The Conquest of Spain: The Final Chapter

I don’t know why I got such a kick out of this, but after it rained in Mallorca we noticed everything was coated with sand. We talked with some locals and learned that the sand is from the Sahara desert. It gets lifted up by the wind, crosses the Mediterranean, and enriches the pocketbooks of car wash owners all over Spain.

Poor little Marco the Polo didn’t know what to make of it, but since he couldn’t shake himself off like a dog, he just had to deal. Quit being such a big baby, Marco.

Anyway, maybe I got a kick out of it because the Sahara is surely the world’s most famous desert. It is in fact the earth’s largest “hot desert” (so described because the Antarctic and Arctic are both classified as deserts, and they are both larger than the Sahara, plus just a tad cooler), so that alone makes it impressive.

Or maybe it’s just from all of the movies I’ve seen that either featured the Sahara or were set in it. From Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in 1962 to Lawrence of Arabia in 1963 to The Mummy in 1999, the Sahara has provided an almost mystical backdrop to many a film. And there we were with the Sahara’s very own sand having dusted our little car like powdered sugar on a donut. After I climbed into Marco to drive, I felt like Lawrence of Arabia, and would have shouted his catch phrase if I knew one that he had used. (“Go camels?”) I don’t even know what Ali Baba might have said. So I sang “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, partly to acknowledge we weren’t in Kansas anymore and partly because that’s the only desert-y song I could think of. Carolyn doesn’t let me sing for very long though.

Google Maps provided us with a little history of our trip. The stop on the border is a town called Badajoz, which is now best known for being a conduit between Portugal and Spain, but apparently doesn’t deserve to have a name on a Google Map. We stopped there to buy some corn chips we can’t find in Portugal, so you’d think that alone would be deserving of some Google Map recognition, but nooo. I gotta tell ya, Google is so political!

Due to Carolyn’s balky calf, we only stayed one night in Barcelona. Since the hotel was relatively close to the Sagrada Família, a famous cathedral, we decided to test her leg power and make the 15 minute (per Google maps) walk to see the thing. 40 minutes later, we finally made it to the Cathedral. It was then that we knew we had made the right decision to stay only one night. The only time I can consistently walk that slow is when she is admonishing me while holding a wooden spoon and saying, “come here!”

We did see this while we were driving. We think it’s a bull fighting stadium. Neither of us are interested whatsoever to see a bullfight, but we understand they’re quite the spectacle. I doubt the bulls appreciate it much, though.
This looked kinda cool so we snapped a picture of it. I guess that could be the default caption for every damn picture we take.
Unlike the previous two, this one actually has an interesting story despite the fact that it looks the most boring. The hill there is basically one entire cemetery. I wish you could see it better, but at first glance I thought it was a weird kind of condominium complex, because lots of windows were facing us, glinting fiercely in the sun. It was only after closer inspection that we could see all those windows were part of the rows and rows of crypts lining the hillside. We’ve seen plenty of crypts in Portugal that have windows, apparently so you can double check that the caskets inside haven’t been ripped open by the undead. I’m not really sure why anyone actually needs to see the coffins, but I suppose that’s the only reason I can think of to ever buy a fancy coffin. Otherwise, it is so silly that people pay a ton of money for something that’s just going to be buried.

In any case, we learned that it’s very expensive to be interred there, but despite that, lots of people are still dying to get in.

Of course I had to go there. What did you think, you were reading a Fodors travel guide?
You might be wondering why we’re posting a picture of a plain ol’ bridge. Well, it’s because the train that was on it went by so fast that by the time Carolyn got her phone out it was halfway to Madrid. But I wanted the reminder because as the train whizzed by into the sunset I remember thinking, “Boy oh boy, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!” (Neither the state or the rock group.) Between the beautiful arts and sciences buildings such as in Valencia, and the numerous parks, bike lanes, and hi-speed trains in so many big, beautiful European cities, Spain and much of Europe clearly demonstrates how it can be, and should be, done. Are you listening Topeka?

