Hola Blog Fans, it’s been a while since the last update so welcome back. I had a 2 week business trip to California and other than that, we had been staying pretty local to Derby for a while in anticipation of our big Spanish adventure. Behold our route:
This 9 day trek through Spain has been in the making for some time now. We wanted to go somewhere warm and exciting for our 1 year wedding anniversary. Tara had previously spent 6 weeks in Spain during college for a study abroad class and I took 5 years of Spanish in high school so it seemed like the clear winner for a 9 day trip.
We based our starting and ending cities (Madrid and Barcelona) based on cheap airfares and mapped out a round-about route through some of the big name sights in Spain. We booked our hotels in advance, but left most everything else to figure out on the fly.
- Madrid: Spain’s capitol city and also its biggest city
- Seville: The capitol of the Andalucia region
- Granada: Beautiful city at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains known for the Alhambra
- Valencia: 3rd largest city in Spain
- Barcelona: The capitol of the Catalania region and Spain’s 2nd largest city
Since we covered so much ground, this will be a 2 part post. This was also the first occasion where we bought a guide book for a trip. We bought the Rick Steves guide to Spain and it really made the trip great. I would highly recommend for anyone taking an extended Spain trip.
We landed Friday evening in Madrid. Shortly after checking into our hotel, we met up with our good friend Fritz who is currently living in Madrid. You may remember Fritz from blog posts such as Stonehenge/Bath, Lincoln, or any number of others. We met up at the Museo de Jamon, or Ham Museum for the non Spanish people.
Judging by the name (Ham Museum), I thought we were headed to an actual museum. I was just hoping that there would be some food and beer at the end of the exhibits. As it turns out, the Ham Museum is actually a tapas restaurant with tons of different types of Ham. Win WIn.
The next day, we jumped right into the tourist activities. Thanks to Rick Steves’ guidebook, the Prado museum was really enjoyable. The book guided us to all of the important paintings and explained why we should care about them. He also linked everything together into a history lesson that even the most museum ADD person can follow. The best part of all was that we were in and out in an hour or so. WIthout a plan of attack, you could spend all day in here. Sorry no pictures were allowed inside.
Next up was some walking and exploring of Madrid’s plazas. We ended up grabbing some tapas in plaza Santa Anna. I feel like American cities are lacking in pedestrian plazas. They were very abundant in Spain and I really enjoyed them.
After lunch, we followed our first of many Rick Steve’s walking tours. I’ll breeze through the highlights.
We didn’t know it on the outset, but we ran into a bunch of Guinness World Records on this trip. While not that exciting, here is the “oldest door on the oldest building in Madrid”.
That night, we hit another Guinness World Record. We ate at Restaurant Botin, which is the oldest restaurant in the world. I got the suckling pig, which was really tasty. Food pics will be in part II of this Spain blog post.
On Sunday, we met up with Fritz again and squeezed in some more sights before heading off to Seville on the high speed train. We made our way back to the Royal Palace and actually went inside this time. It was closed at the end of the previous day’s walking tour. Rick Steves called it the 3rd most extravagant European Palace behind Versailles in Paris and Schönbrunn in Vienna. You weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside but I can tell you that it wasn’t anywhere near as extravagant as Versailles. One cool fact is that it is still in use. We only got to tour 1 floor and even that floor is closed off to tourists and used by the important people of Spain about once a month.
Next up, we headed to Temple of Debod, which was a gift from the Egyptians in 1968 but it was actually built in 200 BC. On the way there, we saw some people taking jumping pictures and it looked like fun so we stole their idea.
Next up was the Buen Retiro Park, which is a huge 350 acre park in the heart of Madrid. We walked around and enjoyed the nice weather while catching up with Fritz. We searched out the infamous ‘Crystal Palace’ only to find out that it was just a glass building. With a name like Crystal Palace, I was picturing Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
Before we hopped on the train, we headed to a really popular marketplace for tapas, Mercado San Miguel. It was a really cool place. There were tons of stalls of food vendors selling mostly tapas. We had a few tapas and drinks before saying farewell to Fritz and Madrid. Another interesting note was that we were able to get food and drinks past 4:00 pm on a Sunday. For anyone who lives in the UK, they know that doing that is pretty much impossible. Nothing is open Sunday afternoon/evening.
