Spain: Take Two

Old Nov 29th, 2022, 12:56 PM
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I love your photos of the Alhambra! We have some similar ones but I think you have more and better detail shots. Do you use your IPhone or a camera? We spent about 5 to 6 hours at the Alhambra because not only did we stop to eat sandwiches we bought at a cafe the night before but we also had drinks and appetizers later on, I think at the Hotel America. And we also visited the Alcazaba, so we really took our time. We also had the night tour which was magical. The Alhambra is one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. But you did see a neighborhood we didn’t see. Never saw those unique wall murals you took photos of.
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Old Nov 29th, 2022, 01:13 PM
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Thank you Maribel!

Karen - I used my camera phone - I've gotten really tired of carrying my 'real' camera around so just use my phone these days - Pixel 3a.

When planning this trip I wanted to visit at night as well, but they stopped night visits in mid-October or so, so not even an option for us.
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Old Nov 29th, 2022, 01:18 PM
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For anyone planning a night visit in fall/winter, from Oct. 15-March 31, they only give them on Fridays/Saturdays from 8-9:30 pm, which wouldn't have worked for mel since she wasn't there on the weekend.
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 07:46 AM
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Nov 1 -

I was churched out, but the previous night Donna had made a booking for the Granada Cathedral; the first available time at 3:30, as it was Día de Todos los Santos, All Saints Day, a national holiday, and what would turn out to be the highlight of our stay in Granada (€6 each including €1 booking fee).

Evidently, Día de Todos los Santos is an important day in Spain, and I’ve read that people from all over the country return to their towns or villages to lay flowers on the graves of deceased relatives.

She’d also made a booking for Capilla Real Granada, The Royal Chapel of Granada, the burial place of the Spanish monarchs, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand, for which we were given an entry time between 10:00-2:00 (€6 each including €1 booking fee).

Online bookings in Spain had proven to be a PITA. Every booking required our passport numbers and other details. I’m hopeless at booking using my cell phone (Bill had taken the laptop home with him), but Donna saved the day several times using her iPad.

The day began unusually quiet, Granada was sleeping in. Donna mentioned that last night she’d heard a woman scream; we hoped it was just Halloween related.

We set out to find a bakery breakfast, me now knowing where most of them were thanks to my meander last night. We settled on Pasteleria El Sol, where we noshed on bolleria York queso (ham and cheese croissants) washed down with a lovely café con leche (€9.40).

Thus far, the food in Granada had been disappointing, but Pasteleria El Sol restored our faith somewhat. Granted, we hadn’t experimented a lot, but many of the options just weren’t tempting.

We eventually worked our way over to Capilla Real, dodging a mob scene of decked out worshippers near the cathedral. We were surprised to find a very long non-moving queue at Capilla Real - which didn’t open until 11 am today (despite our 10-2 booking). With the cathedral closed most of the day for Día de Todos los Santos, evidently the tourists decided to go to Capilla Real instead.


Off to church

Street leading to Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

Granada

Queue for Capilla Real Granada

Grim Reaper near Capilla Real Granada, posing with kids

Looking up as we stood in line

Exterior Capilla Real Granada and side of Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

We downloaded the audio guide on our phones, which worked pretty well; we spent about an hour in the chapel; both finding it interesting. Photos weren’t allowed, which bummed Donna out a bit, but I think it improved the experience because it eliminated the photo slow-down and no one was posing and preening. Quite refreshing actually.

Afterwards we wandered through the Alcaicería for a bit, stopped for ice cream, then sat on a bench and people watched for a while before settling at a table at Gran Cafe Bib Rambla, which appeared to be a popular choice, although on the busy tourist square.


Alcaicería

Alcaicería

Alcaicería

There's always room for ice cream

Bib Rambla

Bib Rambla

We wiled away the afternoon over a plate of not-very-good patatas fritas (for someone who seldom eats French fries, I’d been eating a lot of them lately), two glasses of red for me, two Coke Zeros for Donna (€18.40). Once again, service wasn’t very good; tourist burnout perhaps?

We eventually made our way back to the Granada Cathedral for our 3:30 booking. There weren't many people in the church which sort of surprised us.

Churched out or not, I can’t deny that this church is fabulous, especially the ceiling. I absolutely loved it.


Steps of Granada Cathedral

Near Bib Rambla

Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

Now that's a door!

Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

Granada Cathedral

Our Air BNB host had told us that there would be a procession tonight around 5:30 that would start at the cathedral and go directly by our building. In the church, we saw a few people working on a float of the Virgin Mary that would be used in the procession.


Procession preparation, Granada Cathedral

We eventually tore ourselves away, popped into the grocery store, and then went back to the apartment. The noise outside our window grew louder and louder; we looked out and saw a large crowd gathering below on both sides of the apartment. Then we heard a band. Eventually, the Virgin Mary perched on her float, lurched towards the apartment, followed by a crowd of people.

