We have been England for a while now and it has been cold and busy.
Being in Britain the recent death of Margaret Thatcher has been front and centre in the news. She has created as much division and derision within Britain in death, as she did when she life. Her ideologies and policies monetarized Western Society and quantified everything – even human kindness – no-one does anything for nothing anymore. This led to a revolution and almost civil war between the working class and the elites and resulted in the greed culture and the destruction of communities. Working class people and the traditional industrial areas lost, and their lands are still left derelict. The polarization of British society was not only a political spectrum but also geographic – the great North/South divide, the industrial heartlands versus the monetary and service industries of London and the bigger cities. Although I have been gone from the UK for a long long time I have always followed what has been happening. For me, Margaret’s only claim to history and positive legacy is her place as the first, and to date, the only British female Prime Minister – for which I am truly thankful, as she really did grab the old boy network by the throat and give it a good shake.
Happily , in Canada we only had ‘conviction politicians’ ( dogmatists or criminals – you choose) like Trudeau the Elder, and Brian Mulroney to deal with during that same period 1979 – 1990! Although we have never had an elected female PM in Canada. Baroness Thatcher left politics 20 years ago but old memories die hard…….(rant for the day – over)
The other North/South divide is between northern and southern Europe – and I know where I prefer to spend the winter – even the worst winter in living memory! We spent our last two weeks in Spain avoiding the rain and looking around southern Andalusia, experiencing Semana Santa and getting ready for our journey home. We saw quite a bit of Martin’s cousin Jacqui, and felt very comfortable in La Cala de Mijas Costa.
We also took a drive up to the village of Istan in the mountains along the coast and returned to the ritzy city of Marbella.
We took a couple of trips into Malaga to see the parades – the Penitents dressed in their tall hats (I don’t think they are related to the KKK, they are certainly prettier) and splendid colours are all part of different brotherhoods who parade through the streets and carry these incredible floats. Everyday in Holy week there are five or 6 parades stretching deep into the night, until Easter Sunday when there is only one.
The Spanish church has a checkered history – especially after 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs ruled and the Inquisition began to rid Spain of Moslems, Jews and anyone else who was considered to be a threat. Before this cult of violence people had lived relatively harmoniously. The reign of the Catholic Monarchs and the Inquisition were also times of great wealth transfer (as revolutions often are) from other religions and ordinary people especially women to the Crown and the Church. But that was 500 years ago, today devout men and women are part of the Brotherhood and bring beauty and colour to Easter week.
Statue of Our Lady carried by 100 men
We left La Cala Mijas Costa on Easter Sunday to our first destination on the way to the Bilbao ferry. We drove to the beautiful city of Cordoba. This Moorish city has an incredible Cathedral. This magnificent building reflects the layers of civilizations that have lived in Spain, from the Romans and the small church dedicated to St Vincent, to the Visigoths who destroyed the church, they in turn were conquered by Moors who built a magnificent Mosque (one of the largest in the world at the time), after 1236 and the arrival of the Catholic King Ferdinand and his heirs the Mosque became a huge cathedral (That’s what I call recycling and reusing).
The Cordoba mosque was completed was by the caliphate Al Mansur, who turned it into display of power and glory, which was later absolved by the Christian transformation. The fabulous Cathedral was built over mosque its inner courtyard and location near the river was a great example of fusion architecture – fusion across time, religion and space.
This city is located on a river (which was raging at the time after so much rain), and has a colourful history as a centre for worship and administration with its Roman bridge, narrow streets, courtyards with community wells and long city walls. The downtown area was more Baroque, but this place was proudly Spanish and said so……. (made me very proud)
Our journey took us north to the city of Toledo, on our way we passed some of the 91 Osbourne bulls (Osbourne de Toro). These large black bulls were an advertizing feature for the Osbourne Sherry Company to promote Brandy de jerez. The bulls were erected in 1956 – 91 across Spain. In 1994 the Spanish government passed a law banning road side advertizing, however the local populations had come to see the bulls as a symbol of Spain and their regions; so the Toros are still there and have been maintained.
Osbourne Toro on the roadside
Toledo is a smallish walled cathedral city outside of Madrid, where we had to make a decision about visiting Madrid. We decided not to go to the capital this trip, as there just was insufficient time. In Toledo we stayed in this fourth floor garret that had been develop as part of vacation rental. The building we stayed in was within the ancient walls of the city and we able to walk through the ancient streets and ramparts. The place was redesigned and renovated by young architect and her husband – they had no work so took what they had (an old family building) and turned it into a small business. We found Spain’s recession is real and there are lots of young people out of work but Toledo seemed busy: there were lots of foreign tourists and a seemingly happening city with language schools and cultural industries.
