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Spain and Portugal in Depth

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Nov 18th, 2014, 07:04 PM
  #1
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Spain and Portugal in Depth

It began with an overheard conversation during church coffee hour. A friend who loves to travel with her mother mentioned how she would like to go to Spain and Portugal and thought about Grand Circle travel company. I overheard her and commented, "Yes, I would recommend Grand Circle. We've enjoyed eight tours with them and each was great." There was murmuring at the table and eventually "Well, let's plan a trip together then." Now DW and I had about decided at our age we were done with overseas travel...so instead we'd toured New Brunswick and Maritimes with GCT last year. (Besides going to Maine, the Cape, and other places like Des Moines for a wedding).

Thing is, I had always had a dream of going to southern Spain. Years ago we spent some weeks in Salamanca studying St. Teresa and toured Avila, Segovia, Madrid, etc. There had been a longing to see other places like Alcazar and the Alhambra. It turned out that nine of us from the church signed up for an October 6-20 tour "Spain and Portugal in Depth" recruited by my friend. So this is a report on what we saw and did, not so much accomodations nor transportation details (being with a tour) as impressions on what we saw and did, from Madrid heading south to Andalucia and over to Ronda and Torremolinas and to Lisbon. And we did a few things no average tourist would do.

So first that late afternoon flight to Europe where you don't sleep and suddenly it's morning. We flew via Iberia from Boston. Actually, we survived without being as dragged out as we had feared. Arriving Madrid early morning we were transported to Hotel Tryp Cibeles. The hotel is right off the busy Gran Via with many shops and The Lion King showing down the block. Since the rooms weren't ready some of us friends set forth to tour the Royal Palace. Turned out it was quite a walk and yet worth it...a splendid place with rooms trimmed in gold, including the royal throne room and the marvelous Tiepolo ceiling. Also four Goya paintings of the Royalty. I like Rick Steves' commentary stroll through the palace. Later in the day our program director led us on a stroll down side streets and walkways off Gran Via. Some of our Newton, MA, group relaxed with sangrias outdoors at The Moon and then an evening meal at Public. There are so many little cafes all over, some of course are tapa bars. So typical all over Spain are outdoor tables. More later on food.

Next: more on Madrid. Feel free to chip in anytime on this report along the way.
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Nov 18th, 2014, 07:11 PM
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Looking forward to more! Loved all my trips to Spain
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Nov 19th, 2014, 06:59 AM
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Bill; Great trip and waiting for more of your adventure.
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Nov 19th, 2014, 09:31 AM
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You're taking me back to Spain and I'm looking forward to reading more about your trip.
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Nov 19th, 2014, 10:30 AM
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Good going Ozark! How does a guy from the Ozarks end up in posh Newton? My wife was born there and I did my practice teaching at NHS. There was no "South Newton HS" back then...1951.

Hope you enjoy every minute of the visit. I'll be reading! Where else in Spain and Portugal will you be going? I'll pump you up with some scanned pix of my past visits which may match some of the locations...sort of a preview.(I'm originally from Quincy..now a longtime Californian...1957)

stu tower
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Nov 19th, 2014, 10:51 AM
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I see you're back already...but here are some pics anyway


https://picasaweb.google.com/stuarttower/Portugal2008

Sevilla, Barcelona, etc. to follow
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Nov 19th, 2014, 11:02 AM
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Looking forward to this. Off to Spain next year. Thanks.

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Nov 19th, 2014, 12:02 PM
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Bill; It's hard to believe there is someone older that us on this thread. An ex would be baseball player. lol

Loved Northern Spain last year.
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Nov 19th, 2014, 03:25 PM
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Dick...if they had banned the curve ball, I coulda hit .400...still go into the cages every year, but down to 50 mph...senior eyes!
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Nov 19th, 2014, 03:28 PM
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Bill...Sevilla during Holy Week...great experience.

https://picasaweb.google.com/stuartt...villaHolyWeek#
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Nov 19th, 2014, 03:31 PM
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https://picasaweb.google.com/stuartt...ironaCadaques#

Keep that report coming, Bill. Vicarious is better than nothing.
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Nov 19th, 2014, 04:23 PM
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Following along, too! We're also off to Spain in May and am enjoying your descriptions.

