We are wrapping up the trip now, coming home on the 13th. The last week has given us warmer, but cloudier, weather, and a series of nice stops along the French and Spanish coasts.
10/06/09 – Day at Sea. We ate, read, slept, and went to lectures….
10/07/09 – Napoleon Slept Here. This morning we visited Ill d’ Aix, a small French island that is covered with forts from different centuries and also the site where Napoleon was kept before being exiled to St. Helena. We took a nice walk around much of the island and toured the Napoleon Museum, housed in the building he stayed in waiting for the boat to St. Helena. In the afternoon we walked around La Rochelle, a medium size city and a major port town on the French coast — and the place where many Frenchmen set off to populate Quebec.
10/08/09 – St. Jean de Luz, France. This is the bottom of France and the northern end of Basque country that continues into the top of Spain. This is a pretty port city with a nice beach that is clearly a major summer resort area. There are many outdoor cafes that we would have enjoyed more if it hadn’t rained all afternoon. As usual, there are historical sites — King Louis XIV was married here.
10/09/09 – Bilbao, Spain. Largest Basque city and home of the Guggenheim Museum. The Basque’s have always been a very industrial people with a focus on fishing, ship building, iron and steel production, and trade. Their dirty industries started to go south in the late 70’s, so in the early 80’s they decided to remake their city by contracting with Frank Gehry to design the Guggenheim Museum and by starting a complete renovation of the city that continues today. Other than a riding tour of the city, we spent most of our time walking around and through the Guggenheim — quite a place!
10/10/09 – We visited Santiago de Campostela in Galicia (Spain), the third great site of the Catholic faith (after Jerusalem & Rome, according to our local guides). The tradition goes that James, Jesus’ brother, came to this area (the westernmost part of Europe) to preach. He later returned to Jerusalem and was killed. Then either his body was brought here, or was miraculously transfered here. The current cathedral was started before 1100, and then a second, much larger cathedral was built around the smaller one in the 17th century. James body is in a casket under the church. Pilgrims from around the world have been trekking here since the middle ages, and continue the tradition in large numbers. I attended the mass and saw the famous “swinging of the giant incense burner”. We ate lunch in a chapel built for Ferdinand and Isabel when they hung out here and were entertained by a local dancing group and a singing group composed of law-school students. This is also a big area for witches, so a witch came out to toast us and give us some homemade brew — same recipe as found in NC mountains.
10/11/09 – Islas Cies, Galicia, Spain. This morning we hiked on a gorgeous island off the coast — beaches, forests, birds, fish — a great way to start the day. The lagoon was full of fish and the water so clear it was like snorkeling without getting wet. This history here is not disimilar to the rest of this trip: first settlements in Bronze Age (500BC), Roman writers describe the islands (Strabo, Pliny, and Diodorus), Julius Caesar passes by in 60BC on his way north, Normans (Viking descendants) arrive in 11th century, Benedictine monks create monasteries in 13th century, Francis Drake, the pirate, hangs out here in 16th century, Berber pirates land here a little later… Just makes you realize how young our country is and how little we know and appreciate the history of Europe.