I found the Spanish people were much more philosophical and optimistic about their financial situation than the Brits (who were very dour about their economic woes). They also have a lot going for them – their national department store – El Corte Ingles – (the English Cut) is the fourth largest retail chain in the world, they have a viable and vibrant wind energy industry and an incredible agricultural industry producing the lakes of olive oil and wine. I guess sunshine and warmth helps people deal with economics!
After our short visit to Toledo we headed north and drove to the Basque country. It was a long drive (about 5 hours) and we knew we were in a different place because we were in a bi-lingual place. The hilly landscape and wet weather greeted us as we entered the city of Bilbao. It is located along a river and that flows out to the Bay of Bisque. Of course we were there to see the Guggenheim Bilbao. It was magnificent.
I must say that the building was much more impressive the collections inside. The Gehry building was developed by the city as part of its program to reinvent itself from a dying industrial complex to a cultural and tourist centre. It was opened in 1997 and is a life time must see. I also loved the West Highland Terrier made of pansies, which has also been there for twenty years and added to this sense of the city’s rejuvenation with a little bit of whimsy.
We spent two nights and a sunny day in the Bilbao, walked around this beautiful place, tasting the best tapas ever, and saying our farewells to Spain. The Basque region and language are unique. The ‘Vasco’ region has been seeking independence for many years and feels like another country (in language culture ethnicity and history). The European Union allows all countries to be themselves and yet part of a broader community – maybe this is the way Vasco can have it cultural independence. The language was interesting – lots of Z, K, J, Xs and other unusual letters put together in words that I could not recognize at all. Basque is, of course, a language without roots (not Indo-European anyway), but I believe it could be the language of the lost continent of Atlantis.
We crossed the ocean blue on Brittany Ferries. It was a 25 hour trip from Bilbao to Portsmouth on the south coast of England. Martin was very nervous as the weather forecast predicted stormy seas. The Bay of Bisque is known for its rough seas and tough weather. As Martin gets sea sick so he took medication but did not need them as the ferry, using some impressive stabilizers, did not roll at all.
We drove our car on board and went to our ‘dog-friendly’ cabin where Kerry could stay with us. There was a dog walking area on board, the only requirement was that Kerry had to wear a muzzle when she was on deck. We arrived in a wet and rainy and cold England (5C) and went up to Twickenham (Martin’s sister’s place) for the night and then to Hull for my mum’s birthday.
Pew worked really hard in Spain and allowed us to see so much of this beautiful country. I could quite happily spend a long time in Spain and was sorry to leave. Martin’s cousin Jacqui has the best solution – a house in Canada, a flat in England and a condo in Spain (where she spends the majority of her time). I wouldn’t mind that kind of combination as I loved the art, architecture, diverse history and culture, language, food, weather, climate, and affordability of Spain. It is a dynamic multi-cultural country full of passion, colour, history, courage and openness.
Now we back in the UK – yes it is colder and more expensive but it is my homeland and it is always nice to see family. Britain is still a bit chilly but warming up and colouring up with spring springing. The rate of exchange pegs the UK Pound higher than the Euro, but here everything is the same price in UK pounds as it is in Euros in Europe and then some.
My mum turned 86 so all we went off to lunch to celebrate with my cousin and his wife. Martin and I have had a couple of outings while we gather ourselves, goods, equipment, as well as do medical, business and internet stuff before returning to Saverne France.
Our excursions included a visit to a very stately home called Castle Howard – some blue bloods with a beautiful house and estate. It was an interesting visit to the magnificent house beautifully furnished, gardens and surrounding follies including the Temple of the Four Winds picture above.
On another occasion Martin took himself to see a Cold War bunker in Withernsea; a little seaside resort not far from Hull. He had a couple of hours underground stepping back in time at RAF Holmpton, which was a cold war bunker built underground near the North Sea. We have a couple more visits to York and Beverley to see friends and family and avoid the Thatcher funeral then we take the ferry back to Belgium from Hull and then drive to France.
We have spent an interesting 6 months over the dark time in Canada, Germany, France, Spain Morocco and the UK. We are now looking forward to going back to our home in Europe – Skookum.
Martin and Kerry in La Cala de Mijas Costa