We arrived in Madrid early Saturday morning and checked into our hotel. We were lucky because a room was ready for us and we were able to freshen up. We were able to see a bit of Madrid but not enough to really capture an impression….we were too exhausted from the flight. We had dinner at a small Tapas restaurant called Cinco Jotas and had an enjoyable evening. Here are a few pictures of our meal:
Today on Sunday, we started a little late because we needed to catch up on sleep. The weather today is a little cooler than yesterday but still very comfortable. We checked out the Prado Museum although we don’t have tickets until tomorrow. It’s steps away from our hotel and I wanted to make sure how to utilize our online tickets. We also stopped to see the church nearby. Here are a few shots:
We then traveled to other end of old Madrid to the Royal Palace. I caught these images yesterday when the sunlight was just right.
We next went to the Plaza Mayor to end our afternoon adventures. A few drinks and we’re ready for our afternoon siesta – just like the Spaniards.
So far Madrid has been enchanting. The food is very different but unexpectedly delicious. It takes some time to acclimate to the time considerations that those in Madrid relish – late morning starts, late lunches and very late dinners. All in all, it’s very comfortable. We’ll see if this positive trend continues.
Today was supposed to have started at the Prado Museum. We got up early so that we could have breakfast and then be ready for our 10am appointment time at the Prado. We were at the elevator in the hotel when I noticed that our tickets were actually for Tuesday, not Monday. Okay…change of plans… quick.
We decided to go to Toledo instead and hiked to the Atocha train station – it’s huge but very nice. We stood in line with a number until we determined that for the same day train you could just walk up to the window and purchase a ticket. We took the 11:20 train and were in Toledo by noon – amazing and very comfortable ride.
As soon as we got off the train, we played our suckers role – typical tourists looking for a deal and getting screwed in the process. Anyway, we got tickets for the bus to the main square and also got tickets for the cathedral and a train that circled the city. It was the Yellow Package. We got on the train and it circled the city – nice but very tedious. I did get some panoramic shots of Toledo however.
After visiting several quarters of the city, we finally ended up at the Toledo Cathedral which was the highlight of the trip. The cathedral is enormous and an amazing site. Here are some of the pictures that I took that actually can’t capture the beauty and splendor.
The inside is spectacular.
The Sacristy was equally impressive.
Here is the ceiling and the room at large.
We then boarded the train back to Madrid.
A little rest and we were ready for dinner – tonight at about 9:30 like any decent Madrilenian. We decided on Max Madrid. We originally tried to have dinner there on Saturday night but there were no tables to be had. Tonight… we were lucky. It’s a very happening place with good music and great food – some typical Iberian plates but also a few surprises. Here’s what we experienced.
The great thing about all of the meals we’ve had so far is that you just share a single dish – whether it’s tapas or something more substantive. It really works out well and you get the opportunity to try many new things.
That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow we will go to the Prado and we look forward to the adventure. Buenas noches. Don’t forget to comment.
We finally started our day with the visit to the Prado. We got there a few minutes before 10am and had our tickets in hand. There was a line to get tickets (not as long as Sunday) but since we had purchased the tickets online we were able to just walk in. I had read on their website that cameras weren’t allowed in the museum so I didn’t take my camera. As I suspected, however, there were plenty of people carrying cameras and depending on the guard within the room, some picture taking was permitted. Okay – that annoyed me.
We had special exhibition tickets to see the Goya in Madrid exhibit as well as the Rogier Van Der Weyden exhibit. Both were extremely interesting and well displayed within the museum. The museum itself is enormous with only two main floors but packed with art. I did manage to squeeze in a couple of iPhone pictures of a group of kindergarteners who were touring the museum and were all dressed alike – very cute.
We spent a good 3 or 4 hours in the museum and still didn’t have a chance to see everything. Their Spanish collections, of course, are huge but they also have the largest collection of Rubens in the world – a result of their possession of the Spanish Low Countries. All in all, the museum was phenomenal and it encouraged me to read up more about the Spanish, Bourbon, and Hapsburg monarchies in order to gain more knowledge.
We had a quick lunch near the Royal Palace and took advantage of the reduced attendance on a weekday. Although the day started off very brisk – around 58 degrees while waiting for the Prado – the day turned out to be spectacular and very comfortable. Here are a few pictures highlighting the day.
We bought tickets for the Royal Palace tour and it was not a disappointment. First of all, walking inside the gates and into the courtyard was stunning. I was particularly attracted to the light posts and the juxtaposition with the palace and the sky – sorry if I took too many pictures of the same scene but it was overwhelmingly beautiful.
