Category Archives: Spain

Top Ten Dumbest Web Search Questions

Vesuvius Postcard

“do flights landing in Naples fly over Vesuvius?”

Now, this seems to me to be an especially stupid question. I am not an expert on aviation or air traffic control but it seems very unlikely to me that aeroplane carrying over three hundred passengers landing at an international airport in Italy would want to fly over the top of a 1,300 metre high active volcano because it sounds full of potential hazards to me especially as the Naples airport is only ten miles or so from the crater and at this point would have an altitude of barely higher than the top of the mountain.

The page they were directed to was probably my post about my visit to the mountain.

Another dumb historical question next – “how wealthy are the Romanovs?” and dumb because most people know that the entire Romanov family were killed by the Bolsheviks in 1917 during the Russian revolution.

Russian_Royal_Family_1911_720px

There are some claimants to the titles of the Russian Tsars but even if they were confirmed to be true descendants they would be extremely unlikely to be wealthy because the Russian communist regime confiscated all their treasure, money and valuables.

I visited Russia in 2012 and posted about the fate of the Romanovs so I guess the enquirer might have ended up on my post about the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

Some time ago my favourite was can pubic hair grow more with regain?” and rather disappointingly I have nothing to really compete with that ever again.

I think this may have drawn the person with the question to my post about “Health and Efficiency” magazine

Actually that was a good thing about Health and Efficiency because there were never any pubic detail on show because until the mid 1970s this was strictly censored in British publishing.  In retrospect, the most striking thing about the models’ anatomy was that they were completely without pubic hair, or, for that matter, any other details associated with the genital area of the body.

They were as blank as an ancient Greek marble statue in that department, and in pre computer photo editing days, this was achieved by skilful use of an ‘air-brush’ applied directly to the photo before publication.

nude-croquet

Bottoms however were ok it seems…

Being a student of history I am going to begin with a selection of wildly inaccurate historical searches.

The first one is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?”  I think I am obliged to point out here straight away that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!

Birds of Shakespeare

I imagine that what the question referred to was really about starlings in the USA because here there is a connection.  The introduction of the starling to USA is said to be the responsibility of a man called Eugene Schiefflein who belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works on the basis that they thought it would be rather nice to hear the sound of Shakespeare’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of new world America.

Showing a similar lack of historical knowledge is my second search term, “Was El Cid a Muslim?”  Now, El Cid was the great Spanish hero of the Catholic Reconquista which drove the African Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula so I imagine any suggestion that he was a secret Muslim will have poor Charlton Heston spinning in his grave.

Following a visit to Castilla-La Mancha in 2009 I wrote a number of posts about El Cid and I expect the enquirer was sign posted to one of these.

El Cid 1

Next on my historical howlers list is Napoleon Monument in Moscow” What? In his periods of sanity Napoleon did some rather good things but most of the time he was a tyrant and a dictator and a warmonger and in 1812 he invaded Russia and did unspeakable things to the Russian people who were unfortunate enough to be in his way as he marched his army to Moscow.  When he got there the Russian people burnt the city down and so with nowhere to stay for the winter he was obliged to march all the way back again during which his army did more unpleasant things to the Russian people.

I imagine that the chances of there being a memorial to Napoleon Bonaparte in Moscow are about just as likely as there will be a statue of Adolf Hitler.

Napoleon 2

Moving on now from history to science – “see through girls’ clothes” and once again if I had the answer to this one I would surely be a millionaire.  It reminded me of my post about X-Ray Specs which seemed to suggest all sorts of peeking opportunities but in fact never actually worked (or so I am told!)

x-ray-specs

For this  category  of search terms I have saved my favourite until last and this is it – things to do in Tossa de Marr Spain for clairvoyants”. Now, call me a sceptic if you like but if you can see into the future what on earth does a clairvoyant need with a website of advertised events – why don’t they just look in their crystal ball?

I have been to Tossa de Mar and I have to say that palm reader, soothsayer or clairvoyant that it is a very fine place to visit.

Tossa de Mar Costa Brava Postcard

One of my most successful posts is about the day I attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and I get lots of odd Google referrals about this one.  This year my favourite just has to be – “do I get expenses to attend royal garden party?”

Let me take a moment here to explain.  Just to be invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party is a bit special in itself and believe me there is going to be a lot of expense involved – new suit, new outfit, overnight stay in London, taxi fares etc. and most people would gladly deal with this just to be part of the occasion so I have to say that expecting the Queen to pick up the bill sounds rather republican to me and whoever asked this should not have had an invite in the first place.

Cakes at Royal Garden Party

Next up, I really like this one –what did the captain wear on the Titanic?”

I visited Belfast recently and went to see the Titanic Exhibition and Museum.  It was a super place and I recommend anyone to go there and I think what I learned on that visit may just well help here.

