, 275′ towers.
The Cathedral is built on a hillside. On the rear side you can get
closer to the tops of the towers than you can in most such structures.
The detailed decoration of the enormous structure is thus more visible
than normal. We could not get in. Closed for repairs or renovations.
We got back on the highway to Bilbao and passed through more dramatic,
mountainous scenery; the coast in this area is mountainous almost to
the water. We passed by Bilbao, having heard its hotels and hostales
were expensive and the city industrial. We stayed in Castro
Urdiales, a coastal town recommended by all of our books. They all
knew what they were talking about. The town is a charming fishing
village on the Atlantic coast, called here the Costa Verde (Green
Coast). I think I would enjoy living here, except for all the rain
that seems to fall here.
A getty protects the harbor from the larger waves. The harbor
contains large fishing trawlers, pleasure vessels and smaller craft as
well. This town may be the oldest settlement on the Cantabarian
Coast, says Fodor. The Romans called it Flaviobriga.
A church called Santa Maria overlooks the town from a cliff perched on
the edge of town. It is dramatically lighted at night. Just behind
Santa Maria, a Gothic structure, there is a castle, also illuminated.
All along the marinas are arcaded structures housing cafes, bars,
restaurants and assorted shops. Across from the tourist bureau sits a
building with ‘restaurant, habitaciones (rooms) blazoned across the
entrance. We got a room here for 3600 ptas (about $25). It was quiet
after the restaurant closed around midnight.
Nearby are narrow streets that create a canyon-like maze crowded with
shops, bars and assorted eateries, as well as the occasional club.
Green mountains surround these canyons, offering what look to be
delightful paths to explore by foot.
Our room has a small balcony overlooking the marina. Here we eat the
breakfast we brought with us, shunning the omnipresent churros
everyone else is eating. We cannot shun the cafe con leche. Then its
the Guggenheim for us, some 20 miles away on the ría (estuary) that
The Guggenheim opens at 11:00 so we have to wait. But we are here to
see the building, so we take turns wandering and glancing about at
this big piece of aluminum foil.
There are dramatic views of cavernous and unusually shaped galleries
cluttered by experiments gone either wrong or nowhere at all, with a
few exceptions. High catwalks take you from one wing to another,
exposing bird-like views of the areas below. A few rooms are
rectangular, and in them hang rectangular pieces. The other rooms
contain non-rectangular pieces. I guess this is a way of categorizing
art: squarish on the one hand, odd shaped on the other.
As we drove out of Bilbao (also called Bilbo) we looked for more views
of the structure and got a few. It cost us 700 ptas each to get into
the museum. I think I would have paid 1000 ptas to see the museum
without the art in it.
From Bilbao we head past San Sebastian. I would have liked to have
stayed in S.S. a few days. S.S. is on the coast. The river enters
the Atlantic. You can see where the river meets the ocean from the
city streets. Nearby, 4-5 story 19th century buildings line the river
practically to the mouth. But we have to be back on Sunday. We go on
a few more miles to the French border, crossing it twice looking for
border guards so we can show that we left the country. No luck.
Nothing but abandoned buildings, some with their windows broken and
We head for Pamplona and arrive in time to walk around and leisurely
select a place to stay. It’s another night above a restaurant for us,
just a half-block from the old part of town. This one cost 5000 ptas,
and is attractively decorated. The shower spews hot water.
Pamplona offers more maze-like streets where the bulls try to trample
and butt gringos and other idiots. If you live through one of these
beatings that they can give you will be lucky. On t.v. we saw an
American getting a heavy dose; he was unconscious by the second blow.
Perhaps Hemingway should have entitle his book The Star Also Rises.
Finding a place to eat a meal, rather than just the wonderful but
no-veggie bar food, at a decent hour (for non-Spaniards) is difficult
in Spain. We were the first ones in at around 9 pm and had trout for
dinner. The waiter told me that the preparation was typically basque,
which in this case meant trout very crisply fried on the outside with
the grilled flavor penetrating to the flaky flesh.
Our hotel room above another restaurant cost 5000 ptas. It was
comfortable and quiet. By 9 the next morning we were on our way to