Okay – enough of the lampposts. We went inside the palace and aside from the entry pictures you’ll see below, I wasn’t able to take any others. I tried once and got caught….they followed me afterwards through about 10 rooms…. got Rich a little nervous. Anyway, here are the entry hall pictures I was able to take.
And then one with a stranger looking for directions.
Each of the rooms were filled with tapestries and very exquisite chandeliers. I had a hard time keeping track of the numerous previous residents – Carlos, Isabel, Felipe and the numbers went on and on – was it Felipe III or IV. All of it, however, extremely interesting and impressive.
Tonight for dinner we went to El Rincón de Esteban, a recommendation from the hotel. What an experience! We were met at the door by the owner and quickly impressed by the hospitality and sincerity of the staff. Here’s a quick look at the inside.
That picture in the middle by the way, is the owner with the current king of Spain, Felipe VI, when he was younger – the royal marriage photo is to the left. Of course we went way over the top with our order. I listened to my friend, John, who recommended having fish in Madrid due to its freshness – he wasn’t wrong. We had a wonderful meal with the works.
Needless to say, we had plenty. The experience was great and we enjoyed talking to the staff – most of whom couldn’t speak English – no es un problema! Every one of the staff who served us shook our hands when we left – the owner as well. It was a great evening with some very friendly and sincere individuals.
I took this last photo on the way to the hotel. It’s a shot of the Spanish Parliament building at night. We’ve passed by here many times and it’s always attended by guards at the steps and machine gunned police across the street. I took this picture right in front of the policeman with the machine gun…. and I’m still here. Buenas noches from Madrid!
This is our final day in Madrid. I don’t have a ton of pictures to share today because we just roamed around the city without any specific purpose in mind. With the intent of shopping, we walked down to the Salamanca district but weren’t able to find anything to buy. We did see some interesting spots along the way – the Parque de Madrid, which is a large park in the middle of the city, was beautiful and packed with people.
After walking through parts of Salamanca, we proceeded back to the touristy part of Madrid and I took a few pictures of the architecture along the way. Madrid has a very interesting selection of architectural features.
We had lunch in the Santa Ana Plaza and experienced something quite unique. There were hundreds of young women assembled along the perimeter of the plaza and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. We thought maybe they were in line to sign up for school or some program. Wrong….. they were waiting for the Australian group, 5 Seconds of Summer. When the group appeared on the balcony of the hotel, there were screams that made me think it was a terrorist attack…. only teenage girls thrilled by the group. It was very exciting.
Very thoughtful…. right?
We had dinner tonight in the hotel. First, it looked like a great place and then because we had a free dinner from the hotel…you can’t go wrong with that. Dinner was wonderful…. here are the courses.
It was a great dinner and the service was great.
Well, that’s it for Madrid. We loved Madrid and everything that the city had to offer. It’s a very sophisticated city with a very proud history everyone should respect. The people were wonderful and very accommodating. We have mixed feelings about leaving tomorrow but we’re ready for the rest of Spain. Buenas noches, Madrid. Here are a couple more pictures of us in the restaurant and the hotel. See you in Córdoba.
Córdoba is a beautiful and very old city. In the old section, the streets are very narrow and in many cases only meant for pedestrians. One of the highlights and greatest tourist attractions is the Mezquita which began as a Mosque – it was inspired by the Mosque of Damascus. You’ll see in the photos that I’ve taken within the Mezquita the wonderful arches that were part of the original Mosque and then the Cathedral that was built within. We stayed in the Mezquita for quite a while because it’s so enormous and every turn features a unique perspective.
Beside the Mezquita is the Alcázar which contains a fort that’s relatively boring and then the beautiful gardens and fountains on the side. You’ll see the beautiful flowers that were in full bloom. In addition, Córdoba is very proud of its patios and small alcoves. During May, the city holds La Fiesta de Los Patios de Córdoba where different routes through the city focus on a number of patios featuring beautiful displays of flowers. You’ll see several within my pictures. The rest of the photos are sites within Córdoba that intrigued me. There’s a picture of the sun shades that cover some of the smaller streets in order to keep the streets cool. Córdoba, I’ve read, is one of the hottest cities in all of Europe. In addition, I’ve captured a picture of a young schoolboy who’s assignment was to question tourists about the reasons for their visit and questions about the European Union and Spain. He asked me several questions and then I asked if I could take his picture. He was very polite and very conversant in English. The caballero on the horse was advertising for an equestrian show which was taking place that evening at the Caballerizas Reales de Córdoba – the royal stables.
