Tuesday, March 29, 2016

One day is not enough in Valladolid

We come upon this fountain just after our host drops us off in central Valladolid.

Upon arriving in Valladolid for a one-night stopover, our host takes us on a quick tour of his city. Much of what he shows us is a blur of churches and plazas, and when he drops us off in the centro de la ciudad, we aren't sure of where to begin. Although we know wine eventually will figure into the equation, (the city is within five wine-growing regions: Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Tierra de León, and Cigales), we first head toward the tourism information office located just beyond the massive fountain in Plaza Zorrilla.

Statue in Valladolid, Spain

The TI staff is very helpful: Since we won't have time to visit any museums, they suggest a walking route that takes us through lush gardens, past several spectacular churches and through Plaza Viejo Coro. This unusual neighborhood used to be a bullring but today is a circular plaza of lovely homes.

Once a bullring, Plaza Viejo Coro is now a charming circular neighborhood in Valladolid.

Sculpture in Campo Grande in Valladolid

Valladolid has a grand collection of art, culture, architecture and history. Among its famous visitors was Christopher Columbus who died here in 1506.

Columbus's last years were a frustrating time for the explorer. He had fallen out of fashion and out of favor with King Ferdinand. His wealth was intact, but his health failed following a voyage by mule from Seville to Segovia. When he died in Valladolid, no one from the royal court attended his funeral, which didn't even garner a mention in the city's official registry. Five-hundred years later, the city of Valladolid opened the Casa-Museo de Colón, a house-museum recreating the palace in which Columbus's brother Diego lived in Santo Domingo. The museum focuses on Christoper Columbus's life and the impact of his explorations.

Fountain in Valladolid

Miguel de Cervantes was another short-term visitor to Valladolid. The author lived here between 1603 and 1606, while writing some of his most famous works. According to a tourism brochure, "... some authors even argue that he might have worked here on the second part of 'Don Quixote.'" The Museo-Casa Cervantes recreates the house he lived in and features "simple decoration according to the possibilities of a seventeenth-century Spanish nobleman."

Plaza Mayor in Valladolid

Building in Valladolid

Doorway detail of Iglesia de San Pablo in Vallalodid

Alas, our time in Valladolid is too brief to visit these house-museums, but I don't despair: Valladolid's location is conveniently en route to many other places in Spain we plan to visit. So I'm confident we'll be back — perhaps our next visit will coincide with the city's annual festival of drama and street performance or its film festival. If not, we certainly will allow enough time to explore Museo Patio Herreriano (contemporary art) and Museo Nacional de Escultura (sculptures), as well as look for more whimsical fountains and statues which dot the streets of Valladolid.

Fountain in Valladolid's Plaza de España

Fountain in Valladolid

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Exploring the Spanish Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz

With one more long, rainy month of winter ahead, we head south to explore Spain and Portugal. Our first stop is Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Autonomous Community. (Vitoria is the Spanish name, Gasteiz is the Basque.) We have chosen Vitoria as our first destination for its proximity; our itinerary spaces out each city so we don't exhaust ourselves driving and have enough energy and time to see the sights and relax. It doesn't take us long to realize we've made a good choice: Two days is the perfect amount of time to get acquainted with this city's charms.

Strolling the streets of Vitoria-Gasteiz in northern Spain

Moving sidewalks help to climb steep streets in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Vitoria's medieval district is considered to be one of the most beautiful and well-preserved in this area of Spain. Four church towers dominate the skyline, and our stroll passes lovely examples of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. All that stone is livened up with splashes of color provided by the many murals around town.

Skyline of Vitoria-Gasteiz

An arch frames the courtyard of a municipal building
in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Memorial to victims of Franco's regime in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Colorful mural in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Basque man in bronze near los Arquillos in Vitoria-Gasteiz

On Day 2, we follow one of the routes suggested by the tourism office. Parque de La Florida contains a Giant Sequoia, which we former Northern Californians must see. We then take a leisurely promenade along Senda Street passing notable mansions, and continue several kilometers along wide, tree-lined paseos, eventually arriving at Basilica of San Prudencio in Armentia. This Romanesque church is one of the Basque Country's most emblematic.

Originally a house-hotel, Zulueta Palace was built in 1902
by Alfredo de Zulueta who made his fortune in Cuba.

Caryatids adorn the main façade of Casa de las Jaquecas in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Villa Sofia was designed by architect Julio Saracibar. The building is now
headquarters of Álava's museum department.

Vitoria's fine arts museum is housed inside the Augusti Palace.

Paseo Fray Francisco de Vitoria

Basilica of San Prudencio in Armentia is one of the most important
Romanesque churches in the Basque Country.

Detail of Basilica of San Prudencio in Armentia

A play structure in Parque de El Prado in Vitoria-Gasteiz

Back in the town center, we're ready to relax and enjoy una cerveza and un vino tinto before we embark on a search for the perfect pintxo. The lively Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is a perfect spot to unwind, bask in the company of the local vitorianos/gasteizterrak and watch the moonrise.

Moonrise, Basque-style