Archive for Spain Tours

Solar Power Revolution in Spain

Friday, May 30th, 2014

May 30

YES solar power has potential to cure many of our planet’s energy problems and keep CO2 out of our atmosphere. A revolutionary power system near Seville, Spain harnesses the power of the sun to liquefy (boil) salt. That boiling salt is then used to turn water into steam, which powers turbines, creating electricity. It is a closed loop system that creates no waste. Incredible and a shining beacon which can be seen for many miles.

A field of solar panels are directed at this high tower, which shines with a brilliance that can be seen from many miles away. Inside the tower, salt is liquified by the intense heat generated by the panels directed energy. That liquified salt, at more than 500 degrees centigrade, turns water into steam which turbines use to create electricity. It is a brilliant system and causes one to wonder, 'why aren't these towers sprouting up around the world?'

A field of solar panels are directed at this high tower, which shines with a brilliance that can be seen from many miles away. Inside the tower, salt is liquified by the intense heat generated by the panels directed energy. That liquified salt, at more than 500 degrees centigrade, turns water into steam which turbines use to create electricity. It is a brilliant system and causes one to wonder, ‘why aren’t these towers sprouting up around the world?’

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The Speed of Europe

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

May 29

Germany moves at about 80 mph

Italy at around 110 mph

Spain at around 40 mph and that suits us just fine.

Come to Spain. Not enough Americans do. We want to change that.

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The Mezquita of Cordoba, Spain

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

May 29

There are few words to describe the amazing Mezquita of Cordoba, Spain. We spent more than an hour wandering inside the massive structure, which is clearly visible from our luxury boutique hotel located just a half minute’s walk from the walls of the former mosque. The structure goes back to Visigothic times when it was a church in the 6th century. It was built over into a huge mosque, the most important one in the western Muslim world during the time when Spain was under the control of the Moors. The structure was altered in the 16th century after the reconquest of Spain, and turned into a cathedral.

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Guimarães, birthplace of Portugal

Monday, August 19th, 2013

August 19 – from a visit to this region in early June

The typical windows and balconies of this region, found in abundance in the preserved town center

The typical windows and balconies of this region, found in abundance in the preserved town center

The city of Guimarães is historically associated with the foundation and identity of the Portuguese nationality. Guimarães, among other settlements, precedes the foundation of Portugal and because of its role in the foundation of the country it is known as the “cradle of the Portuguese nationality”. In 1128, major political and military events that would lead to the independence and the birth of a new nation took place in Guimarães. For this reason, in one of the old towers of the city’s old wall it is written “Aqui nasceu Portugal” (Portugal was born here).

The city is often referred to as the “birthplace of the Portuguese nationality” or “the cradle city” (Cidade Berço in Portuguese). This might be because the administrative seat of the County of Portugal was established there by Henry of Burgundy, or that it might also been the birthplace of Afonso I of Portugal, the first Portuguese king or because of the historical role of the city in the Battle of Sao Mamede (June 24, 1128), which had a tremendous importance in the formation of Portugal and was fought in the vicinity of the city. The “Vimaranenses” are also called “Conquistadores” (the Conquerors) in relation with the historical heritage of the conquest initiated in Guimarães.

 

 

Having a look between the laundry

Having a look between the laundry

A cafe right before the rush

A cafe right before the rush

The Roman Bridge and Old Town of Chaves, Portugal

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

August 17 – from a trip to this region in May

Signs of the extent of the Roman Empire are everywhere in Portugal. We took a daytrip from our country inn in the Douro River Valley to the pleasant little town of Chaves to find out more.

The Roman bridge dates back to the 3rd century. It still carries pedestrian traffic back and forth to both sides of the town.

The Roman bridge dates back to the 3rd century. It still carries pedestrian traffic back and forth to both sides of the town.

The town of Chaves has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. The region has seen persistent human settlement since Roman legions conquered and occupied the fertile valley of the Tâmega River, constructing a nascent outpost and taking over the existing castros in the area. The settlement was located at the convergence of three important Roman roads: the Bracara Augusta, Asturica, and Lamecum that crossed the Roman Province of Gallaecia, linking Rome to the region’s natural resources.  It was a military centre known for its baths, which lasted until the 16th century. This civilization constructed protective walls to protect the local population; spanned the river with the bridge; promoted the baths (with its warm medicinal waters); exploited local mines and alluvial deposits and other natural resources. Its importance led to the urban nucleus being elevated to the status ofmunicipality in 79 AD, during the reign of the first Flavian Caesar, Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus. Its benefactor consequently influenced its toponymy, becoming known as Aquae Flaviae. Artefacts from the area around the Matriz church indicate that Aquae Flaviae’s centre was located in this place, in addition to an ancient headstone showing gladiatorial combat.

