An occasional journal of the Life of Reilly

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Segovia, Spain: Across the Hign Plateau

From the Portugal border we continued east.  The cities of Salamanca and Segovia were on our list to visit.  Along the way we crossed wide open spaces dotted with an occasional small agricultural town.  Along the way were stretches of canola fields so bright it almost hurts the eyes, oak forests, and an occasional pig farm.  This elevation is still high here and the winters can be cold.  With the rolling hills and large plantings of wheat, it is a landscape not unlike eastern Montana. 

Rolling into Cuidad Rodrigo on one of the last bright and shiny days.

Some of our new friends.

Big skies and quiet roads.  There was so little traffic we were able to ride side-by-side for along some stretches of road.

Oak forests dot the hills with the green grass and tiny yellow flowers of spring.  We found out that some of the best ham is made from acorn-fed pigs. 
All good things must come to an end, and so did the crystalline blue skies of the last couple of weeks. We knew it would, because we have a weather app on our smartphone. But it was a surprise when it came a bit early and we woke up to raindrops on the tent fly. We had just a short distance to ride from our stealth camp in a cow pasture to the university town of Salamanca. We established ourselves in a campground east of town before it really started to come down, and it continued into the night. So we took our umbrellas with us into the city for a day of sightseeing, and by afternoon we were rewarded with enough sun for some bright photos.
The Romans crossed here.  Portions of this bridge crossing the Tormes River date back to the 1st century,

The Plaza Mayor has 88 arches around the square decorated with medallions of important historical figures.

The buildings in the heart of the old town are so packed together that the only way to get a view is to look up.  Notice the texture of the building on the upper right of the picture...

...called the Casa de las Conchas -- "House of the Shells".

For a small fee it is possible to walk around the old buildings of the university.  We found the shape of the windows of the inner square interesting.


Once we get rid of the bikes and the stretchy clothes, we become anonymous tourists.  John looks like just another silhouette on the street.

Puffy clouds after a night of rain.

On a whim we visited the Casa Lis Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum.  Besides a rather disturbing collection of French dolls, there was a totallyy gorgeous stained glass window looking south over the river.

The open areas between buildings of the university are public areas, and there were several Henry Moore sculptures on display.  A nice contrast of new and smooth against the hard edges of the stately architecture.

Canola fields forever.

One stealth camp was in a pine forest where every tree was scarred like this.  Little clay pots were at the base collecting the sap from the bleeding trees, presumably for the manufacture of turpentine.
The town of Segovia is in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, which separate it from the metropolis of Madrid.  The mountains catch the moisture of storms coming from the west, making it a green and sometimes misty place. 
Rain followed us to Segovia, and the town was a fantastical sight as we approached.

Adding to our collection of aqueduct images, the mighty Roman aqueduct of Segovia crosses through the heart of the town.

The structure is, to say the least, awesome.

Sixteenth century cathedral meets first century arches.

Hey, there's a troll in the arches!

The exterior of many of the buildings in Segovia have a plaster coating with an embossed motif.

Looking out from the Alcazar into the countryside.

Morning sun on the Cathedral on the day we left this fairy tail town.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Guarda, Portugal: Along the Monastery Trail

From Lisbon it took us twelve days to reach the Portugal-Spain border.  We went a bit north, followed the coast for a day, and then made a right turn, and since the country is not all that wide, were out of Portugal way too soon.  In this time were several layover days to string together, like pearls on a necklace, visits to palaces and monasteries and Roman ruins and picturesque cities.  Such grandeur and history and beauty, it almost made my head explode.

Warning...there are lots of pictures in this post.  So maybe settle back with a cup of tea.  And don't let your head explode.

Not far north of Lisbon is the town of Sintra, strung out on a steep ridge.  The royals hung out here at the National Palace since the 12th century. 

An addition to my continuing collection of interesting window photos.

The interior of the Palace had lots of period furniture.

At the very top of the hill is the Moorish Castle, a strategic location occupied since the 8th century.

We spent just one windy day along the Portuguese coast.  It was enough -- there was lots of cars on the road and we were a bit frazzled by the time we turned inland.

As we traveled over the inland ridges, old windmills were scattered about, in varying states of repair.  This one was surrounded by a little park and nicely refurbished.  The fence around the space was made of old millstones.

We saw lots of miniature windmills, too.

We ended up in the town of Alcobaca to visit the monastery.  We intended to camp in the municipal campground, but it was closed due to recent austerity measures.  So we found a very inexpensive but wonderful hostel, with a lovely view from the window of our room.

The tombs of King Pedro I and his mistress, InĂªs de Castro are located in the church.  The story of their relationship is the stuff of legend.  These guys holding up the tomb of King Pedro seem to be resigned to their duty.

Loving those cloisters.

The party always ends up in the kitchen.

Once we left Alcobaca we rode through an area with numerous factories producing roof and building tiles.  An azulejo mural on the side of the road celebrates the tradition.

Our second monastery in Batalha, in all its Gothic glory.

Another nice window for the collection, don't you think?


A detail of the most impressive feature of the monastery, the octagonal Unfinshed Chapel.
En route to our third monastery in as many days, another aqueduct!  This one supplied water to the monks living in Tomar.

Approaching the Convent of Christ in Tomar.

More cloister love, this with Moorish arches.

Followed by some azulejo love.

Most impressive was the round church, the center being octagonal in shape.

I can imagine mnks padding up and down this staircase.

The Manueline style is everywhere, including this whimsical cinch on a column.

Hey! Look at me! I'm a gargoyle!

Of all the monasteries we visited, the one in Tomar gave the best impression of what it felt to be a monk there.  Here John is practicing eating in silence.

The evening view from a stealth camp overlooking the village of Penela.

We spent a morning wandering the dug up ruins of Conimbriga,which is said to be the site of the largest Roman settlement in Portugal. It was located on a busy Roman road and was a center of trade. 

There were several large villas.  What blew us away were the mosaics, nearly completely in tact and in the open air.

The foundations that have been excavated make it easy to imagine the layout of the villas. It is estimated only 10 percent of the city has been excavated.

The Romans sure were clean.  This complex of subterranean water works was one of three bath structures at the site.
We spent a day exploring the university town of Coimbra.

For a small fee you can climb up a tiny spiral staircase for expansive views of the city.
And the second  tier of the covered market provided good views of the day's catch, too.  We went out for lunch and had one of the best fish meals of my life, undoubtedly sourced from one of market's vendors.
We were blessed with stellar weather as we left Coimbra, following Mondego River.

We crossed through an extensive forest area, with warning signs different only in language from the ones at home.
The landscape became gentler as we headed east, but every once in a while there would be a ridge of granite that we would have to climb, offering views of the plains beyond.

Our last few kilometers cycling in Portugal followed an old road that passed beneath the major highway to Spain.  Much quieter and with its rewards.






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