Around the exhibition there are lots of pictures of Captain Smith in his White Star Line uniform so I am forced to conclude that except when he went to bed and most likely put on a pair of pyjamas that this was his favourite form of dress.  Another thing that I can be certain of is that Captain Smith didn’t wear a lifebelt because after the Titanic struck the iceberg he went down with his ship and drowned!

Edward Smith

To finish with this is probably my biggest ever favourite…

What was General Franco’s favourite food?

I am sure that this is a question that only his personal chef could realistically be expected to answer with any authority but my suggestions are…

  • Skewered Republicans
  • Roasted Liberals
  • BBQ’d Communists

Some time ago I tried to visit General Franco’s tomb but the Spanish don’t like Franco any more and it was closed at the time on account of the fact that it was being demolished.

When General Franco met Führer Adolf Hitler I can only assume that either they couldn’t agree on the menu or they were both on a diet…

Franco meets Hitler

Regardless of food, this has to be one of the most awkward historical meetings ever – just look at their faces!

Got any odd Google enquiries – please share!

Advertisements

Travels in Spain, The Next Road Trip…

Map Route

Alcalá de Henares completed our road trip around central Spain. Thanks to everyone who joined me on the circumnavigation of Madrid, next time in Iberia I will head further north into Castilla y Leon and towards the Northern Kingdoms.

Cities of Castilla y Leon

Before that I am going to visit some historical sites in France…

Dinan Brittany France

… And then I am going to Naples in Italy…

Centro Storico Naples

… As always you are welcome to join me…

Travels in Spain, One Balcony Three Ways

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGalicia 004

Travels in Spain, Cervantes and Alcalá de Henares

Cervantes Alcala de Henares

Modern day Alcalá de Henares is a busy sprawling industrial suburb of Madrid but at its heart is the world’s first planned University City founded in 1293 by King Sancho IV of Castile.  It was the original model for the Civitas Dei (City of God), the ideal Christian community that Spanish missionaries exported to the New World and it also served as a model for universities in all of Europe and elsewhere.

Alcalá de Henares is Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale but I wouldn’t have guessed this as we drove towards the city centre through grimy streets, clogged with growling traffic and unattractive high rise apartment blocks and small industrial units lining the road.

The City is however packed to overflowing with two thousand years of history.  It was settled by Romans, Moors and the reconquering Christians.  As a former royal residence it is where Columbus met Queen Isabella for the first time.   In 1547, it was the birthplace of Spain’s greatest literary genius, Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote.  It achieved UNESCO world heritage status in 1998 thanks to this venerated university which has produced a steady supply of saints and generations of powerful Spanish Catholic bishops.

Don Quixote Alcala de Henares

It was almost lunch time now and having missed breakfast judged it about time to eat so we found a place in the sun and asked for a menu.  When I said it was almost lunch time I meant that it was about eleven-thirty and this proved to be a bit of a problem because most of the things we selected weren’t quite ready so we tried again and most of the things on our second selection attempt weren’t ready either so we settled for a bocadillo and a glass of beer before setting off into the centre of the city for sightseeing.

The pavement bar with the seriously restricted menu options was close to the centre of Alcalá de Henares so after our short stop we walked through the red brick city to the expansive tree lined Plaza Mayor, here called the Plaza de Cervantes.

Cervantes wrote a dozen or so major works and his most famous is Don Quixote, a sprawling epic novel regarded as the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age.  It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and  “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants.

don-quixote-book-cover

As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.

In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Hemingway and Bryson.  Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”.

Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it rather heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we walked around I resolved to have another attempt upon returning home.

So that is the two most translated books in the history of the World that I haven’t read! The third is ‘Listen to God and Live Forever’ by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and not surprisingly I haven’t read that either.

The Plaza is a supremely handsome square surrounded by tall University buildings decorated with untidy Stork nests. There was a lot of activity in the nests today because the population of these birds in Spain is rising, from six thousand seven hundred pairs thirty years ago to an estimated thirty-five thousand pairs today.  In fact there are so many White Storks in Spain that it is now second only to Poland who with fifty thousand birds has always traditionally been the country with the most pairs of the birds in Europe.

Cervantes

On three sides there are medieval colonnaded arcades and in the centre on a tall column stands a statue of Cervantes with quill held delicately in his right hand as a Conquistador might hold a sword, as though poised to begin writing a masterpiece.  We walked through and around it and then explored the University district before returning to the main shopping street the Calle Mayo

All along the Calle Mayor there were shopping distractions for Kim to investigate so while she looked at shoes and cakes and sparkly things I made my way to the end of the street to the birthplace museum of Cervantes and waited in the company of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for her to catch me up.

I had a mind to visit the museum especially as the web site said that admission was free but at the entrance I was greeted by an attendant who explained that there was a charge of €10 which I judged to be rather expensive for just a handful of rooms so I purchased a couple of postcards and left.  Maybe I made the right decision because I read subsequently that there is some suggestion that this is not his birthplace at all and the house was built some time after Cervantes birth, an accusation that is strenuously denied by the museum of course.