We had front row seats for the procession and we both got some good video; an unexpected Granada highlight for both of us.


Gathering crowd outside our window

Gathering crowd outside our window

And there she is

Procession

Procession

Procession band

Later, we heard the band approach again; sure enough, the procession was going by again just a street over from our apartment; this happened several times and we began to wonder if it would go on all night.

We walked back to Pasteleria El Sol, hoping for another ham and cheese croissant and something sweet. The place was packed, no place to sit, and the same wait staff from this morning was still on duty, running full tilt. We asked about ordering something for takeout and were told it wasn’t possible; it wasn’t clear if what we wanted wasn’t available, or if takeout in general wasn’t available, but the staff seemed disinterested in us so we left.

Granada had been interesting, but paled in comparison to Seville. The weather had been lovely though, no complaints there, a high of 21 c today.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Nov 30th, 2022 at 07:54 AM.
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 01:00 PM
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Nov 2 –

We had a leisurely morning, and returned to Pasteleria El Sol for breakfast, which was much quieter than the previous night. Donna had a bit of trouble communicating that she wanted tomato on her bolleria York queso (ham and cheese croissant), but they finally worked it out. We’d also ordered a chocolate éclair to share, and while the chocolate bit was good, I wasn’t a fan of its mystery filling.

Today we were headed to Madrid. While planning I’d considered both bus and train transport, but decided to book the train as it shaved an hour off the journey. I’d chosen Elige (2nd class) at 49.70 each instead of Elige Comfort (First class) at 108.80 each, as I couldn’t justify the cost for such a short journey (just over three hours).

This time of year there are only three train options, 6:30 am, 1:18, and 5:40 pm. I’d booked the time that made the most sense for us, the 1:18, not realizing that we’d need to change trains at Antequera-S. Ana.

Normally a train change wouldn’t concern me, especially a 13 minute one, but I was a bit worried this time. I didn’t know if we needed to go through security twice, and if so how long that would take, so I asked on Fodor’s, and Maribel assured me it would be seamless.

Renfe had sent me an e-mail a few days before - in Spanish – which, best as we could tell, advised us that our assigned coach had changed on the second leg.

Our Air BNB host was kind enough to arrange a taxi for a noon pick up (€15).

Once at the Granada train station, an employee made a few announcements prior to boarding; we were a bit clueless as to what had been said, but when in doubt, follow the crowd.

We cleared security and boarded the train; it wasn’t busy and we had no trouble finding space for our luggage at the end of the train.

When we reached Antequera-S. Ana about an hour later, it wasn’t clear where we were to go for our connecting train, Nothing helpful appeared on the display monitor, so I approached a conductor at the station, and was told the train would be leaving from the same platform.

An employee then came along and announced in Spanish where passengers should stand based on their carriage number. I approached her and asked if she spoke English, and she told us to move further down the platform. Easy.

The second train was much busier than the first, and the passengers ahead of us had used all the available luggage space at the end of the train. There are very large luggage shelves above the seats which would have accommodated our bags had we been able to lift them over our heads (Note to self: lift more weights). Those ahead of us had chosen to use the space at the end of the train for small bags instead of using the shelves above their seats, so we had no choice but to put our bags in front of us, and hang our legs over our bags. It made for an uncomfortable 2.5 hour journey, but so it goes.

Once again our train departed on time and arrived early.



When we arrived at Madrid Puerta de Atocha, I couldn’t help but notice how different it looked from March 14, 2020, the day we were forced to flee Spain thanks to COVID-19.


Madrid Puerta de Atocha, March 14, 2020

Madrid Puerta de Atocha, March 14, 2020

Madrid Puerta de Atocha, November 2, 2022

Madrid Puerta de Atocha. November 2, 2022

Madrid Puerta de Atocha, November 2, 2022

We joined the long taxi queue and took a taxi to our digs for the next 4/5 nights (€13.80). The traffic was horrendous. The traffic circle near Atocha station was chaotic gridlock, impatient drivers honking their horns, reminding me of a particularly nasty traffic circle in Kuwait that we expats referred to as The Ring of Death (with a mosque in the middle, what brain trust came up with that?).

We went through a tunnel and an underground roundabout and almost got sideswiped by an aggressive bus driver, our female taxi driver deftly avoiding a collision. One would need balls of steel to drive in Madrid.

We checked into our Air BNB, a spacious two bedroom, two bathroom apartment located on the third floor of Plaza España Skyline, which would prove to be an excellent location ($843.13).

The building has 24 hour reception with bilingual staff, security cameras, and just about everything a traveler could want or need…except decent WiFi. More on that later.

Unfortunately, as with every other apartment we’d stayed in thus far, it was noisy (traffic on two side streets below the apartment).

