quarta-feira, maio 09, 2018

A nice holiday in Portugal, Spain and Paris

I usually consider a holiday to be truly fulfilling when I leave my familiar surroundings, travel some place I've never been to, discover new sights (and, if I'm lucky, new people). But sometimes it feels just as good to revisit familiar places, especially in good company - the joy of seeing and experiencing again can be just as good as the pleasure of seeing anew. And that's what I did this time, the occasion was a visit from a dear Aussie friend - - someone who showed me his country in two fantastic and unforgettable roadtrips (and whose acquaintance is one of the many reasons I'll always be grateful to Facebook), and to whom I looked forward to share some of my Europe with.

So I started by playing the tourist in Lisbon, something I rarely do, numbed by the familiarity of driving through it every day. But it is really a beautiful city, especially under the clear spring light - the red roofs, the cobblestone streets, the lively squares with café terraces, the Baixa, Chiado, Belém, etc. And of course the tasty food and wine. I felt happy walking around my city, showing famous sights like Jerónimos, the Belém tower, the castle hill, the belvedere in Graça, the Gulbenkian museum, the modern architecture at the Expo 98 site - they have become very (sometimes too) touristic, but there are good reasons for that. I dislike the tacky shops that are taking over the Baixa and the crowds in Belém, but it's still a remarkable city, and I was proud of it.

The weather was beautiful, and then I showed him the Cascais line, Guincho, Azenhas-do-Mar and the Capuchos convent in Sintra; another day was spent visiting Cabo Espichel, Sesimbra and the Arrábida, where we had a great fish lunch at Portinho.

My friend is a great admirer of Islamic architecture (and a keen fan of Game of Thrones) so then we went on a roadtrip to Andalusia. We stopped in Évora, Monsaraz and the Alqueva, gloriously beautiful in spring, and stayed at Seville, where we visited the town and the Alcazar, the shooting place of Dorne in Game of Thrones. Ate a lot of calamares and oxtail, and enjoyed the lively sevillian street life.

From Seville we went to Granada, one of my favourite Spanish cities. The Albaicin, the walk by the Darro, the Alhambra at sunset, everything was as beautiful as I remembered it from my visit exactly 10 years ago. I hadn't visited the Realejo, the old Jewish quarter, before, and it was a joy to walk up its narrow and winding stairs.

After Granada, Cordoba. The city is beautiful, and the Great Mosque one of the most amazing buildings I ever saw, with its forest of columns and its unique bending of styles - Roman columns supporting Islamic arches and then Gothic reliefs. And we got a treat of a contest of Flamenco dances by young people at the Plaza de las Tendillas, lots of fun.

Near Cordoba, we visited the castle of Almodóvar del Rio, Highgarden in Game of Thrones, a restored castle overlooking a beautiful Spanish landscape.

Then back to Portugal, driving by beautiful olive groves and vineyards. A visit to Sintra, the amazing National Palace (probably my favourite Portuguese palace) and the Quinta da Regaleira, an early 20th century folly with lovely gardens and the romantic well.

To end the holidays, nothing could be better than a few days in Paris, in a glorious spring weather. We stayed at he Marais, one of my favourite Parisian neighbourhoods, and walked miles and miles - along the Rive Gauche (Saint-Germain-des-Prés, etc), the Champs-Elysées, the Île Saint-Louis. I love Paris, and never get tired of it.

We visited the Musée Picasso, that had fascinated me some 20 years ago. It has been extensively renovated since, and I missed many of his '20s paintings and the Las Niñas studies that I had so much admired then, but I guess they haven't enough space to show their whole collection, and there was a very good exhibition about the Guernica.

Paris, Granada, Cordoba, Seville. Lisbon... and good company. Can one ask for something better?

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