So Sunday evening we hopped on the high speed train and cruised over to Seville. The high speed train was really great. It was expensive, but really convenient, easy, and comfortable. We covered 330 miles in about 2 hours. Google says it would take 5.5 hours to drive there.
The first thing we did when we got there was grab some food. At this point it was 11:00 pm on a Sunday night but it was no problem. We found a bunch of places that were open and serving people eating dinner at a perfectly ‘normal’ time. Every restaurant seemed to have bulls heads on the wall, which was a foreshadowing for what we learned the next day.
The next day, we planned out all the sights we were going to go see. However, on the way to our first sight of the day, Tara fell in love with a pretty little local named Rosalita. I tried to break up the love fest but I was unsuccessful.
So we ended up taking a detour carriage tour through Spain. It was a beautiful sunny day so it didn’t take much convincing before I caved and said yes to Tara, Rosalita, and the very persistent Spanish speaking horse driver. My reluctance even caused the Spanish guy to knock 10 euros off the price.
The horse drawn carriage tour turned out to be a really efficient way to see a lot of the city that we wouldn’t have normally gone to. Even though our guide only spoke Spanish, we seemed to get the message he was trying to convey.
After our horse detour, we got back to our schedule and headed for the Sevilla Cathedral. This isn’t just any old church; it happens to hold the Guinness World Record for the church with the largest area. 126 meters by 82 meters for those of you keeping score at home.
This church also has the remains of Spain’s most famous man: Christopher Columbus, who is mostly known for sailing the ocean blue in 1492 and discovering America, even though he thought it was in Asia or India at the time. We ran into a bunch of Columbus history throughout our trip. This was the first bit.
The church also had a legit tower called the Giralda Tower, which offered some great views of the city.
Next up, we used our informative Rick Steves guidebook to take a few walking tours of the city and get our bearings. The city has a great vibe to it. It’s not as big and metropolitan as Madrid. It has an old school feel, but modern at the same time. You can wind through tiny old neighborhoods and come out into a big bustling main street with a brand new tram. Our walking tour ended at the bullfighting stadium and museum.
Unfortunately, we arrived in Spain after bullfighting season was over, but we learned a lot about it at the museum. Sevilla is the bullfighting capitol of Spain and it is immensely popular. Going in, I had the idea that it was cruel to kill a bull for entertainment, but the museum totally brainwashed me into thinking it was cool. First of all, the bull has a perfectly good opportunity to kill anyone who steps in that arena with him. Although deaths are rare, people do get mamed and impaled every so often. Second of all, the dead bull’s meat goes on sale the next day at all of the local markets. Cows are killed for human consumption all the time. At least this cow got to go out with a bang. Sorry for all you vegetarians out there (not really).
That evening I experienced my first ever Flamenco show. In layman terms, Flamenco can be described as a woman on stage doing a very passionate (some might say angry) dance with a lot of foot stomping and booty shaking. In the background, there is a guitar player and some really good male singers who sing opera style music. I thought it was very entertaining overall. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but we snuck a few anyway.
The next day, we hopped on a bus and headed for Granada.
Hasta Luego Sevilla!
Next up on our whirlwind trip was Granada. You wouldn’t know it by looking at a map, but the city of Granada is located on a few mini mountains. The main business area is located at the bottom of these mini mountains. The Alhambra (huge Moorish fort/castle) is located on top of one of the mini mountains and the Albayzin neighborhood is located on the side of one of these mini mountains. Our hostel was located in the old school, quaint, and always sloping Albayzin neighborhood. For context, see the photo below. I took the photo on the top of the Alhambra. You can see the neighborhood crammed onto the side of a mountain. It makes for a really cool place to visit, but living there would probably get old with all the hill climbing and tiny narrow streets.
We had a cab take us from the bus station to somewhere near our hostel. Because this neighborhood is so old and slanted, there aren’t a lot of roads. About half of it was pedestrian (or scooter) only. Although sometimes you would see cars in places that you swore it was impossible for them to fit.
