Monday, October 08, 2007


Border Straddling

I had an enjoyable extended weekend that began on Thursday and ended in the early hours of Monday morning. On Thursday evening I went to a club in Madrid (I'm not sure where) for a 'World Music' night. In practice this meant jazz bands from Brazil and Algeria with some great playing from excellent musicians. There was also free wine, beer and food: as much as I wanted... I have encountered a lot of free drink and food on this trip. Coincidentally free is my favourite price in the world! (My second favourite price is 1 cent and my third favourite is 2 cents, but my fourth favourite is 4 cents, not 3 cents... Peculiar, no?)

Friday morning I set off with Rosa for the north eastern corner of Portugal. First we went to a little town called Olmedo and then to a tiny village called Villafáfila, site of an important nature reserve for wading birds. We observed some interesting birds on the lakes and then continued onwards to Puebla de Sanabria, a spectacular town with a mighty castle on a hill. Exploring the old town at night was strange, as we had the entire place to ourselves. Courtesy of an arc lamp, we made giant shadows on the sides of the castle -- rabbits, serpents, plesiosaurs, Hindu gods, priapic satyrs, all the usual things -- before descending for supper.

The following day we went north to the Lago de Sanabria for a hike in the mountains. We followed a long circular route high into the Sierra de la Cabrera. The scenery was amazing. This hike took all day and by the time we finished we were shattered. We decided to save Portugal for Sunday... When Sunday came we drove due south from Sanabria to Rihonor de Castilla, the Spanish half of a unique village that straddles the border. We walked across a vegetable garden and crossed into Portugal somewhere in the middle of a pumpkin plot. The Portuguese side is called Rio de Onor. On the road the border is abrupt, changing from smooth Spanish tarmac to Portuguese cobbles. The small geographical difference belies the larger cultural difference. "Gracias" becomes "obrigado" and the beer changes from Mahou to Sagres. Also the clock on the church on the Portuguese side is one hour behind the church on the Spanish side. We climbed both churches and bonged the bells, rather naughtily.

The road from Rio de Onor to Braganca passes through the Parque Natural de Montesinho, a beautiful forested region. I saw a stag among the trees. He saw me too. We visited the castle in Braganca, ran along the walls of the old city, climbed up to the roof, admired the muskets and swords in the museum and then gatecrashed a party for a British Vintage Car club. Once again there was free food and beer! I ate seven pasteis de nata one after the other... I taught Rosa to say "absolutely!" whenever anyone addressed her in English. We weren't rumbled. Then we went to Zamora, another interesting city, before returning to Madrid. Today I am tired.

So, so, you finally decided to cross the border and pay us a visit. Unfortunately, Bragança is too far from the rest of Portugal... hah!

But I'll see you in two weeks! I should prepare myself for what I presume will be three most tiresome and adventurous nights in which we will all be part of the performance "Introducing the Mermaid by El Rhyso"!
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