Tag Archives: Spain

Madrid

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Madrid

Please note this trip was before the Covid 19 outbreak. All future trips currently on hold until who knows when

Spain was the destination for my birthday trip with us having a week in the capital Madrid. There is a lot to see and do in Spain’s capital as you would expect also their are some very good sights outside of the city that are good for a day trip if you have the time. We stayed in an area just outside of the centre, but easily walkable to the main attractions, called Atocha. A nice quiet area with some good restaurants nearby and a short walk to the metro, the perfect base for our trip. As Madrid is Spain’s capital, and as you would expect, the most populated city in Spain. It lies on the River Manzanres, and if you look at a map of Spain it is right slap bang in the middle of the country. Madrid has plenty to offer in the way of sights, restaurants and nightlife, and is a great long weekend destination, although we stayed for a week, which enabled us to explore other towns and attractions outside of the city.

Top attractions to visit

Plaza Mayor (Click here for a 360 degree view) is situated in the heart Hapsburg the old part of the city and is one of the capitals most visited areas. The large square with its many restaurants around the edge is the perfect place to while away an hour having a cold beer or a cup of coffee. As you can imagine it can be an expensive experience because of the location, that said, its a must. Just through the arch in the corner of the square and down some steps you will come across Restaurante Botin which is the worlds oldest restaurant as published in the Guinness book of records. Founded in 1725 and famed for its suckling pig and lamb roasted in the Castilian style it’s a popular place. Although we didn’t eat there it looks amazing from the outside. In the window there is a small model of the building a great photo opportunity. If you like music and your passion is blues music like mine a great place to go in the evening is a blues bar called La Coquette situated in Calle de las Hileras this very intimate little venue has a great vibe about it. They have live music every evening. It doesn’t open until 9pm with music starting around 10pm. I’d advise getting there when it opens as seating is quickly taken up. Unfortunately they do not have a website but they do have a Facebook page.

If you happen to be in Madrid on a Sunday or a public holiday a must visit is El Rastro Market. Situated along Plaza de Cascorro and Ribera de Curtidores, its very popular with locals and tourists alike. So many stalls selling everything from clothes, antiques, food and general wares its a great place to spend a few hours. The nearest metro station is La Latina. After visiting El Rastro a good place to get some lunch is the Mercado San Miguel Built some 100 years ago, it started out as a wholesale food market. Today in this magnificent historical building it caters for all gastronomy tastes, from fresh fish and shellfish, Iberian ham, amazing cheese, and tapas. It’s a great place to head to for lunch, and is extremely popular with the locals and is always busy. It’s open Monday to Thursday and Sunday from 10am to midnight and until 1am on Friday and Saturday

If you want stunning views of the city then you should visit the Circulo de Bellas Artes which in itself is an art gallery, featuring works of art, paintings, sculptures and a large collection of books. The other reason to visit is for its roof top restaurant and bar, with great 360 degree views over Grand Via and the city. Entrance at time of writing is 4€ and drinks are reasonably priced. Location is Calle de Alcalá 42

If its parks you like take a visit to Parque de el Retiro a very beautiful and well kept park and a great place to go to escape the hum drum of the city. The park is filled with beautiful sculptures with its centre piece a large lake. A must view near the rose garden is the statue of the fallen angel. It’s the only sculpture in the world dedicated to the devil. and curiously stands 666m above sea level. Another lovely structure is the glass house, it does not house any exotic plants which it once did but is now used as an exhibition hall. The cast iron and glass structure is well worth looking around and a good photo opportunity

Another great place to visit is the Palacio Real de Madrid. This palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family, but is now used only for state ceremonies. I would advise booking in advance online to avoid the queues, as its a popular tourist destination. At time of writing admission is 12€

If Flamenco is your thing then take a look at Casa Patas. it’s a typical old Spanish restaurant serving traditional dishes and tapas. (Click for 360 view) The shows are performed in a large seated area at the back in a separate room. Casa Patas is not your normal touristy Flamenco show but authentic, traditional and passionate dancing, music and singing. Entrance is 40€ with a drink so a little pricey, but in my opinion well worth it

Day trips outside of Madrid

If you have a little more time than a long weekend, a week in our case, then there are some great attractions and towns outside of the city.

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

On your way and a good place to stop halfway to Segovia is the Monastery San Lorenzo de El Escorial. A truly magnificent structure and a must visit. Construction started in 1563 and was completed in 1584 and is in remarkable condition. When we arrived it appeared that you just walk in, but when we went to go inside we were asked for a ticket. We asked where the ticket kiosk was and was directed to a ticket machine all the way back to where we came in, the machine was in a corner and not easily visible so take note. Entrance fees at time of writing was 8€ and is good value for money as once inside the architecture is jaw dropping, especially the magnificent library. Give yourself a couple of hours to have a good look around. Unfortunately as we were moving onto Segovia we did not have time to look around the town so you could easily spend a day here.

