In 1989 Mike started a tradition –now in its 30th year–of drawing for me birthday cards commemorating our travels. In 1989 Mike took a sabbatical of 3+ months in Spain. While we were based in Madrid we took off on many side trips throughout Spain to reinforce his research and to delve into Spanish history and cultural—and, yes,visit vineyards and wineries.

We returned to Spain many times after and have seen the country radically change. Franco died in 1975, Spain was admitted to the EU in 1986 and Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992. These 3 factors have had a tremendous affect in making Spain the modern, democratic society it is today. In 1989 Spain was a virtually cash-only economy–no credits cards–in ’89 international tourism was sparse (except for the Northern European sun-seekers along the Mediterranean coast)–in ’89 the highway system was dominated by 2 lane “highways” that seemed to go through every small village– although EU sponsored limit access highways were in the early stages. Communication for us was difficult since our Spanish on arrival was rudimentary (it got much better quickly) and English or any international second language was hard to come by even in the cosmopolitan city of Madrid. Saying all this we still loved Spain (although we never really got the hang of 10pm dinners).

Now the birthday cards. The ’89 card represents the famous windmills of the area of La Mancha –a stop on our very first trip out of Madrid in our leased car. On this week long trip we covered major parts of Andalusia and southern Portugal. As an aside: in Madrid we housed in a bare-bones pensione with a great location near the historic center of the city within easy walking distance of the Prado Museum to our east and the Plaza Major to our west. When we traveled our landlady, Angela, would have our room (a large bedroom with 2 lounge chairs, and an en suite bathroom with a shower) ready for us on return and didn’t charge us for the lapsed time. She also kept our excess luggage.

The ’90 card shows the Monastery of Montserrat–a pilgrim site in the mountains northwest of Barcelona known for its statute of a Black Madonna. On this side trip from Madrid we stayed in Sitges, a village just south of Barcelona, which at the time was a quiet seaside town. In a more recent visit we barely recognized Sitges since it now “boasts” a long string of 20-30 story condos. Of course, we visited the always intriguing city of Barcelona. At the time Gaudi’s Segrada Familia was anything but a tourist site–that changed with the ’92 Olympics. In ’89 we were 2 of perhaps 20 folks milling about the church, now reservations are required and waiting lines are extensive.

The ’91 drawing is of the Castle of Penafiel, north of Madrid, in the wine area of Ribera del Duero. An actual working winery is dug into the base of the castle’s mountain. Spain has around 2000 castles that were built for village protection during the long-drawn out battle between Christians and Moors during the reconquest of Spain from the 8th century to 1492.

The ’92 card disappeared.

Both the ’93 and ’94 cards commemorate a 3 week summer trip we took in 1993 along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The Royal Palace of Olite (’93), started in the 13th century, guards the walled village of Olite which lies a short distance south of Pamplona. The Palace includes a Parador where we spent 2 nights. The humped-back Romanesque Puente of Reina (’94) was built in the 11th century for pilgrims who were traveling the Camino. The 3 arch bridge sits serenely over the placid water.

The Cordoba card of ’95 card tries to capture the graceful and intricate interior–a field of arched columns– of this truly fantastic and mammoth Great Mosque of Cordoba. The Mosque dates from the 8th century. After the reconquest of Cordoba by the Christians in the 15th century a full-sized cathedral was built within the Mosque but is still dwarfed by the Mosque.

The ’96 birthday card shows the Courtyard of the Lions, one of many beautiful courtyards in the Alhambra of Granada. The complex of buildings was established by the Moors in the 13th century as a fortress–but what a fortress! The architecture combines space, light, water and intricate patterned stucco decoration to form a magical and sensual experience. To many, one of the highlights of Spain. Alhambra and Granada fell to the Christians in 1492 being the last holdout of the Moors in Spain. Unfortunately on our visit in the summer of ’89 we were too late to take in the splendor of the extensive gardens–another time?

While I haven’t quite caught up to 2020 I’m close, more to come!


About carolinebotwin

Caroline Botwin and her husband Mike are retired educators who have always had a yen for travelling: he with a PH.D and teaching Architectural Engineering plus California wine education, and she having taught high school English, speech and drama. Both wanted to learn first hand about other cultures. While Mike predominately studied buildings and structures and met with winemakers, Caroline hunted for ancient sites and peoples. And kept journals of all their travels.
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