Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe and being from New Zealand we were warmly welcomed as Antipodeans. It is a country with a unique history and immense geographical diversity. We literally only had a taste of Spain and I definitely want more. The people are super friendly, very relaxed lifestyle, excellent cuisine with lots of folklore and festivities. It is definitely a “must visit again” country on my list.
Madrid is the capital and the largest city with a population of 6.5 million. The streets are narrow but street life is vibrant and very enjoyable. We visited a few weeks before Christmas, there was a carnival atmosphere with music, dance and street performers. We walked around the palace and the cathedral of Almudena. That evening we had tapas at the Elder King of the Wines (El Anciano Rey de los vinos), which is very close to the palace /cathedral precinct and has been at same location for over a hundred years. We also made a reservation to see a flamenco performance and what an outstanding performance that was.
We took a superfast train to Seville (distance of 530 kilometres in just under three hours). At nearly 180 kilometres per hour, we saw the idyllic country side with orange and olive trees as far as the eye could see. The photos I took were just a blur!
I fell in love with Seville. The heart of the city is dominated by the world’s largest cathedral and there is something very romantic hearing the rumble of the cobblestones. Seville is the cultural centre of Andalucia region and offers her visitors a dazzling collection of sights and orange trees laden with Seville oranges. We did a very interesting tour of the city that included Plaza de Toros (bullfighting ring), Plaza de Espana, and the Seville cathedral and of course my highlight the Alcazar.
The Plaza de Toros has a museum attached and it houses not only paintings but also the matador’s traje de lucas (suit of lights). The Plaza de Espana was built in 1928 for the 1929 expo and it is an architectural marvel embracing several styles of Baroque, Renaissance and Moorish architecture. Yes now it is a top filming location! To appreciate the Alcazar (palace) one needs to know that the Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years. The origins for the palace can be traced back to 8th century CE. Then in the 14th century the catholic kings of Spain reclaimed it, one under which elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque design were combined to the original Islamic structure leading to the unique blend of styles known as Mudéjar.
Our third stop was Granada, a beautiful city surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We didn’t have too many things planned other than the Alhambra, so the first day we enjoyed walking along the river front. Being winter and cold, we thought there wouldn’t be a surcharge for sitting out on the patio for our lunch but we did get charged for dining al fresco.
We had a private guided tour of the Alhambra and there is so much beauty in simplicity and symmetry. We were just blown away by the palace and gardens. Three hours very well spent. No trip to Spain is complete without clothes shopping at El Corte Ingles (The English Cut), a department store.
- Summers can be very hot – around 40 degrees Celsius in some parts. The best time to go would be mid to late September onward.
- Meal times are different – lunch gets busy after 1.30 pm. If you go out for dinner at 7 pm, you will see other tourists like yourself. The locals eat about 8.30 or 9 pm.
- For a slightly different style of accommodation, try the parador. In Spain, it is a kind of luxury hotel, usually located in a converted historic building such as a monastery or castle, or in a modern building with a panoramic view of a historic and monumental city.
- Train stations are huge offering over 35-40 platforms. It is a bit confusing to navigate as stations are crowded and it seems that everyone else but you, know what they are doing. Information board / station layout is at the entrance! Allow plenty of time so you can get to your platform in good time.