Paule
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Nov 19th, 2014, 04:29 PM
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Thanks for your encouragements...so guess I'll charge forward.

First, yeah tower we are from the Ozarks (4+ years ago) now in Watertown and have been a deacon: www.2ndchurch.org...but raised in Spfld, IL.

Second, thanks for the photos...will get to Portugal eventually.

Third, yeah, I do think I'm maybe the oldest oldster here. And by the way, on this trip I didn't fall once nor even stub my toe despite the pavement of mostly rocks in concrete.

Madrid. This is a busy metropolitan city. Streets crowded, sidewalks on Gran Via filled with many nationalities. One can appreciate the fountains and gardens in Madrid seen in our city tour. A famous one is Palacio de Cibeles. We strolled around Plaza de Espana with the Don Quiote and Sancho statues and a pool leading to Temple of Debod. A major park is Retiro which we'd once been to. Should I mention the quirky little street statue of a nude flat on the pavement (Fat Naked Lady Crying, by Loussler)? Later on some walked to the Plaza Major but we'd seen that before so just rested. I do remember the many ladies sitting on benches there with their fans!

On the third full day some in the group went on an optional tour of El Escorial but we did not. Main thing was a warning about many, many steps. So this was a time for postcards and ATM and strolling around.

It is true that Spaniards here and elsewhere wake up late and likely have churros dipped into thick chocolate late morning and then a light lunch followed by siesta (and even in Madrid many shops shutter) and then things liven up in the evening with supper maybe nine or ten and the socializing. It was said that you can have traffic jams in Madrid at 3 a.m!

More about food later, but let's talk about churros. These are slender pastry fingers. And they are dipped into a thick chocolate mix made of corn starch and chocolate bars and milk. But for breakfast? I am hoping my son-in-law will mix up some. A reminder in a cuisine book that breakfast is really a social act for Spaniards which is why so many are sitting outside, weather permitting.

Speaking of breakfast, we Americans and other such visitors had a hotel breakfast buffet each morning. This included eggs, bacon, hash browns, rolls, yogurt, fruits, juices, cereal and then wouldn't you know cheeses, baked beans, salmon and other fish, jamon (ham), tortillas, olives, etc.

A few random impressions of Madrid: mostly manual shift autos, streets crowded with pedestrians, shops closed during afternoon siesta (even more so in other parts of Spain), many cigarette smokers, lots of street walkers, buying stamps at tobacco shops.

And next the Prado Museum.
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Nov 19th, 2014, 08:28 PM
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Reading with anticipation for our trip next year to Spain and Portugal.
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Nov 19th, 2014, 08:47 PM
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Following and enjoying all this.!!!

Thanks for the post.
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Nov 20th, 2014, 12:46 PM
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The Prado Museum. I had longed to return and see the renowned art displayed. My major interest was Goya...and by the way a major Goya exhibit now at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. So Prado was an afternoon in Madrid with lunch in the museum. Rick Steves has eleven pages in his 2014 guidebook and does a good job describing major art works.

Paintings that struck my fancy: Fra Angelico's Annunciation, Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, portraits by Velazquez, El Greco's Christ Carrying the Cross, Van Weyden's Descent from the Cross. And then the Goya works, the Nude Maja and Clothed Maja, Second of May 1808, and then the "black paintings" to the rear that I remembered
...Witches' Sabbath, Saturn Devouring, etc. I am going to reread a bio of Goya by Robert Hughes covering the French invasion time period and more. Yes, I would advise walking close by to see Picasso's Guernica in Arte Reina (which we'd seen before). www.museodelprado.es.en

Moving on the next day an hour getting to Toledo known as the spiritual capital of Spain. In the distance you behold Alcazar high above the Tagus River. There are several ancient bridges and an aquaduct. As Toledo sits on a hill you take a series of escalators parallel to steps. Thank god they were operating. We walked through the winding streets with a major stop at the Santa Marie Cathedral with many chapels and altarpieces, built 1126 to 1493, known as one of the best in Europe. It maintains its mudejar style with intricate details and lovely arches. Located nearby in a church is a treasure by El Greco: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz peopled by many guests including the artist gathered around the coffin with a sweeping glance toward heaven.
www.travelinspain.com/toletpg.html

On then to Cordoba after lunch at Millavilla and the next chapter of our trip. And a word about Spanish cuisine.
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Nov 21st, 2014, 02:46 AM
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I think Porto, Madrid, Andalucia, Lisbon and Barcelona are worth spending most time.

