Roads to Santiago

Images of Spain.

But not in the form of the sickeningly familiar, glossy pictures of crowded beaches on the Mediterranean coast with their ugly hotel developments serving as backdrop, nor those of flamenco and bull-fights, nor yet the image that we receive through the daily news of RTE of a corrupt political and business élite, the pollution over Madrid or the meaningless posturing over the status of Gibraltar or Catalonian independence.

The images of Spain presented to us by the Dutch author Cees Nooteboom in his book Roads to Santiago go far deeper than the stereotypes that we are all familiar with. He searches for – and finds – a different Spain: one that is more ancient, more elemental, more real, if you will. A Spain that would take a lifetime of living there to get to know, even just a little.

The old town of Cáceres

As you can guess, Roads to Santiago is not a guide book, although you could do much worse than follow in the author’s footsteps.

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7 Things You’ll Regret Not Doing in Lisbon

Having taken a somewhat negative view last week with 7 Things You’ll Regret Doing in Lisbon, I think it’s time to look on the bright side!

Good Enough for Byron

We’ll take our cue from Byron:

On, on the vessel flies, the land is gone,
And winds are rude in Biscay’s sleepless bay.
Four days are sped, but with the fifth, anon,
New shores descried make every bosom gay;
And Cintra’s mountain greets them on their way,
And Tagus dashing onward to the deep,
His fabled golden tribute bent to pay;
And soon on board the Lusian pilots leap,
And steer ‘twixt fertile shores where yet few rustics reap.

(Lord Byron: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto I, XIV)

(Welcome to Lisbon.)

If it was good enough for Byron, it should be good enough for you: Byron had a real talent in picking the most memorable places in Europe to visit (and then writing them up in his poetry).

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Throwback Thursday: The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Last month when I reposted Return from the Stars for Throwback Thursday, it went weird and hardly any of you got to see it. I sought enlightenment from support and they told me I was doing it all wrong. I'm trying their way now.

The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Originally published on 9 October 2015

Why Homer Doesn’t Matter

Now that’s a heading that nobody should have been expecting from me, given how I go on and on about Homer whenever I have nothing better to do. But I have finished reading The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson, and put it down with the feeling that sadly, it failed in what it set out to do: namely to convince skeptics that Homer mattered, that Homer should still be read, perhaps even studied, because he’s relevant to our lives.

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How to Survive Semana Santa in Seville

Tips to Make Your Semana Santa Memorable

We spent Semana Santa in Seville this year – and although we enjoyed it, we could have enjoyed it so much better if we knew what we know now. (And it’s not like we didn’t do our research in the internet and guidebooks first.) So read this to find out how to make the most of your stay in Seville during Semana Santa!

Let’s start with…

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Canoeing in the Wilderness

In the summer of 1857, the American writer Henry David Thoreau – best known for his book Walden detailing his experiences of living in a log cabin for two years in the wild – went on a canoe trip in the still unspoilt regions of Maine, with a friend and an Indian guide from the reservation of Old Town.

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How to Live like a Local in Budapest

I just came home from home. The experience was slightly unnerving in both directions (as usual). To begin with, there was the inevitable confusion of languages: while at home, I tended to do it all wrong. I spoke Hungarian to Young Friend of the Elephants and English to my father, not to mention when I creatively mixed the two languages to the changing room attendant in the thermal baths. To end with, back home there was the immigration officer at Heathrow who asked cunning questions to find out if I was trafficking my child into the country to be some sort of a domestic slave. (She’s washing up after dinner right now but don’t tell that to the border police.)

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The Roman Theatre of Mérida

The Extremadura region (in the west, bordering Portugal) is not a part of Spain that’s particularly overrun by tourists. But although it hasn’t got beaches, it’s still well worth a visit for anyone who’s at all interested in history, in architecture or indeed, for anyone who’d just like to holiday somewhere beautiful and atmospheric without the crowds.

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Mérida in the Extremadura

Mr Anglo-Saxonist hates beaches – in general – and overcrowded Spanish beaches in particular. Which is why, despite of us having visited Spain three times so far, we’ve never yet been down the Mediterranean coast. On the other hand his dislike of beach holidays led us to visit a small town in the west of Spain which, quite simply, blew our minds.

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Federico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajes

Read this in English (written in two parts)
⇒ Sketches of Spain: CastileSketches of Spain: Granada

Hay libros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque todo se ha dicho ya. Y hay otros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque lo único que puedes hacer es citarlos. Impresiones y paisajes por Federico García Lorca es uno de esos últimos.

