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Concentrated tour of the Country of Spain!
We concluded from this trip that Spanish art is second to none and the Spaniards are aristocratic in their bearing:
The citizens showcase an extraordinarily polite and gracious demeanor, wear dignified clothing, offer fine food with an emphasis on savory flavors vs large portions (tapas), produce an abundance of excellent affordable wine and have constructed an historical architectural flair from Gothic Cathedral's, Moorish strongholds (Alhambra) and contemporary wonders (Gaudi) which reveals their inner whimsy!
Note: Every Title for this Trip List has a tinyurl displaying a Google Map of the area!
Our trip planning to Spain was quite a transportation surprise!
The must see Guggenheim Museum Bilbao dictated the routing for our September trip (ideal sunshine except for some coolness, clouds, light rain in the Basque region)
At first we were focused on taking the train to each destination. The schedules were troublesome (i.e.-change trains middle of night Barcelona to Bilbao) When I checked the intra-country airfares for Iberia Airlines the low costs were a dream come true. This really added to our total enjoyment!
3 Nights Barcelona - Fly to Bilbao
1 Nights Bilbao/San Sebastian - Rent car and explore Basque region
1 Nights Santander - Fly to Madrid
2 Nights Madrid - AVE train to Sevilla
1 Nights Seville - Rent car and tour Andalusia
2 Nights Ronda - Day trip to Gibraltar, Costa del Sol
2 Nights Granada - Return car and fly to Madrid
2 Nights Toledo - Headed to directly from Madrid airport. Bus to, train return for flight home
We used our favorite guide Rick Steves - Spain & Portugal for the overall trip.
Everything was great except Santander! We really were disappointed about what we did "not" discover, "not" to mention the long drive to get there and back. A redo would find us staying 2 nights in super picturesque San Sebastian with a Rioja wine country tour and a visit to the "run with the bulls" town of Pamplona!
Barcelona is a very large city filled with rambling folks, wonderful art & architecture, botanical gardens, unbelievable fresh food markets, hilltop vistas from Olympic Park of the Mediterranean and of course paella with sangria!
We stayed in the very central - Gothic Quarter, convenient to public transportation and near the place to be seen (Ramblas) at the Nouvel Hotel. A very good breakfast is included, although hot salsa is definitely Mexican because pico de gallo and roasted chilies might as well come from Mars! We recommend this hotel!
Our tour of Barcelona, using efficient public transportation, included the must see's like Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and the Picasso Museum. Plus extended walking tours of Las Ramblas (day & night) Make sure to wander through El Mercado - La Boqueria. The colorful bounty of fresh foods presented in a artsy way are indeed impressive. The food presentations inside the food courts are also impressive. Buy picnic foods for the Olympic Park area!
This was our "beginning" into the world of Spanish art. After Madrid we were in awe, especially with Picasso! Juan Miro a contemporary artist (dedicated museum in Barcelona) is also not to be missed.
For the paella and sangria, we had a terrific dinner by the wharf at Paco Alcalde!
Adeu to Barcelona with an easy boarding and morning flight to Bilbao!
The Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry is the absolute best tourist attraction investment Bilbao could have possibly made!
We arrived on a cloudy, cool day at the airport for our 2 night tour and began by picking up our buggy at Avis.
We motored into town and parked by the river across from the spell-binding edifice of The Guggenheim. The building, its materials and inner gallery layouts were the much enjoyed attraction for Mr Strand. The Mrs gets a bonus because she also appreciates many of the modern art exhibits, like 3 differing solid-colored rectangle panels displayed in triptych form (oh how meaningful, let me stop for 5 seconds to contemplate)!
Still well worth the time, especially with the scenic Basque town of San Sebastian only 60 miles away!
This absolutely picturesque, situated along a bay, beach side town is a great spot to enjoy the many tapas restaurants, explore hillside promontories at the entrance to the bay and do a day trip to Pamplona and the surrounding wine regions!
