12 October 2022: Travel news; The Spanish economy; An unlucky corpse; Beautiful Spain; & Other stuff

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Awake! For, Morning, in the Bowl of Night, has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight
And, Lo, has caught the Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Travel News

We fled Zaragoza yesterday, to avoid this – and the 50% increase in the hotel room price:-

There was at least one accordionist on the streets of Zaragoza. I am so sensitised to the 3-tune Rumanian who plagues my summers in Pv city that, as soon as I heard the first sounds of the instrument, I had to get up and leave the terrace we were relaxing on.

After briefly visiting both Tarazona in Aragón and Tudela in Navarra en route, we arrived yesterday evening in Olite, an utterly charming village/town not far south of Pamplona. Rather than try to do justice to it myself, I’ve attached a composite note on the place below. We’ll be doing the tourist thing here today and tomorrow, including a visit to at least one of the nearby bodegas. As of right now, I wonder if the castle will be open on the national holiday celebrating Spanishness.

One thing’s for sure . . . Here in Olite, we won’t have to pay €4 for a bottle of Estrella Galicia beer, as we did in Zaragoza on Monday evening. Compared with c. €2.80 (I think) back in Pv.

A good example of how my British satnav lady mangles Spanish info is her rendition of the N VI-A road as is ’the N via’. But her street names are much funnier.

Cosas de España/Galicia

The Spanish economy has not recovered from the impact of Covid as well as other major EU countries, it says here. But it might well be doing better than the UK.

Possibly because of its links with the left-of-centre El Pais, The Guardian has more reports on Spanish events than any other UK newspaper. But this one – on developments relating to the family of the son of a pre-Franco dictator – comes from The Times. In a word, the family is concerned about humiliation being heaped upon a corpse. In contrast, Franco made it a duke in 1948, eleven years after life had left it. Which the family is probably still happy about.

HT to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for this article on the many beautiful places of Spain that make it different from anywhere else. Who am I to argue with this claim? 

English  

‘Eiffel injuries’: Those experienced by patients who present with household objects such as a Hoover nozzle or HP sauce bottle stuck somewhere unmentionable and whose explanation is: “Doctor, I fell.”

Finally   . . . .   

There’s a street in Zaragoza called Calle Contamina. One wonders why.

To amuse . . .

For new readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

OLITE     

Let yourself be guided. The town will take you back to an era of tournaments, kings and princesses, wizards and jugglers, falconers and archers; they all return to Olite every August for a Mediaeval Fair.

The Castle

As you approach it, nothing can prepare you for the magnificent royal palace you will stumble upon in the narrow streets of Olite, a small rural town in the flatter regions of southern Navarre. The half a dozen turrets with conical roofs, the towers, battlements and the lofty keep with a rounded turret at each corner spring right out of a medieval fairy tale. 

The rectangular Old Palace with a rounded turret at the top of its tower was built in the 13th century by Sancho VII The Strong on the ruins of an old Roman fort, and was enlargd by his successors Theobald I, Theobald II and Henry I The Fat. But it didn’t find pleasure in the eyes of descendant Charles III The Noble, who felt it was not nearly noble enough.

So he built a splendid turreted confection right next door in the early 15th century, and the rest is history as they say, exept that the Spaniards from Castile grabbed it about 100 years later, sending Navarre’s royal house skedaddling northwards. 

And except, more importantly, that in 1813 Spanish General Francisco Espoz y Mina, serving under Brtain’s Duke of Wellington, burned it down so that it could not be used by Napoleon’s invading French troops. The flames had a devastating effect on the wood and furnishings within. In 1937 restoration work began, and after 30 years the palace was again ready, willing and able for Cinderella’s ball

You can now spend countless hours scampering up steep spiral staircases, up turret and down turret with such names as The Three Crowns and The Four Winds, and through the vast chambers of the king and queen. In its heyday, in the 15th century, a German visitor wrote: ‘I am covinced there is no other king with such a beautiful palace, with so many gilded rooms… There are no words to express, and it is even impossible to imagine the magnificence and extravagance of this palace.’

The Old Palace has been turned into a parador but in between the two is the 13th century Gothic church of Santa María la Real, Royal St. Mary, which the tourist office will tell you has ‘clear influences from Notre Dame in Paris.’ Well, I couldn’t  see any influences at all. What it does have, though, is a Gothic portal with a frieze showing its original colours, and an altar piece with 28 oil-painted panels dating from 1528. 