The only real excitement we had was on the original drive to Valencia, whereby we passed a gas station on the left that I had thought about stopping in, but due to the way the road was designed we would have had to drive another 1/2 a kilometer or so and do a U turn to get to it. So I thought, “Aw the heck with it, I’ll hit the next one.” Naturally, that turned out to be the longest stretch of road with no gas stations that we experienced during the entire trip. So I’m occasionally and surreptitiously glancing at the gas gauge trying to calculate whether less than a 1/4 of a tank will get us to the next town, which looks like a lot of kilometers away. But then I notice Carolyn is now nervously glancing at the gauge about every 30 seconds. Outwardly, I assure her everything is under control and that we have plenty of gas. “Stop fretting, honey. Everything’s fine! We’d probably be able to make it all the way to Valencia on what we’ve got!”

But inwardly I’m thinking, “HOLY SHIT WE’RE OUT HERE ALL ALONE AND IF WE RUN OUT OF GAS WE COULD BE 100 KILOMETERS FROM THE NEXT GAS STATION! I’M NOT SURE WE’RE GOING TO MAKE IT!!!” Fortunately, it all worked out, as we are obviously alive and well and able to tell the tale as to how we avoided dismemberment at the hands of a crazed Spaniard who walks the remotest highways looking for people who run out of gas. Phew!

On the drive back, we avoided any more life-threatening disasters, but we did experience a lot of bull. You see, during almost every long drive we take Carolyn manages to find some sort of consistent theme to keep her busy snapping pictures. Sometimes it’s a series of signs that are interesting. Sometimes it’s stork nests. Sometimes it’s castles from afar. This time it was a bunch of bulls. All around Spain are these bull silhouettes, apparently leftovers from a marketing scheme for brandy. The promotion is long over, but the bulls captured the imagination of Spaniards countrywide, and so they live on, dotting the countryside with their black bullishness and providing hours of fun for in-car photographers named Carolyn.

And if you’ve made it this far, you deserve to see the best picture of the bunch, one I don’t even need to come up with a caption for!

Mallorca- where killer whales go to shop

Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as a mall for orcas. The internet killed all their biggest shopping centers, duh.

Of course, Mallorca (known in English as “Majorca” because Americans hate it when Spanish people pronounce double L’s) is an island off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea (or as Christopher Columbus called it, “The Pacific Ocean”).

Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic Islands, which are part of Spain but are autonomous. As far as I can tell, I think means about the same thing as when a 10-year-old boy shouts, “you can’t tell me what to do!” at his parents.

It’s a beautiful, sun-drenched island that looked plenty prosperous to us, despite the hit to tourism Covid delivered. The capital of Palma is modern and thriving; its airport is one of the busiest in Spain.

As mentioned in the previous entry, Carolyn had an unfortunate accident while in Mallorca, as you can see in the picture with the spinning killer whale. They never should have allowed an untrained spectator to stand next to an orca (or as I like to call them, “the pandas of the seas.”)

Actually, no matter how she injured her calf muscle, it meant that we had to spend the last half of our visit lounging around the pool sipping margaritas. Sometimes good things come from tragedies. We did get to see some of Mallorca before the incident as well as on our drive back to the ferry, so it was all good.

(I might have tried to sell you on the idea that she exacerbated her injury with this video of a sea lion’s playfulness, but as everyone knows, that’s the wrong breed of sea lion for Mallorca. Although it serves that girl right for wearing a dress that looks like a fish.)

Now for the pictures:

Shortly after driving off the ferry after our overnight journey, Palma greeted us with this sunrise over the harbor. A welcome to a city doesn’t get much more picturesque than this!
We tried everything we could to break in so we could find the famous “Mallorcan Treasure Hidden in a Castle” everyone’s heard so much about, but to no avail.
So we had to settle for getting creative with our picture taking, peering through “windows” like Peeping Thomasinas. Although we’re getting to the age whereby if the opening were any lower, we might need to buzz our “Help! We’ve fallen and we can’t get up!” emergency beacon.
We also risked our lives just driving to the place. This photo doesn’t do it any justice, but the road was narrow and zigzagged up the mountain often with little to no barriers between the car and certain death. We did a Google Translate on the sign in the foreground, and it came up with, “Holy shit!”
Speaking of signs, one of the many things we learned while here is that in Mallorca (and Barcelona for that matter), the main language is Catalan. I figured that Catalan might be easy to learn because obviously this sign is telling you that it’s prohibited to a-park-a-da-car. I parked there anyway because we always have the excuse that we’re stupid Americans who don’t understand foreign signs, and that red thing was covering up the picture so we couldn’t make out what that was all about either, unless it was telling you not to tailgate tow trucks.
You can’t really tell from this photo, but Marco the VW Polo is trembling in his parking spot, because just over that barrier is a steep drop that would surely smush him to bits should he accidentally drive over it. I made double sure he was fully in reverse when we left. Marco enjoys being with us on some of our trips, but he’s a little bit of a crybaby sometimes.
The area around these picnic tables can make for an exciting time, like if you’re playing catch and you miss the ball, and it ends up at the bottom of the mountain a couple of miles away. Roly-poly babies probably should be looked after as well in order to avoid the same fate. I think that’s why Spanish babies are so skinny, so they don’t roll.
After all that exploring, we certainly deserved a beer!

