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Trip Report Spain Trip Report: Madrid, Toledo, Andulusia

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Trip report for Spain, June 2-11 . . . Had 2 1/2 days on our own in Madrid, then joined a Globus tour for Toledo and southern Spain. Wonderful time, highly recommend Spain and I hope to return!

Felt like unbelievable luck to leave Atlanta on time with Delta & arrive in Madrid early morning, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. After last year’s delay of almost 8 hours in leaving for Ireland trip, this was wonderful.
Madrid’s airport was light, with translucent colored panels, very modern and upbeat. Out to a taxi and to our hotel, the Melia Galgos. Room was not ready but daughter and I checked our luggage and started out to explore, much earlier than we had expected.
First hours in a different part of world are always disconcerting to me. It was a beautiful morning, still cool and fresh with vivid blue sky. We headed up the street, past the well-guarded American embassy, and on to shops/restaurants, and then the Plaza de Colon.
First stop was a place that only got a line in a few of the guidebooks but that I really wanted to visit, the Biblotecha Nacional de Espana National (Spain’s equivalent of the Library of Congress). Beautiful building from the 19th century. We went in the basement to their free “book museum” & wandered around – it was a conglomeration, part library history (there were date due stamps, a microfilm reader, book repair material, etc.) and part book history (some very nice illuminated manuscripts, almost all Christian).
At the imposing main entrance of the Library, we struggled to understand that we could visit a reading room exhibit so dug out our passports, got ID tags, and checked our purses. One exhibit was tracing the history of the University of Salamanca; another was on the author Gloria Fuertes. I could peer into the actual reading room and down the corridors where scholars were going but wasn’t wearing the proper ID for more exploration. (There were occasional tours of library but none in English.)
After the library, we paid our admission to the nearby National Archaeological Museum, which displays artifacts from the Iberian Peninsula. Museum interior was beautiful & light, had been renovated in 2014. The collection was interesting, particular the older Celtic (pre-Roman) relics, including the large stone figures such as the Lady of Elche. It reminded me a bit of the artifacts in Ireland’s museums last year.
We had a late lunch out in the shady courtyard of the museum, a 3 course meal (salad, fish with vegetables, and green tea) from the museum’s café, very low key and uncrowned. Then we walked the mile or so back to the hotel, to check in and rest for a while. When we got back out around 4:30, it had grown hot but still okay with the breeze. Our goal this time was to get further down the street, to Madrid’s huge Retiro Park. Walking again by the Plaza Colon, we saw the huge Spanish flag over the park snapping in the wind. Spain’s flag is yellow and red, very colorful.
It was a busy Friday afternoon & the park was overwhelmingly large & crowded but still great fun, giving off the vibe of a busy, lively city. We walked past the big lake (El Estanque), saw the many rowboats out on it, the people crawling over the huge statutes on the opposite side. It was like a street carnival with entertainers and small stands selling drinks, icre cream and pizza slices along the wide sidewalk bordering the lake. We walked on and on, finally coming to their Crystal Palace, which was a lovely (empty) but hot space. We wandered more, finding a private club member W.C. but nothing for us. We came to rose gardens, a week or two past their prime, but still lovely. Finally, tired and hot, we retraced our steps & then began a search for dinner. We wanted something to take back to our hotel room so that we wash faces, pull off shoes and just relax as we ate.
Our hotel clerk had warned us that the Corte de Ingles department store that we would pass was a “small one” but still, on the 7th floor, they had a “gourmet food department” and we bought a tub of the best baba ganoush I’ve ever had to take back with us. (And we found a bathroom!) Back in our comfortable room, we ate the baba ganoush with pretzels and leftover rolls from the airplane meal & went to bed at 9:30, just as it was starting to get to get dusty outside.

Next day (Saturday). . . no alarm, woke up at 7:15, after an excellent night of sleep. This hotel was large, dark and impersonal feeling but the room, especially the bed, was very comfortable and quiet. It also had the best hotel breakfast of the trip in a room that did have plenty of windows.
I had glasses of fresh carrot juice, hot tea, potato tortilla, scrambled eggs, olives, toasted brown bread with olive oil and a crushed tomato juicy sauce, quince preserves, soft cheese, yogurt and fruit (honeydew and cantaloupe melons would be good everywhere we went) and a fruit that seemed similar to an apricot (perhaps a quince, although not like my own backyard quinces). I even added a slice of fruit cake for dessert.
Our main goal for the day was the visit the Royal Palace and we had considered signing up for a tour that would get us in at 9 a.m., an hour before the regular opening time. But knowing that we were joining our tour the next day and would be living by a schedule, we decided to take this one day as it came. So . . . running later than we meant to be, we decided to splurge on a taxi (easy to do since taxi stand right outside our hotel).
We arrived then at the Plaza del Sol, wandered around a bit in the bright, hot sun before joining the queue for the 10:00 opening time. Opposite the Royal Palace is Madrid’s new Almudena Cathedral, opened in 1993, after 100 years of construction. The Royal Palace is the largest European palace, 2200 rooms, still in use & was built on the model of Versailles, by Louis XIV’s grandson (who was born at Versailles). It is at the top of Madrid’s tallest hill, originally the site of a Moorish alcazar and then a wooden Christian palace that burned down c. 1700.

