Sunday, June 4, 2017

Spain and Portugal Getaway

In March, April, and May as the temperatures rise and the air quality declines here in Chiang Mai , I typically try to schedule some away time. Mid April is also the Thai new year and "Songkran Festival" where the tradition of gently pouring of water on the hands feet of elders has morphed into forcefully throwing water at traffic and flaneurs.  Sometimes ice cubes are included in the thrown water making the practice even more dangerous and unpleasant, especially for motorcycle riders.

This year I planned a trip to see some longtime friends who live near Seville and meet-up with a friend living in the U.K.  Our plan was to sojourn by car from Spain through the length of Portugal spending a week near Lisbon in the south and a week in Porto in the north.

My flight from Bangkok to Malaga, Spain was on Norwegian Shuttle because of its no-frills cheap fares.  It was $300 one-way and $300 returning from Madrid plus about $35 for hot food service that I consider essential on a long flight.  Lots of folks brought their own food on board for the savings. On Norwegian, you pay for any extras you want such as food, baggage, seat selection, etc. The only drawback is that the flight flew north to Oslo before the connecting flight flew back South to Malaga. On the the plus side is that Norwegian uses the new Boeing Dreamliner for its long-haul flights.

Yes, it's about 10 hours to Oslo, but it was a very comfortable flight with lots of leg room  and the lighting system on the Dreamliner helps to reduce jet-lag because after cabin service is completed the cabin goes dark which calms the passengers so sleeping is easier.  A couple of hours before landing the lights gradually and gently replicate sunrise and a final cabin service is completed before landing.

One thing that interested me is that we flew directly over Iraq and Afghanistan.  Are passenger airliners immune to air attacks?  Or as one friend speculated "It wasn't a U.S. carrier".

Once in Malaga. I gave myself a few days to recover from jet-lag and explore one of the oldest cities on the Spanish coast, the "Sunshine Coast".  It's an obvious old fort-protected city as evidenced by the tangle of narrow streets, many of which are pedestrian only.

The train trip north to Seville took about 4 hours and the highlight, besides going through vast orange orchards, was the spectacular canyon with vertical rock walls reminiscent of the rock walls in Yosemite.  As a popular climbing and trekking site the view from the train revealed a hanging walkway built of wood.  Apparently this was access to an original water flume that in decades past delivered water to distant towns.  The walkway is miles long and is a favorite among Spanish trekkers.

This trip only allowed a couple hours in Seville, which I have explored in greater detail in the past.

This, the Guadalquivir, is the river Columbus used to get to the Atlantic Ocean, nowadays plied by tourist sightseeing barges.

And now on by bus an hour north of Seville to the property of my U.K. friends, Nicholas and Caroline.  They have what looks like about 10 acres to me, all very natural as Nickolas, the botanist prefers a natural flora and fauna setting to trimmed, manicured trees and bushes.  Caroline is growing a few non-native plants and flowers near the entrance and of course they have an extensive garden.  The "finca" (ranch in Spanish) is a great place to hang and relax listening to native birds, the most recognizable were the two cuckoos on either side of the property.

Sunsets were a favorite time on the west patio with guacamole, chips, olives and of course cheap and abundant wine.

While visiting with Nicholas and Caroline we explored some nearby hill villages both on foot and by car.

This is the untouristed town of:

You can see the nesting black and white stork on the church steeple, but what you can't see is how steep the hilly streets are!

Throughout the mountains of the Extremadora area are cork oaks that have been harvested as this photo shows.  It takes about 9 years to grow enough new bark to harvest again.  Some oak forests have been planted and managed and other oaks grow wild on private land.  There are occasional bands of harvesters who systematically pass through and will harvest the cork on your property and pay a percentage of the harvest.

One of my favorite hill towns pictured here is called Cartegena with the requisite castle.  It is relatively small, but large enough to have a couple banks and grocery stores.  It also has two "casinos" which are social clubs, one of which is pictured below.

This idealic town just might be on my short list for spending a month or more next year during Songkran.

One more thing before leaving the finca is the cave system in the nearby town of Arecena.  The caves are actually in the hill underneath the castle and are quite extensive and beautiful.  Many movie scenes have been shot here including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  The guided tour takes about 90 minutes, so be sure to pee before hand.

OK, enough for this blog.  To be continued where I learn about cod (yep, the fish) and port wine.......

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