Here's a gallery of nice pics taken in Porto and Gaia:
http://www.gooporto.com/porto-sights/photo-gallery.html

I think Porto is one of Europe's more beautiful underrated cities!
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Nov 21st, 2014, 03:17 AM
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Thanks so much for the lovely description of your visit to the Prado with your listing of some of the paintings you enjoyed. I'm a big fan of Bosch, so am very excited to find out that Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights was there.

And I'm very pleased that we'll be able to see "Guernica" in its rightful home, having seen it many times in NYC's MOMA.
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Nov 21st, 2014, 10:15 AM
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Agree that the Bosch triptych Garden of Earthly Delights is a wonder and deserves close study with all the figures in portraying Paradise and Hell with gluttons and gamblers, etc.
As said I am fascinated by Goya and am reordering a biography I read a few years back by Robert Hughes.

First off, I really should say more about the cathedral in Toledo because it is so amazing. Many of us crowded around the iron grille to marvel at the high altar, real gold on wood, many scenes of the life of Christ and celebrating the Assumption of Mary. Surely reflecting the glory of Spain's treasures from the Americas. Toledo was the first city to be captured by Christian forces from Muslims in 1085 and this is depicted in carvings in the choir opposite the altar.
http://www.toledo-travelguide.com/to...cathedral.html Also 2014 marks the 400th anniversary of El Greco's death. He spent his last 37 years as an artist in Toledo.

Our destination this day was Cordoba. Landscape was flat with few houses and some wheat grown and then becoming more mountainous with so many, many olive trees on the slopes. These are usually planted two or three in one place and mounded. Spain is a major producer of olives and olive oil. The trees don't require so much water and you may have seen the harvest this year is greatly threatened by too much rain. (See an article in Boston Globe Nov. 18, 2014). Our GCT guide in fact noted in October this pending problem of too much moisture. Harvest affected in Italy also but not Greece. This is La Mancha land and at rest stop Puerto Lapice we find a metal figure of Don Quiote. Of course a photo pose next to him.

Now then, we've mentioned churros in chocolate. Let's talk more about food beginning with tapas. I remember them from Salamanca days and they are very popular, these snacks with about everything on little plates: olives, artichokes, anchovies, cheese, tuna, shrimp, mussels, meatballs, asparagus, tomato sauce, chorizo, jamon, etc. I found some tasty and some not so much so. Wish you could see the pictures of tapas in a large book Culinaria Spain. And if you can, do locate that thick, heavy volume which has so much about Spain. I'm sure there are other books as well as websites on Spanish cuisine...which I might mention is certainly not Mexican or Cuban. Yes, there is rice and beans all over the world.

Jamon...thin sliced ham is very Spanish and popular. And salty so DW wouldn't let me indulge! All sorts of seafood is served...first night we had hake. Shell fish not my first choice, though. Also tortillas, stuffed egg plant, and manchego cheese is a specialty. Lamb not my favorite is common and of course beef, chicken, pork.

And then we have paella (remember two lls are y in Spanish) which is a Valencia specialty. Included is rice or beans plus tomatoes, onions, peppers, olive oil, seasonings, some chicken or fish stock. But here's the catch. I'm used to chicken or shrimp or sausage but in Spain it may well be rabbit, snails, squid. Hmmm. Well, more comments on food and wine later.
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Nov 23rd, 2014, 03:45 AM
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Thoroughly enjoying this and look forward to more. Really enjoyed your description of your visit to the Toledo Cathedral.

I hope you were able to enjoy the ham (jamon), if only just a little!

Any way to get this identified as a Trip Report (moderators?). I sent a request via the "report abuse" messaging system, but I don't know how otherwise to contact the moderators. Anyone?
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