(This is the camera footage I took of the way Carolyn actually hurt her calf.)

We had a lot o’ Spainin’ to do Lucy!

After a long, Covid-driven hiatus from traveling, June 2021 saw us finally able to get back on the road. Woo hoo!

Since air travel is still a bit of a pain in the buttooski, and because both Portugal and Spain offer plenty of things to see only a car ride away, we decided to bop over to Valencia, Spain, and then take Marco the VW Polo on an overnight ferry to Mallorca and then return through Barcelona, where we’d spend 4 or 5 days, with a possible stop in either Madrid or Toledo on the drive back.

Unfortunately, a bit of bad luck derailed some of our best-laid plans. Halfway through our stay in Mallorca, Carolyn hit the dance floor – and um, I mean, she literally hit the dance floor, and pulled or possibly tore a calf muscle while attempting a 360º back flip tango twist, or whatever you’d call the more elderly equivalent.

As a result, we didn’t see as many things in Mallorca as we planned, because, y’know, I wouldn’t want to be seen in public walking next to someone limping, for Pete’s sake. I have my pride! For the same reason, we decided to cut the Barcelona stay down to one night and make the 12 hour drive home the next day, where her damaged body could be hidden inside the car. I panicked a little when I thought of potty breaks (and she rudely refused my suggestion of a coffee can, which they don’t even have in Europe anyway, but still). In the end, it all actually worked out fine because I could slump down in the car while pulling my face mask over my entire face as she limped into the various gas stations.

The good news is that it proved one of the great things about living here for travel… instead of panicking at the idea that we’d never see Barcelona the way we wanted, we’ll just go back sometime! The other good news is that her leg healed up better than we were worried it might. So all is well, and here we are back to bloggin’ about our travels! Plus now I only have to wear the mask to protect against Covid again!

Valencia is one of the oldest cities in Spain (founded by the Romans… not sure who losted it before them), and is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia as well as the third-largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona. When we decided it would make a good launching pad to Mallorca, we looked at the things to do and see in the various travel sites. Generally, when I look at those lists and find an assortment of parks, churches, or zoos anywhere near the top, I figure the city probably doesn’t need a lot of our time, and that’s what Valencia looked like to us before we arrived.

However, while a couple of days was mostly enough to see the highlights, we found Valencia to be a delightful city, with a very nice combination of ultra-modern arts & sciences buildings and an old town area that was full of charm. We could have spent more time there, but at least we can put a check mark by the name. Another city bites the Sasquatch dust!

So now we’re off to the pictures:

First, we had to be allowed through by this gargoyle who was guarding one of the bridges. As you can see, Carolyn thought it was handsome and charming. Come to think of it, she says the same thing about me. Hmmm…

I was going to make a joke about a fish face in regards to the picture to the right, but Carolyn is much too pretty to be thought of as having one of those.

But the building behind her does in fact look like a fish face, or maybe a clamshell.

But there’s actually nothing fishy about it: it’s called the “Palacio de las Artes Reina Sofía” in Spanish, or the “Queen Sofía Palace of the Arts” in Hindi, or whatever it is we usually speak. It is, in fact, an opera house, and actually is the tallest opera house in the world. Which is a little bit like someone bragging about sporting the world’s largest pimple, if you ask me. Unless you like opera, in which case I was just kidding.

It is also used for a variety of concerts, political rallies, and clamshell collector exhibitions.

After marveling at ol’ fish lips, we walked past a building that looks like the back of a fish. I’m detecting a theme! This is the Prince Philip Science Museum. Both of these buildings are part of an area called the City of Arts and Sciences. We didn’t go inside either one because one is, well, an opera house, so c’mon. Also, the line of people waiting to get into the science museum looked like the fish was expelling an obscenely long tapeworm. Plus we generally don’t travel to exotic cities to see their science museums (although we have). Aquariums might be a different story though, we’ll see.

