España 2016 a fall trip to spain

For almost two weeks in October, Leo and I traveled throughout Spain. We had a magical trip, encountering many places ripe with ancient history. We also experienced a very modern country while streaking cross-country at 180 mph on the high speed train, the AVE. We are certain to return as we still have a lot more to see, and look forward to meeting more wonderful people, eating fabulous tapas and just relaxing in a plaza with a couple of cañas.

Day 1: Madrid

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

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 one. We arrived at our AirbBnB loft/apartment after a delicious vegetarian meal around the corner at Bar Pavon. We then did what we like to do when arriving in a new city and started to explore the neighborhood.

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.

Streets of Madrid and Buen Retiro Park, which is magical in the afternoon light.

Day 3: Toledo

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo

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.

This fortress city is surrounded on three sides by the Rio Tajo.

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.

Highlights were the Cathedral of Toledo, Santa Maria La Blanca (a former synagogue and the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing) and Cristo de la Luz ( a former mosque). The weather thus far warm and sunny.

Day 4: Madrid

Our street, Calle de la Encomienda

Our next full day in Madrid was Sunday. We were pretty spent by our day in Toledo, plus the jet lag really kicked in. We slept in late, but heard live jazz coming from somewhere nearby and realized the main Sunday flea market (or Feria) was happening just a few blocks away. The market was packed with people, musicians were everywhere. We inched our way through it on our way to our next stop, the Reina Sofía museum. There we saw more amazing artwork, including Picasso's Guernica.

El Rastro flea market; looking up, way up, from the Reina Sofía courtyard; more street exploring—we were amazed by the light in Madrid in the late afternoon and I enjoyed the graffiti.

Day 5: Cuenca

Parador de Cuenca

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.

From Cuenca's modern train station it is about a 25 minute bus ride to the old town's Plaza Mayor. The town is split by a gorge where you can see the Hanging Houses clinging to the cliffs.
Plaza Mayor, Cuenca
This bridge connects the two sides of the gorge. You really don't want to look down, but it's worth getting on for the views!

Another highlight of this outing was the Cathedral. It is over 700 years old and in the Gothic style. It's stained glass windows cast beautiful colors around the interior spaces. Inside the cathedral was an exhibit by the Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei.

Leo sketching and walking around the cathedral in Cuenca; beautiful interior colors were created by the stained-glass windows; the artist/activist Ai Weiwei had an exhibit here where he created about 3/4 scale "rooms" with sculptures depicting his experiences while in prison in China.
Leo's sketch from our cafe table.

After a beautiful day in Cuenca, We returned to Madrid for one more night and decided to check out the Mercado de San Miguel. It is an extremely popular food market that probably contained every millennial in the city and an amazing array of tapas or fresh food to buy.

The scene at the Mercado de San Miguel; Exotic seafood.

Day 6: Córdoba-Seville

Real Alcazar, Seville

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.

Styles and textures of the Mezquita.

During our short stay we were able to explore more of the old city of Córdoba before catching the next train to Seville. Córdoba is notable for its white walls and colorful hanging potted plants and flowers.

Leo's sketch from the Puente Romano
The Puente Romano bridge; Leo sketching; the Salon de Te where we enjoyed a break; a typical wall in Córdoba—white with colorful hanging potted plants; the old city wall near the Puerta de Almodóvar; a sheep dog getting relief from the heat.

On to Seville

From Córdoba, we continued via train, arriving in Seville in the late afternoon. We checked into our next AirBnB apartment where our sweet host gave us a good intro to the city. She warned us it could be a bit noisy that night as it was a the national holiday the next day (Día de la Hispanidad, sort their Columbus day but more national pride). She wasn't wrong but it was nothing ear plugs couldn't fix.

We were situated very close to the historical sites, but on our arrival, Leo discovered there was also a little gem a few blocks away which we went to that evening—the Setas de Sevilla (Mushrooms of Seville). They are these waffle-like structures that form a canopy over a plaza. There is an observation deck at the top for amazing 360 views of the city.

the top of Las Setas
Taking a breather before we went out to see Seville; Las Setas from the Plaza de La Encarnación and from the observation deck above. The 360 views of Seville were amazing. Even more amazing was the Antiquarium (a subterranean museum) that showcased Roman ruins that were discovered in the 90s when the city was trying make an underground parking garage (only in Spain!).

