Burton Dane Travels

We're traveling through Europe and parts nearby for a year. We'll be posting our pix and adventures here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Evora, Portugal

We visited a chapel lined with human bones and skulls. Remains of over 5000 anonymous people line the interior surfaces. Built by three monks, it’s intended to show that death always wins. And that regardless of talent, achievement and stature, after a we die, we’re all the same.

Translation on the entryway writing, homeschoolers?

Sunday, December 17, 2006


The Peninsula of Spain contains not one country, but three. At the Southernmost tip is British Gibraltar and at the Westernmost edge is Portugal. The Greeks believed Hercules set the Rock of Gibraltar and its African companion chunk to mark the end of the known world--The Pillars of Hercules. Islamic adventurer Jebel Tariq came there in 711 and gave it his name.

We spent a few days in Gibraltar in early December to add yet another animal to our chain of beast sightings. There has been a colony of Barbary Apes living on the “Rock” for some time, its often quoted that if the Apes were to leave the Rock, the British would also leave Gibraltar (there are similar quotes about the ravens at the Tour of London). George Orwell, in The Ides of March, quotes that Julius Caesar’s time, chickens indicated whether the Romans would win or lose, so I suppose we are still pretty superstitious. So these macaques have lived on the big chunk of limestone since the 18th century, we think, which roughly corresponds to the date in 1713 that the Rock was ceded to Britain by Spain.

What we know is that these beasts enjoy a good game. After hiking the Rock one afternoon and enjoying the drop-dead (literally) views and gun batteries, we dropped down to St. Michael’s Cave for soup and bread. The white bread attracted the beasts like chum attracts sharks and before we could even get into our soup, there was a macaque that JUMPED UP,GRABBED OUR BREAD, LEAPED IN THE AIR , and after other acrobatic feats jumped up on the table and grabbed a hostess “sno-ball”(a sort of round twinky covered with sugar) and then ran out--this action-packed part provided by Ben. (Back to mom now) Ben suffered most as he still had vivid memories of being rushed by macaques in Malaysia, his instincts told him to lock himself into the toilet until it was all over with. The bartender and her stick convinced him all was well, so we slurped down the soup as fast as we could (between laughing fits) but as we left we heard a crash and a beast came galloping out with a white styrofoam cup of sugar packets that it enjoyed on the roof.

Gibraltar also was a great place to score books--in fact, Horrible Histories!--and there is no VAT, so diesel was cheap, AND there is a Safeway that sold us a big chunk of Red Leister cheese for the road--speaking of roads, everyone who comes in or out of Gibraltar has to do so across the airport runway!

Saturday, December 16, 2006


We’ve been through some great cities the last few weeks but the stand out for me was Granada and walking through the Alhambra. First, we had our favorite campground situation. Small, with simple facilities, quiet and dark at night. The showers had an adjustable mix and were regular valves, not time-release pushbuttons. The restaurant was upscale and the people at reception were friendly and helpful. Of course they had fresh baguettes every morning. It was walking distance into a small town (La Zubia) and there were buses every 20 minutes into the main city (Granada). They even had Wifi at the campsite (I couldn’t connect to it, but not for lack of trying).

Granada is inland at 2000 feet and has the snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. It has great plazas with fountains and broad tree-lined walking streets. We had clear, crisp weather that made us sit at sunny cafe tables. The good restaurants, shopping and street entertainment made for city fun.

The main attractions are the Alhambra, the Generalife and the Albaizin. The Alhambra is a palace and fortress built by the Moors (Muslims from Africa) then occupied and added to by the Catholic Royalty. The outstanding parts are Moorish. The Sultans ruled these lands for 500 years and when the Catholics defeated them, they obliterated their mosques and other buildings. The Alhambra must have been too nice to destroy cause it’s in great shape. Washington Irving wrote a book describing his stays xxxx years ago. Fascinating, fantastic history. Our pictures don’t show how appealing it is.
I’m drawn to how understated it is. There is water running throughout it in channels, fountains and pools. There are little rooms with sweeping views of the valleys, walled gardens with fruit trees and intricate tile, plaster and woodwork.
The Generalife is a series gardens and buildings mostly built by the moors. For us, the main attractions were the immense labyrinth gardens and the water flowing throughout.