It was 6:30 pm; we’d not had much to eat since breakfast, and I was shaky, I needed to eat, and soon. I asked the front desk where the closest open restaurant was (some don’t open until 8 pm). She directed us to a place around the corner that she said served traditional Spanish food, Dudua Palacio.

One look at the menu and I knew I was in trouble - heavy on the meat and seafood, neither of which I eat, no matter how hungry. I’d resigned myself to ordering a salad, when I noticed the vegetable paella for two. Hmmmm.…Donna had said she wanted to try paella. She agreed, as she’d been a bit worried about seafood paella anyway - heads on shrimp aren’t her thing.

We were brought a bowl of gazpacho, which was pretty good. My red wine was served cold, but consumed just the same (two glasses no less). And that vegetable paella – we both agreed that it was wonderful! The serving was huge, enough for four people, so we took the rest back to the apartment with us to enjoy another night (€56.40, with three glasses of wine, bottle of water and €4 servico, and we’re still talking about that delicious paella).



Vegetable paella, Dudua Palacio (better than it looks!)

Then it was back to the apartment to chill.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Nov 30th, 2022 at 01:07 PM.
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 02:01 PM
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Mel,
In Granada you experienced a little touch of the crowds, the pomp, the solemn music, the extravagantly, elaborately decorated floats (pasos) of what Holy Week is like in southern Spain, with processions non-stop, all day and all night, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday!
The float that you saw was of the Virgin of Solitude of San Jerónimo, which processed the day before from her church to the Cathedral for a coronation re-enactment (first coronation in 1885), then back to her church again on All Saints Day. This Virgen had not been processed through the city at all for the past 2 years (covid), so it was a big, big deal.

Atocha sure did look a heck of a lot different in Nov. from the deserted, ghost town look of Atocha on our train trip from Jerez on on March 13, 2020, the day before the confinement!
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 02:34 PM
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Maribel -

My religious ignorance is showing. Interesting about all that back and forth processioning,

Very glad I wasn't there during Holy Week!
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 03:30 PM
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I am following along. What a great trip report!! Thank you!
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 05:06 PM
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Wonderful trip report thus far. I think Donna feels about Moorish architecture the way I feel every time I see photos of the Gaudi structures. I loved Andalucía and I wanted to lay down on the floor of the Nasrid Palaces to stare at the ceilings for hours. Your trip report has cemented my feeling that I'm never going to be motivated enough to go to Barcelona.

Isn't Seville lovely? We spent about four days there, but I wish we had been there longer.
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 08:14 PM
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Thanks for your trip report, Mel, bringing back lots of memories of our own travels but also lovely to hear about what you saw and your impressions.
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Old Nov 30th, 2022, 10:54 PM
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Awesome photos! I was wondering if you have an online gallery online where we can easily view all your pictures?
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 12:27 AM
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I, too, am following along. I'm really enjoying your report.

I have been in Seville and Granada for Holy Week. It's truly spectacular, fascinating,...but the crowds are something else.
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 06:48 AM
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Thank you all for reading.

FireChariot - no, I don't have an online gallery. Just thousands upon thousands of photos stored on my computer (love your screen name by the way).
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 08:05 AM
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Enjoying your report, which covers a lot of the same ground that I did back in 2018 (similar time of year, too). The surprise procession outside your Granada apartment reminded me of the surprise we experienced in Wengen, Switzerland, when we got to watch the cattle being moved from the valley to the high pastures right outside our apartment window in June.
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 10:51 AM
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twk - the Alpfahrt/Alpabzug/Désalpes is always a treat in Switzerland! I've seen a few myself.
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 11:48 AM
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Nov 3 –

Before heading out for the day, we booked tickets for the Royal Palace of Madrid, one of the largest palaces in Europe, and on my must see list. The soonest available booking was for Saturday at 12:45, as the palace was closed today and fully booked tomorrow (€12, €6 senior).

I’d also confirmed today’s 3:30 pm booking at Casa Botin, which I’d made back in September.

The apartment is located very near most of the sites in Madrid, and so far Madrid had been a heck of a lot easier to navigate; the streets are wide and form a grid, and one can actually see landmarks in the distance.

We set out in the rain to locate the Cathedral de Santa Maria, aka the Almudena Cathedral and crypt, despite my tepid protestations over visiting yet another church. We knew it was situated behind the palace, and the palace was hard to miss.

As we approached the Royal Palace, we encountered a large crowd – oh s**t are all these people in line for the cathedral? We also saw a very large armed police presence, complete with paddy wagons at the ready. Then we noticed that most of the people wore red vests. As we approached, we began to worry that we were walking into some sort of demonstration. We skirted the crowd, and saw that they weren’t near the cathedral at all, but gathering around the palace.