The food pictures were taken at a restaurant called El Pisto. Pisto is a vegetable stew with an egg on top served cold and is very similar to ratatouille – delicious. We also had fried cod, Iberica ham, ham croquettes, and scrambled eggs with potato – all very good. It’s also amazing how inexpensive most of the wine and beer are. Today, we had two Extra Larga beers at a cafe and they were each 1.2 euros – small glasses were .40 euros.
You can see all of my pictures at this link – Pictures. I’ve elected to do it this way because the wifi here is so slow and posting the pics in a gallery seems to go quicker. I hope you enjoy!
We left Córdoba early but had all sorts of problems finding our way out of the city – even with GPS in the car. The car is nice – it’s a Citroen and rides well. Anyway, we finally were able to get on the Autovia to Granada and arrived early afternoon. The hotel, Hotel Casa 1800, is at the base of the Alhambra and doesn’t have any parking. They gave us instructions to park in a central parking lot in the middle of the city, take a taxi to a few steps from the hotel and then carry our luggage to the hotel. They also didn’t have an elevator and our room was on the 2nd floor. We were pooped by the time we got into our room. I also stressed out because the parking space in the parking garage was so tiny and crowded that it took me a good 15 minutes to maneuver the car into the space without hitting the wall or the car next to me.
Although we walked around the city when we first got here, we ended the evening early because I had come down with a cold – nothing serious. We got an early start in the morning and proceeded to climb the steep hill to the Alhambra. Most of the pictures you’ll see in the attached are of the Alhambra – absolutely gorgeous. We spent almost the entire day roaming the grounds – beautiful gardens everywhere, the Palace of Carlos V, and then the most magnificent Palacio Narides. There are also a couple of pictures of the gardens with the snow capped Sierra Nevadas in the background. It’s astonishing considering it was 90 degrees both days we were there.
We had dinner tonight at a very old Tapas restaurant that the hotel recommended and were very pleased with the meal – Ensalada de Casa, Chicken, and Arroz con Verda. Please take a look at the pictures from our visit to Granada.
We’re now in Sevilla – a great Southern city with a rich history. It’s also one of the hottest cities in Spain. We never experienced any temperature under 90 for the days we were here. At the same time, it’s not uncomfortable. It’s unlike some of the other cities in Spain in that it doesn’t have the sites like the Alhambra or the Mezquita and yet, it still has a charm of its own. The people here are very warm and friendly. It’s also a university town so that there are plenty of young people around.
Our hotel is in the center of the city and we have access to many sites. We had a heck of a time finding the hotel and figuring out where to park the car. We parked in a public garage at first only to find that the hotel was right next door. It’s really difficult to drive in the cities because there are so many one way streets – you know where you need to go but you can’t figure out how to get there. I know I broke many rules of the road while driving in the city but I did manage to get us to the hotel.
You’ll see in the pictures a lot of shots of the cathedral and other religious sites. The Cathedral of Sevilla is massive and contains the remains of Christopher Columbus – you’ll see his crypt in one of the shots. My one regret coming to Spain is not knowing enough Spanish. Although many of the Spaniards know a little English… it’s very little and at times it’s a little difficult to communicate. Buy hey, you use your hands and other objects and we all get by.
The food in the South seems to be a little better than what we experienced in Madrid. Great tapas and you’ll see that we even had pizza one night at Rich’s request. We had jamon (Spanish ham) several times, paella, calamari, and lots of vegetables. All in all, Sevilla is a great city and we are enjoying the time here.
Here is the collection of photos from Sevilla.
I know….. it’s been a few days since I’ve updated the blog. We’re now in San Sebastián – also known as Donostia…. I’ll explain that later. And it’s colder than hell. Remember I complained about the heat in Sevilla and now we’re experiencing 57 degrees in San Sebastián with rain and high winds. You’ll see some of the impacts in the pictures I’ve assembled. But first – our departure from Sevilla.
We had no problems leaving the hotel and driving to the airport. We refueled the car and returned it to the rental company without any issue. We had plenty of time before our flight departure so everything was at ease. The airport at Sevilla is relatively small but sophisticated enough. Even though our flight’s departure gate wasn’t posted, we saw this long line of people waiting to get into the terminal area. Of course, we joined that line and began speaking with a couple from San Francisco who were bound for London. We had a very pleasant conversation with them and then went through passport control. Oh wait, you don’t need to enter passport control because we’re flying within Spain. We never thought about that and found that we were in the wrong terminal area. The passport control individual was not happy. He made us stand aside for several minutes and then had to destamp our passports because we weren’t leaving the country. It was funny but he wasn’t amused.