We didn’t wait for an English tour, went on through with Rick Steve’s guidebook and the English brochure that the Palace ticket bought us. Rick Steve’s did well, we were able to marvel at the paintings, chandeliers, furniture, clocks, tapestries and porcelain, with his background info to guide us. I honestly enjoyed this Palace more than Versailles since it is still fully furnished and also because it is full of amazing tapestries, many of them 17th century Flemish originals from Rafael designs and others 18th century Spanish copies. Later Spanish tapestries were from Goya designs.
The Palace was crowded but not overwhelmingly so; there were few tour groups there. I even enjoyed the Armory, the oldest armor in it had belonged to Ferdinand and Boabdil, there were even tapestries hanging in the Armory and the occasional small one serving as a saddle blanket for the horse statutes, also wearing armor. No wonder the early Americans thought the conquistadors aliens.
There were nice views from the edges of the courtyard of sprawling Madrid below. We ate lunch (cold gazpacho soup for me) in the upstairs museum cafeteria and then set out, through the Royal Gardens for the Temple of Debod, a garden/park that also houses the only authentic Egyptian temple in Europe, a gift from Egypt to Spain for its help rescuing monuments during the Aswan Dam construction. We admired the temple from the outside but unfortunately it was closed for siesta (2 p.m-6 p.m.) although a military guard, with gun, was on duty pacing around it.

Then back down to the street, to the Plaza de Espana, busy with Saturday tourists and city folks, with its statues of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcemia. We headed to the main street of Madrid, the shopping/theatre area, and enjoyed the old stylish buildings from late 19th/early 20th century. We spotted the huge El Corte Ingles so visited it for bathroom and also bought daughter a fan. This fan was meant to be a souvenir but in the coming days we found the fans were really useful to stir up a breeze and cool one down.
We made it to the Plaza Mayor, a cobbled traffic free plaza, but it was hot and hectic . . . we didn’t linger. We struggled to find Descalzas Royal Monastery (a nunnery famous for its art and architecture) but it was closed for siesta when we finally came to it. Decided it was time to make our way back to the hotel for the 6:00 tour group meeting & dinner. So long as we stayed in the shade of the buildings it was still a pleasant walk. We saw the huge white Town Hall, with its banner “Refugees Welcome”, that was once Madrid’s central post office, and then walked back through an open air market and into our Columbus plaza again.
I was pleasantly surprised when we met our Globus group, only 16 of us, with varied nationalities and ages. We had 5 Australians, a mother/son from the Philippines and the rest of us American – 3 people traveling alone. Even the Americans were varied, we had a young couple with Cuban grandparents, a teacher originally from Columbia & they were proficient in Spanish and more knowledgeable than the rest of us about Spanish history and culture, too.
The hotel dinner was surprisingly good – salad, veal &potatoes, wine, and fruit.

Sunday morning was another good breakfast and then onto the tour bus. Our city guide was not as organized or as articulate as usual Globus guides or perhaps the city itself didn’t lend itself well to tours. We stopped again at the Plaza de Espana, which had only tourists early in the morning, went by the Plaza del Sol and the Plaza Mayor, before stopping at the Prado. It took a little while for the guide to buy our tickets but the morning was pleasant & we walked around the huge building, before having an hour’s guided tour of the highlights. The rest of the tour group had signed up for Globus’s optional trip to El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen but I thought this was my chance to spend time in “the world’s greatest painting museum” so I should take it.

I’m afraid the Prado was my only slight disappointment on the Spain trip, it just didn’t live up the reputation for me. (And that’s probably because my favorite time periods for painting is 1850-1920 & the Prado has very few works from even the last half of the 19th century). But Prado still amazing and, of course, exhausting.
Best paintings to me: Raphael’s Portrait of a Cardinal, Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation, Albert Durer’s Self Portrait, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delight, Rubens’s The Three Graces, Goya’s The Family of Charles IV, Second of May, 1808 and Third of May, 1808, Rembrandt’s Judith, and a Zurillo still life. The room full of Goya’s black paintings was interesting; I’m still thinking about them. The Prado has one Caravaggio but it didn’t make the usual Caravaggio impact. I’m not a big Rubens fan although The Three Graces were wonderful. Not an El Greco fan at all and the paintings in the museum did not change my mind.
There were also wonderful 8th and 9th century wall frescoes rescued from a very old church that was endangered decades ago . . . they were a definite highlight of the visit.
The Prado’s paintings are not arranged chronologically but with Rick Steve’s guidebook and the brochure/map from the Prado, we saw what we wanted, I think.
Madrid’s Royal Palace can rival Versailles as a tourist experience for me but Prado cannot match the Louvre.

