Spain

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    Spain-Portugal Road Trip Map & Highlights

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    It was the second week of May, just ahead of the Spanish summer, when we touched down in Madrid to embark on a road trip, a kind of pear-shaped circle, around Spain and Portugal. It was our first time in this part of the world (although it had been a long-standing place-marker on our wish list), we were armed with only a cryptic guidebook or two, with no expectations.

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    San Sebastian Spain

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    It’s named after a saint. It’s on the Bay of Biscay in the north of Spain. And it’s near the French border. That’s San Sebastián. Europeans love the city for its powder-sand beaches. When the sun shines, the sea is the colour of Indian turquoise. So, yes, there’s kind of a surf culture here. But there’s also a gentle elegance to San Sebastián with its Belle Epoque flourishes.

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    Bilbao Guggenheim Spain

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    When you mention Bilbao, most people think immediately of the Guggenheim Museum designed by Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry. It is quite awe-inspiring. Daring. Almost architecturally impossible with its supple metal curves gleaming gold, copper, silver, depending on how the light strokes its surfaces. And, indeed, this building was what really lifted Bilbao out of its bleak industrial slump of the 1990s.

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    Haro Rioja photo essay

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    Haro (silent ‘h’) is all about Rioja wine … those luscious, juicy Tempranillo, Grenache and Carignan (among other cultivars) reds. Hey, Ernest Hemingway liked it enough to hang out for a while. And where else is there a yearly Batalla del Vino, a battle of wine, staged on a nearby mountain where the townsfolk dress in white, then raucously lob fermented red juice over each other from buckets and wineskins?

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    Salamanca Photo Essay

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    Ah, Salamanca. I can think of no other city with an identity so entwined in learning and graceful university architecture and boisterous student life … the one simply doesn’t exist without the other. Certainly, we’re talking of the Old Quarter here, but that’s where the soul and heart of Salamanca lie.

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    Seville photo essay

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    Sun-drenched and hot ꟷ mid-May it was a healthy 37°C at 5 p.m.! ꟷ Seville’s streets are lined with heat-embracing bougainvillea, jacaranda and oleander. But you can also escape into the city’s immensely narrow, always cobbled, streets with their furtive glimpses into leafy courtyards brimming with blooms. That said, we were always thoroughly lost in Seville, in spite of carrying a map.

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    Alhambra photo essay

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    Full disclosure here. When we first stood at the high point of San Nicolás Plaza to look across at the hill on which the Alhambra is built, I wondered quietly to myself what the fuss was all about. After all, we were staring at Spain's most poeticised historical palace and fortress sprawled in front of the purple-blue Sierra Nevada. Which, incidentally, in May still showed veins of snow.

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    Córdoba photo essay

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    The old Roman-walled town of Córdoba took us completely by surprise. Admittedly we like to arrive in new, unexplored places a little under-researched so that we can get under their skin, without too many preconceived ideas. We prefer to wander and absorb the energy and (try to) act like a local. All the same, we didn’t expect Córdoba to be so charming and historically rich.

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    Madrid’s Graffiti

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    During a four-day stay in Spain’s capital city, what immediately struck us was the proliferation of graffiti (admittedly not in the chi-chi shopping precincts). But this was graffiti elevated to real funky street art. When I delved a little further, it was fascinating to learn about La Movida Madrileña, a spontaneous creative movement that swelled after the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco.

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    Impressions of Madrid

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    Even diehard lovers of the African continent, its wonderful wildness and untamed animal life, need to venture into the refined air and sophistication of Europe so now and again ꟷ and that’s just what Gravel Road Adventures did in May this year. Destination Spain and Portugal. It was a 3,000 km road trip, executed in a wide circle from Madrid

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