This is a view from another angle. I wasn’t kidding about the fish thing, it is described as “resembling the skeleton of a whale.” I wonder how many guys named Jonah wander through there and feel creeped out?

The Palau de la Música de València is a concert, cinema, arts, and exhibition hall. There are numerous beautiful parks in Valencia; we were impressed. Lots of bike lanes too. It’s a very progressive city.
One of the buildings in the City of Arts and Sciences is an IMAX dome. I’m not sure if this is that or not, but I thought it was a really cool building, complete with an area filled with palm trees where it looks like you can ponder that statue of what appears to be a guy poling in a river while being served piña coladas by topless waitresses as you listen to reggae on your headset and have your feet rubbed by Oompa Loompas. Well, maybe not, but a man can dream, can’t he?

Of course, I’ll be a little red-faced if it turns out to be a kid’s play area.

We spent a day wandering around the old town area of Valencia, and found it full of charm. Maybe that was only because we were there, though. I’m sure the charm level dropped significantly after we left.

Valencia is filled with lots of art and whimsy. It took us a little while to figure out what this was. Eventually we realized it was a kid’s play structure, designed to look like a guy who just lost a sword fight. His sword is on the ground, and I think his gutted liver is hemorrhaging all over the sand. It took us a while to figure all that out because there were no kids on it, either because of Covid or because all the parents of Valencia figured out what it was. I mean, really? We think the Spanish might be a little loco. Mom: “Did you dance on the guts of the fallen swordsman today, Matías?” Matías: “Naw, I just slid out of his anus to scare the girls.” Mom: “Oh, Matías, is that a rip in your new brown pants? ” Matías: “Oh no, I might’ve rectum!”

If my kids ever read this blog, they’d be eye rolling over that joke, big time.

In the same area is the “Mercat Central,” which shouldn’t be confused with the meerkat section of a zoo. Additionally, as far as I could see, they don’t even serve meerkat meat there, which makes it seem like false advertising. In any case, while it’s a beautiful building, inside was just another indoor market like so many we’ve seen in Portugal and elsewhere.

However, the copywriter for the market’s website suffers from no such complacency:

It has already been held 100 years since the placement of the first stone and 90 from the first day that was opened to the public. “The Cathedral of the Senses”. There is no better expression to convey what is the Central Market today. A sacred temple where the professors of the fresh products receive and transmit the wisdom of the most substantial, our nourishment. The magical light that enters from its dome and its windows, the permanent whisper that caresses the ears, the explosion of colors and aromas, the taste at the end of the classic and timeless flavors, mixed with the most surprising. A genuine theme park for gastronomy.

I’d love to see that guy describe an outhouse.

Fountains and beautiful monuments pepper the city like, um pepper. The scofflaws that we are, we pulled down the mandatory masks so we would know who we were taking a picture of later on in our old age. Which is about now, but anyway. The end result is that in the picture on the left I look like I just had chin surgery, but hey, you’re not here for my physical beauty. At least you better not be.

No visit to an old European city would be complete without popping into one of their grand cathedrals. This is inside the Valencia Cathedral, most of which was built between the 13th century and the 15th century. The style was mainly Gothic, which is like Goth except with an ic on the end.

Speaking of ic, this is the long-dead arm of a saint (he’s known as One-Armed Pablo in heaven). Or maybe it’s just from one of the workers who misunderstood when a co-worker asked him to lend a hand, and he overshot a little. Maybe the co-worker should’ve just asked to give him the finger. Actually, this may be on display as a warning. Churches often ask for an arm and a leg.

Just a cool tree.

Last but not least, part of the City of Arts and Sciences included the Oceanografic Valencia, which is billed as Europe’s largest aquarium. I promised one of my best friends that I would go see it because he was unable to on his last visit to Valencia. We were fortunate that the crowds were so sparse due to Covid. However, I think the “Europe’s largest aquarium” thing is a little misleading, in that it is really more Sea World than aquarium. But we enjoyed the visit and the seafood, which, apparently, we weren’t supposed to fish out and cook up. Oh well, we’re just stupid Americans so we get all sorts of free passes.

After all that exploring, we certainly deserved a beer (or three, by the looks of the water rings)!