We ate lunch at the Prado’s restaurant, surprisingly good paella, and took breaks but even so, by 4:00, it was time to leave. My daughter was not willing to visit Madrid’s other two art museums, with their more modern art, and it was such a surprisingly pretty, pleasant day outside that the best use of time seemed to be to cross the street to the Royal Botanical Garden, a museum of plants.
We enjoyed the “exotic” trees such as the ones from the United States, made all the more fun that we were translating the signs as best we could, no English brochure to help us. In many Spanish museums, English translations would be in smaller print at the bottom of the placards.
Enjoyed the olive grove, went through the green houses, and walked back through a different section of park to get back, once again, on our familiar long street trek back to hotel.

Tomorrow we leave on Globus tour for Toledo and then should be in Granada for the night. If ever I return to Madrid, I’d like to take day trips to El Escorial, Avila and Segovia . Our fellow tour group members said their Sunday trip was marred by a heavy thunderstorm with cold winds so I was glad we had enjoyed the pretty afternoon in Madrid. Also would plan better for siesta closings and would visit the modern art museums, as well as revisit the Prado. I’d like to visit the tapestry factory museum as well, just my own personal interest. I enjoyed the people watching in the park and just being outside. I think the sun and fresh air we got the first day helped reset our internal clocks; after then, we were adjusted to Spanish time. (To be continued)

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    Enjoying your trip report. Also, I felt the same about the Prado. It is one of my least favorite world class museums. Madrid was also my least favorite city in Spain. Maybe just too much "big city"?

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    Madrid my least favorite as well -- maybe has the "shortest" history of any of the Spanish cities while also having more traffic and big buildings.
    Glad I am not alone in being a disappointed with the Prado.

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    Actually, Madrid is one of our favorite cities in Spain – been there twice - and each time we try to see more of it. If you do get a chance to return, try again to get into the Convent of Descalzas Reales. It is so well worth it. It was an unexpected treasure! Go early and get in line to get an entry for a tour! We happen to be staying in a nearby hotel and for two mornings when we’d leave the hotel we wondered why all these people were lined up so early, with the line continuing around the corner and on to the next street. The line is long for good reason! We loved the Prado and had long visits there, but this place is special. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before. I am looking forward to reading the rest of your report!

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    NEXT INSTALLMENT . . . Monday morning

    We were quickly out of Madrid, approached Toledo in an hour or so. The views of the river, with the city on the hill, were charming but none of my pictures from the bus window turned out well. We stopped briefly at a Damascus steel workshop for bathroom and shopping. I didn’t mind the short stop although I didn’t buy anything (daughter did); the merchandise was beautiful and even the workshops were decorated with paintings and pretty things. We also stopped to take pictures overlooking the city: the river and its bridges, plus the cathedral easy to see.

    Such a clever idea, Toledo, to have us park below and ride the long series of escalators up to the old town! Wasn’t quite sure what to make of our brief walk through the “Jewish quarter”,we didn’t go into the Synagogue and there seemed to be nothing else left of it to see, although I appreciated hearing the history from our city guide. Not sure how much of the Synagogue itself has survived.

    Immediately upon entering Toledo’s cathedral, I realized that this was Spain . . . it was a Gothic cathedral but was white on the inside, very light, with a different feel than the Northern European cathedrals I had visited in the past. The huge altar seemed encrusted with gold. I have a vague memory of a room with lots of paintings (my guidebook tells me that they were Titians, Velazquezs, Goyas, El Grecos, etc.)

    We saw the amazing altar piece, covered with gold, the Treasury with its gold tower that was made to hold the host while being that is hauled through the streets once a year for the Corpus Christi parade. I am from a very plain Protestant background and Corpus Christi to me means a city in Texas so this was all very interesting. Didn’t have enough time at all in the cathedral.
    We then stood in line for our time with the famous El Greco painting, , at the Church of Santo Tome. I’ve seen this painting in art books many times but here, its huge size dominating the space, I could feel the magic and realized why El Greco was considered such an amazing artist. I liked his paintings hanging in the cathedral, too.

