After six fabulous weeks, we’ve finally made it back to Australia!
We have had a thoroughly enjoyable time and seen some wonderful things. We have walked over 525 kilometers, climbed who knows how many staircases to get the views, ate plenty of delicious food, spent time with family and friends, met some wonderful people and enjoyed each other’s company.
Another enjoyable day for the last day of our trip.
We navigated the Barcelona metro to Park Güell this morning. Park Güell was originally conceived as an estate for well-off families, away from the cities, similar to selective British residential estates. The original vision never quite took off, and the area has been a public park since the mid 1920s and features more of Gaudi’s creative works. We enjoyed wandering the gardens as well as visiting the monumental area that contains more of Gaudi’s work. We also enjoyed observing the lengths some travellers will go to to get that perfect picture.
From there we caught the metro to Barceloneta, an area of Barcelona down by the Mediterranean. We enjoyed a delicious paella for lunch before we walked back along the shore line, and the Port area for a little more shopping.
We finished our day with tapas and a drink and a nice stroll in Barcelona, not quite believing the trip is already over!
We started today by visiting the gothic Barcelona Cathedral, which was mostly built in the 13th century. While somewhat interested in the building, we were drawn there by the allure of a view from the rooftop, and lucky for our end-of-trip-legs we were able to get up to the rooftop by lift. It gave us some good views over the city.
Megan then guided us to a chocolate and churro place recommended by our guide yesterday, and she gets full marks for memory and leadership skills. The chocolate was a bit disappointing, but fortunately the churros were not.
We then visited the Museum of the History of Barcelona that sets out Barcelona’s history from its Roman origins until the present day. We started with a history of Barcelona in 100 objects which included things like ancient Roman coins, a household pot that served soup during the civil war and and a poster from the Barcelona olympics. Then we went down in a lift and explored a sprawling area of Roman ruins under the city of Barcelona. We saw the ruins of fabric dying factories, wine presses, and the ancient foundations of the first Episcopal church (underneath the Cathedral we were at in the morning). We had lunch at a local cafe, which Megan thinks was the best food we’ve had in Spain so far.
We spent some time browsing the gothic quarter and El Bon, popping into shops that took our fancy and doing our best to support the Barcelona economy.
We finished with a very nice dinner close to the hotel.
Most places we have visited over the last 6 weeks have had security requirements in places – from a cursory look in bags to airport-type scanning. Megan even had to take her ear-rings out to get through security at Sagrada Familia yesterday. But I do love that security guards in Spain are called Vigilante Securitas.
We have had a very good day in Barcelona. We started the day with a walking tour that we had thought only covered Gaudi architecture, but were pleasantly surprised to discover it covered so much more! We wandered through the gothic area, with its narrow streets and lanes, to the Eixample area, where we are staying, with its wide tree lined streets and its feeling of space, and saw some examples of Gaudi architecture in each area. We also learnt more of the history and culture that has shaped Barcelona and Catalonia.
We then caught the metro to the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, where we said goodbye to Pedro, our excellent guide. We used an audio guide for the basilica which explained so clearly what you were seeing and why it was designed like that. We all fell in love with the building which, as those of you have been there will know, is light, spacious and beautiful. After seeing so many cathedrals across Europe, it was refreshing to see such a relatively modern church building that continues so many of the ancient elements.
After a brief siesta, we ventured up the road to tour Gaudi’s Casa Batlló, a house he had designed for a wealthy businessman in the early 1900s. It was fascinating to see inside this house – understanding more of Gaudi’s genius and creative vision.
We found a nice little local cafe for breakfast and had some toast and coffee (or tea). After just over a week in Spain, we have accepted the reality that the Spanish aren’t big breakfasters – toast with tomato or ham (or both!), orange juice and coffee seems to be the norm. We then spent a couple of hours wandering Jardin del Buen Retiro, one of the largest parks in Madrid, which was very close to where we were staying. It was a very cold morning, like a crisp Canberra morning, and some of the shallow ponds were frozen but we really enjoyed strolling in the gardens.
We caught another fast train to Barcelona and checked into the apartment where we are staying which is right in the centre of town. It has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms – and total luxury – a washing machine. Megan is looking forward to her own space.
We went out for a little explore and walked down La Rambla to the waterfront and the statue of Christopher Columbus that I remember from 1975.
We found a reasonable restaurant where we had paella for dinner – we had to have it at least once.
With our own kitchen we stopped off at a supermarket to get some supplies for breakfast and then Megan led us to a very nice cafe where we had yummy hot chocolate with bread to dip!!!
After a sleep-in and breakfast nearby, we dropped Megan off to visit the Prado. Even though it’s not her type of art, she enjoyed wandering through the galleries for a couple of hours.
Alan and I decided to try and visit the gardens of the Royal Palace, but because of construction and road works, it took us a long time to find where we think the entrance was, by which time we had to head back so we could meet Megan at the appointed hour.
We’ve seen some interesting statues as we’ve wandered.
We found a great place for lunch, one of our favourites yet, and then went on to visit the Museum of Madrid. The Museum was fairly underwhelming, but luckily it was free so we didn’t lose out.
We wandered through different streets on our way back to the hotel, and stopped off for chocolate and churros on the way.
As we got closer to our hotel, we saw they were filming what looked like a car ad!
We finished the day with a wander around the area marked “Luxury Shopping” just close by where we are staying. We were definitely only window shopping: one jumper in one window that looked nice cost 1750 Euro.