The Albaizin is the old Islamic quarter on a hillside near the town center. It’s a maze of shops, tea houses and restaurants. I turned us around the first time we entered because I couldn’t find us on the map. A few more turns and I wouldn’t know how to get back. We tried again using the bus to get us to the top and easily walked down. We had sweet mint tea and bought evil eyes and scarves before leaving.

Our campsite started to fill with skiers and snowboarders. Nearby was the only open Spanish ski area. It only had 2 out of 76 km of runs open and was limiting the tickets to 1500 a day. I imagine the crush was horrible. All of the ski (and garden) talk here is of global warming. Austria’s ski areas are mostly mud. It seems all of Europe will have a late start to its ski season. The news stories are about what the changes will be as opposed to whether they are going to happen.
We are off for the tiny mountainside village of Pompenaria then Gibraltar (and its apes!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Viva Catalunya!

We enjoyed Andrew Condon’s hospitality in his remarkable villa of Omellons and thank him for his extraordinary generosity in showing us favorite Catalonia sights. Among them visits to a Cistercian Abbey and a mountaintop village with drop-dead vistas and most excellent Bavarians (Bavarian beer ROCKS). We even had good wi-fi at an excellent spot for food and libation called Slavia. Ben, particularly, enjoyed our stay and reaps benefits daily (CREATURES!) We have raised all of our music I.Q.s dramatically, much excellent food was eaten and and we continue to enjoy Europe’s best olive oil and spectacular almonds from Les Borges Blanques.

Of Valencia and the El Sager’s Devesa Garden “zoo”, well, its just fortunate we put off seeing it until the last as I began formulating a monkey-wrench plan almost immediately. Instead, I’ll have to express my disgust in a rap song I am working on:

YO LISTEN UP! El tig-res no son jug-etes. En abso-luto. Its something YOU know--You can’t for-get it. What-what?!

Tigers ain’t toys. Not at all. Ain’t THEIR fault, eatin’ little girls and boys--Where DO you get the gaul? DIGAME, Devesa Garden! Its in Val-encia, s’where we WENT-sia, oh yeah I’m BENT, ya-ya-yah. LIB-RE EL TI-GRE!

We did enjoy the sand, it made good sand castles.

Of Cartagena and the elephants:

After tigers, we became possessed by elephants and the Barca family and events surrounding the third century battles for settlement of Spain between the Carthaginians and the Romans. The Romans called these, the three Punic Wars and Emperor Claudius, was so impressed by the Barca effort that he used it to subdue the Celts in Britain 300 years later (it worked).

It’s 750 b.c. and Ibiza (Spain) attracts the nacent Roman civilization, before it kicks Gaulish butt in France. The problem is that Carthage, Africa, has the same idea, so around 700 b.c., they start to make pacts. Pacts are broken, people are slain and by 264 b.c., Amilcar Barca attacks the Romans in Sicily. He fails and is slain along with a Roman General, Escipio (Punic War I). Amilcar established alot of territory in southern Spain which is consolidated by another Barca, Asdrubal, who founds the Carthaginian city, Qart-Hadast (or modern-day Cartagena). Meanwhile, Rome is demanding increased tributes and Amilcar’s son, Anibal, decides to attack the Romans again but this time, at Rome. He leaves the now walled city of Qart-Hadast in 218 b.c. and leads elephants over not just the Pyrenees but also the Alps. Through winter. He attacks the Romans in Italy and wins (Punic II) but the Romans make multiple attacks and finally fell Qart-Hadast under the leadership of the son of slain Escipio (we’ll just call him Skippy). The problem is that Anibal really thinks he has won so he figures he doesnt need to sack Rome itself. Noble, but one of history’s big boo-boos. Rome tricks him and attacks at Carthage (Punic III), trapping Anibal without the army he needs. Anibal languished in Italy for years, unable to help when Carthage was being leveled by Rome, he finally committed suicide before Skippy could take him too. Rome rewards its successful legionnaires by giving them Orange, France and setting up a mini-Rome there for them--see our earlier post.

Sometime during the Punic II, there was a huge wall built to contain Qart-Hadast and we were able to crawl around in of the last remaining chunks in Cartagena. Walls just never seem to work forever, do they?