    Back out in the street again, the street was already being decorated for this celebration, coming up in just a few days. We also went through a marzipan shop but no time to look around.
    We had approximately an hour of free time before boarding the bus, with bathroom and lunch to find, as well as any sight seeing and shopping. Daughter and I walked back down the street to better view the cathedral and Bishop’s palace again, then located a simple sandwich shop that had bathrooms – we got ham & cheese sandwiches to go, stuck them in my bag, and did a little window shopping on our way back to the bus. Obviously, not nearly enough time in Toledo.

    It was a long bus ride then to Granada . . . stopped once at a shopping/restaurant place where daughter and I had tea outside, in an attempt to wake up, and I bought some saffron as a gift. Our Globus guide said this was the area where saffron was grown.

    After another hour, we had to make an unexpected stop as the bus had a leak – luckily we had shade,a good breeze, and just stood around chatting for 30 minutes while the driver managed to use duct tape around the hose to get it shape to continue. But, thanks to the stop, we arrived in Granada almost an hour late, leaving even less time for this magical city.

    Our hotel was charming, my favorite of the trip, the Hotel Saray. We even had a view of the snow touched mountains from our room. The lobby had some beautiful ceramic pieces but also, amazingly, a 17th century Belgium huge tapestry. After a brief rest, we all walked to dinner together at a restaurant about 4 blocks away. We crossed the small river on a charming bridge, stopped at the fountains, admired the views of the mountains.

    Dinner started with sangria, then excellent appetizers and main course of fish (not as good) with wine. By the time we left, it was growing dark outside. We went out to the pool area of our hotel for a while, just to enjoy the evening and the plants, but pool itself was closed for repairs . . . tomorrow free time in Granada and then the Alhambra!

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    Continuing trip report . . .

    Breakfast always fun with these huge buffets but this lovely hotel had us down in a windowless basement area. Daughter and I headed out, knowing we needed to be back at hotel by 11:15 . . . first stop the grocery store to pick up lunch (ham sandwiches, giant figs), then walking down the hot sunny streets to the Renaissance Cathedral. It was built over a destroyed mosque, 200 years in the construction, with an emphasis on Mary, instead of Jesus, since she was more popular with the Muslims (or so our guidebook said). Walls were originally limed, they are still white. We didn’t have time for the Royal Chapel, which was another entrance fee, where Isabella and Ferdinand were reburied, in style, by their grandson, Charles.

    Quick walk through market area, then bus ride up the mountain to the Alhambra, which took us past the caves where people live.
    Tickets are restricted and so it was not terribly crowded. (Tour guides and Globus complain that it is very difficult now to get tickets for groups.)

    Since our entrance to the palace was for 1:30, we started off in the GeneralLife (“High Garden”) first. Everything seemed to be blooming: wisteria, roses, lantana, fragrant linden trees, myrtle bushes. None of the plantings date back to the time of the Moors but there are old buildings, older than the palace, and great views of the city from here.
    Our guide gave us background . . . the whole area was a fort/city/palace with many people living in the complex. We had time in the gardens but I could have spent longer, just soaking up the views.
    We stopped by the totally open, never completed, never occupied palace that Emperor Charles had started next to the Alhambra Palace. Then on to being squeezed into a shady spot to eat our sandwich & then into the Palacios Nazaries at our entry time.

    It was good to have guide explaining things to us but occasionally I just wished for time to look around, to marvel more. Everyone taking so many pictures. The Alhambra is completely unfurnished and heavily restored; it was not built for permanence since Muslims believed only Allah could do that and it is the only surviving medieval Muslim palace in the world. Plaster, carved wood, ceramic and water seem to be the main elements. We were told it was once painted bright colors and the now empty windows had bright stained glass but even without color, it was beautiful and very, very different from Christian European palaces.

    So much of it is a blur now for me . . . I remember the Grand Hall, with its throne room with filigree windows that once held stained glass and mosaics & carved ceiling that our guide said repeated the phrase “Allah is victorious” 9000 times. I remember the Courtyard of the Lions, with an arched gallery surrounding its lush enclosed garden. Also the Hall of the Two Sisters and being able to look down from a spot to see the palace baths. I remember the pools and fountains, how refreshing they seemed. Splashing fountains are a Christian change to palace; the Moors preferred peaceful pools. I remember the low windows; guide told us people sat on the floor. We visited Washington Irving’s room (maybe I’ll try Tales of the Alhambra after this). The Alhambra was the site of 7 different palaces/we toured two of them.

    Guide pointed out the Convento de San Francisco (1495) that has now been converted into a parador; wouldn’t it be amazing to spend the night on the grounds of the Alhambra? This is where Ferdinand and Isabella were originally buried; the spot that they meant to be their final resting place. Sad to leave, realizing the complex was worth an entire day instead of 3 hours.

