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On April 23, 2017, Joan and I met our GAdventures group in Madrid, and travelled with them to Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, and Ronda, (and around on our own) for a week, then spent the next week staying in Air B&Bs in Sevilla, Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona. Click on the pictures to see the images for that site.
We met in Madrid on the 23rd at the Hotel Madfor. After an orientation meeting with our guide Lalo, we all went to an old restaurant where the problem of sharing tapas when half of us were vegetarians arose.
The next morning we went to Toledo, a fairly long bus ride through an industrial suburb of Madrid. Arriving, we then took a series of tall escalators up the side of a hill to the town, which is surrounded on three sides by a river. We were met by a good local guide and walked the town fairly extensively, before lunch and the bus ride back to Madrid. I have no memory of the restaurant that night.
A short train ride to Cordoba and the Hotel Macia Alfaros. The Moorish influence was everywhere in the old buildings. We walked forth for lunch and found a Roman ruin in excavation/reconstruction. This is an old city that has been occupied by many groups over the ages.
I was beginning to recognize my limitations in walking and took a taxi to the Mezquita-Catedral and got around on my own rather than go on the walking tour with Lalo. I was fascinated with this mosque (built around 784) in which a cathedral had been built at its very heart in 16th century. The quiet simplicity of the mosque was invaded - I felt almost that it was parasitized - by the cathedral. The whole area, situated on the side of the Guadalquivir river, is fairly commercialized.
The next day we travelled to Granada. We enjoyed Granada a lot. The hotel of the Five Senses was modern and fancy and impersonal but fun. Joan and I went to a great paella restaurant, La Paralla; we also ate at one of the many Moroccan restaurants near the hotel on Calle Elvira. I wasn't able to walk at the pace of the others so I stayed back and walked at my own pace to the Cathedral, very impressive, and then all around the old town, to Plaza de Bib-Rambla, an ancient heart of the city where kids chase bubbles and strange monsters hold up the fountain.
While I was wandering on my own around Granada, the others went for a flamenco lesson and a long walk. That evening we went to a flamenco performance in one of the many caves in the hills above Granada. The cave held maybe 50 people at max, and the dances were fascinating. Note that these are not for the most part young dancers.
The Alhambra was of course touted to be one of the highlights of the trip, and it was, though unfortunately the weather was rainy at first, and chilly. We took a bus up and were met by a guide who led us through. It went from being a small Muslim fortress built on Roman ruins in the 900s, to being the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella, to being a Renaissance palace, then a ruin, then reconstructed in the 1800s. It's now a UNESCO Heritage site. The mix of Moorish and Christian symbols throughout is interesting.
To be honest, I thought Ronda would not justify the long train ride to get there. I was wrong! The town is a resort town (and was/is a military base) but it sits above a high gorge and is absolutely beautiful. It was partly rainy when were were there. Joan and I declined to walk down the paths into the gorge, but did walk through the town and along its edge, and we all met for a good dinner after dark.
The Royal Alcazar in Seville, where Joan and I went our first day after the tour ended, was spectacular. Its history is well worth reading in Wikipedia - basically it has been occuped for 2000 years, more or less, in one form or another. It has prime examples of the mudéjar architecture, an amalgam of Christian and Moorish design. We enjoyed it a lot, moving at our own pace, sitting by the fountains and examining the decorations.
Our first Air b&b was on Avenida de Hercules, in an old part of Seville that has gone from hippie hangout to art galleries and marvelous restaurants over the last 30 years or so. We loved it! Mar and Geronimo have an art and plant filled house that was a delight to stay in.
This was the time of the féria, and all the women in Seville seemed to be dressed in fabulous flamenco garb, down to the smallest children. There were horses and carriages everywhere, both the for-hire ones like the one Joan and I took to spare my panting self, and also the many private ones used to ferry the fair participants out to the area of the fair. We just couldn't face the crowds and the distances to go there.
These are the few pictures I took in Madrid, after we'd left the GAdventure group. Although I enjoyed our b&b, the hustle and bustle of this big capital was too much for me! And the lack of seating in the Prado was discouraging. The Royal Castle was delightful but pictures inside weren't allowed, so you'll have to see its magnificence on its website!
Long but beautiful train trip to Valencia from Madrid, going through tunnels and mountains, to a charming small city and a quiet neighborhood apartment. We walked forth to supper at a nearby outdoor café, and the next day took a hop-on-hop-off bus around through the old town to the aquarium, in part of the extensive development called the "City of Arts and Sciences" designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, opened 15-20 years ago. The day was gorgeous, the aquarium spectacular.. and then we hopped back onto the bus to go to the beautiful Mediterranean beach and on the promenad, the restaurant La Pepica, founded in 1898 and reminding me of nothing so much as the old New Orleans restaurants, with tile floors, career waiters in black and white.. Excellent paella.
We rode the train up for our last couple of days in Barcelona. The b&b was a bit scary, given its orange graffiti filled door, and we were up on the fourth floor with slippery stairs on the way, which was a bit disconcerting. But as with the others, it was in the heart of old neighborhoods and among restaurants of quality. A hop-on bus was a disappointment - it was chilly and we were stuck in too much traffic around the beaches, crowded on Sunday.
But on Monday we went to Sagrada Familia and it was a good end to our journey. I was first there when it was a façade and not much else in 1956, visited again in 2001 when it was TWO facades but a lot of construction going on in the middle - so to now see it as a real building, with a beautiful dome, stained glass windows etc, soaring columns, was fabulous. The dome went on in 2000 and it was consecrated in 2010 as a basilica. A good end to our over-ambitious trip!