Instead of flying directly into San Sebastián, we flew into Bilbao so that we could visit the Guggenheim Museum. We got our car and quickly found our way to the museum. It’s gorgeous! The architecture is stunning both outside and inside. It’s primarily a modern museum with some very fun and interesting exhibits. You’ll see a picture of Rich dancing with the Nanas outside the museum and also how the museum just fits nicely into the surrounding lush environment. Yes, lush…. very different from the rest of Spain that we’ve seen. Forests of trees and very high mountains with lots of rivers. In fact, you get the very strong sense that you’re no longer in Spain. As I mentioned, San Sebastián is called Donostia in Basque and all of the signage is in both Spanish and Basque. And the Basque language doesn’t look anything like the Spanish so it’s very interesting and confusing. We found the Basque people to be amazingly friendly and very cosmopolitan in their understanding of languages. Since we’re very close to the French border, there are tons of French tourists all of whom feel relatively comfortable speaking French to the Basques. We also had no issue here at all with people having a basic understanding of English.
The food is incredible. I’ve captured a few pictures of our meal last night. All of the bars serve pintxos which is the Basque version of tapas. Although it sounded a little intimidating at first, you saunter up to the bar, ask for 2 glasses of wine (very small glasses), and select your 1 or 2 pintxos to eat. Our first was a piece of beef tenderloin on bread – delicious – then some tuna spread on a puff pastry, and of course, iberian ham on croissants – this ham, however, was the best we’ve had while in Spain. The last picture is of braised veal cheeks on a spread of polenta – probably the best of the night. The bar is loaded with food and people select what they want as they all crowd around – it’s very busy and you tend to meet a lot of people. No sitting at this adventure, however….. you’re all standing. We went to 4 separate pintxos bars and had a great time.
We would have loved seeing San Sebastián in better weather because the beaches are truly outstanding as you’ll see. And yet, the power and fury of the ocean really made for some great pictures and great sights while we were here. We saw the tide rise and how the waves just pounded the jetties and shore in many cases spraying bystanders with a deluge of water…..and it was still 57 degrees most of the day. The winds were furious at times but thankfully we didn’t get a ton of rain. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for tonight’s adventure. We’re redoing the pintxtos tour tonight and then have reservations at a family run Michelin starred restaurant for our last evening in this great city. What a wonderful place!
Please enjoy a few pictures of Bilbao and San Sebastián.
The food in San Sebastián has been terrific. You can see the quality of their produce which is displayed all over the city – in produce stores and outdoor markets – and is evident in their food. You’ll see pictures in the link of white asparagus which is plentiful around the city and looks beautiful.
Last night we got ready to go out for pintxos again and decided to have a drink in the hotel bar before going out. As it turned out, it started pouring and many of the hotel guests decided to dine in. We made reservations at one of the hotel restaurants called Cafe Saigon – Vietnamese food, of course. It was delicious but we ordered far too many items. You’ll see the meal starting with tom yum kung soup (very spicy), spring rolls, saigon shrimp, beef tenderloin and shanghai noodles – delicious but certainly a lot.
Tonight we headed to Zuberoa which is about 15 minutes by taxi outside the city. It’s very popular and has earned a 1 star Michelin rating. It’s in a farmhouse far from the city and is beautifully decorated. The staff are very attentive and we had a wonderful meal. It started with a creamy foie gras/truffle delight as a starter. I had Norway lobster ravioli with truffles and Rich had the foie gras with little toasts. Their special that night was fresh spring peas with white asparagus – to die for! I then had the sea bass and Rich had the roasted suckling pig. We ended with a mille-feuille dessert and orange soaked bread dessert. All of it was outstanding!
We leave tomorrow for Barcelona and fly there early tomorrow morning. We leave behind a very wonderful city that is truly a culinary treat. It’s a shame that the weather wasn’t better – it’s still raining by the way – but the experience has been incredible.
Here are some pictures of the food – oh and one of me with the little sunshine we saw in San Sebastián and the pastry tarts we bought for lunch.
When we left San Sebastián, it was still raining. We drove early Sunday morning to the airport in San Sebastian which is quite small. We wondered whether a jet could actually land on such a small runway. Meanwhile, since it was so early on Sunday morning, there was no one in the rental car return area. We dropped the keys into the designated area and hoped for the best.
The plane was right on time and surprised us by its size – an Airbus that seated around 100 people. The flight was an hour and we flew along the edge of the snow capped Pyrenees – very majestic. It was nice to get back into sunlight and warmth in Barcelona.
