Thinking about Spain and Portugal
Thinking about Spain and Portugal.
Usually when one thinks about Europe, one tends to look for France, Switzerland, Germany or other charming western European countries. Spain and Portugal are not considered typical western European nations. And rightly so. Bordered by the Pyrenees from France, the Iberian countries are culturally, climatically and socially very different from the rest. So when I started thinking about Spain, the first think that came to my mind was the Greatest Empire ever built. Spain, at one point of time, controlled more land area than any other nation ever. It has left its distinctive imprint on half the world and its language and culture has become subtly prevalent, globally challenging the English and US influences. As a country, Spain is not small, and very diverse. Despite lording over nearly half the world for 500 years, Spain does not come across as a cohesive, efficient colonising gargantuan, much unlike Britain. It is often unsure and mercurial. Its history is replete with conquests, wars, revolutions, upheavals which are counterbalanced by some of the most stunning art, architecture, culture, sports and natural beauty. So, I decided Spain it was to be! And Portugal? Well, that little country by its side, which we know so well, thanks to Goa? I decided to invade Portugal as well for five days, a little tit - for - tat for their 500 year rule over Goa.
Making itineraries is taxing. Big cities grapple for the lions share of the time while tiny off the way destinations tempt you. After much research and curtailing and cost calculation I was able to trim the destinations to no less than 6 cities in Spain. Ah! as for Portugal - 3! Looking at the map of Iberian peninsula, Madrid sits right in the centre. Which is both an advantage and a challenge. Crisscrossing the country, one will hit Madrid multiple times which was not an alluring thought for me. So I chose Madrid's sexier, glamorous rival, Barcelona as port of entry to Spain. Which of course meant a circuitous and expensive flight from Mumbai. Valencia is a city which does its own thing. And after much debating I decided to give it a stopover primarily enticed by the Oceanografic. A super fast train ride of less than 2 hours would then take me to Madrid. I allotted it 3 days. A long 5 hour road journey would take me to the medieval wonders of Granada which almost everyone agrees is a must see. A short hop from Granada to Malaga further in Andalusia. I had planned to take in Sevilla but then the prices were just too high so I settled for its quiet reassuring suburb of Carmona. It is a charming little medieval town and I hoped to see the Alcazar as a day trip. Sorry, Sevilla, another time!
From Sevilla, I planned to take a five hour bus route to the jewel of Algarve in Portugal, Lagos. Apart from its name, it is nothing like the megalopolis in Nigeria. Beaches and limestone caves are what it specialises in. A tenuous train journey with a change at Tunes, would then take me charming Lisboa (not Lisbon - Lisboa it is!!!). And then to top up my Lusitania journey I would take the ultra fast train to Porto. See the Duoro river and taste the Port wine. The flight back was going to be tumultuous via Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi all thanks to the sinking of Jet Airways.
And what would I have seen in these 16 days? I hoped to see cultural hallmarks of Spain and Portugal, architectural wonders, busy streaming metropolises, marine life, historical places, beaches, flamenco, serene boat rides and yes, bullfights. In short a quick but deep peep into the soul of empire builders, now much into decay yet bashing on, regardless!