We had a balcony overlooking the bay at Hotel Niza which we highly recommend. Mr Strand overindulged during a progressive dinner frequenting many of the "too good to stop" tapas restaurants at the east end of the bay! The anchovies were quite the standout treat! 12 small plates = a HUGE buffet!
Redo, next time = Pamplona and the wineries here we come for a day trip:
Also, given enough time, we would explore the Basque Region in France, like Bayonne with its Basque Museum!
Foul ball, foul ball, swing and a miss! You are out of here!
Following Fodor's, we chose Santander for a tour and a visit. Starting with the rain, a hotel that did not have our reservation (first and only time this has happened to us.....we ended up at the Yikes Hostel.....The Bates Motel might have been better) and finishing the last day at a windy nothing beach/downtown area, we could not wait to leave!
Although a veritable paradise compared to Wheeling, WV, Deadwood, SD or Forks, WA. Everybody during their lifetime travels has a few foul balls. Guess what? We highly recommend to NOT visit Santander!
Back to Bilbao International and off to Madrid!
Madrid ranks very high on our favorite destinations on the planet list!
Our experience was largely defined by where we stayed (Hotel Mora), the artwork in The Prado (Velazquez, Goya, El Greco, +++) , the unbelievable, powerfully moving work of Picasso's Guernica at Museo Reina Sofia and the observations we made of the people of Madrid. Walking through 2 separate courtyard areas in front of church's with wedding party attendee's, we were taken with the elegance of dress and smiles EVERY member (wedding party and guests) displayed in their actions. For us, this type of dignified "culture" is rapidly decaying in America and we just respect this level of decorum!
The Hotel Mora is no palace by a long shot. Actually we prefer and typically stay in much higher end accommodations. But we had the corner "suite" (stretch) on the top floor looking out at The Prado and the botanical gardens across the street. We were a short walking distance to the AVE Atocha Railway Station where we departed from to Sevilla. Next door on the outdoor patio at La Plateria we had a green bean tapa appetizer that was so exceptionally good, we came back the next evening (not our typical mo). We also enjoyed perusing the shops. Mrs Strand celebrated another birthday in an adventurous locale. We bought a beautiful Senorita's red and black fan that we display at home to commemorate this trip.
Location, location, location! No matter where you go, the location really matters for maximizing the experience. This was a special time for us!
Bullet train away......off to Flamenco Ciudad!
Riding the AVE from Madrid to Seville was a rapid, not as fast as anticipated, smooth ride. The scenery had a bit of a California look. We proceeded to our central accommodation in the penthouse at Hotel Amedeus! We recommend this hotel. We enjoyed our outdoor terrace!
We toured the very interesting and impressive main attractions Real de Alcazar (Moorish influence), the Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower while walking through the Barrio de Santa Cruz and Plaza de Espana!
We missed out on "our" planned evening of Flamenco entertainment! The Mrs was not clicking her castanets very loud while I was stomping my percussive heels!
We then picked up the buggy for our Andalusia journey to Ronda, Gibraltar, Costa del Sol and ultimately Granada!
During our planning this dramatic mesa top town really stood out as a place to experience! We stayed 2 nights at the Parador de Ronda in a spectacular lower suite with floor to ceiling windows looking straight out at the bridge (Puente Neuvo) and gorge below! Upon arrival we sat on the back terrace with the fabulous views enjoying a pitcher of Sangria. Ole!
We walked through the town and really enjoyed our tour of Plaza de Toros, the bullring, right next door!
The next day it was off early to the Costa del Sol and a tour of the Rock.....Gibraltar that is! No we did not buy a Prudential insurance policy!
Then back down the hill and off to Granada for the very impressive Moorish Alhambra!
Our driving day trip back to the "UK" was a beautiful drive with great vistas of the Mediterranean! For Mr Strand, an avid golfer, he had to close his ojo's while passing the sign for Club de Golf Valderama....carumba!