Cervantes House Alcala de Henares

Travels in Spain, Wall Tile Decoration

Cudillero Wall Tile 2

The tiles in Spain often tell a story, theses were taken in the town of Cudillero in Asturias on the North Coast.

Cudillero Wall Tile 1Cudillero Wall Tile 3

Read the Full Story…

Travels in Spain, A Mountain Pass and a Fuel Crisis

San Ildefonso o la granja 3

“The Sierra, like the moon, had two distinct faces: the north one aloof and cold in its shadow, a place of green thickets and alpine silence, whilst to the south the mountain was just a raw burnt rock, the cliffs stripped bare by the sun.”  – Laurie Lee

After we had walked through the gardens we reluctantly left the Palace of San Ildefonso o La Granja and then the town and we drove south again towards our next intended destination, the fortress town of Manzanares El Real where we planned to see our final castle.

To get there we had to drive across the top of the mountain and shortly after leaving San Ildefonso we began to steadily climb the northern face of the peaks.  Eventually we reached the top at a mountain pass called Puerto de Navacerrada, the gateway to the long descent on the southern side down towards Madrid.  We were right on schedule but at the top were some policemen who pulled us to a stop and then explained that the road was closed and that we would have to take a detour back down the northern side of the mountain.

Guardia Civil

At least we assumed that was what they were saying because to be honest I didn’t understand Spanish police instructions terribly well and they weren’t especially good at understanding English tourists who couldn’t understand Spanish police instructions.  I said “Madrid, Madrid, Madridon the basis if you say something over and over and get louder each time a foreigner might eventually understand and this seemed to work on this occasion because eventually he pointed again to the alternative road that we would have to take and smiled as we set off.

This was going to be a problem because it was going to add twenty miles to the journey and there certainly wasn’t enough fuel in the tank for that.  Luckily it was all down-hill from here so I used the throttle as little as possible and freewheeled down the safe sections.  I knew that there was enough fuel left in the tank but as we went down the really steep bits the needle on the fuel gauge rushed headlong into the red zone and even though I knew this was because of uneven fuel distribution in the tank the situation certainly brought me out in a hot sweat.

There was no sign of a filling station and I began to grow concerned but then we reached the pretty town of Rascafria sitting in a narrow valley surrounded by mountain peaks and after stopping and asking for directions at a restaurant we thankfully found a garage and I put an extra couple of squirts in more than we really needed just to be on the safe side.

Rascafia

After I had calmed down we relaxed a little at a café pavement table and then walked through the streets of the charming little mountain town that provided a pleasant contrast to the tourist cities of Toledo and Segovia.  It was as though we had turned full circle and were back in Belmonte and then we resumed our journey.  There was a safe route but feeling confident once more we choose to try the mountain passes again this time using the eastern route and we hoped that this wouldn’t be blocked and closed as well.

We climbed again, quite quickly this time and reached a mountain top plateau surrounded by snowy peaks and with uninterrupted views into the distance.  We were only twenty miles from Madrid but we were practically alone in a lonely natural wilderness. What a day this was to be in this seemingly remote part of Spain, a glorious blue sky, snow on the mountains, early days of Spring and absolutely no one to share it with.

Top Of The World View

We crossed the top and thankfully there were no Guardia Civil to send us back and after we passed through the town of Miraflores de la Sierra the road dropped quickly down to the shoreline of a shimmering blue reservoir and the town of Manzanares El Real.

We arrived and parked in a dusty car park directly below the huge medieval castle sat on an outcrop of rock that we had driven here to see.  Leaving the car we walked through the languid square where little afternoon groups of men in flat caps and berets were congregating and debating the big issues of the day and women were shopping in the small stores around the perimeter.  They don’t get many English tourists here, especially in March so I think one or two of them were surprised to see us as they went about their daily routine.

We found the entrance to the castle and paid our €4 fee and then made our way inside through the main gate.  The castle has been restored of course, most recently in the 1970s, because only a few years ago it wasn’t in very good shape at all and I guessed that what we were seeing was what Belmonte castle will look like when it too has been restored.

Inside the main building we followed a route through a succession of restored rooms with displays of armour and medieval bric-a-brac of dubious originality and then out onto the battlements and turrets at the very top of the building.  To the north there were the snowy peaks of the mountains and to the south a stunning view over the Embalse de Santillana which is a recent addition to the landscape of course so wouldn’t have been there in the middle-ages for the occupants of the castle to enjoy and what made it all the more satisfying is that today we had the castle and the views all to ourselves.

After a long day it was getting late so we left now and continued to our final destination, Alcalá de Henares.

Manzanares el Real

Travels in Spain, The Origin of Tapas

According to one legend, the tapas tradition in Spain began when the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry.  On this particular day there was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham supposedly to prevent the sherry from getting dirty but more likely because he didn’t want to have his head cut off!

The King finished the sherry and ate the ham, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.  This evolved into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and bodega owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry but, more importantly, increasing their alcohol sales as a consequence.

There are alternative stories about the origin of tapas but so far this is my favourite.