Day 614 of Traveling the World, Granada, Spain. October 18, 2019.

Give him alms, woman, because there is nothing sadder in life than being blind in Granada. ~ Francisco de Icaza

Did you ever read James Hilton’s book, Lost Horizon, or see the 1937 movie of the same name? It has something in common with Granada, Spain, our current location. Both included a search for a “paradise on earth” – in the book and movie, it was Shangri-La (the original name of Camp David, by the way); in Granada, Spain, it is called the Alhambra. Every building, fountain, and garden was built on the theme, Paradise on Earth. Most of the current buildings were constructed beginning in the 13th century, but a small fortress was built there in 889, then forgotten until the 13th century renovation and enlargement. The Alhambra, meaning “the red one” due to its red clay walls, was a fortress complex comprised of the Alcazaba, the military component; the Alcazar, palaces for the sultan; and the Medina, the city center.

You can see just about the whole complex in the first photo, taken from the gardens across the way. The gardens fulfill their purpose of helping to make paradise on earth very well! There are fountains, pools, shrubs with cut-out arches, flowers galore, flowering vines, lookouts onto the buildings and over the city, trellises, and walking paths in and around all the aforementioned. Just as there are arches found all over the buildings’ architecture, so there are arches found in a lot of the shrubbery and hedges!

In one photo you will see Roman ruins. Sadly, this is modern, willful destruction. When France invaded Spain, Napoleon purposely targeted the Alhambra, and a lot of the older sections were lost. There are a bunch of ceiling photos…while many rooms of the three palaces look the same, with arches all around, the ceilings set the rooms apart. Some are stucco (albeit stucco like you’ve never seen!), and some are wood. Some of the wood is coated in gold. In their construction, Muslims use materials that will deteriorate and that have finite lives, as they feel that God is the only one that endures through the centuries, not anything human made.

The closeups of tile work in the last six photos are interesting to see for their intricacy and age. This work is 600 years old! The first one is inscribed with the words, “Plus Ultra,” which is the national motto of Spain. It is a reversal of an earlier warning placed on the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibralter, when they thought that was the end of the world: Non terrae plus ultra, No land further beyond. Once the New World was discovered by Columbus, the motto became Plus Ultra, More Beyond, and the phrase has become a metaphor for taking risks….stretch and go beyond what is known. We also saw this phrase in artwork in the Seville Cathedral and Alcazar.

As you may know, Arabic is read from right to left. In the last photo, the sentence shown means “Allah (God) is the Winner.” The Arabic symbol for Allah is the “W” you see at the left, which is actually the end of the sentence. There were depictions in the Alhambra of Jews, Christians, and Muslims sitting at the same table. It symbolized peace between the three religions, and they said that the God of all three religions was the same God, depicting that we can all get along. We hope that comes to pass!

Day 612 of Traveling the World, Seville, Spain. October 16, 2019.

Dr. Seuss wrote a book titled, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” We thought about that today as we wandered around stunning Seville in the south of Spain. What gorgeous, remarkable stuff they have! Did you know that it was from Seville that Ferdinand Magellan departed for the first circumnavigation of the earth? Did you know that Christopher Columbus is buried in Seville Cathedral? Did you know that Seville has the only river port in all of Spain? Did you know that Seville is 2,200 years old? The Moors from Northern Africa invaded in the early 8th century, and as with most of southern Spain, their influence, particularly in architecture, is ubiquitous. When you see striped arches, keyhole windows, Arabic letters, and of course, Islamic features such as minarets, you begin to recognize how influential another culture can be.

There are three parts to today’s photos. Part 1 is the Seville Alcazar (in Arabic, al-qasr), meaning “the palace,” which is why there are Alcazars in more than one Spanish city. Part 2 is Seville Cathedral and its bell tower, called the Giralda. Part 3 is various photographs from around the city.

