We arrived in Madrid in the afternoon of October 6th. Our AirBnB host, Heide, greeted us with her French Bulldog (named Roberto), and gave us a good orientation of our neighborhood, known as La Latina, near the city center or centro. Before we fell victim to jet lag, we walked around a bit, with a visit to the Plaza Mayor. The streets were packed with people out for their evening walks and dinner. We concluded the evening in the plaza Tirso de Molina for our first tapas and little beers called "cañas".
Day 2: Madrid
On our second day (really the first full day). we went straight to the Prado Museum. We spent a good four hours there taking in masterpieces by Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens. We further explored the areas around the Prado and we found our way to the vast Buen Retiro Park. The central "lake" (Estanque Grande de Retiro) was full of boaters, serious joggers were everywhere, and many were just lounging in that golden afternoon sun.
Toledo is a 30 minute high-speed train ride from Madrid. We barely had a coffee before we rushed to catch our train to this medieval city. We worked our legs hard here as it's a hill town, BUT, there is an escalator that takes you to the main plaza in the city. The streets here are very narrow and you need to press yourself against the walls in some places to let cars get past.
We went to see a historical synagogue and mosque, plus the main cathedral. This town had some major occupations, starting with the Romans, then the Moors, and the Christians. It has been referred to as the "City of the Three Cultures," having been influenced by a historical co-existence of Christians, Muslims and Jews. El Greco made his home here.
From Madrid, we made a trip to the town of Cuenca, which is one hour via train. I would certainly return here just for the hiking in the surrounding area. Like Toledo, the old town is hilly and just as beautiful. This city is known for it's Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) that are literally built on the edge of a gorge.
It was time for us to say good bye to Madrid move on to the South. On October 11th we took the AVE to Seville, with about a 5-hour layover in Córdoba. The main site we wanted to visit in Córdoba was the mosque/cathedal or La Mezquita. This is another historical monument where where both Christianity and Islam have occupied the same space, fusing styles of islamic and christian architecture.
Though the noise through the night from the bars below was constant in our charming neighborhood, we were able to get rested for our one full day in Seville. We headed that morning to the Real Alcazar, a 1000-plus year-old palace, originally built by the Moorish, Muslim kings during their occupation, and now serves as the official Seville residence of the current Spanish royalty. Oh, and if you are a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognize it for the backdrop for "Dorn."
It was hard not to become obsessed with the tiles and textures here.
Plus there were lots of places for rest and contemplation.
We really didn't want to leave the Alcazar but but needed a rest in our apartment, then continued on to see more of the city in areas such as Triana (where the Sevillans hang out) and La Macarana. In the evening we caught a Flamenco show.
On our second day, our goal was to go the the Seville Cathedral. We had a noon train to catch to Granada! There was a long line to get into the Cathedral but we were able to see it all and climb (via circular ramps) to the top of the church's tower, La Giralda. More spectacular views!
Granada was our next destination and within 3 hours via train and taxi, we were deposited at our next AirBnB apartment in a hilly neighborhood called the Albaicín. The highlight of our apartment was the spectacular views (from our roof-top terrace) of the Alhambra on the opposite hill. We needed dinner and walked the neighborhood and found our way to the center of town for an amazing meal of tapas and Spanish wine. It was much chillier here as the rain from the day before had followed us from Seville. The streets are all cobble stone and contrasted with the white buildings in the hills.
October 14th. This is the day we were really excited for. Most of the people who come here, come to see La Alhambra. It is a palace/fortress built for the Moorish Kings. After an 800-year presence in Iberia, it was the last Muslim bastion in Spain before the Christians of the Inquisition kicked them out. Did I mention ripe with history! We had morning tickets on a day that started rainy. We had to avoid long bus lines and scramble for a taxi to get there in time for our timed ticket.
The Nasrid Palaces
Our first stop on our ticket was the Nasrid Palaces—the residences over time for the occupying royalty. This just a small sampling of what we saw. The detail of the plaster or wood carving in walls and ceilings is, well, I have no words on the beauty of it all.
The Alcazaba (Citadel)
After a coffee break we worked our way outside to the fortress part of the site, with the ruins of an military garrison, plus various towers with spectacular views.
...and it just gets better as we continued to Generalife, an area of vast gardens and royal villas.
We probably spent about 6 hours in total here and truthfully, still have a lot more we could see. Guess we'll have to go back! The walk back to town was an easy down-hill stroll. We ended up at a bar for more of those cañas. A great thing about Granada bars is for every drink you buy, you get a free tapa!
Ok, so we make it back to our apartment, the sun is setting and we are relaxing on the terrace enjoying the golden light hitting Granada. The rain has cleared and we can see snow-capped mountains behind the Alhambra through the clearing clouds. Romantic, no? Well Leo thought so too, and to my surprise and joy, presented me with a ring and asked me to marry him! I said Yes of course!
Our stay in Granda was too short but very memorable. We had to get up before sunrise to catch a plane to Barcelona. The less than 2-hour flight was full of tourists mostly, some we could over hear talking about that evening's soccer game in Barcelona which we were going to as well. We were staying with my dear friend Jan and were able to meet up with her and go out for an amazing lunch before rushing off to make the afternoon game at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona's stadium.
The next morning we relaxed and chatted with Jan and her boyfriend Dermot, before making a relaxed venture out into town for brunch. They pointed out some cool points of interest neither of us had seen in our previous visits here—Roman ruins (Barcelona is a former Roman settlement); hidden plazas; dragon iconography in the city's architecture; evidence of the civil war (bullet or blast riddled walls) to name a few.
After brunch, Jan and Dermot headed home and we had tickets to see La Sagrada Família, the cathedral designed by Antoni Guadí. It has been under construction for over 130 years and still has about 10 years to go. It is really the icon of Barcelona as its spires are visible throughout the city. Leo and I have both been to it before, but the last time I visited it, it didn't have a roof yet. Now it is spectacular!
We stayed there until it closed, had a relaxing beer outside the entrance to watch the myriad tourists with their selfie sticks, before heading off once again to meet Jan and Dermot for dinner at Taverna El Glop, a place known for it's Paella... yum!
On October 17th, We had the morning to see a bit more before heading back to Madrid. Jan works for Time Out Barcelona, so we went with her to her office and stashed our luggage there so we could walk around a bit more before catching our train.
Off to Madrid
It was time time to say goodbye and head back to Madrid. It was hard to believe the trip was almost over. Three hours to Madrid (that's about 380 miles averaging 100 miles/hr, weeee!)
When we checked into our hotel for our last night we didn't stay inside long. We went to see one more museum, the contemporary CaixaForum. We were staying near the Plaza Mayor so returned there and also went to check out the Gran Vía (sort of Madrid's Broadway).