Fiestas & Siestas

Hola! On Saturday, our Spanish holiday began in Madrid with a visit to the Centro De Arte Reina Sofía Museum and our introduction to Spanish art. After viewing works by Salvidor Dali, Picasso and Joan Miro, we came to the conclusion that these Spanish artist were definitely deranged or on some serious drugs! While the art was amazing, it was difficult to comprehend just how they came up with their ideas!

‘Man smoking a pipe’ – Joan Miro
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‘The artist and the model’ – Pablo Picasso
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‘The face of the great masturbator’ and a painting by Salvador Dali
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‘Birds in space’ – Joan Miro
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That evening we thought to ourselves, ‘what better way to orientate yourself in a new city then participating in a pub crawl!’ Which is how we ended up heading out on Saturday night. We were a little bit nervous about attending the pub crawl in Madrid… as the sentence, “I will never, ever go on a pub crawl again”, was used after a similar night in Berlin earlier in the year. That particular pub crawl resulted in not making it back to our hotel room until 6am, sleeping through our alarms and missing a day tour we had booked and paid for… However for the sake of experiencing Spain we were willing to have another go..

The Madrid pub crawl consisted of 4 bars and 1 night club.. The 1st bar had unlimited cerveza and sangria on offer for 45 minutes and a free shot of tequila at all the other bars. As you can imagine by the time we were ready for bed, it was very late (5:00 am) and we came to the sudden realisation that pub crawling was not the best way to orientate ourselves, as we now had no idea where we were. Needless to say, when we woke up the next morning we were feeling (just a little) worse for wear.

Our original plan for Sunday was to do a walking tour of Madrid at 11am, however, this tour was obviously not going to happen! So after a big greasy meal and LOTS of water, we were ready to attempt the 1pm session. As painful as it was, it was worth getting out of bed for. We saw the Royal Palace, Sol- the heart of Madrid with the famous statue of a bear climbing a madroña tree (the symbol of Madrid), Plaza Mayor and the world’s oldest restaurant (just to name a few).

Matt with the symbol of Madrid
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The 0km point in Madrid
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The oldest restaurant in the world
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After lunch and a siesta, we headed to the Museo del Prado to take in some more culture. We saw more works by Goya, including his last and most disturbing set of artwork – ‘Las Pinturas’ (the black paintings), as well as El Greco’s ‘Adoration of the Shepard’ and Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. However, the most interesting artworks that we saw were by Joan Miro. These were certainly the strangest that we have come across so far, and although we struggled to understand them, we still enjoyed them – even finding some paintings amusing at times. After our big day, it was time to finish the evening with a bucket of beers for €3 and then sleep off our long day.

Outside the Museu del Prado
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Sangria and tapas to end the day
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Monday morning was an early start as we had a lot of travel ahead of us. First up was a quick ride on the metro to Madrid’s Atocha Train Station. Once there, our plan was to store our luggage in lockers for the day while we went off exploring. This took a little longer then expected and that was due to the stringent security checks that were undertaken before they would let us place our bags in the lockers. This of course, was due to the 2004 Madrid bombings that took place at the same station. Once this tedious maneuver was completed, we were of on a short train ride to Toledo. Toledo is meant to be a cross between Rome, Cairo and Fez; and this is a fairly accurate description. The city is the spiritual capital of Spain with its history incorporating Christians, Jews and Muslims and this makes it an interesting city filled with cobble stone, narrow streets, plazas, churches, synagogues and mosques.

The Toledo region is also the birthplace of the famous writer Miguel de Cervantes creator of the windmill fighting Don Quixote and the home of the artist El Greco. References to both of these well-respected men can be found throughout the city.

After spending the first 45 minutes trying to orientate ourselves after a slight map reading mishap (of which yet there is no definite culprit to blame – HANNAH), we began exploring the city. It was extremely hilly and pushing 40 degrees, so after 4 hours of exploring we were ready for a cold beer. We found a cute cafe, sat outdoors under an umbrella and had the most amazing paella filled with fresh prawns, squid and mussels and, of course, with a few ice-cold beers. Which was a perfect way to end our day in this historical city.

Outside the old gates to Toledo
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A statue dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes
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Outside the ancient city walls

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View from the Toledo Alcazar
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Matt practicing for the running of the bulls
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After traveling back to Madrid, we had an hour to collect our luggage and make our way to a different platform to catch our train to Granada. While passing time at the train station, we stumbled across the largest collection of turtles we had ever seen!!! There were no signs to indicate why they had so many there, but we assumed it was a breeding program. There was hundreds of them sunning themselves and swimming in an enclosure located in the middle of Madrid’s busiest train station. It was a very random discovery however, incredible to see!