The Alcazar’s current buildings were constructed in the 14 century under Peter of Castile, interestingly called both The Just One and The Cruel One. The former Moorish fortress was destroyed with the exception of some of the outer walls. The style of architecture on the “new” palace is called Mudejar, a mix of Christian and Moorish features. One place above a doorway has “Allah is great” in Arabic, surrounded by Christian crosses. It is really an unusual palace. So, we start with the Alcazar gardens because they are so calm and beautiful, and they relax us by just looking at them and walking through them. You can see courtyards, fountains, palm trees, flowers, arches (even in the tall shrubs!), buildings, and towers. Heading inside, you can see more arches, intricate wall designs, elaborate ceilings (we made a quartet of four of them), balconies, and tile work. The tile work is interesting. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 caused a lot of damage to the Alcazar, and heaps of tiles were found all over the floors. You can see that the tiles form pictures. The workers didn’t quite know how to work jigsaw puzzles and put everything together again. In the first of the three tile photos, look closely at the deer at the bottom. His antlers match his head and his head mostly matches the tile below, but notice the tile of his back leg. It is, at the least, upside down, and more likely, didn’t belong to him! The middle tile is a grouping of five of the human(ish) tiles. The third is really funny, as you can see that it is a hodgepodge of leftover tiles that don’t fit together and don’t make any sense…the worker just gave up and put any tile anywhere he wished.

Seville Cathedral is a world in itself. It is the third-largest church in the world, but since the other two aren’t cathedrals, it is in fact the world’s largest cathedral. It is immense and it is incredible to behold. Look at the photos and then come back here to read a few stories. The large altarpiece, which looks like brown wood with hundreds of statues, is in fact all wood, but covered with 24 carat gold. It is the most expensive altar in the world. Since many people were illiterate when the cathedral was built, many of these depictions are biblical scenes to help them learn about their faith. Do you see the gigantic, floor-to-ceiling painting of St. Anthony’s vision? It was commissioned in 1656, but in 1874 two bright robbers went in late at night to steal the painting! It is mounted to the wall, so…a formidable task, indeed! When they finally realized it was too large for two men to carry out (!), they thought they would just cut the canvas from the frame. But that, too, was too large and would be too difficult a task as well as too bulky. So what did they do to this priceless painting? They cut out just the figure of St. Anthony and sold it. It was purchased for $50, and the buyer immediately realized what it was. He gave it back to the cathedral, where they restored St. Anthony to his rightful place in the painting. If you look carefully, you can see a dark line over his head and dark lines down either side of him, showing where it was masterfully pieced back together!

The photo of a statue where you can see three of four of Spain’s rulers is the kings surrounding and guarding the burial place of Christopher Columbus. It was claimed that he had been buried in several places in the Caribbean, but recent DNA tests confirmed that these remains are actually those of Columbus. The third of the cathedral photos is the bell tower, called the Giralda, taken from the Spanish word girar, to turn, as the weather vane atop the tower spins. There are no steps inside to climb, just ramps, as donkeys and horses were used to take people to the top, and ramps are easier than stairs for all creatures! There are a total of 34 ramps. The last two cathedral photos were taken from the lookout at the top, one of the bells and one of the top of the church and surrounding buildings.

Part 3, around town, starts with the most famous barber shop in Seville! It is followed by a store that sells only decorative fans, which we have never seen before. Then come some buildings and street scenes that we liked, including a very severely cut box tree! The last two photos are of a Mexican tapas restaurant where we stopped for a late lunch…highly decorated, isn’t it? The food wasn’t too bad, either. And as for the last photo, we just laughed. A…..corseteria? For your girlfriend? We thought it was very funny.

Day 611 of Traveling the World, Santiponce, Spain. October 15, 2019.

When you see these photos of the ancient Roman city of Italica, you will marvel that structures and mosaic floors built from 117-138 BC still have intact remnants, being so old. But keep this one fact in mind: this Italica is the New City! The Old City is another century older, but is inaccessible, as the current city of Santiponce is built over it. The feeling here is very much like the cities of Pompei and Herculaneum in Italy, except that those two cities were covered by the ash of Vesuvius for almost 2,000 years. The birthplace of three Roman emperors (Trajan, Hadrian, and possibly Theodosius), Italica simply fell into disuse, likely due to a problem with its port and poor soil. Its ruins were used as a source of building materials, and it was forgotten until it was “rediscovered” in the 19th century.

It is fantastic. The amphitheater was used as a filming location in the last season of Game of Thrones, and it truly looks its age. You can see the outside of the amphitheater, and some of the inside colonnade, in the first dozen photos. It seated 25,000, but Italica had a population of only 10,000 people, indicating that gladiator games attracted attendees from neighboring towns. There was a bestiary below, like Rome’s Coliseum, and the animals were sometimes allowed into the arena with the combatants just for fun. You may remember scenes in the Russell Crowe movie Gladiator, where animals would suddenly appear in the middle of the arena (and the action) when introduced from below ground. Everything you see is original stonework, of course. As we touched some of the stones, and looked at the mosaic floors in the remaining photos, we wondered about all the workers it took to built homes and roads and amphitheaters, thinking they would be so awed that their work would be somewhat intact and on view 2,000 years in the future.