    One of our fellow tour members had been to Granada years ago, visited the gypsy caves & watched flamingo shows there and had a night view of the city and Alhambra. Even my little view of the mountains and full moon from hotel window was memorable, can only imagine what other views from higher spots would be like.

    Then the drive to Costa del Sol; thrilled to have a balcony that gave us a view of the Mediterranean at Tryp Guadalmar Hotel. It was very bright & sunny, also breezy so daughter stayed inside for a while when we arrived around 4:30 but I wrapped my sweater around me and explored the beach area for supper options.

    The Mediterranean water reminded me of the Gulf of Mexico but it was a brown pebbly beach, not the white Gulf sand. I read menus at the beach restaurants & then we both walked a bit, looking out over the Mediterranean and wondering if the land in the distance was Africa (we were told later it was, that it had been an exceptionally clear day with good views). We had an early supper at a place on the beach next to our hotel where daughter had ink squid and I had grilled rosetta fish & salty vegetables; then walked more and just sat to watch waves & the full moon. We did dip our feet into the water but water felt cool. Tomorrow early departure for Gibraltar.

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    Enjoying your report! Those coach tours always seem rushed but you do cover a lot of ground. We found the Il Corte Ingles to be a good spot for meals. In Barcelona we went up to the 9th floor and experienced their reasonably priced cafeteria while enjoying great views. In Madrid one of the Ingles stores had the "Gourmet Experience" a little more upscale food boutique. We had a terrific Mexican meal while enjoying the ambiance...the place was hopping. In Seville we went to their basement level grocery store for fresh fruit and water. Purchased our saffron at Il Corte Ingles as well...figured it would be the real deal.

    We remembered to pack fans! They do come in handy in the extreme heat indeed!

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    Continuing on with trip report . . .

    Wednesday, June 7th
    We were up early, enjoyed the pleasant sunny dining area of the hotel, looking out at the Mediterranean, ready for a 8:00 a.m. departure. Our guide for the trip to Gibraltar was probably in his 30s, told us he had seen much change & growth in Malaga area in his lifetime: his father was a German immigrant, his mother Spanish, a native of Malaga. Costa del Sol is his home, he saw himself as a native of the area and liked its mixtures of people.

    It was a hazy morning, with an east wind, and even on the bus ride to Gibraltar, we did not have good views although guide said they had been excellent the day before, when he had made a similar trip to Morocco with a group.

    As soon as we got out of the bus, we were in a cloud of mist and I wished for a jacket; the wind was chilly. But once we were through customs and walked to meet our Gibraltar guide, we were out of the worst of the wind.

    This guide/driver of van that we transferred into was Spanish; he told us he lived just across the border and rode his bike into Gibraltar. Within a couple of miles the mist began to clear and we saw the Rock itself. Also saw Charles V’s wall, built to defend Gibraltar against the pirates.

    We stopped at Europa Point, 15 miles from the African coast of Morocco, and again briefly it cleared so that we could see over the water. Our guide said that often the view was clear enough that one could see cars traveling on the roads across the Sea. We did see big and small boats in the water, it was a fascinating view.
    Also fascinating was the King Fahd mosque, the only mosque I saw in Spain, that was recently completed (financed by Saudi Arabia); an interesting feature is that it has the moon as a full circle on its exterior, not the normal crescent moon, because this was the last in the group of European mosques built by the King. Also in view was the Union Jack, flying at half mast, after the latest terrorist attack in London.

    Van then began the climb up the rock, spotting a couple of Barbary apes by the road, but once we stopped at the entrance to St. Michael’s cave, there were many of them. Our entire tour group was fascinated and we couldn’t seem to stop taking pictures. Finally, our guide got us going to St. Michael’s Cave, which was eerily lit by blue spotlights. I’ve never been a fan of caves.

    After cave, we had a few minutes to walk along the road, looking down at the view of the Mediterranean below and the mischievous apes playing with each other and sometimes performing for the tourists (although we all obeyed the rules and did not feed them). We were herded back onto the van, driven to town and told to meet back at 1:20 for departure; daughter and I walked a bit, looked at some of the shops, but even Rick Steve’s couldn’t seem to get us quickly to any interesting place in the town. We had a heavy and rushed lunch at Ray’s Fish and Chips, recommended by the Malaga guide, not worth it, in my opinion, and were a few minutes late getting back to the meeting place. Our Globus tour director had told us we would be back at the hotel around 4:00 but we pulled in a few minutes before 3:00, no idea why we were hurried so much. I would like to have seen more of the nature preserve or at least had a bit more time for lunch.