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A few hours into our 4.5hr train journey to Granada, our train broke down and after making use of our limited Spanish skills we managed to decipher that we were required to continue the journey on a bus – from what felt like the middle of the desert – to our final destination: Granada. We didn’t reach our hotel until close to 10pm and after a quick feed, we were ready for a good sleep.

We woke up full of energy on Tuesday morning ready to see what ‘Lonely Planet’ states as the number one tourist attraction in Spain… ‘The Alhambra’ and ‘Generalife Gardens’. The Alhambra (meaning red castle), is a fortress built in the 9th century. In the 13th and 14th century it was converted into a fortress-palace complex adjoined by a small town. It contains the Palacio Nazaries and the Alhambra palace, as well as the palace of the lions and the Generalife outdoor palace. The size and splendor of the complex was almost too much to take in. The use of coloured tiles and painted walls in every room was delicately balanced with plastor pattern decorations and wood ceilings. The garden stretched on for acres, filled with every type of flower imaginable (minus wattle). We were told how It gets so hot in summer that most of the roses only last one day once they have bloomed. They must plant a lot of them as there were literally thousands of roses fully bloomed on this particular day.

Views from inside the Alhambra Complex
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One of the many beautiful courtyards within the palace
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The courtyard in the Palace of the Lions
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The lion fountain
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View of the Palace from the gardens
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The Outdoor Palace
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Granda is the only city left in Spain where bars provide free tapas with every ordered drink. The theory being, that you will never get too drunk, as you are constantly lining your stomach with the mouth-watering (and did we mention, free?) tapas … Of course it takes a few Aussies to prove this theory wrong!!! After spending the morning in more 40+ degree heat, we were in need of some rest and relaxation. We found ourselves in a bar called Bodegas Castanada which can be found down a graffiti-filled, dodgy-looking, side street. Supposedly, this was oldest bar in Granada. It is known for serving paella as a tapa and we were impressed when this was the first tapa that we received. The general rule is that the more drinks you order, the better the tapas get! We scored a variety of delicious foods, including pork knuckles and a selection of cheeses and chorizo. After 2 hours of drinking beer and sangria, we had to make our way to the train station so we could continue our journey through southern Spain, to Seville.

Seville was the hottest place in Spain that we have visited so far with 45+ degree temperatures! We arrived late on Tuesday night and then headed across the river to Triana to sample the recommended fried fish in Calle del Betts. We thought fried prawns would be great, but it turns out that they fry the prawns with their shells on, making them nearly impossible to peel. By the time we ate them, after spending so much time, strength and concentration peeling them, we were hungrier than when we started! We tried to be positive about it and thought of it as, “all part of the experience!”

The next day, our plan was to walk around, taking in the city sights, but by 2pm we were literally melting (and that was from using the open toped tour bus not even walking as planned) so we decided to retire back to our hotel’s roof top pool with a beer and to work on our tans as the London-so-called-Summer, hasn’t really been working for us. We followed up with a few hours in a local bar drinking beer and eating mondatios, which are llittle sandwiches with different fillings. Later that day, (at 8pm), when the temperature had finally dropped a little (30 degrees or so), we headed into town to check out the largest cathedral in the world. We couldn’t take a decent picture because it was too large to get in one shot, however, totally a site worth seeing, as was the alcazar (an old fortress – Seville’s answer to the Alhambra), adjacent to the cathedral. Although we didn’t take in all the tourist spots that Seville has to offer, we feel as though we did experience its history and culture, and we are little browner as a result of our 2 days of relaxing in the city.

The Torre del Oro (The Golden Tower)
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Matt at the top of the Torre del Oro
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Hannah at the top of the Torre del Oro
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Seville’s Bull fighting arena
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Relaxing on the roof by the pool
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Outside Seville’s Alcazar
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View of the cathedral through one of the entrance arches to the Alcazar
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Trying the local cuisine – Gazpacho Soup
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So Thursday has arrived – making it our final day in Spain – and we have had a few hours to pass before our 8 hours bus ride across the border to Portugal. We decided to visit the 1st roman town founded in Spain: Itálica. Itálica was first founded in 206BC and the remains include one of the biggest roman amphitheaters, along with remains of houses, paved streets, bath houses and mosaic tiles. The journey takes less then half an hour by bus from Seville, which we would thoroughly recommend that you visit if you are ever in the area.

View of the amphitheatre from afar
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The theatre
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Matt backstage where the gladiators used to wait for their turn to go out and compete
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Hannah inside the theatre

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Gladiator Champions!
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So that leaves us at Seville’s Plaza de Armas bus station, about to embark on our long bus trip to Portugal; where our next adventure begins….

Until next time… Adios Amigos!

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