Surprising Spanish Themes
I was deeply moved by the pilgrimage of hundreds of people from all over the world to Santiago de Compestella. Their passion and sincerity were real. I prepared for my trip to Spain in a variety of ways, but I did not know about the "pacific crest trail" of Spain.
Although the younger generation in Spain (what Americans might call the children of "baby boomers") is leaving the Catholic church in droves, Franco's impact, as well as Spanish history for way back--well as early as James's original appearance there--is still felt. For instance, under Franco, children had to be given Bible names; hence, there are lots of Maria's in Spain. The Catholic Church is by culture, if not by law, the state church. Although there are fewer churches and less religious grandeur than Italy, Spain seemed to have a more deeply rooted care for their religion than Italy. And I didn't know that Opus Dei had its headquarters in Spain.
Politics, Not as Usual
Spain's civil war, in the 30's, is very confusing to me. I read Orwell's book, Homage to Catalonia. He defines, probably quite well, the many competing agendas that were at war within the country. How could you be Spanish and grasp all of that? I'm far away and generations later, and I don't get it.
Franco's gone now, has been dead since 1975. Yet so many of the policies he established seem to still be in place. But as is obvious from recent events, the Basques have demands that they want to have met--the Basque guide even spoke of the Irish guy coming to mediate the issues between the Basque and the government of Spain. And then there is the Catalonia issue--like the Basques, they want their own language to be taught to their children. The government has outlawed it. We saw flags in different towns, and slogans here and there.
One theme for sure is the silence about the past and the present. With an unemployment rate of 24% there are a lot of people with time on their hands.
The Tree symbol was everywhere in Spain. I'm not even sure most Spanish people are aware of it. There's a whole region called Gaia, for heaven's sake. Before going to Spain, I had read that the Druids had an enclave in Spain at some period in history, and that there are standing stones there, much like those in UK. Our guide wasn't aware of them, so maybe it was just false info, but having seen the concentration on Mother Nature, it wouldn't surprise me if they are there.
Despite this, the young are leaving the rural areas and the land. Spain is a farming country. It exports food to the rest of Europe. There are concerns about the impact this will have on the country. I'm sure Gaia isn't happy about it.
The Old and the New
Despite Spain's roots deep in a varied and pervasive history, it is a very modern country. It wants to be a modern country. In Italy, it always felt like they are not conflicted about their past. The past is a part of their present. While in Italy, every day I felt like I was visitor in a country unlike my own. In Spain, many mornings I woke up and had to remind myself that I wasn't waking up in Oregon.
Delights and Disappointments
Food: The food was wonderful. Tapas, paella; lots of fresh seafood. I wasn't ever hungry.
Lodging: In one room, I slept on a bed that must have been 200 years old (not the mattress!).
Art: I loved seeing Gaudi's work. I visited the Picasso museum in Barcelona. There was another wonderful art museum in Bilbao right near the hotel.
Fabric: I took fledgling steps to look for local fabric sources. Found some beautiful Portuguese and Spanish lace. Fabric, not so much.
Food: We hit a number of small towns for lunch only to find everything closed.
Lodging: All owned by the Spanish government. Really!?!!!
Guggenheim: No art??? Between shows?
Long Distances: Spain is big. Isn't there a faster way to get from one place to another? Spent a lot of time in that bus.
Malls: Seemed like we visited a lot of malls. Interesting architectural things happening in malls.
Slow Pace: Good for some, probably even good for me, but it all felt like we were doing a lot of wining, dining, and sleeping, and walking slowly when we were off the bus.
This Particular Tour
This tour was through Odyssey Travel. It was a 17 day itinerary and was called Across Spain and Portugal with Paradores and Pousadas. Here's a map of the miles we covered (borrowed from Odyssey's site.) Spain is much larger than it looks.
I think there were 24 of us in the tour group. Really nice people and everyone tried hard to get along. Tour Director and daily guides were really good. As a single traveler, I found everyone to be extremely generous with sharing a table or a taxi ride.
The tour stressed that there would be significant walking including stairs and uneven surfaces. Participants needed to be fit. I don't know if they always say that for insurance purposes, but my last tour with Rick Steve's said the same thing, but the difference was significant.
In comparison, there was little walking, and it was always easy. Mostly, the bus drove us to the front door. Our luggage was even delivered and picked up from our rooms. I had expected and wanted a much more active tour.
Which brings me to the itinerary. It is exactly what it says. Which surprised me. When it said you had an afternoon free, you did. And you had to figure out what to do with your time. The tour director was a wonderful help with making plans and arrangements. I can't help compare again with my Italy trip, where we were constantly kept walking and busy. In Italy, there were demos and lectures. I guess I just have to learn all the nuances through experience. A hypothetical example: On this tour, we heard about fado music, and if you thought of it, you could use your free afternoon to hunt down a venue. With Rick Steves you'd probably have a lunch or dinner at a fado restaurant and hear the music and have an opportunity to purchase a CD.