Day 42 – Barcelona to Melbourne

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.

And it’s nice to be home.

Day 41 – Barcelona

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.

Viaduct

Small section of undulating bench that surrounds nature square

Portico of the washerman

Colonnaded pathway

Trying for that perfect picture!!!

Porter’s Lodge

Dragon

Portion of undulating seat

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.

Yummy vegetable paella

We finished our day with tapas and a drink and a nice stroll in Barcelona, not quite believing the trip is already over!

Day 40 – Barcelona

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.

From Cathedral rooftop – note Sagrada Familia middle right

There are 13 geese in the cloister of Barcelona cathedral, either because Saint Eulalia (co-patron saint of Barcelona) was either 13 when she was martyred or because she suffered 13 tortures

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.

An impressive door we passed in our wandering

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.

One of the 100 objects – a tile celebrating the advances of the 20th century

Vats called Doris where fish sauce was made and stored

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.

Day 39 – Barcelona

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.

Palau Güell, one of Gaudi’s first commissions

Plaza Real in the gothic quarter, and a lamp post designed by Gaudi

Artwork by Picasso commissioned for architecture school

In the gothic quarter

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.

Basílica de la Sagrada Família – Passion facade which depicts the events leading to the death of Jesus

Nativity facade of Basílica de la Sagrada Família

Elements on nativity facade

Windows on nativity facade which faces the rising sun – blue and green to represent morning

Windows on the passion facade which faces the setting sun – red and orange to represent sunset

Main Nave

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.

Casa Batlló

From lounge room

Roof top – and chimneys

Day 38 – Madrid to Barcelona

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.

Frozen pond and icy bridge in Jardin del Buen Retiro

Crystal Palace in Jardin del Buen Retiro

Retiro pond with monument to King monument to King Alfonso XII

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.

On our rooftop terrace – note no coats!!

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.

Side street off La Rambla

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!!!

Day 37 – Madrid

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.

Homeless Jesus – by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz – in Cathedral precinct

Man Statue in Old Ruins of Original Almudena Church

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.

Different shape churros – still delicious

Plaza Mayor – bullfighting used to be held here

We like all the little interesting squares

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.

Puerta de Alcalá

Day 36 – Madrid

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.

The back of the cathedral is part of the city walls

The church at the site where St Teresa of Ávila was born – with statue of her

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.

Roman aqueduct, Segovia

Mayor Plaza Segovia – we had lunch at the pink building at the end of the square

Segovia Cathedral

Decoration on one of the houses we walked past – as the old part is World Heritage listed the traditional decoration must be kept

Front entrance to the Alcazar of Segovia

View from the terrace of the Alcazar

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.

Day 35 – Córdoba to Madrid

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.

Looking over Mosque/Cathedral roofline

Orange Tree Courtyard

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristanos

Jewish quarter

Dome within Bellow Tower

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.

Madrid Royal Palace at Plaza de Oriente

Almudena Cathedral, commenced 1879, completed 1993

Tapas, (we really love Tapas) but at an unfashionable tourist time, finished our day.

Day 34 – Seville to Córdoba

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.

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristanos, with the bell tower of the Mosque Cathedral on the right

Outer wall of Mosque Cathedral

Roman Bridge

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.

Mosque Cathedral

Mosque section

Mihrab
Altar

Choir Stalls

Bell Tower for Cathedral, formerly minaret for mosque

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! 

Day 33 – Seville

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.

Palacio del Rey Don Pedro

Vestibule

Hall of Ambassadors

Cupola of Hall of Ambassadors

Doll’s Courtyard

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.

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