Homes here were named by archaeologists based on some feature that had been uncovered, or what the mosaic floors depicted. You can see the gods of the sun, moon, and planets shown on one floor, so this is the “Planetarium House.” The floor showing 33 species of birds is the Bird House. Believe it or not, the third mosaic floor is part of the latrine, as depictions of pygmies fighting and riding upon cranes (??!!!?) is typical of latrines, for comedic effect! In the photo after that are four of the communal toilets, which had been built in stone against a wall, with a running water sewer underneath. We wondered how it came to be that the Romans knew how to build a system of underground sewers, yet 1,000 years later, waste from chamber pots was simply thrown onto village roads from an upper window!

The closeup of the flagstones is what is left of the original, ancient road. Much of it is gone, replaced with gravel or cement. But again, what a job to line all the streets with large flagstones and try to make them even for walking. After that are two bakeries, one still in beautiful condition with two ovens, the other only half there. And we end with a few statues that were found mostly intact. The last one is of Diana, the goddess of the hunt. It was a great day wandering around the grounds and enjoying all of these ancient wonders. Santiponce is just outside the city of Seville, a beautiful area. It is sunny and warm, as it must have been back then when people actually lived here, decorated with mosaics, threw dinner parties, and enjoyed life in this lovely part of the world.

Day 610 of Traveling the World, Vilamoura, Portugal (The Algarve). October 14, 2019.

The UK’s Playground. Sunny, warm beaches all through most of the the winter. Gorgeous, blue water and a gentle surf. The Algarve. Sounds exotic, and it is! It was named by the Moors (in Arabic: Al-Gharb), which means “the west,” as in its westernmost possession. The most southwesterly place in continental Europe, it is dotted with beautiful estates, huge resorts, sprawling hotels, trees, flowering shrubs, restaurants and cafes galore, and marinas filled with everything from huge yachts to small fishing boats. It reminded us of Newport Beach in California, the French Riviera, and the Croatian Riviera, all equally vibrant and interesting to see. Simply put, it is a lovely place for some R&R.

The next-to-last photo is a lifeguard station..wouldn’t that be a great job? Check out the cute hut, chair, surfboard, life preserver, and some sort of giant hook resting atop the hut. The creature in the last photo was put out by a man hoping to make some money from people looking and photographing. Interesting, as he didn’t have to perform, sing, do acrobatics, wear a costume..nothing that other buskers do. He just stood there, talking to passersby! Not much else to say, except enjoy the beach and promenade photos, especially if it is chilly where you are! You will warm up just looking at them.

Day 609 of Traveling the World, Sintra, Portugal. Part 2. October 13, 2019.

More climbing! The Castelo dos Mouros, Castle of the Moors, being a defensive castle overlooking Sintra, and being able to observe the Atlantic Ocean, naturally was built on a mountain, on the highest peak in the area. It takes about 15-20 minutes of driving up a steep winding road filled with switchbacks to get here. After you park, you hike uphill to the ticket office. After you pay, you hike uphill to the castle. After you enter the castle grounds, you hike up a billion steps to see what’s at the top, and the views are breathtaking. It is hard to believe it was built in the 10th century, as it is still standing and still looking magnificent. The giant stones that helped in its construction were “broken” way back then by finding a natural fissure in the rock, inserting wooden planks and wetting them, then waiting for the wood to expand, thus splitting the boulders. All the way up to all of the turrets, the walkway is cobblestone. We wonder who fashioned all those tiny pieces of rock to make paths that we can still walk on today! You can also see, toward the end of the castle photos, a photo of the town taken from the castle, as well as a photo of the castle way up on the hill, taken from the town. Almost adjacent to this castle is Pena Palace, which we also wanted to visit. As we drove up, there were many buses and just throngs of people, as well as several groups of school children. We kept driving, and will visit there next time!

After the castle photos is an image of one of the many statues around the town. It is titled “The Imaginary Man,” but it must have lost its plaque…as you can see in the photo that follows it, somebody wrote out the name and description on pieces of ripped masking tape. We have never seen that on artwork before. After that are photos around the city, including one of the prettiest floral apartment buildings ever! There are also some tiled homes, and the castle you see with the two tall white chimneys in several photos is the National Palace of Sintra. The chimneys have become a symbol of the city. There are also some retail window models. Since they aren’t wearing anything, we don’t know if the clothing was sold off of their backs or if the owner was too busy with the sale to dress them!