    Daughter and I had a short siesta and then used Google to locate a small grocery store in walking distance of hotel. A new residential community, probably weekend and vacation rentals, seemed to be crowded around our hotel and on a little side street with houses, we found a store that sold lots of alcohol and some produce and food. We bought lettuce, tomato, packaged olives, and peaches to go with some bread and vinaigrette that we had in the room; greatly enjoyed supper on our balcony. Then walked the beach more, ran into one of Australian tour members and had long conversation, pleasant, relaxing evening.

    Thursday, June 8th
    Sea was rougher and sunrise different this morning. Glad we got a chance to spend a bit of time on the coast. It was a beautiful drive going into Ronda. Our Globus tour director gave us a brief introduction to town and bullfighting ring and then we were free to explore for a couple of hours. We watched the Spanish Foreign Legion unload for a moment and then were off to explore the bridges and old Arab section of the town. I regret that we didn’t have more time for the bullring or its museum, much praised in the guidebooks, but it was a beautiful, cool morning and we wanted to be outdoors.

    Ronda is famous for its “new bridge” (mid-1700s) over dramatic gorge and its old Arab bridge, which, I think, is on the site of a previous Roman bridge over the gorge. We walked down a trail to get good views and photos of the new bridge, and then hurried up it to have time to see the old one – the dry east wind kept trying to lift up my skirt but it was a comfortable temperature and beautiful, sunny day.

    Rick Steve’s got us to the Arab baths although we didn’t have enough time to justify paying entrance fee, we peered over for view and then took lots of pictures from the old Arab bridge. There were other places to go for views but we hustled back the direct route and met our tour group as they were walking back to the bus depot. Most folks had shopped or eaten a snack but we were happy with all that we had seen. Could have happily spent an entire day here instead of 2 hours.

    Then drive in to Jerez, to a sherry bodega for a tasting. The grounds of the bodega were lovely, with huge magnolia trees, and then once we entered the sweet aroma of the sherry was everywhere. We got an info talk, visited the small museum and then had tapas and sherry tasting. I was perhaps too hungry after no lunch and the tapas were generous: plates of jabon, potato tortilla wedges, olives, empanadas with tuna, cheese & bread and good tomatoes with herbs. There were water pitchers on the table and I tried to be careful but did sample both kinds of sherry and the brandy. I felt a bit woozy when we left and dozed on the bus as we drove on to Seville.

    We came into Seville about 4:30 and stopped at the Plaza de Espana. I was charmed by how lovely and colorful the Spanish pavilion for the 1929 Exposicion Iberoamericana was. We saw examples elsewhere of Seville’s famous painted tiles but this was most spectacular. Tile maps and historical scenes were on the walls and they were encrusted on a bridge inside the plaza. All our group were rather rebellious at being herded back to the bus after only 15 minutes in the Plaza although tour director said it was close enough for us to walk back from the hotel.

    Our hotel, the Sevilla Center, was tall and very well air-conditioned, located right next to a small park, our room even had a park view and across the street from a grocery store. We had a group hotel buffet dinner: perch, cold rice salad, lasagna, and wonderful creamy rice pudding. Daughter went back to room but I walked; we were close to a small city mall & I made it there but didn’t actually go in. Enjoyed just seeing all the people on the streets.

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    (Continued, last installment)

    Thursday, June 8th
    Sea was rougher and sunrise different this morning. Glad we got a chance to spend a bit of time on the coast. It was a beautiful drive going into Ronda. Our Globus tour director gave us a brief introduction to town and bullfighting ring and then we were free to explore for a couple of hours. We watched the Spanish Foreign Legion unload for a moment and then were off to explore the bridges and old Arab section of the town. I regret that we didn’t have more time for the bullring or its museum, much praised in the guidebooks, but it was a beautiful, cool morning and we wanted to be outdoors.

    Ronda is famous for its “new bridge” (mid-1700s) over dramatic gorge and its old Arab bridge, which, I think, is on the site of a previous Roman bridge over the gorge. We walked down a trail to get good views and photos of the new bridge, and then hurried up it to have time to see the old one – the dry east wind kept trying to lift up my skirt but it was a comfortable temperature and beautiful, sunny day.

    Rick Steve’s got us to the Arab baths although we didn’t have time to justify paying to go in, we peered over for view and then took lots of pictures from the old Arab bridge. There were other places to go for views but we hustled back the direct route and met our tour group as they were walking back to the bus depot. Most folks had shopped or eaten a snack but we were happy with all that we had seen. Could have happily spent an entire day here instead of 2 hours.