After we dropped our bags, we headed straight for Granada’s main attraction: The Alhambra. To understand the Alhambra, I’ll need to provide a brief history lesson. Don’t worry, it’s incredibly oversimplified and probably inaccurate so just hang tight and keep reading. The Romans ruled Spain until about 400ish AD (just like everywhere else). After that, the Moors showed up. For those of you who unfamiliar with the Moors (I was), they are just Muslims from North Africa. The Moors ruled Spain into the 1200s and built the Alhambra as their extravagant palace/stronghold at the top of Granada. To quote my favorite history teacher Rick Steves,
“This last and greatest Moorish palace is one of Europe’s top sights. Attracting up to 8,000 visitors a day, it’s the reason most tourists come to Granada. Nowhere else does the splendor of Moorish civilization shine so beautifully.”
Alright, enough background. On to the photos. First stop in the Alhambra was the Palacio Nazaries, which was the really fancy portion where the royalty lived.
Next up was Charles V’s Palace. If you ask me, it’s the perfect place for a jumping picture.
Next, we made our way to the fort portion of the grounds for some killer views.
Next up was the Generallife Gardens.
That’s pretty much it for the Alhambra. It was definitely worth the price of admission. And once again, we skipped the monotone audio tour because we had the guidebook navigating us through the huge palace. As you have probably gathered, I really liked the guidebook.
Now it was time to wind our way through the little neighborhood to find our hostel. It was a 20 minute uphill walk with 7 or so turns to make while traversing corkscrewing roads, footpaths, and stairs. It kinda goes without saying that we got lost a few times. The first time we got lost, we ended up at St. Nicholas Church, which is known for a really good view of the Alhambra. We just happened to get lost there at sunset, which made for a pretty decent picture of the Alhambra.
After some more exploring, we made it to our hostel. Once we got there, we realized it was more of a hippie commune than a hostel. There was a tree house, a hang-out room with bean bags, and all sorts of hippy swag. We were warned by the person that recommended it to us so we weren’t all that surprised, but it was a definite change of pace from our semi nice hotels we had been staying at prior to this. We met some really nice people there who shared their stories of life on the road. Most of them were taking extended backpacking trips through Europe.
The next day was the big labor strike that most of Spain participated in. You can read about it in this NY Times article here if you are interested. Because of the strike, a lot of businesses were closed and there were protests. Some restaurants were still open though. We took the opportunity to visit a Muslim bath house. I know it sounds weird, but you basically just chill in pools of varying temperatures and get a massage. This was another one of Tara’s ideas, but It was actually really relaxing. You couldn’t take pictures inside for obvious reasons.
After the spa, we headed back up to the top of hill and found a restaurant that was open. It served Alhambra Reserva, which came highly recommended from our Spanish friend Rafa. It did not disappoint. Tara even made a few new friends at lunch.
After lunch, we followed another Rick Steves walking tour around the city and learned about various historical sites.
Here’s a statue of Queen Isabel and Christopher Columbus after he returned from America with all his riches. The queen said that Chris could keep 1/8 of all his treasures from then on. After Columbus got back from America, the Queen promised him the ranks of Admiral of the Oceans and Governor of the New World. Funny enough, Queen Isabel actually died thinking that Columbus had found India or China.
About the time we finished our walking tour, we started to see more and more protestors. We also started to hear firecrackers going off (or at least that’s what it sounded like). The hippies at the hostel warned us that the police/protestors can get voilent during these protests so we decided it would be best to head back to the hostel for the main part of the protest.
That evening, we stayed in our quiet neighborhood and watched the news broadcast at a local bar. It looked like the protests did indeed get pretty voilent in some areas. There was lots of video of cops beating down citizens and citizens causing all sorts of destruction. Good thing we listened to the hippies and avoided the hoopla.
The next morning, we took the slowest train ever to Valencia, but I’ll let Tara talk about that in part II of our Spanish adventure. Stay tuned.
Hasta Luego Amigos.