Valley of the Fallen

After leaving San Lorenzo we stopped off at the Valley of the Fallen, which is about a 20 minute drive towards Segovia. The valley of the fallen is the former resting place of the infamous dictator Franco and is not normally found in guide books because its not a piece of history that most Spaniards want to remember. It’s a sprawling huge over the top memorial to this disposed dictator. It served as the burial place of Franco’s remains from his death in November 1975 until his exhumation on 24 October 2019, as a result of efforts to remove all public veneration of his dictatorship. Apparently every year on the anniversary of his death a huge gathering still takes place to celebrate this man’s slaughter of the many Spanish people who died during his dictatorship. The death toll during his regime is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 people. The reason for our visit was Mark who is taking a degree in politics wanted to find out more. Once inside it felt very sombre and dark, almost creepy a real stark reminder of Spain’s infamous history

Segovia

Finally we reached the really lovely town of Segovia, a world heritage listed site, so as you can imagine the town has some stunning architecture, with its magnificent Roman built aqueduct leading to the main square. Made up of around 166 arches it brought the water from La Acebeda to the Alcázar a distance of more than 17km. Don’t forget to take a closer look at the stones used to construct the arches. No mortar or adhesive was used in its construction, amazing. Some of the upper stones have ridges on their sides. These marks were caused by dragging the stones and raising them into position The town has a beautiful main square, a stunning Cathedral and a must visit, Alcázar, palace. Walt Disney is said to have modelled Sleeping Beauty’s castle in California’s Disneyland on the Alcázar, but to be fair if you google it appears that another castle in Germany has also laid claim and perhaps many others. So take a visit and make up your own mind. Also have a stroll around the old Jewish quarter with it’s quaint little house out of the way restaurants and bars, just walk around and soak up this really lovely part of town.

Toledo

Another great day out from Madrid is the city of Toledo, it lies about an hour’s drive south east of Madrid, and as its Spain I will certainly guarantee some more stunning architecture. It boasts a magnificent cathedral the Santa Iglesias Cathedral Primada de Toledo. The cathedral is one of only three High Gothic cathedrals in Spain and is architecturally stunning both inside and out. Work began in 1226 and was finally finished in around 1493. The outside is beautiful but the inside will leave you open mouthed, especially the altarpiece which is something to behold (Click here) for the official website which has lots of information and some great photos of the interior

Whilst in the city also visit the beautiful stone built and very imposing Alcazar Perched on top of a hill overlooking the city with some great views over the surrounding countryside, the Alcazar which was once used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century has been destroyed and re-built throughout years of history and conflict but is now used as Army offices and also houses a military arms museum. If your thing is military I’m sure the inside is worth a visit, (entrance fee is currently 5€) but if it’s not, like us, then a walk around the perimeter just to soak up the grandeur of the place is worth doing.

Well that’s it for Madrid. Next post will be our Bulgarian trip in 2019. So stay safe and keep following.

Barcelona & Seville

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Once again we are off on our travels, this time its a special occasion for my dear wife’s 60th birthday. Our first stop is Barcelona, for three nights then onto Seville by train for three nights. Have never visited either city so I was really looking forward to this trip.
We arrived safely and everything went according to plan, after all we were flying Ryanair. We had not arranged any onward transport from the airport to the city as it was decided that after reading our trusty Lonely Planet guide the bus would be a good option, so after collecting our luggage we headed off to get our tickets for the journey. There are a few option to get from the airport to the city firstly there is the obvious choice of a taxi, which will cost approx €30 plus a charge for each item of baggage. Secondly there is the Autostrada bus service which costs €5.90 single or approx €9 return, and thirdly the is the national train service Renfe of which we took as after standing in the queue for our bus tickets we overheard some other travellers chatting to the woman on the information desk, and the cost for this was only €3.90, bargain. The train takes you into the city centre where you can easily get a metro connection, metro, tickets are priced at €2 for a single journey or you can purchase a 10 trip card for €9.80. Well enough tips for now back to the city itself. After dropping off our cases in our lovely apartment for our stay, which incidentally overlooked the magnificent Sagrada Familia. Our first port of call was the well publicised La Ramblas which is a very long tree-lined boulevard which eventually ends up at the sea it has many shops, restaurants souvenir stalls and some beautiful flower stalls which it appears are under threat from the local government’s axe, to probably make way for more tacky souvenir stalls. La Ramblas itself is in my opinion does not live up to its hype, personally its like any other shop filled street in any city, but it does have some worth while attractions like the huge undercover market which with its many stalls selling all kinds of interesting food. Also worth a look is the Plaça Reial a beautiful square with a magnificent fountain as its centre piece, with many lovely restaurants around its edge. But in my opinion the best area around Las Ramblas is the Gothic Quarter which is the centre of the old city of Barcelona, lots of narrow streets quaint little shops and many small interesting restaurants, and the prices are slightly cheaper than around Las Ramblas. Well after a long day it was time to head back to the apartment for a well-earned rest as our next on our itinerary was Sargarda Familia. Now Sargarda Familia is probably Barcelona’s biggest tourist draw, its architect was Antoni Gaudi he started construction in 1882 and the cathedral is still be constructed today with a proposed finishing date of 2026, words cannot describe this magnificent structure, you could stare at the building for hours and notice something new at every new glance. Now as you can imagine Sargarda Familia attracts tens of thousands of visitors and the queues are sometimes around two hours long, so a top tip to get around the long queues is to book your ticket in advance online to save yourselves a lot of time queueing, the official website for this can be found by clicking this link. Tickets. I would also recommend paying a little extra and add a trip up one of the towers on your visit and also take the worthwhile audio guide. Another place of interest we visited was the Palau de la Música Catalana which is a very elaborate music venue with performances that range from symphonic and chamber music to jazz and Cançó (Catalan song), right up to modern-day bands. The facade at the main entrance is magnificent, and if you do visit take your time to look up at the entrance facade and take in the amazing ornate stonework, the main entrance incidentally is not entrance in which you enter but down a small side street, so have a look once you finish your tour. Once inside the opulence continues, lots of lavish decor, stonework and ornate tiling. Your entrance tickets does include an informative tour but the entrance fee was in my opinion too expensive €17. It might be an option to look into taking in a show which we discovered in some circumstances was not a great deal more than the stand alone tour. Next stop Seville.