    Then long drive in to Jerez, to a sherry bodega for a tasting. The grounds of the bodega were lovely, with huge magnolia trees, and then once we entered the sweet aroma of the sherry was everywhere. We got an info talk, visited the small museum and then had tapas and sherry tasting. I was perhaps too hungry after no lunch and the tapas were generous: plates of jabon, potato tortilla wedges, olives, empanadas with tuna, cheese & bread and good tomatoes with herbs. There were water pitchers on the table and I tried to be careful but did sample both kinds of sherry and the brandy. I felt a bit woozy when we left and dozed on the bus as we drove on to Seville.

    We came into Seville about 4:30 and stopped at the Plaza de Espana and I was charmed by how lovely and colorful the Spanish pavilion for the 1929 Exposicion Iberoamericana was. We saw examples elsewhere of Seville’s famous painted tiles but this was most spectacular. Maps and historical scenes were made from the tiles and they were encrusted on a bridge inside the plaza. All our group were rather rebellious at being herded back to the bus after only 15 minutes in the Plaza although tour director said it was close enough for us to walk back from the hotel.

    Our hotel, the Sevilla Center, was tall and very well air-conditioned, located right next to a small park, our room even had a park view and across the street from a grocery store. I walked after the group hotel buffet dinner; we were close to a small city mall & I made it there but didn’t actually go in. Enjoyed just seeing all the people on the streets.

    Friday, June 9th
    We began our city tour at 9:00, whizzed by the big tobacco factory where Carmen worked that is now a university and then visited the “Casa de Pilatos” built 1480-1571 by an Andalucían governor and his son, the son modeling courtyard on that of Pontius Pilate’s home after a Holy Land pilgrimage.
    It and Seville’s Alcazar (Royal Palace) were the only two places in medieval Seville with running water. Loved the ceramic tiles here and the gardens full of sculptures.
    A walk through the old quarter of Seville, including the former Jewish quarter (but it’s been so many centuries since they were banished, how much of their presence remains?). Daughter bought a pretty tile clock in one of the shops when we had a short break.

    On then to Seville’s Cathedral, largest in Spain, 3rd largest cathedral in world (behind St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s). The heat was already building in the orange grove courtyard since it was late morning but the cathedral itself was cool, probably because it was so huge and tall. The cathedral replaced mosque on same site but the Christians left the minaret, just converted it into a bell tower. There was so much gold on the altar! We saw giant hymnals, which had also been in the other Spanish cathedrals, that the choir used to read their music.

    The Cathedral also has an elaborate tomb for Christopher Columbus, with heralds from the 4 kingdoms of Spain surrounding it. Tour ended . . . now on our own.

    Best part of the visit was the walk up the bell tower – thankfully, there was a ramp instead of steps and I found it a relatively easy climb with many alcoves to give views first of the cathedral and then the city surrounding it. Once we were up with the bells, it was possible to see all over the city and out to the mountains beyond.

    We ate crackers quickly outside the cathedral, and then got in line for tickets to the Royal Alcazar, right around the corner. We turned down the offer of a guided tour and again relied on Rick Steve’s (and after having a guided tour for the Alhambra, very nice to go at our own pace through this one). The Seville Alcazar was originally a 10th century palace built by the governors of the Moorish state. In the 14th century, it was remodeled by the Christian King Pedro I (1334-69), in the Moorish style by Moorish artisans.

    We entered through a patio with a rough Moorish stone wall (c. 900) and then the Courtyard of the Maidens. Again, the rooms in the palace have all run together in my memory but it was well worth seeing, especially after the Alhambra. Not quite as charming and without the views but perhaps better preserved since it has remained a “working” royal palace through the centuries and still has living quarters for the royal family today.

    Nor did it have as many indoor pools and fountains as the Alhambra but did have the “Courtyard of the Maidens” and a “Hall of Tapestries”, hung with 18th century copies of the 16th century Flemish tapestries, including a map of the world one and one showing Charles’s victory over the Muslims at Tunis.

    Outdoors were gardens and the Mercury Pool, fed by a 16th century aqueduct and at the end of it was a long grotto-style set of rooms. We were too late for the extra ticket to view the furnished royal apartments and it was mid-afternoon when we were in the Gardens, so too hot for optimal enjoyment. One could easily send another hour or two in the Alcazar.

    It was a hot walk back, about 20 minutes, but with a bit of help from Google maps and by following the street car line we made it with no problems.

    Seven of us went on the Globus dinner + flamingo show excursion . . . we had very early dinner in a separate dining area of the flamingo club first, surprisingly the best meal of the trip (tomatoes, olives, break, hake, ice cream cake and sangria) and then went to the adjoining room for the 7:30 show. We were on the 2nd row, should have been excellent seats but on the front row, right in front of me, was a very tall, solid man. My neighbor asked him to remove his cap which he did but in the middle of the show, he shifted to put his arm on the back of his wife’s chair and in doing so, knocked daughter’s glass of red wine off the table – wine went all over table and my leg & shoe but luckily not my dress.

