Travelogue Europe: Portugal, Spain and the Pyrenees Travelogue Europe: Portugal, Spain and the Pyrenees
On Tuesday, we left the chillier confines of "merry olde" England and arrived in warm, and sunny Lisbon, Portugal. I was reunited with a long-time musical ally, the Angolan-born, Brazilian raised Carlos Martins. Carlos was an excellent host, and showed us a side of Lisbon not seen by most tourists. Lisbon was surprisingly buoyant; the kids were out of school and the plazas were full of energy and life. The tiny, aged cobblestone streets are a bit slippery, but with an eye towards caution, we'll manage. Lisbon has been called the San Francisco of Europe; it has its own version of the Golden Gate Bridge, the hills and the cable car trolleys are a lot like home, and the monuments to the earthquake of 1755 is a sombre reminder of the volatile nature of this region.
Our first stop was a lovely, outdoor restaurant high atop Lisbon called "Lost in Esplanada"; great views, great food and a colorful atmosphere, I highly recommend you make it one of your stops if you visit. A Thursday night music series of world, jazz and blues is icing on the cake.
Castle Sintra and the Trolley Cars
Like the ancient castle in Carccassone, France, Castle Sintra, aka "The Castle of the Moors", is a big attraction and shines like a beacon on the skyline of Lisbon at night. Unlike Carcassonne, the castle wasn't very successful at defending the town against the Spanish invaders, and changed hands more often than not. The little yellow, "Brill" designed trolley cars of Lisbon have both an old world charm and a cute look about them that make them really unique. These things go up and down streets the size of alleys, and go where no car dares to travel. San Francisco actually has one of these in their trolley collection, Streetcar No. 189 from Porto, Portugal.
Near the town of Alverca, Carlos and I performed at the eclectic Roxy Romeo Club, once a stop for a variety of acts, the club is now only used for private functions and special events. Francisco, the owner of the seaside club, is a man who loves music, and runs the club with his wonderful wife, son and daughter. There are shops, and fantastic restaurants in this hidden cove on the Atlantic; the crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative. Portugal turned out to be one of the best parts of the journey.
The Pyrenees, Bilheres en Ossau and Spain
After sightseeing, and performing in Portugal for several days, it was time to return to France for the last concert with the rest of the Wilbur Rehmann Quartet. The devastating floods in Lourdes caused an estimated 1 billion Euros in damage, and wiped out a few roads in the south of France. Our journey would take us past that region, to the foot hills of the Pyrenees mountains, and a town south of Pau, in the valley of Ossau.
Bilheres en Ossau sits high atop the Pyrenees; this lovely village boasts some of the most spectacular views and wonderful bed & breakfasts. Our hosts at the L'Arrajou chambres were marvelous and also real music lovers .The Gite Auberge de Ossau, located down the road, also hosts a summer jazz series. It was just amazing to perform outdoors there, with a truly spectacular backdrop, and to see the rest of the townspeople, some of whom actually lined the walls of the village to see our sold out shows.
The following day, we decided to venture over the border with Spain, some 30 miles away to the town of Gallant de Gallejos. The border station between France and Spain is now a vandalized, derelict outpost, left as a reminder of the dictatorship of Spain's Francisco Franco. Once manned with security police armed with sub-machine guns and automatic pistols until 1976, it now stands as a grim monument against the backdrop one of the most pastoral settings on earth, teeming with hikers, families, shops and restaurants. The town of Gallant de Gallejos is a beautiful resort area, rebuilt with modernity, but without losing its old world charm. The town now has summer music festivals, films and a ski resort open to visitors from around the world.
Now back where we started nearly a month, ago we decide to enjoy a bit of dinner in Toulouse. An old world city with a beautiful plaza, Toulouse is the aero-flight capital of France. All of the aeronautic engineers are here and the French have recruited them from around the world. This has been a fun and exciting journey for us. So plan to take a trip, rack up those frequent flyer miles, and experience other cultures and peoples whenever you can. You'll be very glad you did! L'adventure se poursuit!