Friday, August 29, 2008

May 12th, 2008 - Trujillo, tired old town

From Toledo, we continued our western trek across Spain and stopped for a while in the little 9,000 population town of Trujillo in the region of Extremadura. Perched on a hill - what else - about 1250 feet above sea level between the rivers Tagus and Guadiana, Trujillo is crowned by, guess what, its Moorish Castle built on Roman foundations. The origins of this little burg extend back 600 years BCE and of course ran the usual gamut of Celts, Romans, Goths and Moors before it was reconquered by the Christians in 1232.
Despite Trujillo’s early medieval presence, most surviving monuments are from the 15th and 16th centuries. Trujillo is associated with the birth place of the Spanish Conquistadors and several famous folk were born there or otherwise have been linked to its the history. Examples include Francisco Pizarro founder of Lima (Peru not Ohio) and conqueror of Peru; Garcia Paredes, the Sampson of Extremadura founded the city of Trujillo in Venezuela; Francisco de Orellana who discovered the Amazon; Nuflo de Chavez, founder of Santa Cruz in Bolivia and so on. The legacy of the Conquistadors is evidenced in the wealth of noble monuments and mansions in the city. The Plaza Mayor, the city's focal point, features an equestrian sculpture of Francisco Pizarro. See here for more pictures.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How to feel old without really trying

The first thing of course is to have offspring - these have a powerful tendency to age parents beyond their years without effort. Next, before you know it, grand-kids are beginning to sprout and one thinks back to those wizened old critters who, when we were still in knee pants, would visit and insist on doling out rib-crushing hugs and jelly-fish kisses. They were of course - GRAND PARENTS - and, for better or worse, we had morphed into just that! Even though, in our hearts, we were still lusty 28 year olds frozen in time at an age when everything worked as nature intended, a glance in a mirror told the daunting truth - we had become the current day wizened old critters.
After a little rationalizatio
n, things did not seem too bad, however. Grand kids have excellent petting zoo qualities - visit, indulge, leave - all without having to feed, clean or train. Better yet, grand kids have few reasons to hate grand parents and, from time to time, even show signs of friendliness. Not too bad, after all.
But wait, there's more! This
morning at 9:07 AM EDT, great grand kid #1 was born. With three generations in attendance, mother Amber, grandmother Martine and great-grandmother Marian along with 14 hospital staff, the ranting bundle known as Henry Hall slithered into the world. Weighing in at more than 10-1/2 pounds and just shy of 2 feet tall, I was really happy that my role was limited to staying home in case the phone rang - another lucky escape!
Amazing how complex birthing has become from the days when our kids were born at home with intermittent visits by the family doctor and a midwife who were tending to as many as four other births in the same day.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

World Wide Photo-Walk

Yesterday, there was a world wide photo-walk organized by a photographer and author by name of Scott Kelby. No big deal, just an opportunity for photo-freaks to get together and wander around town taking pictures, in more of a social humor than might ordinarily be expected from such folk. The walks were concluded by lunch at a local restaurant and pictures, worldwide, will be collected together for selection of the best.
More than 400 cities from 40 plus countries fielded a total in excess of 7,000 photographers, so many snaps must have been taken! With a limit of 50 to each group, larger cities fielded several groups and, hopefully a good time was had by all.
The Fort Wayne mob, shown here, numbered in the forties and, although the forecast rain did not spoil our parade, it was nevertheless oppressively hot and humid. The top picture is a statue of "Mad" Anthony Wayne, the military commander sent to neutralize the Indian threat in the early 19th century and the namesake of the city. With its list of attraction (The Zoo) there is nothing much of note in Fort Wayne but now you can click here to verify what you thought you knew all along.

Monday, August 18, 2008

May 11th, 2008 - Toledo (Spain, not Ohio)

From Segovia, we had intended visit Avila but Mother Nature was not being helpful - even bombarding us with snow during the climb back over the mountain. We decided therefore, to continue on to Toledo where at least there was a campground and we could regroup from there. The following day, my birthday, turned out to be a great improvement and we gladly cycled off to town.
Successively a Roman municipium, the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, a fortress of the Emirate of Cordoba, an outpost of the Christian kingdoms fighting the Moors and,
in the 16th century, the temporary seat of supreme power under Charles V, Toledo fairly hums with more than 2,000 years of history. El Greco hung out here for the second half of his life and lots of murder and mayhem kept the population on its toes between wars. See more pics here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