The Roman era bridge, emblematic of the city of Chaves, was constructed during the reign of Emperor Trajan to span the Tâmega River, in order to connect the Roman provincial settlements of Astorga (in Spanish León) and Bracara Augusta (now Braga) in Gallaecia. The structure still has Roman inscriptions on the principal columns, that identify the bridge and its dedication to Emperor Caesar Vespasianus Augustus.

 

Narrow lane in the medieval town

Narrow lane in the medieval town

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Column with Latin inscription noting that the bridge was built with money raised by the citizens of the Roman town

Column with Latin inscription noting that the bridge was built with money raised by the citizens of the Roman town

The Longest and most complete Roman walls in the world

Friday, August 16th, 2013

August 16 – from a trip to this region in May

Our guest photographs the 3rd century Roman walls of Lugo, Galicia, Spain

Our guest photographs the 3rd century Roman walls of Lugo, Galicia, Spain

You might think these are in Italy. No, they are in the small city of Lugo, Galicia, Spain. We were surprised too. How did we find out about this little treasure town? Well, it started with Jenean’s laptop needing a new power cord. We stopped on our way from Santiago de Compostela to a country inn near Astorga at a large electronics store at the Lugo exit which has outlets across Europe. The young man who helped us there is in the wrong job. He should be the director of Lugo tourism. We mentioned that we were on our way through the area, and he acted surprised. ‘You aren’t going to see the longest Roman walls in the world?’ He then proceeded to extoll the many virtures of Lugo. Here we were, preparing to just get back in the van and continue on our way and this young man convinced us to make a detour and lunch stop in what is now one of our favorite destinations.

Lugo’s Roman walls reach a height of from 33 to 49 feet, and they undulate along the landscape around the core of the central city, completely encircling it. You can walk along the broad top of the wall for a unique perspective on not only the long wall, which stretches for nearly 7,000 feet, but you can also look down on the town, the rooftops and the towers of the several churches. The wall passes near the cathedral, which is also beautiful. Seventy-one towers make this wall one that is impressive from the outside, too.

We walked part of the wall and then descended down to the area near the cathedral where, as our young helper at Media Market had explained, the best tapas could be found. We tried one of the handful there and were all pleased by our selections with the exception of my calamari, which tasted frozen. The owner took it off our bill.

During Roman times, the region was full of gold mines, some of them open and visible today.

The 7,000 feet of intact Roman walls include 71 towers

The 7,000 feet of intact Roman walls include 71 towers

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Yum! Nothing like Spanish tapas to take the edge off hunger, served fresh and fast

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We could not get enough of these lightly fried green peppers served with sea salt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Road from Stuttgart to Lisbon – Part 3

Monday, May 27th, 2013

May 27 – the end of the road, the start of another

 

The lovely Hotel Alavera de los Baños below Ronda, Spain. The interior lounge is used for breakfast and for two tour guides from America, as a second living room for two days and nights.

The lovely Hotel Alavera de los Baños below Ronda, Spain. The interior lounge is used for breakfast and for two tour guides from America, as a second living room for two days and nights.

We’ve dusted ourselves off after two restful nights at a B&B tucked away in a peaceful garden below the clifftop town of Ronda, Spain. Those two nights were like medicine to our worn out souls. Once again we proved that we are the worst tourists in the world when it comes to our relaxation time. We didn’t even go see the famous bull ring, the oldest in Spain. We ate at the same tapas bar twice. We spent an entire afternoon reading in the garden of our inn near the babbling fountain, with the highlight of our entertainment being watching the horses below graze. We didn’t move from our chairs when the fireworks went off, announcing the end of a pilgrimage. We didn’t turn on the TV. In short, it was nearly 48 hours of pure bliss.

Back on the road, we leave Ronda heading for the small town of Carmona, just east of Seville. Our mission – to check out what we have been told is one of Spain’s most beautiful Paradors. The road winds its way out of stunning scenery into a flatter, more industrial appearance south of Seville. Still, the road is lined with gorgeous flowering bushes and Spanish broom. The road is empty. The economic bells are ringing in Spain, and the tune is not a happy one. Sixty percent of people under the age of 25 are unemployed. This is not just a crisis of the moment, it is a disaster for the future.

At Carmona, the Parador lives up to its reputation. The views take our breath away. A friendly manager shows us a room, and it lives up the high standard set by the public spaces of this former castle. Paradors are run by the government, and some are great, and some are just middling. This one appears to have set the standard for Fantastic.