    Think I would prefer a flamingo show that did not involve food or drink. But this one’s show was great fun, with a good variety of dancers and dancing, some solos, some “story dances” including a Carmen vignette. We walked a bit to get to our bus, along a riverside avenue lined with flowery acacia trees blooming. Back to the room to pack, knowing trip is almost over.

    Saturday, June 10th
    Got out for a very early walk this morning before breakfast, all was quiet, but enjoyed the parks next to hotel, especially sad to leave since I felt that there was still so much more to see in Seville.

    We arrived at Cordoba at 9:30 and tour director delivered us to local guide who explained that Cordoba had once been the premier city in Europe. I hadn’t realized its prominence in Roman times – we saw statute to Seneca, heard about the Roman emperors born in Cordoba, etc. The guide led us quickly through what was at one time the Jewish quarter & is now a “street of flowers”, along a very narrow lane, with patios that one can peak through gates to view. Very pretty and still uncrowded at this time of morning.

    We went by the old Jewish synagogue, the only one that has been “rediscovered” in Andalucía (was a guild hall when it was recognized as a synagogue by a Catholic priest in the late 1800s and excavated). Also passed by a statute of Moses Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and physician, who was born in Cordoba. He had to flee the city for Egypt in the early 1200s because Cordoba was taken over a different, more fundamental Muslim dynasty coming in from North Africa. A bit further along there was a statute of his Muslim philosopher contemporary, Averros, who also had to leave.

    We went into the plaza of the Mesquita (Mosque, now a Cathedral) and then entered with our guide. My first impression was that the air was surprisingly heavy and warm; the Mesquita is a huge building but has much lower ceilings than the Christian cathedrals of its era. It was dark inside, a closed in feeling, but the endless orderly rows of red and white columns gave it an immediate feeling of serenity. Our guide explained that the columns were all recycled from ruins (mostly Roman, a few Visigoth) & yes, they were all different styles (Corinthian, Ionic, etc.). The arches and colors were beautiful.

    We saw the excavation that proved there had been a Visigoth church on the site before the Mesquita, saw the mihrab (beautiful Byzantine scrollwork, at the time of its construction, the Byzantines were allies of the Moors, both enemies of the Pope).

    From the guide’s remarks and what I read in the excellent Cadogan Guide to Granada, Seville and Cordoba, lots of changes in the Mesquita were made by the Christians when it was converted to a church in 1276, in addition to the obvious plopping down of a cathedral in the middle of it a couple of centuries later. It would have had more light because the doors were all Christian additions as was the wall that separates it from the courtyard of orange trees.
    We stayed for 20 or 30 minutes after the tour ended, just walking around, looking at the columns and arches. There was a gathering for a christening in one corner, lots of tourists all over. We looked at some scrolls, some of the pediments that have been labeled in a little “museum corner”. But I never felt that I really understood the building at all.

    We hurried back to the Jewish quarter, again with the help of Rick Steve’s guidebook, & were able to crowd into the little 14th century Jewish synagogue with a lot of other folks. We could see the women’s balcony and the altar, a bit of Hebrew inscriptions on the wall. No time to visit the Jewish museum, we re-joined our tour group, walked along the Guadalquivir River to get back to our bus (tour guide most concerned that the heat would be too much for us).
    I enjoyed the walk; saw an old Moorish waterwheel, an old bridge, and even a few unidentified birds on the river. I had hoped for some opportunities to see birds on this trip but other than the magpies and sparrows in the city parks and plazas and possibly a stork spotted over Toledo, I had not seen many. I had seen gulls at the Mediterranean but no pelicans, herons or shorebirds such as I normally see on the Gulf of Mexico.

    Back in the bus for the long ride back to Madrid; arriving at the Novotel Madrid Center Hotel about 5:00 p.m. We had a strange “interior” room with no windows but a large bathroom. Hotel was located in an area with inexpensive little clothing and shoe stores; wished I’d not taken any rest but had instead done a bit of shopping.

    We had a group buffet dinner together in the hotel and then daughter and I walked to the Park where we had spent time on our earlier days in Madrid. This time we were coming in from an entirely different entrance & saw a different part of the park. We only left as it was getting dark, reluctantly, knowing that next morning it would be up early, quick early breakfast and on our shuttle at 7 a.m.

    And so it was . . . luckily an on time flight and arrived back in Atlanta safely and grateful for a wonderful trip.

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