What a great city! Grand boulevards and interesting architecture at every turn. I’ve included our first day’s shots. We walked from our hotel on the Paseo de Gracia to the port of Barcelona utilizing La Rambla a few times. There were shops along the way and of particular interest, the Mercat de La Boqueria, an indoor market containing stands of vegetables, fish, meat…. you name it. It was huge. I caught pictures of two Gaudi buildings along the way as well as the Barcelona Cathedral.
Our meal on Sunday night was very simple. A large serving of Burrata cheese accompanied with Catalan toast. We were told to rub the tomatoes and garlic on the warm toast to create a bruschetta of sorts – it was delicious. We also had shrimp stuffed ravioli and ended with carrot cake. Not too much huh?
We’ve been in Barcelona now a couple of days and know the layout pretty well. We’ve been down La Rambla several times and gone as far as the port and beach. The streets are laid out extremely well and it’s easy to navigate where you need to be. Of course, trying to find that same shop where you saw the item you wanted to buy is a different story – no luck there.
We had checked out the site for Sagrada Familia the day before and were acquainted with the ways to get there. Although it’s easily walkable from our hotel, this morning we chose to take the Metro and you’ll see a shot in the tube. The weather has been a bit chilly and we’ve experienced at least a day and a half of solid rain – not heavy downpours but just enough to get things really wet.
Sagrada Familia is incredible! There are no pictures that can represent what you see when you walk through those initial doors – it actually takes your breath away. We had 11:30 tickets so we had no problems getting in. Although we had purchased the additional entry fee to take the elevators up in the towers, they were not operational today due to the rain …..not quite sure how to get the refund at this point. Anyway, the basilica itself is quite enough to keep you occupied for a long time. The colors and light within the basilica are stunning. In my shots you’ll see that there’s one wall entirely dedicated to the blues and then another wall to the oranges. The orange effect is dazzling and the blue is comforting. The lighting within is perfect and reflects the kind of mood and respect that Gaudi sought. The architectural detail within the basilica is so unlike any of the cathedrals we’ve seen in Spain thus far. It’s simply amazing.
The food we’ve had in Barcelona has been great. I’ve included our adventures in an Argentine restaurant the concierge recommended. We started with garlic shrimp and were actually surprised that the heads weren’t included…. thank you, Barcelona. We each had Argentine beef cooked perfectly with a Spanish Ribera red wine that was excellent. After dessert, we were treated to an Argentine liquor called Legui – very yummy.
I’ll probably have just one more blog entry to end our trip. I hope you enjoy the pictures primarily from Sagrada Familia.
For my final entry from Barcelona, I don’t have too many pictures other than the two meals we had on Wednesday night and Thursday night. You’ll see a shot of our trip to the Miro Museum where I captured a group of small children visiting the museum – there were several groups inside and outside and all them in some sort of uniform. Because they were so cute, I couldn’t resist snapping this picture. And, of course, I got scolded by one of the adults because I took the picture….. We don’t allow picture taking of our children in Spain….. okay, I’m sorry but they’re still cute.
There are also pictures of our day trip to the Barcelona shore. It was extremely windy but we had clear skies for a change.
On Wednesday night, we went to dinner at Monvinic, a modern Mediterranean restaurant specializing in wines from all over the world. You’ll see pictures of our meal including the beginning tapas – there were 6 different small plates of a chicory salad, a strawberry/tomato salad, sausages, and samosas. My dinner entree was sea bass and Rich had the oxtail special. During that meal, we sat next to Sarah and Brian who were on their honeymoon from Philadelphia. We enjoyed talking with them and invited them for drinks at our hotel the next night. Sarah works for the Philadelphia Phillies and Brian is some hot shot at the Philadelphia Eagles – both very nice. Too bad I’m not an Eagles fan.
Our last dinner was at a Catalonian restaurant called Windsor and the food was exceptional. Shrimp and tuna starters while I had the pork and Rich had the lamb as entrees. Rich had a chocolate dessert and I had this delicious Catalonian cream with toffee ice cream underneath.
Our favorite cities you ask? They were all great and we had an exceptional time in each. Madrid was a great classic capital city, Sevilla, a warm Southern city, and San Sebastián, an experience quite unique. I think my two favorites were Barcelona and San Sebastián, with Cordoba a close second. Rich really liked Sevilla and Cordoba because of the weather and the food we had there. All in all, we had a wonderful time and the Spanish people were incredible hosts. They have a zest for life that is different than many other parts of Europe and their history just blows your mind. I have a deeper appreciation for their culture and history now that we’ve seen so much of it.
As you read this blog, we’ll probably be in the air between Barcelona and New York. We leave today at 1:30pm and get home in Pasadena sometime around midnight. Thank you all for following my blog and making comments along the way. It’s been a great journey.