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.



a brief bit of Barcelona

a brief bit of Barcelona

fBarcelona will always be special to us – our oldest proposed to his girlfriend in front of la Sagrada Familia, and she said yes! If you declare your love and intentions there, you have to mean it!

It was a fast and furious two days – just a small bit of the city.

Of course, we started at Sagrada Familia, cuz you HAVE to do that. We booked our tickets several weeks ahead of time and arrived about an hour before our tour time to take pictures of the outside – and get engaged, of course. The exterior is, as expected, overwhelming.


I was afraid to go inside: with all of that going on, how on earth do you concentrate on God? But the inside was relatively much more calm than the outside. And is Gaudi’s design any more distracting than those of medieval churches would have been to their worshipers? Beautiful. And it will require several more visits to even begin to understand the layers of beauty.


Unlike for Sagrada Familia, we didn’t know we needed to get tickets for Park Guell. So, after tramping uphill to the entrance (we weren’t near the escalator end), we were denied entrance to the “fancy” part of the park and were limited to the open admission area. Husband and I sat and people-watched while the Newly Engaged toured the park. Next time, tickets ahead of time and start at the right end (with the escalator).

The food was awesome. Just around the corner from our apartment was Peix D’OR, where we got to pick our own fish for dinner. The woman manning the counter thought we didn’t know how it worked, but quickly realized we were just having a hard time deciding on what we wanted. The fish arrived perfectly grilled and covered with the best pesto I’ve ever tasted. YUM!


We had a lovely brunch at Firebug with the young set.

A visit to the aquarium – always a favorite activity!


Our most interesting sight: the Mercadona in our neighborhood. We entered to a foyer and check-out area much larger than our local Mercadona in Alicante. Followed the signs to an elevator lobby: the actual grocery store was in the basement! WHAT?!?! Huge, nice store, but you had to deal with the elevator to get back up to check-out with your groceries. Too weird.



first visit to the Prado – and more in Madrid

first visit to the Prado – and more in Madrid

I love the Madrid tourist bus. I do get tired of the tedious comments about architecture, but the views are marvelous. For the best photos, sit on the left-hand side of the bus.

We were very excited to arrive at Mercado San Miguel before the tourists. At 10:00 we had the place pretty much to ourselves and were able to explore and sample to our hearts’ content.

We dutifully booked our Prado tickets online, including one combo ticket that included the guidebook – a bargain if you are a collector of guidebooks, as my teacher friends tend to be. The Prado is overwhelming, so you need a plan before you go. We didn’t have one, so we ended up focusing on the 50 masterpieces. We took a break between floors for a cold drink, which helped. Still, we barely scratched the surface.

After the Prado, we headed back toward our hotel and encountered a surprise parade. It was the day of the Feast of the Virgin of St. Carmen, but I don’t know if this was that…


The Royal Palace was beautiful. I think I can get much more out of it next visit, after I’ve had time to process a bit and read up on my Spanish history. You can’t take photos inside, which doesn’t stop many tourists, but I’m a rule follower in those regards.

We’re slowly chipping away at all that Madrid has to offer. So, until next time…


another visit to Segovia

another visit to Segovia

Segovia – again – a pleasant day trip from Madrid. Note to self: not on a summer Sunday. Our full train from Madrid was met by two buses. And neither bus left until everyone from our full train was on one of those buses! Hot and beyond standing room only. At least it was a quick trip into town.

Segovia offers much more than the Big 3 tourist attractions. This trip, our attention was captured by a small church not far from the aqueduct: Iglesia de San Millan. We explored the outside, including its vegetable garden, but couldn’t see inside because mass was in progress.

A break from the heat at El Secreto de San Clemente while we listened to a string quartet play ragtime. Ah, Spain!



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.


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.


another visit to Granada

another visit to Granada

My husband loves me. We were looking at a 5-hour bus ride from Alicante to Granada. And as much as we love us some Spanish trains, we’re not big fans of the buses: they’re just not as comfortable. So he rented a car, drove us to Granada, (literally) dropped us off at the hotel, then drove back to Alicante.

We stayed at the NH Collection Victoria, where we had stayed before. It’s in a great location, the rooms are very comfortable, and the staff is great.

Monday night, we roamed…… We made our way to a side street, where we discovered Bodegas Castaneda. What a find! We ordered the grilled cheese and the smoked fish and were about to order more when the waiter stopped us: “Basta. Is enough for two.” And it was! We managed to finish the cheese, but not the fish.


Tuesday we tackled la Alhambra. It was no less spectacular the second time. Todd and I went in February, when it was in its winter state. This time: the COLOR! Much easier to enjoy the second time when I didn’t feel compelled to take hundreds of pictures. I decided to focus on the colors outside in the gardens and the ceilings inside the Nasrid Palace. I think the thematic focus worked out well.

The color:

Near the end of our tour of the Generalife, we encountered a dig team: a group of students from American and British universities were working with local students to uncover a glass works site. This was their first day, and they were excited, even though all they were doing was lugging water to make mud to clear off the “ugly” detritus from the 1960s that covered the original site. They agreed that their excitement would probably wane by the end of the week.