The nearby San Pedro (St. Peter’s) Church also exhibits a coloured frieze in its portal and 170-foot-high bell spire, known as the Needle Tower, which everybody else calls Gothic, but which to me, with its rounded and narrowing top part, looks more like the mud mosque towers of Timbuktu.

Sancho III The Great invited the Jews into his realm in the early 11th century as the Christian rulers pushed the Moslems further south, and Olite was one of the places where they settled, although there may have been an even earlier community

The sleek and harmonious silhouette of the Castle-Palace stands out against the skyline of Olite, a small town in the centre of Navarre just 42 kilometres south of Pamplona that was the seat of the Royal Court of the kingdom in the Middle Ages. The thick walls and crenelated towers of the Palace were home to monarchs and princes. Declared a national monument in 1925, it is the best example of civil Gothic architecture in Navarre and one of the most notable in Europe.  A walk through the narrow streets of Olite will take you past noble stone houses with coats or arms on their facades and grandiose wooden eaves, mediaeval galleries and splendid churches, and the Roman wall surrounding the town. 

The castle is the most important medieval monument in Navarra and one of the most popular fortresses in all of Spain. Royal seat during the Middle Ages, in 1925 it was declared a national monument. In addition to the castle, in Olite there are numerous monuments and places of interest, such as the church of San Pedro, the church of Santa María la Real, the Roman walls or the Plaza de Carlos III.

As soon as you enter Olite it is like walking directly into a fairy tale. With just a glance, the palace takes you back to the Middle Ages. Its turrets and passageways will delight anyone who loves art, architecture or history.  The palace has spectacular lookout points which afford views of the Mediaeval town of Olite. Here are ten curious historical facts  about it.

1. It was “real” royal whim. : The palace is the masterpiece of the reign of Carlos III “The Noble”. The project was of such magnitude that people used to say it had as many rooms as the days in a year. The work was an economic extravagance for the period. Charles III wanted his castle to be admired by his guests and he achieved this. It was a real royal whim.

2. Among the most luxurious of the era: When it was built, it was considered one of the most luxurious medieval castles in Europe. It was so beautiful that, in the 15th century, a German traveller wrote in his diary: “I am sure there is no king with a more beautiful palace or castle, and with so many golden rooms.”

3. It is two palaces in one: Actually, it is really two palaces, one built next to the other. The first, used today as the Parador Hotel, dates back to the 12th-13th century and only its walls and towers remain. The second, from the 14th-15th century, is considered the ‘New Palace’ and was completely rebuilt during the 20th century.  The Parador is very reasonably priced and a lovely hotel right in the heart of the village. 

4. It had famous hanging gardens. One of the most admired features of the palace were its famous hanging gardens which, like the legendary gardens of Babylon, were suspended up to 20m  above the ground, abounding in plants and flowers from all over the world. So that the courtyard would not buckle under the weight of the large plant pots, orders were given for an underground arcade to be built to act as a buttress. It is the Sala de Los Arcos or Sala de Los Murciélagos.

5. It was a royal zoo: It was traditional for European courts to keep game or exotic animals inside their castles. Carlos III’s grandson, Prince of Viana, took this hobby even further and included all sorts of animals until he had created a small zoo, with giraffes, lions, camels and all types of birds. Today you can still see the remains of the aviary in the Patio de la Pajarera.

6.  La Torre del Homenaje has exceptional views: The royal chamber is one of the most impressive rooms in the whole architectural complex. It is in the keep, which is nearly 40m tall; to reach the top, you need to climb 133 steps. The keep affords exceptional views.

7. It has a royal fridge: From the Ochavada Tower, you can see the ice well, or ‘the egg’, as the locals call it. It is the place where they stored the layers of snow that were used to preserve food. The egg-shaped lid covers a well that has a depth of about eight metres.

8. It came back from the ashes: In 1813 the palace was practically destroyed by a fire started by General Espoz y Mina to prevent the French troops from making forts inside the castle.  In 1913 it was bought by the Government of Navarre and 25 years later, a meticulous restoration began.

9. Bécquer was greatly impressed: Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer was one of the tourists who was greatly impressed by this palace.  It was at the end of the 19th century when the poet visited Olite; when he saw the castle’s deplorable state, he dedicated an essay in which he evoked the glorious days of this architectural complex.

10. A mediaeval market takes you back in time: Every year, just for two days, Olite holds its mediaeval market 

Wine

Its Mediterranean climate has also made Olite a wine capital. 

Visit its bodegas (wineries) and try their wines. 

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