I googled to see if I could find out what was going on and found references to this:

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe...on-2022-11-03/



Labor Union protest

Labor Union protest

Police presence

Royal Palace of Madrid

We each made our €1 donation and entered the Almudena Cathedral, said to be the most important religious building in Madrid, as it was the first cathedral to be consecrated outside of Rome. That doesn’t mean much to this agnostic, but I did rather enjoy the church, especially the colorful ceiling.


Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

After about an hour in the church, we walked next door to the largest crypt in Spain, its entrance located in front of the Arab Wall, made another €1 donation and explored its interior and 400 columns.


Almudena Cathedral Crypt

Almudena Cathedral Crypt

Almudena Cathedral Crypt

Afterwards we set out to find Madrid’s “gastronomic temple”, the San Miguel Market. We found it, and along with it many of the 10 million people who visit it each year. The market was smaller than we expected and very much reminded me of the insanely busy Time Out market in Lisbon. And as I’d done in Lisbon, I took one look and hightailed it out of there.


San Miguel Market

San Miguel Market

Evidently the protest was over, the streets and eating establishments were now heaving with jolly red-vested patrons, who seemed to have taken the day off.

We wandered through the sea of red, located our lunch venue, and then settled into a busy little café (Cafestic) for a glass of grape (€3.60) and a Coke Zero (€2.50) and to people watch while we awaited our 3:30 booking.


Cafestic

And about our lunch venue; Casa Botín was founded in 1725 and is considered the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world.

It’s also considered one of the world’s top 10 classic restaurants and is known for its Castilian style roasted sucking pig and lamb.

A meal there had been at the top of Donna’s Madrid must do list in 2020 and she was anxious (and a bit apprehensive) to try the sucking pig. As a mostly non-meat eater, it wasn’t my kind of place, but I was game to give it a go.

The restaurant isn’t very big; we were seated on the second floor and the tables were very close together. It was busy at first, with most people finishing lunch, but there were quite a few empty tables once they left.

Donna ordered the suckling pig, but she didn't seem particularly thrilled with it. She said the flavor was good but she had to pick off a lot of the fatty gristly bits (which pretty much sums up why I’m not much of a meat eater).

I’d ordered the roasted chicken, and asked, with Donna’s help, if they would include some white meat. This request was honored, and I was given a nice chicken breast and a thigh. The breast was pretty good but I had the same issue Donna did, having to pick through bones and other bits. The flavor was good though, and in retrospect, I could have made a meal of the roasted vegetables, which were excellent.

We shared a pitcher of sangria and I had a bite of Donna’s Creme Catalan, which is basically Creme Brulee; a bit rich for me but Donna enjoyed it. Lunch for the two of us came to just under 70. The service was excellent, the atmosphere old world charm.


Casa Botín

Casa Botín

Casa Botín

Casa Botín

Roasted chicken, Casa Botín

Suckling pig, Casa Botín

Casa Botín

Walking back to apartment

We worked our way back to the apartment, stopping at the palace, as the police had gathered again as well as some mounted guards and several vehicles. It looked as if something was about to happen – we also noticed a few of what we think were armed snipers on the palace roof – and barricades were set up around the perimeter - perhaps the King was going out for dinner?

We got tired of waiting for what everyone else was waiting for and went back to the apartment to do laundry.

The hot and sticky was finally gone – for the first time since I’d arrived in Spain I was actually chilly.

Back at the apartment we tried to book train tickets for Toledo tomorrow, but the WiFi wasn’t working, so we enlisted the help of reception, who made the bookings for us. We weren’t sure how much time we needed in Toledo, but bookings were required, so we opted to return on the 4:13 pm train.

To be continued...

Last edited by Melnq8; Dec 1st, 2022 at 11:59 AM.
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 11:57 AM
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Lucky you to have witnessed the religious procession! It looks amazing and so festive. Awesome photos!
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 02:15 PM
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Thanks for the photos of the inside of the Cathedral, which has been closed both times I've been to Madrid. And also for going to Botin so I don't need to!
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 03:18 PM
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Old Dec 1st, 2022, 04:54 PM
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Mel,
I really admire that as a non-Catholic and a mostly vegetarian, you're really taking one (or a dozen) for the team on this trip .
You're a trooper, indeed, especially at Sobrinos de Botín. I'm glad they still have that roast chicken on the menu for non-pork/seafood eaters.

Not many Spain restaurants serve chicken, except for the mom and pops, featured on the inexpensive menú del día, or the Asturian cider houses like Casa Mingo or the gallina en pepitoria, a classic Madrid dish--braised hen in an almond sauce.
I've taken many a visitor to Botín over the years, and every Spanish teacher who visits Madrid takes that menu home with him/her for display in the classroom.
Did you see the ancient roasting oven that during covid remained on, never shut off in all these years, and the little whole piglets waiting in "purgatory" to be roasted?

Very pretty pictures of the Almudena and the crypt. I'll be eager to read your impressions and photos of Toledo.
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