Our version of the Spanish Grand Tour

Our version of the Spanish Grand Tour

My college roommate came to visit us in September. We’ve been friends for longer than either of us care to contemplate at this point in our lives.

A long first day in Spain: arrival in Madrid at 9:30, shower at the hotel, a quick bite, then to the Prado to see the temporary exhibit of the treasures of the Hispanic Society of America and hit the high points of the museum’s main holdings. Then the train home to Alicante, dinner, and – finally – bed.

We settled in for a few quiet days in Alicante, including meals at some of our favorite places: Katana in the Mercado and Xiringuito Postiguet beach bar. Castle Santa Barbara and its Game of Thrones exhibit.

We then hit the road for our version of the Spanish Grand Tour.

First stop: Granada and the Alhambra. We overslept, so had to get tickets and rush to start at the Nasrid Palace, then go back uphill to the Generalife. MUCH better to get there a couple of hours early and start at the Generalife. We were surprised: the crowds were larger than any we’ve encountered yet. Not so much fun with all of those tourists!

Kim is a serious quilter, and there are patterns everywhere:

Next: Cathedral of Granada. It continues to amaze.

Then on to Cordoba, where Todd dropped us off outside the old city wall. At the recommendation of the Lovely Elena at the Hotel Amistad, we had dinner at El Churrasco. Fantastic grilled salmon, accompanied by a lovely wine, followed by a decadent dessert: a truly grownup meal for 25 Euros each!

We hit the Mezquita as soon as it opened. Again, crowds of tourists. But the organ was playing when we got there, and we were able to get into the choir. This place is in many ways more impressive to me than the Alhambra (I don’t want to hear from those of you who disagree; I know this is a minority view.)

We didn’t have train tickets on to Madrid until 8:00 that night, but our concierge showed spaces available on earlier trains, so we headed to the station. But no seats available. So we trekked (via taxi) back to the hotel to stash our bags and find something else to do.

We started at the Casa de Sefarad, the Jewish Museum in the old quarter, just around the corner from our hotel. It is a fascinating place, and most of the information is available in English. The exhibits were interesting and manageable, and the staff was welcoming. When I asked if I could get a copy of the English explanations, I was told they would be happy to e-mail that information to me. Perfecto!

Still hours to go.

Leisurely lunch.

Still hours to go.

At the suggestion of the Lovely Elena, we visited the patios at the Palacio de Viana. Beautiful patio gardens were a welcome respite from the heat. Definitely a little-known jewel.

Finally, time to catch the train to Madrid. We had enough time at the station before the train to book our San Sebastian tickets.

 

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another visit to Cordoba

another visit to Cordoba

We trained from Granada to Cordoba – well, sort of. The first leg of the journey was via bus, since the tracks were under construction. The Granada train station is also under renovation, so we had to tow our luggage a couple of blocks away to have breakfast while we waited for our not-train bus to arrive and begin loading.

Upon arriving in Cordoba, we took a taxi to our hotel: the NH Amistad. We love Cordoba, and we love this hotel. It’s just inside the wall in old town, with an entrance outside the wall and parking in a lot underneath the wall. I expected our taxi to drop us off outside the wall, but he turned the corner into old town and made his way through the narrow streets to drop us off in front of the hotel.

There’s no way to make sense of the old town and Jewish quarter, so it’s best to just roam and let yourself get lost. You’ll find a familiar landmark eventually. And in the meantime you’ll discover lovely gardens and shops and cafes.

We headed to the Mezquita for the afternoon. Just inside the entry, an area was roped off for excavation. We couldn’t tell what was going on exactly, but I assume the work is ongoing at such an important site.

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This second trip to the Mezquita, I found it easier to understand the expansions that occurred over the years. It stirs my soul to know that so many people of different faiths have managed to worship there over the centuries.

 

a Monday in Cordoba

a Monday in Cordoba

Upon arriving in Cordoba, we followed the GPS instructions to our hotel and ended up, after roaming through narrow streets, with side mirrors tucked in, at the wrong NH hotel. With annotated map in hand, we wound our way back out and into relatively spacious public parking under the medieval wall.

We dragged our bags out of the parking garage back through the wall and through the narrow warrens of the Jewish quarter to our hotel, where they showed us the back door that would take us directly through the wall about a block from the parking lot. Vale!

I think this part of Cordoba was my favorite of the whole trip: Muslim meets Christian in the Jewish quarter.

But we made an inadvertent miscalculation: We arrived on Sunday afternoon, with Monday as our sightseeing day. Most sights were closed on Monday.

But we caught the synagogue just before it closed, and we were able to stroll through the gardens of La Mezquita before it closed Sunday.

We returned to La Mezquita first thing Monday morning for tickets and the audio tour. To our delight, they were harvesting oranges in the garden. Oh, the smell! And what an awe-inspiring sight – the years and layers of worship that have occurred there: Visigoths, then Muslims, then Christians. Mass has been said there every day since the Christians took it over in the 13th century.

We window shopped throughout the Jewish quarter, admiring the silver filigree. We strolled across the Roman bridge and marveled at the intact history before us.

As warned in the guide books, we were frequently met by (typically) older woman trying to sell us rosemary. Not as ubiquitous as we were expecting, and truly no worse than the folks selling wooden apple baskets in Alicante.

Dinner Monday night was at a lovely Italian restaurant just outside the wall. Seems you can find only Spanish wine in Spain, not French or Italian. When we asked the waiter if they had Chianti, he was quite confused: seems he had never heard of such! So we enjoyed a great Italian meal with a lovely red Spanish wine!