May 9th, 2008 - Super Segovia

From Chinchilla we drove to Madrid, the capital of Spain. The weather was foul when the day started and just got worse. Having tracked down the selected campsite and discovered it to be a barbed wire and weed protected space between a frenetically busy industrial park and a major freeway, we had lunch and left. As for Madrid, any glimpses we did get were marred by rain and were few and far between to boot. Madrid has embraced the European "Cut and Cover" urban highway management scheme wholeheartedly. Practically every through road has been dropped 20 feet or so below the surface, the "Cut" part, and then roofed over with structural concrete, the "Cover" part, to render the entire arterial system into a nerve-wracking high-speed subterranean warren. We sped north, glad to be leaving the metropolis.
To reach Segovia, about 45 miles north of Madrid, the 601 highway snakes over the Siete Picos (Siete Peaks) reaching about 8,000 feet before descending again into the Castilla Y Leon region. The cloud capped mountain was part of the view from the campsite. The following day brought a lucky 5 hour break in the weather when the rain slackened to showers and we jumped on the bikes and rode to town. See more Segovioa here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

May 7th, 2008 - Almansa and Chinchilla

From the Mediterranean coast we headed inland pronto - a little Spanish language there - to escape the frantic lifestyle of the claustrophobic Costas. There are only 1200 campsites in the whole of Spain and we were to learn that straying from the usual tourist tracks into the inland plains and mountains meant respecting this reality. This became apparent on the first night away from the coast.
After a relaxed drive into the hinterland we stopped for a while in Almansa,
a small city built around the Castillo de Almansa, which was originally a key Islamic military enclave built to reinforce the northern frontier of Arab Spain. For more snaps around town, click here.
This area of Spain is known as Castille la Mancha, so called for the abundance of castles, and our objective after leaving Almansa was the town of Chinchilla de Monte Aragón. Located on a hill that overlooks the plains of La Mancha, the town of Chinchilla has a 15th century castle and a medieval historic quarter. With no campsite to be found, we overnighted in the parking lot of a truckers motel, nestled between numerous huge trucks. The following day, the weather caught up with us with steady rain that looked set for the day. Here is "the" picture we took before departing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Spain and Spaniards

The Iberian peninsula, that southwestern lump of Europe that is home to Spain and Portugal, is now off our "must do" list. It is also off our "do it again" list.
From Montserrat we passed by Barcelona without pause, since we had visited there last winter and had no desire to return. Continuing down the Mediterranean coast we had intended to visit Valencia and possibly another town or two in the area. The more we saw of the area, the less we liked our plan and Valencia itself loomed as a large, traffic choked metropolis with scarcely a redeeming feature.
The entire eastern coastline in fact, is being progressively chewed up and just bristles with row after row of unprepossessing high-rise apartments and holiday homes. Construction was rife in every direction and, of course, in the last month or so, this entire industry in Spain has suffered a ruinous collapse.
Spain, the second largest country in Europe (France being the biggest) is about 2/3rd the size of Texas, with a population about twice that of Texas. Communication difficulties abound with the official recognition of five or six sub-languages in addition to basic Spanish, among them Arogonese, Asturian, Basque, Catalan, Castilian, Extremaduran and Galician. These are used regionally, many so embedded that bi-lingual road signs are used which can be quite confusing as you might imagine. Spain is also the "Land of No Left Turns". Previously, in both France and Italy, we had noticed an odd aggressiveness on the part of native road users. Same pattern with drivers in Spain and Portugal. Here is a point of view on this strange affectation.
All four of these nations were once significant world powers and all have faded almost to obscurity over the last couple of centuries. Failed by their politicians and kings, all have lost their overseas possessions and, more telling yet, have lost just about every armed conflict they have embarked on during the same period. With such an emasculated national psyche, citizens seek a revival of their downtrodden machismo through fiery driving.
Whether it's excessive speed, blowing by STOP signs, anti-social parking or simply scaring the bejeezers out of pedestrians, flouting authority via aggressive driving has in turn, invoked an imaginative new bevy of traffic control mechanisms.
Left turns are now on the endangered list and are illegal on almost all highways in Spain. "New Jersey" left turns, a right exit ramp that turns sharply to form a cross street, are provided at formerly busy left turns. Continuing to the next roundabout,
executing a 180 degree turn and then driving back to complete the desired maneuver as a right turn is another common solution, complete with bi-lingual instructions. Many in-city roundabouts and intersections have also been "improved" into a form of rush-hour Russian Roulette in which nobody appears to understand the rules. More depressing yet are the draconian efforts to control speed in small towns. Miles of erstwhile broad, attractive streets suitable for two traffic lanes and a center turn lane have been restricted to two narrow tracks walled in by bollards and high curbs, just wide enough for commercial trucks and completely wasting the potential third lane. Speed along these tracks is further moderated by pedestrian crossings that are 9 inches or so higher than the rest of the road surface. Heidi has to negotiate these at 12 mph or less if her contents are to stay more or less in place.
With the pervasive liberal mindset that favors the progressive limiting of freedom until it is physically impossible to break the law, rather than simply enforcing existing laws, expect more of this silliness. Time to head for the hinterland.