La noche tiene brillantez mágica de sonidos desde este torreón. Si hay luna, es un marco vago de sensualidad abismática lo que invade los acordes. Si no hay luna…, es una melodía fantástica y única lo que canta el río…, pero la modulación original y sentida en que el color revela las expresiones musicales más perdidas y esfumadas, es el crepúsculo… Ya se ha estado preparando el ambiente desde que la tarde media. Las sombras han ido cubriendo la hoguera alhambrina… La vega está aplanada y silenciosa. El sol se oculta y del monte nacen cascadas infinitas de colores musicales que se precipitan aterciopeladamente sobre la ciudad y la sierra y se funde el color musical con las ondas sonoras… Todo suena a melodía, a tristeza antigua, a llanto.

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Hills (And What People Built On Them)

Hills are a natural choice as locations for some of the most beautiful structures mankind has ever erected: castles and temples, statues and palaces, lighthouses and crosses – I’m sure you all can think of many stunning examples. Today, in response to Ailsa’s weekly travel theme Hills on her blog Where’s My Backpack, I thought I’d share with you some of the hills I had the good fortune to climb in the Mediterranean. And I chose these particular hills for one reason: what people chose to build on them.

The Old Town of Toledo

Toledo
Toledo

The old town of Toledo was built on a hill which is almost fully encircled by the River Tajo. This view shows the Roman bridge across the river with the Alcázar of Toledo topping the crest of the hill. For this view alone, Toledo will always be one of my favourite cities.

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Nesebar: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Today, a trip down memory lane – in more than one sense. First, the last time I saw the place we’re going to visit (when I took the photos) was in 1988 – I hazard the guess that a number of you weren’t even born then. Second, this is (or was then) a place forgotten by time and the world. And finally… photos from thirty years ago: look at their quality! That is, their lack of it (admittedly not helped by the scanner).

The Church of Christ Pantokrator, Nesebar
The Church of Christ Pantokrator, Nesebar

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How Blue is the Blue Lagoon?

The short answer is: very. 🙂

So you picked up a Maltese travel brochure and saw these glorious photos of the Blue Lagoon in which the water is implausibly blue, a shade known by people who care about such details as ‘cyan’.  And you weren’t born yesterday, so you conclude that the colour of the sea water is the result of a photo filter and the name of the lagoon is probably an advertising gimmick.

And you’re wrong.

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They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships

A fit of September blues, accompanied by September skies. (That means grey; where I come from September skies are famous for their particularly beautiful deep blue colour.) My September blues, however, are not merely due to the fact that summer is over; my plans for rowing up the Thames à la Three Men in a Boat are over too. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here not only we didn’t succeed in following the Three Men upriver this summer, we didn’t even have a holiday. Maybe better luck next year?

So – for a while at least – this is the last post in the Upriver series. And what better way to wind up and lighten the September blues at the same time than to immerse ourselves into some books set on boats (and envy the people who get to sail on them)?

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The Hagar Qim Megalithic Temples on Malta

I’ve lived in England for more than a decade by now but I’ve never yet made it to Stonehenge or the stone circles of Avebury. We did set off to see them once, hiring a car for the occasion, only for one of the kids to fall ill on the very day. Instead of a day out at Stonehenge we merely managed an expensive tour of London’s major roads; and we didn’t discuss visiting Stonehenge since.

The truth is that much as I like history, neolithic monuments don’t set my pulse racing. Somehow – I can’t help feeling – our stone age ancestors didn’t manage to do quite as many interesting things as the Phoenicians or leave as pretty ruins as the Greeks. Nevertheless, if you ever go to Malta, where there’s an awful lot of history crammed into a very small area, you could do worse than take a couple of hours to visit the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim. Dating from 3600-3200 B.C., they are a tad older than Stonehenge – and there’s just a bit more than a stone circle to see.

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The Mezquita of Cordoba

This being summer , what I was going to say was: “The weather is nice and I’d rather be outside…” But the sad truth is the weather’s nothing to write home about, England are losing the test match (that’s me passing the Tebbit test!) and I’m too lazy to exercise my brain. So for today’s miscellany a few pictures, with somebody else kindly having written the words! 🙂

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The Amphitheatre of Italica

Italica, the birth place of the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian as well as the poet Silius Italicus, author of Punica, a long epic poem about the Second Punic War, is an ancient Roman town – or rather the ruins of it – near Seville in Spain. The town was founded by Scipio Africanus who settled the veterans of the Second Punic War here. Nowadays the site is most famous for the reasonably well-preserved amphitheatre, which was one of the largest in the Roman Empire.

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Three Ways to Dock a Motorboat (Part II)

Continued from: Three Ways to Dock a Motorboat (Part I)

The first way was – as you hopefully read in the previous post – with precision. Well, the second way is…

The Second Way: With a Bang

Or How to Get Confused by the French

To dock a boat with a bang takes a bit more effort than the first method. To begin with, it requires involvement from somebody else on shore (although I suppose somebody else in the same boat might do just as well).

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