As this was a two centre trip it was decided to fly to Barcelona, take the fast Renfe train to Seville, then fly back to the UK from Seville. The journey to Seville was some 600 miles from Barcelona and the journey took just five and a half hours, with speeds reaching 300 kph a very swift service indeed. We arrived in Seville early afternoon and made our way to our accommodation for the next few days Apartamentos Murillo which were very nice indeed. Now as this trip was to celebrate my wifes 60th Birthday I had arranged for our daughter to fly out and meet us in Seville as a surprise for my wife, so after settling in to our apartment we took a stroll to the bar where I had pre-arranged to meet our daughter. Now prior to us flying to Spain my wife had spoken to our daughter and said that it would have been nice if she came to Spain with us, but my daughter told my wife that she could not get the time off work but, so understandably my wife was disappointed but understood, so when she turned up in the bar as arranged you can imagine the suprise on my wife’s face, so after lots of tears of joy a good time was had by all.
Our first full day in Seville was spent walking around the magnificent Alcazar palace and its huge grounds. The Alacazar Palace was originally a moorish fort, and it is the oldest palace still in use in Europe. In 1987 it was listed as a Unesco world heritage site location, a good few hours was spent taking in the magnificence of the palace and its beautiful grounds. Next stop was the equally stunning Seville cathedral. It is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world, a really must see. After soaking up all this amazing architecture it was time for a nice relaxing carridge ride, you see, all around the centre of Seville you can find many horse-drawn carriages and there drivers plying their trade to take you on a tour of the city, they cost around €50 for an hour-long ride which can be a little expensive if there is only two of you, but as there was five of us to split the cost it was not to bad. The tour takes you around the city and through the Maria Luisa Park with a stop at the stunning Plaza de España a great way to spend a relaxing hour. Now like I said the trip was to celebrate my wife’s 60th birthday so I asked the very helpful chap on reception of our hotel that if he could, one recommend a good restaurant and two, a good traditional spanish flamenco show and he came up trumps on both counts. The restaurant whose name escapes me was over the other side of the river from the old part of Seville situated on the corner of Calle del Corro and San Jacinto. When we first approached I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed as I was expecting something a bit special for my wifes milestone birthday but once inside although it was quite plain the whole experience was excellent. We were shown to our table by the really friendly staff, the chef came out in immaculate chefs whites to point out the specials of the night, and to welcome us to the restaurant, and when the food arrived it was absolutely delicious. Next stop was the traditional flamenco show, but first let me explain how the guy on the reception at our hotel described what was an amazing night, he told us that there were plenty of shows in the old part of town which last for about an hour but these are quite expensive and are just there to cater for tourists, but if we wanted the really traditional flamenco we should take ourselves off to Calle Castilla, he said in broken english that “the venue is a bit underground” which intrigued us but said we would enjoy it, he directed us to a second-hand book / comic shop, which was a bit difficult to find down a small street in Seville “Calle Castilla” once inside we purchased our tickets at the shops counter and were directed up a staircase to the second floor where there was a small stage, low lighting and many small tables and chairs dotted all over the place. Drinks were purchased by paying a lady sitting at a table with just a small cash box, who in turn gave you a ticket which you handed in at the bar in exchange for your drink. So we found a nice little spot overlooking the stage and settled down for the evening. The venue started to fill and the atmosphere was amazing. First a guy came onto the stage and introduced the musicians, then went on to explain the story about the dance we were to see, all with great passion and plenty of hand clapping from the audience. But as it was all in Spanish we did not have a clue what the story was, but we clapped when everyone clapped and just joined in. Next the dancers entered the stage and we were treated to the most passionate and heart-felt flamenco dance that I have ever witnessed a truly brilliant night.
As we had only one day left in Seville the rest of our trip was taken up with just soaking up the atmosphere of this amazing city, a true jewel in Spain’s crown and one location I will defiantly go back to.