The last two photos are from the Doubletree Hotel in Lisbon. The first of the two is remarkable in that breakfast is from 7-10:30, and around 8:30 am, a singer/guitarist started to serenade us! At breakfast! In a hotel! The last picture…you may ask, why did you include a prison? It is the hallway of our hotel. Yep, believe it or not. The hotel used to be an old ironworks factory, so they decided to go for a black iron look. As we rode in the elevator with another couple this morning, the woman remarked, “time to return to our cells.” We laughed, as that was exactly what we thought it looked like. Most. Depressing. Hotel. Corridor. Ever.

Day 609 of Traveling the World, Sintra, Portugal. Part 1. October 13, 2019.

Sintra! Magical Sintra! It is a Disneyland for history buffs, not to be believed, and if you are ever in Portugal, NOT to be missed! Of all the places we have traveled during our time together, Sintra is the place we have talked about more than any other, and we remembered so much of what we saw here, 12 years ago. It was very familiar to us, even though it has been a long time.

This is Part 1 of Glorious Sintra. When we tried to load all the photos that we wanted to share with you, the site crashed several times. So, a divided day it will be.

Sintra…the city, not just a site in it….is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has four castles/palaces, numerous estates, a beautiful Old Town, gardens, villas, and 19th century Romanticist architecture. Everywhere you turn, there is something to photograph. This first section is one of our favorite places on earth, Quinta da Regaleira, a palace built between 1904 and 1910 by a wealthy merchant named Carvalho Monteiro. He wanted a lush, bewildering place where he could include items reflecting his ideologies, and a place that was romantic. The many buildings hold symbols relating to alchemy, Masonry, the Rosicrucians, and the Knights Templar.

The actual residential palace is festooned with gargoyles, spires, pinnacles, an octagonal tower, carved stone, and “gingerbread” features around all the windows and doorways, as you can see in the first photo. But….the palace is by no means the most memorable part of the estate. It is the rest of the property that you remember most vividly. Imagination, whimsy, and imagery are everything here. Photos 2-5 are from the interior of the palace, to give you an idea of how the theme of “over-the-top” is carried out. Each ceiling was made of carved wood or decorated plaster. In the maroon-colored room, that is not wallpaper; each decoration, in rows, is glued to the wall and is three-dimensional.

But then the fun starts! Out to the gardens! Built on a hill that you can climb via wide walking paths or small winding paths through the shrubs, in the garden you come upon many items built just to be whimsical. There are many fountains, as well as small caves with standing water, which we made into a quartet photo. Likewise, there is a photo quartet of stone benches, carved from the rock itself. There is a full chapel…pretty large for one family! At most levels on the way uphill are mosaic-decorated fountains and covered sitting areas, and all over are tiny castles and towers with staircases, turrets, windows, and ways to climb and enjoy them. You are free to do anything here, climb anywhere. No place is roped off, and there are zero prohibitions!

The dark picture is a labyrinth, which winds around and uphill in complete blackness for quite some distance. When you take a wrong branch, you wind up in a dead end! It was a lot of fun, but was built out of the mountain, so it was all rock and was a bit damp inside. The first circular well you see is called the Initiation Well, and there is an entry at the top to make your way down inside, in a circle, poking your head out of all of those arches. The second well is similar, but is a little cruder. It is called the Imperfect Well, and likewise you can enter at the top and walk to the bottom, passing by all the cut-out stone “windows” and waving like crazy! They are both very imaginative. There are lots of carvings, and the entire place is just a “Wow!” experience. You can hardly believe your eyes, due to the “too-muchness.”

We will say, that when we were here in 2007, we had the grounds almost to ourselves. Word about Sintra hadn’t yet gotten out. Neither of us can remember paying an entrance fee, but we remarked that every castle and palace in Sintra should charge something, or a little more than they do, so that the fee can be used as a preservation fee. This time, we had to wait in the ticket line for about 30 minutes! We were amazed at all the buses, cars, and people. After all, this is shoulder season, not the middle of summer. There is an outdoor cafe for lunch and coffee, and it was filled with visitors. It is in the mid-70s here, so a beautiful day for exploring the Quinta Palace. Part 2 of Sintra is yet to come!

Day 607 of Traveling the World, Lisbon, Portugal. October 11, 2019.

