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Ancient Roman aqueduct across a lush valley in Spain

We loved Spain but were totally out of synch with the way the Spaniards live.They open their shops early in the morning; I let Nancy sleep later. They take a nap in the middle of the day- closing their shops around the time Nancy and I leave the hotel to explore. We like to eat dinner early, around 6PM; the Spanish don't usually eat dinner until 10PM- an hour after Nancy usually goes to bed. It was frustrating.

On our first trip, we went to Pamplona. As an undergraduate, I majored in English (with a double minor in science and chemistry), and once took a course on the writings of Ernest Hemingway. We spent a lot of time on one of his most famous works, The Sun Also Rises.

One of the central plots is about bullfighting, and much of the story takes place in Pamplona, site of the famous “running of the bulls”.

There are two bulls and a large crowd of runners along side and ahead of them.

Each year at the start of the bullfighting season, the bulls are let loose to run through the streets of Pamplona. These streets are quite narrow, with little maneuvering room except straight ahead. A crowd of young men, in a wacky display of macho and bravado, runs ahead of the bulls, tempting fate not to get trampled under their hooves or gored on their horns.

As you would guess, there have been a number of fatalities in this yearly ritual, but it continues on anyway. To read about the ‘running’ in Hemingway’s book does not really convey the pure danger and craziness of this activity. When you stand on the corner and think about a large group of men being chased by a bull whose horns take up half the width of the street, you wonder that any of them walks away and lives to tell about their participation in the event.

On our return trip to Spain, we concentrated on the churches, cathedrals, and one synagogue. There are some outstanding buildings, and an especially nutty one-

This is the temple La Sagrada Familia , designed by the famous designer Antonio Gaudi. It has been under construction since 1882- and no one realistically believes construction will ever stop.

One of our readers recently sent us an update after she and her husband traveled in Barcelona:

Dear Nancy, We took the lightweight wheelchair to Barcelona where we found people very helpful and it was easy to get about. I would warn anyone however taking it to Gaudi's garden, we alighted from the open air bus to be confronted by what seemed to be a cliff face-exhausting. When we arrived the garden was full of steep slopes and steps.

The underground system needs a lot of working out as well, as we encountered steps. The hotels were able to allocate a room suitable for disabled, being larger and a seat in the shower.

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In Toledo, the cathedral contains an absolutely incomparable altarpiece, made of gold Columbus brought back from the New World. You get the feeling of closeness to a monumental historical event- almost as if you had sailed with Columbus yourself.

Altar in Toledo Spain made of gold taken by Columbus from the New World

What is especially interesting about the Cathedral in Toledo is that it only has one tower. Original plans, of course, called for the usual two towers, but they ran out of money and the second tower was never even started! Can you imagine- an altar built of solid gold, but not enough money to finish the tower.

Also in Toledo is a Jewish synagogue, built in the 12th Century by a prominent Jew, using his own money. He was given permission so long as he saw to it that the synagogue was not so large or so splendid that it drew attention or detracted from the cathedral. The architect was obviously of Moorish descent, likely as not because no Christian builder would take the job.

The synagogue was confiscated by the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition. It was renamed Santa Maria la Blanca, and used as a church for several centuries. Later, it was given back to the few Jews remaining in Toledo, but they chose not to restore its original name.

Casket with (presumed) remains of Christopher Columbus Seville, Spain

Four figures (representing the four kingdoms of Aragon, Leon, Castile and Navarra) carry Columbus's casket on their shoulders.

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Have you checked the most important parts of our website? We urge you to go to the Chapter on Essential Plans. Then, whether they apply to you or not, read the Chapters Airlines, Cruises, Hotels, Taxis, Tours. Finally, be sure you read the Chapter Items to Take. The information in these chapters will make all the difference in the success of your trip.