The boys ‘slept off’ their flight for about 15 hours the first night. We did actually go to the
Prado Art Museum on the first afternoon—they said they were up for it, but they, of course, kind of faded, but did enjoy the El Grecos and the Goyas. We had preceded that with a full dinner at a lovely place—four courses, which I see they can put away handily!
The hostel experience is working out fine. The first night when I was alone it wasn’t too crowded, but the second night when the boys arrived—so did a whole bunch of Polish kids who filled up every bed. Still, in spite of the multitudes, all went surprisingly smoothly with the bathrooms and breakfast.
We set out for the Plaza del Sol, where we saw the Bear, the symbol of Madrid. From there we walked on to the Plaza Major, that beautiful square that is the center of Madrid life. However, they had put a temporary exhibit building right in the middle of things, which spoiled the whole appearance of the square. Still I could photograph around it; the buildings are very lovely.
The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) was the highlight of the morning. We guided ourselves through 50 rooms (out of 2900!), admiring the opulence and beauty. Across the courtyard is the Cathedral de Nuestra Senora del la Almudena, which was built from 1883 until 1993. It is huge and has quite a modern look. We continued on until we got to a metro stop (unfortunately most of the tourist attractions are quite a ways from metro stops) and came back to our hostel. We had lunch ‘in’ from provisions I had bought last night from a wonderful Mercado—lots of good bread, salami, ham, and cheese, along with fruit.
The next day we took the train to Cordoba. Early on we saw wind turbines—later we saw old fashioned windmills! It was kind of a long ride, but we finally arrived, got a city bus, then walked to our hostel. It is a very pretty old house that has a lovely courtyard with nice Spanish tiles half way up the walls.
We visited the Mezquita, Cordoba’s sensational landmark. This mosque was founded in 785 while the Muslims were in control of most of Spain. In the 9th and 10th centuries it was expanded and embellished until it finally had 1293 columns, of which 856 remain today. It is huge, dramatic, and old!
In the 16th century, the columns in the center of the mosque were ripped out to make way for a Christian cathedral to be built smack in the middle of the mosque. While it seems like this would ruin a beautiful building, it also makes it more interesting for tourists. The cathedral is sumptuous with its many altars, side chapels and its 18th century carved mahogany choir, along with a beautiful organ which was being played as we visited.
We called it a day when a couple of ‘sights’ were not open, and went to a restaurant where we had a good four-course dinner. Some of what we shared was gaspacho, mushrooms, pork roll stuffed with ham, meatballs, all of which was preceded by a salad for each of us, and fruit at the end.
The bus ride from Cordoba to Granada was beautiful. It is very clear that we are in SPAIN and not anywhere else. Spain must be much less heavily populated than all the rest of the European countries as there seem to be very few small towns. The landscape is gorgeous with remnants of castles on some hills, harvesting of their small grain crops (mostly oats) well underway and miles and miles of olive trees that grow way up the hillsides. When we got very near to Granada, much to my surprise we saw mountains with snow in the distance!
We arrived in Granada just in time for our linner, which we had at a Kasbah restaurant right in the neighborhood of our hostel. Hummus, cous-cous, brique, vegetable paella and gaspacho were all good. The Oasis Backpacker hostel is great! We have our own bathroom ensuite for eight people (albeit with a very tiny shower), a FAN (I’ve been longing for one) and wifi that works in the rooms and not just in the lobby. There are big storage lockers under the beds that accommodate our packs, which gets them out of the way. The hostel staff made our Alhambra reservations for us on the internet, and the boys went on a hostel-generated tour, while I took a little nap. They reported that it was probably a good thing that I didn’t go as they walked uphill for a solid hour to the old section of the city, and then walked down exploring the ancient sections with street art, and also caves, where people still live, and where flamenco was born. They learned some interesting facts about Granada (like last summer it reached 135 degrees F.) and also about Cadiz, where we’re going next. Cadiz is the oldest city in Europe and also invented money.
Monday we visited the Alhambra, one of the top sights in Spain. It was a fortress built in the 9th century, made into a fortress/palace in the 13th and 14th centuries by the Nasrid emirs. In later centuries when the Christians reconquered Spain, European-style palaces and convents were added. It is a huge area, up on a high hill with the Sierra Nevada in the background. It has many palaces, gardens, and churches, which were added later. It has mosque baths, used for ablutions in connection with mosques of long ago.
I have to comment, though, on the regimentation that is necessary nowadays since 6,000 people visit this site every day! Yes, traveling used to be easier, but that’s life. We had to buy our tickets on the internet, which, luckily the hostel people did for us. Then we walked a short way to a plaza for the shuttle bus (it’s a long walk uphill), which we had a little trouble finding. It let us off at the Alhambra office. Here we stood in line and turned in our printed paper for three tickets with a designated time on them in which we could visit the Nasrid Palace (all other sites could be visited anytime between 8:30 and 2:00 PM). Then we were on our way! I understand it is necessary, but I remember 1990 when we simply bought a ticket at the entrance and strolled in!
Still, this is truly impressive! We started with the Nasrid Palace with its Middle Eastern architecture. Beautiful ponds, columns, pools and fountains, enhanced with stylized Arabic script were everywhere.
Moving on to a later European palace built by Carlos V, we saw a double storey courtyard with 32 columns. This palace was never completed.
Then we were ready for some beautiful gardens. The Generalife Jardin was spectacular with a plethora of flowers among hedges, ponds, fountains and other greenery, under a beautifully sunny sky. How do they get things to grow like that?! The roses were enormous, and the mixed flower beds were chock-a-block with many kinds of flowers. This all culminated with the water stairway where we could cool our hands in running water in the ‘handrails’ of the stairway toward the exit. What an extravaganza!
It was time to go back to the hostel and play with the kittens. A mother cat gave birth to six kittens on the terrace right by our room three days earlier. I guess she’s used to lots of people around, as she seems to take us all in stride!
That evening at 9:00 we set off to see a Flamenco show, but unfortunately, we hadn’t made a reservation and they were sold out! We’ll have to see Flamenco in Cadiz.
Tuesday morning we got the bus to Cadiz, a five-hour ride. Before we left the bus depot, we went across the street and had breakfast, including churros and chocolate, which Marco had heard all about in his Spanish class. Yes, it was really good! Four different people in Granada assured us that we would LOVE Cadiz, so we had high expectations. We had a good view of the extensive seaport on the way in. We got settled in our hostel (very good, so far) and had a very nice menu of the day at a restaurant overlooking the Santa Maria del Mar (beach) where the boys returned after we ate. We expect to be here for four days, and I have promised for the next three mornings, I will not awaken the boys for any deadlines! It’s an R and R in our Spain trip!