Spain (w/Portugal) Travels of BJ & AJH - Overview

It has been proving difficult to determine the best way to write a few travel related blogs to share the experiences that BJ and I had whilst traipsing around Spain for 4 and a bit weeks and Lisbon (Portugal) for 5 days from the 20/9 - 25/10/2010. A map indicating our journey in chronological order seems the best way (as below) to start. The journey paths are slightly different as we flew to Madrid, Barcelona and then used our trusty Eurail pass for transport until flying from our last Spain stop in Sevilla to Lisbon.

The map shows our general path of movement around the country in our search of food, works by Pritzker Prize winners, UNESCO world heritage places, Art in every form (painting, sculpture, dance, music) and general flaneur practices (with a propensity for over-indulgence). I also took a trusty sketchbook, courtesy of the HCWA girls and tried to sketch at every place, two places did not make the book. From my last trip in China, I had forgotten the sensation of using your 6 senses (the 6th being intuition) to their full capacity that is an instant state of being when you travel, occupy and navigate new places for a short while.

The theme of our trip does seem to be the urban experience of Spain as all the places we stayed in were cities and venturing out in the countryside was limited to viewing said countryside from a coach seat on one of our day tours or from a train seat. We always tried to stay in or near the old quarters of every city, as this was near the action and more visually appealing and our logic was to limit taxi's and walk as much as possible in-between all the cultural icons, people and building watching.

On reflection the benefits of our journey were starting the trip in Madrid for logical reasons as the major aeroport of the country but starting in the capital city and seeing the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and Museo Nacional del Prado (National Art Museum of Spain); building and contained art works, helped us to understand many of the architecture and art further on in the trip and see the cultural and artistic references imbued in works by Mies Van Der Rohe, Picasso and Dali to name a few.

I have never checked the UNESCO website until now, but their interactive map of all places on the World Heritage List has enabled me to check all the places we saw and those that we didn't.

Map of Spain and Portugal. We visited some of the smattering of yellow dots in both Spain and Portugal.

Special paragraphs for La Mezquita (nicknamed 'The Cathedral of the Mosque') in Cordoba, Alhambra in Granada and islamic architecture, Guggenhiem in Bilbao, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences) in Valencia, Barcelona 'the collage city' are to come later. Also some writing done on the trip and the sketches.

Short synopsis of some cultural things we learnt in Spain:


  • Coffee and olives taste better, sooo much better. You will be hard pressed to find a bitter, grainy and/or cold coffee anywhere.
  • Cheap seafood. My mum said that on a backpackers budget in Greece 20 years ago seafood was not an option, however the seafood is extremely cheap in Spain and more so in Portugal. So to indulge a seafood passion, Spain and Portugal are a very good european option. Much cheaper than in Perth and that is even if the ASD was at 0.51Euro. It was 7.50euro for a (whole) grilled fish and salad in Portugal, mmmmm!
  • San Sebastian (a sea side city) close to the border with France and the Pyrenees Mountains is THE home to tapas or pintxos, which is a small baguette slice with very yummy toppings, mainly seafood or cured meat, with cheese or a veggie or two (roasted capsicum, red cabbage coleslaw type mixture, caramelised onions) all ingredients are delicately piled up.
  • Spaniards consume wayyyy too much dairy, meat but mainly pig, bread, eggs and potatoes!
  • Traditional food we tried: paella in Valencia (home of paella), tortilla (thick omelette with potatoes, served cold), gazpacho (cold tomato, cucumber and bread soup, which was very refreshing), jamon (ham, cured meat), churros with hot chocolate, pasteis de nata (Portuguese tarts) and tapas.
  • Nando's lied, Portuguese chicken doesn't exist, mainly pork and seafood.

Art & Architecture
  • It seemed the great art in Spain like the architecture displayed a strong cultural respect and a lot of humour, images like 'Las Meninas' by Velazquez, works by Dali and Picasso, Architecture by Gaudi, markets by Miralles, Gehry. Here in Perth, Heritage is a problem, something serious and seriously annoying, I assume this attitude is not limited to Spain but to Europe, but the acceptance of old buildings and the knowledge that they can be dealt with in a light and intelligent way, that context is not limiting, clearly shows through.
  • After noticing the many Art Noveau buildings in Lisbon, we then realised this may have been due in part to the earthquake of 1755.
  • Valencia is an underrated city.
  • Maybe we were wrong in the form follows function and less is more. Maybe the decorations on buildings are like the decorations on a christmas tree; they're pretty and make you feel good. However I still like a beautiful modernist piece of architecture, like the next person, but it's hard not to be swayed by the carved stone of Gaudi or the tiled facades of buildings in Lisbon, the use of brick bond patterns in Spain.
Tiled facade in detail, Lisbon
© Amanda Hendry, 2010.
  • The old bricks predominately used in buildings in Spain are very small, rough dimensions maybe ~40/50mm high, length like ours but much wider, with much thicker mortar joints.
Alhambra, Granada
© Amanda Hendry, 2010.
  • Flying over Perth after flying over Spain and seeing clusters of small, dense cities and then fields and landscape, makes perth look like a cancerous spread. Even though we have seen the diagrams in Boomtown seeing it in real life for me did make an impact.
    © Amanda Hendry, 2010.
  • Another urban reason for city living as seen in Bilbao, was a park perched just above the city, where strolling back to our hotel, we witnessed at ~9pm, were kids playing on the playground and elderly couples out for their nightly chats, greeting and parting with their elderly friends with the usual kiss on both cheeks. So much for the isolation of Australia's aging demographic who find themselves locked in suburbia, with no means of transport and fears for their safety.
  • In other countries such as Spain there seems to be an understanding that everyone is intelligent and will figure it out, mixing cars, trains, buses and trams is seamless.

Bilbao, Guggenheim in the background.
© Amanda Hendry, 2010.

Car and me in street (laneway perhaps), Toledo

© Amanda Hendry, 2010.
  • The icecream painted building facades in Lisbon, visually yummy colours of peach, ocean green, lemon, lavender, duck egg blue, sky blue, cinammon, barbie pink, baby pink, toothpaste blue ... the list goes on.
© Amanda Hendry, 2010.
Nos Vemos, amigos.


HG said...

Found the photo of train/tram lines amazing - grass growing around and right up to it, truly seamless integration into urban landscape!

Did you participate in la rambla in Barcelona? (Have you heard Robyn's narration of la rambla?)

Looking forward to reading and hearing more!

AJH said...

Yes we walked down/ up La Rambla quite a lot, did read Robyn's postcard from Barcelona, but might re-read it now we have been.
Yes La Rambla experiences can be added into my 'Barcelona; Collage City' post, we saw the avenue/promenade both at its peak and bottom.

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