After spending a couple of hours in the Generalife, we stopped at the Parador for a bite of lunch. Another tasty cheese plate, a couple of revitalizing Cokes, and a spectacular view of the Generalife—but the service, as we noted on our last visit, was slow.

On to the Nasrid Palace.

The ceilings:

The corners:

The doors:

And, of course, the tile:

Tactical error on my part: we didn’t have any water with us while touring the Nasrid Palace. We were pretty miserable by the time we were done. We staggered into the Hotel America and had water in the sitting room (the patio restaurant was full). As an added bonus, we had entertainment: an 80-something-year-old woman who was taking care of a 90-something-year-old man. He got up shortly after we sat down, and she delightedly explained to us that he was going to the bathroom-alone. Her accent was British, but they lived in Spain and had come to the Alhambra for an overnight visit. She announced that she conversed with strangers and proceeded to do just that. At one point, she mused that she wished there was someone who could plait her (long, gray) hair. She asked us if either of us could do it for her. We demurred. When we finished off our bottles of water, she offered us her glass. Again we demurred. So many questions about her, and about them…

We shopped before catching the C3 back to the hotel. The final C3 stop is in front of the University of Granada’s bookstore. Of course we had to go in. It was there I realized that I didn’t have the two bags of souvenirs that were my responsibility. The bus driver that was there when I realized it told us not to panic, that our bus would be back down in 5-10 minutes. He was right, but there were no stray bags inside. That bus driver hadn’t seen or been given anything. The other bus driver pulled up behind her and came to check on us. Nothing for it but to take the bus back up to the Alhambra. I backtracked and found them: in the store where I had popped in to get us some Cokes for the trip back to town. They had stashed them for us. Much gracias-ing and cheek kissing.

Finally back to the hotel for a shower and a drink. Then, at the recommendation of the hotel desk clerk, we headed for the river (a misnomer indeed) and Las Titas. Another wonderful meal in a lovely restaurant.


Wednesday we had a leisurely morning before heading off to the Cathedral. Another second visit for me.

We returned to Bodegas Castaneda for dinner and opted to eat inside. In chatting with the waiter, we found that both Bodegas Castaneda and Las Titas had the same owner. No wonder we loved them both! A little friendly conversation netted us several free dishes and some delicious drinks.

All in all, not bad for a second trip to Granada!

Tips for visiting the Alhambra:

Book your tickets ahead of time, especially in summer; to pick them up, you’ll need the credit card you booked them with. Bypass the ticket lines and go past the book shop to the kiosks on your right. The red machines will take you through the ticket-printing process.

Allow a minimum of 2 hours to explore the Generalife before your ticketed time. I’d suggest 3-3 ½ and take a break between. The Parador restaurant has a lovely view (don’t be in a hurry). The Hotel America was open this time as well, and they have a nice garden restaurant area.

I recommend getting in line for the palace 15-20 minutes ahead of your ticketed time. Take water! We completely forgot, and we were miserable by the time we finished our tour.



A day in Cartagena

A day in Cartagena

I knew when my former teaching partner was coming to visit that I wanted to hit the historical highlights. We taught Humanities together: I covered English with a focus on world literature and she taught World History. History is not only AndaLee’s job; it is her passion.

I met with our travel guide friend Felipe to discuss the best way to cover the Roman sights around us. He suggested a day trip to Cartagena. I had him put it together for us. So, on AndaLee’s first full day in Spain, we all set off with an ambitious plan to “do” the Roman era in Cartagena. And do it we did!

Muralla Punica/Punic Wall

We started at the Centre for the Interpretation of the Punic rampart. An introductory film and a number of explanatory exhibit signs helped to put things into perspective.

The Carthaginian Asdrubal founded Qart-Hadast in 229 BCE. The town was quickly conquered by the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio in 209 BCE.

The museum building encompasses a section of the original Carthaginian wall. The “wall” is actually two parallel walls three stories tall with roofed rooms in between to house horses, men, and supplies. It is a simple but elegant depiction of life within (literally) the ramparts

An added bonus at this museum is the crypt of St. Joseph from the 13th century. Painted skeletons dance on the walls to protect the remains of the brothers of the Guild of St. Joseph buried there within the 110 niches.

Casa de la Fortuna/The House of Fortune

Fortuna propitia inscribed on the flooring of the courtyard of the house gave its name to this house site. The complete house gives you a sense of the layout and décor of a Roman domo in the first century CE.

The first discovery here was of the road in front of the house, and through glass windows in the road you can catch a glimpse of the sewer system that ran beneath the Roman city.


The Augusteum was a meeting place for the priests of the cult of the Emperor Augustus, built in the first century CE.

Roman Forum District

Built in the first century BCE, the complex includes thermal spa baths and an atrium space for religious banquets.

Roman Theatre Museum

The setup for this museum is genius. You enter from Plaza del Ayuntamiento and cross under the street to wind your way through a museum that has breathtaking exhibits of some of the most important discoveries from the theatre excavation. After riding escalators up several floors, you find yourself entering the theatre of ancient Carthago Nova. The theatre was built to hold 6000, and you can roam up and down the aisles and even onto the stage.

While construction of the theater dates to the first century BCE, Cathedral Santa Maria de Gracia was built atop its ruins in the 18th century.

One ticket will gain you entry into all of the sights through the Puerta de Culturas.