We’re on the edge of the world! At least, that is what Europeans thought when they reached the western end of the continent, right here in Portugal. We were last in Lisbon 12 years ago, and it has been fun rediscovering places we had visited at that time. Much of the city looks the same, though…nothing new…the old buildings look old, and the new buildings are beautiful. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the second-oldest European capital after Athens, predating other capitals by centuries! Iron Age people lived here from the 8th to 6th centuries BC.

On the banks of the Tagus River is the Praca do Comercio, a huge historic square, complete with a gorgeous arch, statue, and arched colonnades in the city’s best-known yellow square, as seen in the first five photos. Exquisite, and cars used to park all around the statues..there is an old photo on display showing many VW Beetles parked there.

After those is Belem Tower, a 16th century fortification that acted as both a ceremonial gateway to the city and a fortress. The area was very busy with photos and selfies galore being taken. Following that, a short distance away, is one of the city’s most-visited landmarks, Jeronimos Monastery, now a museum and covered in towers, spires, gargoyles, and gingerbread! It is magnificent to see. It was the site for the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, forming the constitutional basis of the European Union.

Following the photos of Jeronimos are three shots of the Lisbon Cathedral. The cathedral is a mix of different architectural styles, as it has gone through many earthquakes and each time was rebuilt and remodeled. Next up is Santa Justa Lift, established at the turn of the 20th century because Lisbon is a city of hills! Everyone huffs and puffs when going UP, so the elevator was designed to ease the strain, with exits onto different levels at the rear. As you can see, it is also used as an observation deck, with views of the city and the Tagus River.

After the lift is a photo with two attractions in one. The Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge spans the Tagus River and reminds most people of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. At the end you can see a monument in honor of the death of Henry the Navigator of Portugal, erected in 1960. The picture following that is another of the Tagus River. In closing, there are two photos of buildings covered in tiles, Portuguese azulejos. Most buildings are! Some buildings have been stripped of their tiles, and they look very nude and sad. Others have not been kept up, and are quite dingy and moldy. These two are shining examples, however, of the beauty of tile!

Day 605 of Traveling the World, Braga, Portugal. October 9, 2019.

This is on a list of “Places to See Before You Die,” since Braga is known as the Portuguese Rome. It is good to be back in Portugal once again! Braga was founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago and was known as Bracara Augusta. There are still archaeological remains of Roman baths and settlements in the middle of the city. It is very beautiful and charming. There are churches every few feet, it seems, along with many plazas, official buildings with towers and turrets, and houses covered in gorgeous azulejos, Portuguese decorative tile that is a hallmark of the country’s architecture. You can see them on buildings in every city here.

First up in our photos, and usually first on every tourist’s list, is Bom Jesus da Monte. Located about two miles outside of Braga, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and simply put….there are no words to describe it. The first photo shows only a fraction of the 640 steps to get to the church! Before this, there are switchback stairs that wind through woods. Every staircase unit of about 30 steps had chapels on either side depicting Biblical scenes….the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven, St. Peter assuming leadership of the church, etc. There are what seems like hundreds of statues leading up to, and then surrounding, the various upper plazas of the church. The third photo is a shot downhill of some of the statues and the city below. Following that is the ornate interior of the church, with a magnificent chandeliered dome and lots of gold. There is a side altar with busts of too many saints to count! And, there is a glass case with the remains of St. Clement. The funicular you see is one of very few in the world, and runs up the entire mountain. The cars run at the same time, one going up the hill while the other goes down. The one coming down is weighted with water, powering the lighter one up the tracks.

After the funicular is Braga Cathedral, followed by the coffins of some of its beloved ancestors. Then, there is the Garden of St. Barbara with arches left from the old Archbishop’s Palace. We don’t know why two angel statues are sleeping on the ground.

After those are all the rest of the photos: some walkways and streets we passed; the Arco da Porto Nova, an old city gate designed by a Braga-based sculptor in the 18th century; a whimsical sculpture; many churches; the tower of the old castle; some azulejo-tiled houses, a gorgeous fountain in one of the squares. The final photo is one with the letters spelling Braga, and our magnificent hotel is behind it. The building started out as a convent, and inside, looks like one, with many arched colonnades and porticos. It was then converted to a hospital, and became a hotel/restaurant in 2011. It is such a unique city. It follows Spanish tradition, though: everything is open, then closes for part of the afternoon (except Asian restaurants!), then reopens late, and stays open past midnight. At our last hotel, the man checking us in said that 99 percent of Westerners say that it is very difficult for them not to eat dinner until 8:00 pm or later. We agree!