What a fascinating exploration of the Rock! Definitely worth the time! We went to the Apes Den, traversed the Mediterranean Steps and explored the lengths of the Siege Tunnels with "peephole" views to the busy airport far below!
Almost done for the day, with a pub only 1/2 mile down the final steep hill descending from the rock, when disaster struck! The Mrs twisted her ankle stepping from the curb, hobbling herself for the remainder of the trip. Yet still quite the trooper with a stiff British upper lip! She only missed a tower climb within the Alhambra and a long, brisk late afternoon exploration of the Toledo cobbled streets!
Back to Ronda in time for more sangria and a tasty dinner!
From Ronda it was a very nice scenic drive through Marbella and then inland via the highways to Granada and Hotel Macia Plaza at the base of Alhambra hill!
We dropped off our bags and returned our buggy. We walked for a tour of the ornate Cathedral and Royal Chapel where Queen Isabella is entombed. Later we purchased a commemorative plate from a shop along Plaza Nuevo!
Note: In street view you can see the small balconies at Hotel Macia Plaza. We were "lucky" to get a balcony room (planning). Mr Strand has a fond memory of enjoying his scotch with a nice cigar on the balcony with the floodlit Alhambra perched on the hill. For a limited few, this might be appealing?!!
The next beautiful day was filled with an extensive tour of the Alhambra grounds and opulent buildings. Moorish design is simply elegant with rich colors. An experience not to be missed! That evening we went to Albayzin the old Moorish Quarter via the bus for a sunset view of the Alhambra at San Nicolas viewpoint. We explored the backstreets and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Restaurante Ruta del Azafran!
Telling people observation: Call it being civilized? On EVERY street corner on our entire trip where there was a pedestrian crossing signal, not one person crossed until the go signal, even without a car anywhere in sight? Even two very antsy Americans got into the "proper" mode with knees shaking wanting to cross ahead of schedule (maybe the fines are a million euros?)!
Final morning, off to the airport and a return flight to Madrid. Upon arrival it was straight to the bus station for 2 final nights in Toledo!
Toledo, only 70 miles South of Madrid, was our final destination on our concentrated tour of Iberia! We flew in from Granada, navigated the subway and found the bus station for the ride to Toledo!
Our accommodation, Hotel Las Conchas (not recommended), was on the contemporary / youth hostel bizarre side (if that makes sense?). We chose it more for its location in the old town and its walking tour convenience. Although we did enjoy a grand loop tour of the town on the guided, somewhat hokey tram which starts and finishes at the main square (Mrs could not walk)!
Toledo runs the spectrum of religious based conquests.....Cathedrals, Synagogues and Mosques! Add in the medieval flavor of sword manufacturing with shops featuring these weapons and you get a very interesting display of edifices and store fronts to take an extended walk throughout the town! Mrs Strand was still hobbled from her turned ankle at Gibraltar, so Mr Strand took a late afternoon fast paced walk, seeing almost everything, buying some trinkets along the way (i.e.-La Mancha tree ornament). Highly recommended! Also, the transitional style paintings (take that fellow baroque artist's here's some futuristic expressionism and cubism) at the El Greco Museum are worth a perusal!
We enjoyed a couple of good dinners. But nothing special to specifically praise!
The final day we caught the bus at the train station to take us to another train station? We were lucky when someone told us to get on the bus out front while we were mindlessly sitting on the platform waiting for a train we never heard a comin'! How silly of us?
Back to Madrid International and the silver bird home to San Francisco/Danville!
Every trip is different. Expectations vs the final experience can change dramatically. We concluded this fantastic immersion into the diverse cities and regions of Spain, with a new found awareness of Spanish art history, Spanish conquest history (influence of the Moors) and Spanish contemporary culture.
This is why one travel's. Stereotypes are well stereotypes. We were personally enriched by expanding our minds and awareness of "another" great culture and people on this wonderful planet we call Earth!