Iberian Peninsula trip yields sights, sounds

Published 9:38 am Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Column: Creative Connections, by Sara Aeikens

During a bumpy flight homeward on the final day of an Iberian vacation, I began ruminating on things I seldom think of when wandering about in Albert Lea: Is the water safe to drink? Do my shoes fit comfortably for long walks? What are the bathrooms like? Will I need extra coins to tip street performers? Who can I grab hold of if I trip on a curvy step? And many more unusual questions I found myself asking while on the trip.

Sara Aeikens

Sara Aeikens

For several weeks in September, my husband, Leo, and I traveled in three countries on two continents, none of which we had visited before. Our excellent local Four Seasons tour guide, Larry Alvey, gave us a superb journey, immersing all our senses.

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In addition, about a half-dozen in-country local guides shared tales with humor and suspense, providing a deeper understanding of their countries’ cultural, historic, economic and political backgrounds, including golden eras and conflicts.

One of the most meaningful aspects of this trip turned out to be rediscovering my half-century-old Spanish language skills that were very helpful in both communicating and connecting with people. I greatly treasured conversing with airplane seatmates, shopkeepers and waiters who used rich and poetic Spanish phrases that gave me a more in-depth idea of everyday life in their country.

I also have invaluable visuals stored in over 2,000 photos on one DVD disc, as well as many more in my mind from Spain, Portugal and Morocco. The opulence and artistic virtuosity of premier places such as convents, monasteries, cathedrals and castles contrasted sharply with the poverty villagers experience now, as well as when the art masterpieces were created.

The art of Picasso and El Greco inspired us to place ourselves in their time period. The stunning wall and ceiling carvings and creations sunk into every cell of my being, as I struggled to comprehend how such incredible artwork could be designed with supposedly so little technology.

Hotel meals were artistic presentations in themselves and many would align with the “Blue Zones” book, such as substantial breakfast buffets. My favorite fancy foods included dark chocolate croissants and honey baked sliced eggplant and, of course, ice cream in all shapes and flavors. Hearty whole grain breads became a tasty habit over American sliced white bread.

Other aspects of interest on the trip included never tiring of the rows of olive and oak trees in the fields. I had not realized farmers harvested the brown trunk bark of the latter to process cork products. Intermittently, to add to the scenery, ancient fortresses and stone walls with towers appeared.

Inside the university city of Salamanca, Spain, near the town square, a surprise awaited outside the fish restaurant where our group had just finished dining. A young woman seatmate from our transatlantic flight several days earlier, opened her arms to greet me with such enthusiasm that our leader, Alvey, insisted on capturing our photo together.

Spotting local farm animals became another seemingly simple highlight of our trip. I noticed when we arrived at seaside, dozens more feral cats hung around the port’s embarking or debarking areas then in the countryside. I also enjoyed the trick of trying to get seagulls to snatch bread from my fingertips.

Besides Leo riding a camel, the best animal treat turned out to be the milling monkeys gathered near the summit of the Rock of Gibraltar, mingling with the tourists. One jumped on Alvey’s back, allowing for a comic photo op — something I’ve not yet seen anywhere in the USA.

Once we arrived in Morocco after a ferry ride on the Mediterranean, more questions having to do with politics, history and religion and also the use and function of items came up again and were most often addressed and answered on bus rides all over, even as we reached our Albert Lea group destination point, just six blocks from our home for an amazing and safe trip.


Sara Aeikens is an Albert Lea resident.