Day 7: Seville

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."

The palace details are stunning and the gardens lush, full of peacocks, labyrinths, hundreds of paths.

It was hard not to become obsessed with the tiles and textures here.

Plus there were lots of places for rest and contemplation.

Lots of beautiful fountains and reflecting pools.

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.

Resting in our apartment before heading back out to see more of Seville. We walked into the night, got caught in a rain shower, and with wet feet made to our 10PM Flamenco show.

Day 8: Seville-Granada

From the Top of La Giralda

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!

Horse-drawn carriages in the square near the Cathedral; huge vaulted interior spaces; Columbus' tomb; views from the top could be reached by ascending circular ramps inside the tower.

Next stop, Granada!

Cats rule Granada

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.

Walking the neighborhoods of the Albaicín and the gypsy area of Sacromonte. Chilling with the view on the terrace. At night they beautifully light up the Alhambra.

Day 9: Granada

La Alhambra

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.

Various views of the palaces. Water in fountains and reflecting pools are a constant theme through the Alhambra. The infinite tile patterns are mind boggling.
Alhambra textures and patterns.

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.

Views from the palaces and various towers and walls.


...and it just gets better as we continued to Generalife, an area of vast gardens and royal villas.

Who needs a camera when you have a Leo!

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!

The walk back to town; beer and free tapas; the walk back to our hill-side neighborhood.

The surprise...

sunset from the Albaicín

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!

Leo planned to propose to me in Spain, and once he saw this view, he knew this was the place to do it!

Granada will absolutely be a city to remember! We hope to be back for a longer visit.

Day 10: Barcelona

our early flight to BCN

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.

On approach to Barcelona; enjoyed a match of futbol; Messi is the player in the top left of the circle in the centerfield; Barcelona beats Deportivo, 4-0.

This first day in Barcelona was a whirlwind as we left the game to meet Jan for a dinner at an another amazing restaurant in the Born neighborhood. I visited Jan in Barcelona once before, 14 years ago, not long after she moved there. She says the city has changed a lot since with so many more tourists that it can be a bit overwhelming to go out on the weekends! Even so, I can imagine it's an amazing place to live in.

Day 11: Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia

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.

Jan and Dermot hamming it up on the Metro; Roman columns; exploring the Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter) and around the Cathedral de la Seu; civil war damage (left intact to remember not to do THAT again, hopefully); a napping dog; Born Centre Cultural (which housed more ruins found during a construction project).

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!

The more freshly minted towers on the South-West side.
Although you have to mentally blot all the construction cranes on the outside, the inside with it's organic tree-like columns and light details will keep you staring upward until your neck aches.

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!

A huge platter of paella and our new favorite Spanish wine region that Jan introduced us to, Ribera Del Duero.

Our one full day in Barcelona quickly came to an end. Thanks to Jan and Dermot for enhancing our stay and pointing out things we would not catch easily in a guide book. It was to be short visit, as we needed to catch an afternoon train the next day back to Madrid and the flight back the day after that.

Day 12: Barcelona-Madrid

La Boqueria

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.

Jan making critical editing decisions at work; the wall of covers at Time Out's offices; we rambled up and down Las Ramblas; Visited a couple of markets, including La Boqueria and a less touristy market, Mercat de Santa Caterina, which I wish we had down our street instead of a Pavillions.

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!)

Views from the train from Barcelona to Madrid. This route has arid country-side, sprinkled with the occasional hill town topped with a castle or ancient looking church. Next time a trip by car may be in order!

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).

Plaza Mayor; a Picasso on exhibit at the CaixaForum; the Gran Vía.

Day 13: Madrid-Los Angeles

The next morning we actually had time to grab a café con leche and a pastry before catching a cab for the airport. We had a great taxi driver who pointed out interesting landmarks as we left the city. We really got to milk every last minute of this trip. Hope you enjoyed this little travel journal. We had a great time and looked forward to getting back home and reuniting with the Murph! Adios!

Created By
Jennifer Field

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