We did a bus tour today to visit Ávila and Segovia in the autonomous region of Castile and León, and it was a great outing.
Ávila, about a 90 minute drive from Madrid, is an old city surrounded by imposing city walls with eight monumental gates and 88 watchtowers. It’s also where Santa Teresa de Ávila was born and as such, draws lots of pilgrims and has many churches and convents. Ávila is Spain’s highest city and close to the mountains and was quite cold today – I think it was -2 when we arrived – and very icy underfoot. Nevertheless we enjoyed exploring the beautiful town.
We then travelled for about an hour to Segovia, which is known for its Roman aqueduct (over 17km long), its cathedral (one of the last Gothic to be built in Europe), and the Alcazar (castle), which is said to have influenced Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. It was still quite cool in Segovia, though its at a lower altitude, and we managed to have lunch sitting out in the sun in the main square.
We got back to Madrid just before 6.00 pm and we enjoyed walking through the shopping area and stopping for tapas before returning to our hotel.
We climbed to the top of the Mosque-Cathedral bell tower this morning (a mere 151 steps to the bells and another 40 to the next level) and enjoyed the views over the old town. We had a little time before we had to catch our train so we enjoyed another wander through the narrow and winding streets of Córdoba.
It took us just under 2 hours to train it to Madrid today (top speed 301 kmh). We had booked on a Kickstart tour of Madrid this afternoon, which we really enjoyed – once it happened. We had inadvertently booked for next Friday but after a couple of phone calls it was rearranged and happened an hour later. We had an excellent guide, Beatriz, who is an historian and she was able to give us so much interesting information on the history of Spain and Madrid as we wandered around the city.
Tapas, (we really love Tapas) but at an unfashionable tourist time, finished our day.
We had a very fast train ride to Córdoba this morning (top speed was 250km/h), getting into town around 10.00. We spent the rest of the morning having a most enjoyable time wandering around this delightful city – while we say it with every new city, there’s a strong consensus forming that this could be our favourite yet.
We went to the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristanos (Palace of the Christian Kings) which was built in the 14th century. There is not much left in the way of buildings, but there was a small tower to climb (maybe 50 steps) which gave us good views over the lovely gardens, which we also explored. Megan is very impressed with the complex irrigation systems the Romans used, directing water through ponds and channels and fountains and across relatively significant distances. The Alcazar also has some old Roman baths. You were able to walk through each room, and feel the difference in temperature, presumably without any heat being pumped into the flooring. It really helped you imagine what the baths would have been like.
We found our way to the river (the same one as Seville) and had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant there, sitting outside enjoying the sun – albeit still wearing our big coats.
We did a little bit more wandering through the city, before we joined a tour of the Mosque-Cathedral late afternoon. A lovely American couple, who had done the same tour of Seville with us two days ago, were in Córdoba for the day and were, coincidentally on both our afternoon tours.
The Mosque-Cathedral is incredible. The site first housed a basilica for the Visigoths. When the Muslims arrived, the area was divided and used by both communities. Then the basilica was demolished and a mosque was built which was extended and extended over many years. When the Christians conquered Córdoba in 1236 the mosque was consecrated as a Catholic Church and an altar was installed in one section. Our guide said in this small section but I’m pretty sure you could fit Canberra Baptist in that space and still have room. Then in the mid 1500s one of the Catholic Bishops ordered the building of the transept which fits in the middle of the mosque, and it took them 100 years to do that. The result is an amazing space which really impressed us – Catholic Church in the middle, mosque on the outer, and small catholic chapels dotted around the outer edge of the massive space, with the old mihrab (Muslim altar area) amongst them.
We then did a night walking tour of Córdoba with the same excellent guide who took us to the Mosque-Cathedral along with our new American friends. We covered pretty much the same areas as we had wandered today but learnt so much about the areas we had wandered through, and of the people and events that have shaped Córdoba.
Megan was very proud that it was about 9.00 when we sat down to order dinner tonight – at the same place we had lunch. It was so good we had to go back!
We started today visiting the Archivo de Indias. The archivo hosts a range of archival documents related to the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. They currently have a very interesting and well curated exhibition on the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan and the first circumnavigation of the world between 1519 and 1522. Magellan set out with 5 vessels and died in a fight after he had made it to the Philippines. Only 1 ship made it back and it was seen as an incredibly important moment for world exploration.
We then spent a fascinating few hours at the Real Alcázar, where we included a visit to the Cuarto Real Alto (Upper Royal Quarters), the rooms used by the Spanish royal family on their visits to Seville. It is a stunning place, and the gardens are extensive and lovely. The Alcázar started life as a fort in 903 but has been revamped numerous times over its life. The Christian king Fernando III moved into the Alcázar when he captured Seville in 1248, and several later monarchs used it as their main residence. We all particularly enjoyed the beautiful garden areas off the palace.
We are slowly adjusting to Spanish time and had tapas for lunch at about 3.00.
We went for a wander late afternoon across the Guadalquivir River (our walking tour guide tried to teach us how to pronounce the name yesterday with a marked lack of success) into the Trianna district. Trianna is the artisan district, and home to the city’s famed ceramic artists. As we strolled home we enjoyed watching all the activity on the river, particularly all the rowing teams out exercising.
We had a few drinks and a couple of tapas for dinner, followed by a delicious hot chocolate from a place near where we are staying. We’ve all really loved our time in Seville, and are sad to be leaving tomorrow.