We drive around Seville in light traffic and then turn west, heading for the border with Portugal. By 5 p.m. we are at our hotel in the small town of Loule, Algarve. It’s a place we know from attending one of the area’s best markets there. The hotel is a new experience for us. Booking through booking.com I had selected their “Romantic Offer” and we chuckled when we ticked off all which was included: a bottle of bubbly – check. A box of chocolates – check. A red rose on the bed – check. Buffet breakfast for two included – check. And best of all, this package for a prince and a princess was amazingly cheap at 49 Euros all-inclusive. That’s about $65, an unheard of price for a double with breakfast in Europe. Our dinner was just as luxurious, tins of sardines, crackers, wine and cheese eaten at our spacious windowsills overlooking the heart of the town on a very quiet Saturday early evening. In Portugal, we can never get enough of the fantastic sardines.

The area of Ronda where we stayed two nights, below the high part of town, nestled in a lovely garden next to pastures and meadows

The area of Ronda where we stayed two nights, below the high part of town, nestled in a lovely garden next to pastures and meadows

The next day we turn our wheels north and head for the Lisbon area. Along the way, we decide to check out the hilltop town of Sintra, just west of Lisbon. The town is crawling with bus tourists. Not fun. We turn around  after checking out a swank little hotel for a future visit and head down below to a village, Colares, closed to the seashore. There we found a lively spot, packed with late Sunday afternoon diners. After what seemed like an eternity, we were served our sardines, potatoes and spinach. It was heaven. We were at the end of the road and the start of another.

Grilled sardines seaside at the end of the road, 1,855 kilometers after leaving Stuttgart

Grilled sardines seaside at the end of the road, 1,855 kilometers after leaving Stuttgart

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The Road from Stuttgart to Lisbon – Part 2

Friday, May 24th, 2013

(James and Jenean Derheim are scouting new locations for future tours in southern Spain, on their way to pick up returning clients in Lisbon on May 27)

May 24

Resting and recuperating with the sound of birds coming from the garden after a series of very long drives of 600, 700 and 850 kilometers on May 23, 22 and 19 we are now lodged in a gorgeous little B&B down below Ronda, Spain. The place is so peaceful that after checking in and before we even saw our room we immediately extended our stay by a night, gladly paying the penalty of a night’s stay at the place where we were originally scheduled to stay the following night near Cordoba. Our new van needs a rest. So do its drivers.

Watching the locals in Consuegra as dinnertime (8:30 is the earliest possible) approaches

Watching the locals in Consuegra as dinnertime (8:30 is the earliest possible) approaches

The past couple of days have been filled with incredible sights. Spain is truly “Big Sky Country.” I thought that was the motto of Montana, but I think they stole it from Spain. Huge vistas, limitless horizons, rolling plains, mountains and through it all, a  nearly empty highway that is empty either because of the crashed Spanish economy or perhaps it’s just luck. I think the former has much to do with it. We roll past blocks of highrises that are not finished. Empty storefronts in all of the small towns and villages. Quiet, so quiet. The exception was on May 23 when we attempted to get close to the Alhambra in Granada. Horrible place, Granada. Ruined by development, the Alhambra invisible behind all of the high rises. The hillsides below the soaring Sierra Nevada range are blanketed with awful condos, most of them shuttered and empty. We get near the Alhambra, through all of the tourist dreck and then just at the last minute I miss the poorly-marked turn for the Parador that we had intended to check out. Tourists, taxis, buses, cars, schlock everywhere. What has happened to the Alhambra that I remember so fondly from my journalism days in the early 1990s? It’s been covered up by crap. We vow to never return.

A shepherd high above Consuegra

A shepherd high above Consuegra

 

On down the road on this long day we remember where we started, in La Mancha, the small, lonely town of Consuegra. If Spain has an economic cold, then this little dusty town has the flu. A dozen white windmills and a huge 11th century castle dominate the town and yet the busloads of tourists who roll in from Toledo or Madrid or wherever don’t stop and spend anything in town, and it shows. Many, many empty shops and closed up businesses. There is one little bar in the town center and the owner and his two buddies are engrossed in a bullfight on the big linen screen while Jenean and I get a drink and a snack. Jenean averts her eyes. She can’t stand the bloodshed. I watch, fascinated by the pageantry. I’ve been to a few bullfights in the past and don’t care if I go again. I suppose most people are rooting for the bull. The matadors, all gussied up and pomped, strut around in their skin-tight purple knee-length pants, not knowing that leggings are out of style in America. That evening, after a delicious meal of tapas at a bar called Gaudi, we walk back through empty streets to our inn, a lovely little B&B we discovered. It seems that tonight we are the only ones who did discover it, and we have the place to ourselves. Above, the windmills are catching the last of the sunset. Invigorated by the sight, I dash up the hill and breathless from the altitude and the effort, take a series of shots that may or may not be in focus. The wind is blowing and even though the mills are tied down, I can imagine the creaking sound of their wooden sails turning in the wind, grinding grain high above this arid plain.

Three of the twelve windmills above Consuegra

Three of the twelve windmills above Consuegra

 

 

Guiding tours in European for over 20 years