Saturday, May 18, 2013

Spain, part 1

Hello friends!

We're back from Spain and it was really a great vacation.  We crammed a lot into a week, so perhaps it wasn't the most restful trip, but on the other hand, looking back, there's nothing I wish we'd let out, so I guess we did it right.

We flew into Madrid two Tuesdays ago, rented a car and headed straight out of town.  Our first stop was the town of Trujillo (for those of you not so up on Spanish pronunciation, it's "true-hee-yo"), a small town in the Extremadura region.  Although our guidebook says that Trujillo has a population just under 10,000, it makes up for the quiet feel by being an old city.  It still has its city walls, and the oldest part of the city within the walls is full of churches and homes and such from medieval Spain.  The city was the home of conquistador Francisco Pizarro, and so apparently the town became much richer after he brought back plundered American wealth and a number of churches, etc. were built after his time in Trujillo.  There are carvings and statues of him in the main square, which is cool I guess, but current historical interpretations being what they are, we felt it a bit odd to be commemorating a hero responsible for such wholesale slaughter. 

A view of Trujillo from a church tower.
  By the time we parked and checked into the hotel, it was pretty late, but luckily everything operates on Spanish time, and we were still able to pop into one church and one castle.  And by castle I mean the walls of a 10th century Islamic fortress, called an Alcazaba (a generic name for this sort of Moorish castle; we saw several Alcazabas during our week in Spain, and to be honest, they were pretty similar.  Although I guess in all fairness, it's not surprising that only the walls are left after 1000 years).
Trujillo's Alcazaba, towering over the town
 We got to the Alcazaba 15 minutes before it closed and were given a very clear warning by the gatekeeper that if we weren't in sight at 8, she would have to close up anyway, and since the gate was very large and very metal, and the walls were very high and not so good for scaling down, we were very careful to not get too distracted. But it still was fun to wander around the battlements and the views of the surrounding area were great.  We also enjoyed puzzling over all the random signs of the place's long history; the statue of Mary in the tower's window, the inscriptions in the stones fixed here and there on the walls, so many little details to admire.

Greek? Latin? Ancient Spanish? We couldn't tell, but wondered what this stone could tell us if it could talk (or we could read its inscription)
After leaving the Alcazaba, we wandered aimlessly through the lovely ancient streets, admiring all sorts of things before making our way back to the Pizarro statue and the Plaza Mayor for our first Spanish dinner, which was honestly a bit disappointing. But, we sat outside in a large plaza in Spain watching the storks nesting on top of 500+ year old buildings, which was really great.
Storks nesting on the church roof near the Plaza Mayor
 The next morning, Sasha got up early in an attempt to see Bustards (big brown birds that are exciting both for their size and the fact that the males turn their feathers all about during courtship in a move referred to quite excitingly as a foam bath) but alas, he saw no bustards, foam bathing or otherwise.  He then returned for our first disappointing Spanish hotel breakfast (fruit, packaged pastries and toast with cold tomato smoosh) after which we hit the road for our next stop, the National Park Monfragüe. To be honest, this park was one of the major reasons we flew into Madrid and not somewhere further south, because all of Sasha's books say that Monfragüe is one of the best birding spots in Spain if not Europe and, low-key birder that I am, I actually am rather inclined to agree.  

Before the trip, I had envisioned Spain as being rather flat.  Sure, I had heard of the Sierra Nevadas and the Pyranees, but I assumed that they were the exception rather than the rule, and had pictured terrain more like the Dakotas.  Silly me.  Spain is hilly, even the flatter farmier parts (at least of the parts we visited).  The terrain reminded me much more of Utah or the foothills of Colorado, although in many ways it very clearly was not like anywhere in the States.  We saw multiple spots with snow-capped mountains, even in May.  While they aren't tremendously high, Spain does have a pretty warm climate, so I wasn't expecting to see snow at all.
Now, we didn't go into any real mountains and didn't touch any snow, but the terrain of Monfragüe was still impressive.  The park is basically the land around a river valley, and the river cuts through rocky cliffs, which are gorgeous in their own right.  Add to it very large birds nesting on those cliffs and it becomes national park material. 
Cliffs and river
 Full disclosure: those very large birds that the park is famous for are vultures.  We saw three different species of vulture at Monfragüe.  Sasha's going to post later to tell you all about the birds, so I won't tell you too much about them, but mostly we saw Griffon Vultures, and I never realized how huge vultures could be.  I will admit that I didn't expect to be excited by a bunch of carrion-feeders. I was surprised. Even with their odd bald heads, wheeling about in the sunlight, these guys are majestic and quite impressive.  The place was crawling with birders, too, making my husband feel quite at home.

People watching vultures

My husband watching vultures
I'm sorry we couldn't help you, fox, but you were very pretty.

 At Monfragüe, we also saw our largest wild mammals of the trip, a deer and a very sad looking fox that might have been hit by a car (it was alive, but didn't move off the road even when Sasha honked the horn).

We spent the day driving around looking at birds, and then to take a break, we hiked up a ridge to another Islamic castle to look at more birds.  Standing on the top of a castle tower on top of a ridge with vultures soaring right overhead was definitely a high-point of the trip.  Oh but who am I kidding, this trip had so many high-points it was like a mountain range.
Eventually, we decided it was time to head on, so we drove down to spend a night in Merida before heading to the coast.  Sasha will fill you in on the next part of our adventure when he gets a chance.

1 comment:

  1. Fun! I want more details about the food. TAPAS!