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Madrid/ Toledo

It was fabulous to arrive in Madrid and catch up with Mamita in the centre of town.  We spent a few days in Madrid visiting famous museums (Museo del Prado, Reina Sofia), wandering through beautiful parks and narrow tapas filled lanes and drinking coffee/wine in the cities’ plazas. The perfect way to catch up with mum and swap travel stories over the past 8 months or so.

It was, as always, great to view some of the world’s most famous art with Jacinta – partly because she knows plenty about art history and the careers of the artists whose work we were viewing, and partly because she could (patiently) answer my stream of religious questions that inevitably flowed from the disproportionate amount of biblical scenes adorning the walls. Goya (who I knew little of previously) was a favourite of mine, especially his latter day material of dark, warped and haunting portraiture.

Madrid turned out to be every bit as seductive as I had been led to believe. The pickled anchovies alone would have had me in raptures- but added to the warm, unpretentious people, the picturesque lanes and plazas, the art scene and of course all the other delectable dishes (and decent wine everywhere for 1.80 Euro a glass!) this city was hard to beat.

After 3 days of fun, we hired a car to do a tour of southern Spain. Jacinta managed to get pulled over by the police after taking an illegal left turn immediately upon leaving the car-hire parking lot! The police were a bit serious and after I had got out of the car and argued the age-old defence of ignorance for a while, they demanded I return to the vehicle. They ended up letting us free without a ticket and with a small lesson on the Spanish road signs. (even though we knew full well that the turn was illegal at the time!).

We made it to the small, medieval town of Toledo for lunch without further incident (I had taken over the driving, hehe). The old section of this town was a maze of cobble stone streets and high stone buildings and we staggered around admiring the majesty for a while. The highlight was the Toledo Cathedral, a monumental… errrr… monument, with stunning interiors, numerous chapels lining the sides and even its own gallery within. We finally found our way out of the old town just before sundown and headed to Cordoba.

Three gems in the South

After some quick research, we found a place smack in the centre of the old town in Cordoba, opposite the city’s main attraction -the “Mezquina” or Mosque.  This ranked among the most phenomenal pieces of architecture I had ever seen. I think I might let the photos give you an idea rather than provide a dewy-eyed, rambling tribute. Unfortunately, there had been a cathedral built in the middle of the building that detracted significantly from the spacious elegance of the Islamic design. Apparently the Mosque had originally been built on the site of a cathedral. A clear case of … our god is better than your god, no, our god is better, no our god is better…BLOODY CHILDREN. Why can’t we just respect everyone’s god.. huh, huh??

We also visited a synagogue with a lovely ornate simplicity (errr .. I think that makes sense) and an exhibition house depicting a typical Moorish home.  Jacinta and I promptly decided that if we ever own a house it will have interior balconies, lots of small hand painted tiles and a stone courtyard with a simple water feature and an orange tree (take note Erin/Chris/Laure/Emma). Actually, make that a lime tree- thai food and cocktails trump fresh orange juice. Anyway, Cordoba was a charming city (yep more stunning food, cheap wine, narrow streets and alluring plazas) which we enjoyed for a short time before heading on to Seville.

We navigated into the centre once more, following the ingenious blue dot along the blue line on mum’s ipad. (She might be significantly older than us but she managed to teach us both a thing or two about the uses of technology more than once on this trip!)  Highlights of Seville included the Cathedral (only slightly less impressive than Toledo’s version), the Alcazar and its beautiful gardens and the Plaza Espana. Jacinta and I also wandered past Seville’s famous Plaza del Toros (or Bull Ring) but bull-fighting season had finished a fortnight before our arrival.  I had never intended to see a bull fight, but I had begun to think that it would be something I’d like to experience once, especially given the setting in Seville. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

We did some shopping and visited Mum’s favourite Spanish store, Massimo Dutti (many times), among others. And of course, we thoroughly explored the restaurants and tapas bars in the central part of town. Overall, I was left with a very pleasant feeling from Seville. In seemed to have a great student life and plenty of parks and I couldn’t help but think of Melbourne (minus the cold weather).

We made a relaxed departure and navigated our way through many more kilometres of picturesque olive groves to Granada, stopping in a beautiful old town for lunch on the way. Even the blue dot was powerless to combat the maze of cobble stone streets and pedestrian boulevards in the city’s centre- thus navigating our way to a good parking lot proved a lengthy challenge which was finally successful.

That evening we set about securing tickets to the Alhambra. We were a little distressed to find that they were all sold out every day for the following two weeks. Happily, further inquiries revealed this information (asserted by the vending machine, who was the only “person” to sell tickets in town) to be merely a befuddling piece of deceptive bullshit. It seems that you need to speak to someone in the know: they will then tell you that you can acquire tickets at the gate everyday if you get there at dawn and wait in line for 1-2 hours. If you don’t speak to someone in the know, you leave the city disillusioned without seeing its main attraction. Luckily, after asking the same question four different ways, we drew this knowledge out of the receptionist at our hotel. Relieved and excited, we hit the tapas bars again with vigour.

Granada is one of the few places left in Spain where each bar takes pride in providing a complementary tapas dish with the first drink that is ordered. Thus, if one were a desperate backpacker, one could do a pub crawl of the town (remember wine is only 1.80 Euro a glass!!), get nicely toasted and receive a sumptious free dinner to boot; a trick that one Jacinta van Lint had employed a couple of years beforehand.

We endured the 1.5 hour pre-dawn vigil (with coffee and croissants to lighten the mood) and entered the grounds of the Alhambra triumphant. That was until we realised how we’d conspired to bring three excellent cameras and no spare batteries. We ended up juggling two between the three of us and salvaged the situation with some selective photography amidst much gaping at the beauty of the architecture, the grounds and the setting atop the city.  Magnificent? Majestic? Miraculous? Marvellous? Mind-blowing? Ok, I need a better vocabulary, have never been a fan of alliterations and stopped being serious a few crap superlatives back but it was probably all of them.

The following day we went on a drive to three small towns set in the hills around Granada- Pampaneira, Bubion, and Trevelez. The first two were mainly defined by their berber architecture, white-washed buildings with flat roves and rounded chimneys,and their narrow streets with lovely views. Trevelez was solely defined by its Jamon. We felt like we were on a pilgrimage of sorts as we drove along the windy mountain roads to reach this, the furthest of the three. As it happened, the holy grail, viewed in one of those gorgeous little delis (hanging from each available inch of ceiling space), and sampled in a nearby restaurant with a view of the valley, was everything the scriptures (ipad) had promised.

The Mediterranean coast

After more excellent food in Granada, a spot of shopping and a night photography class in the old town (thanks for the patience Jacinta and mum!), we drove south-east. We followed the coast along to the most south-easterly point – San Jose- of the Iberian peninsula, stopping for a lovely seafood lunch by the water on the way.  San Jose was a sleepy little bay that seemed to consist mainly of holiday homes that were deserted at this time of year. Still it provided an agreeable and scenic stopover en route to Valencia.

The highlight of Valencia was definitely the old buildings, parks and food in the cities’ centre and not the beachfront area which consists of a long strip of sand and cement with little shade and less atmosphere. The city was pleasant enough, but was probably our least favourite of the large cities we’d visited in Spain thus far (though to be fair, it had pretty stiff competition).  We tried to order the famous Valencian Paella (with rabbit!), only to be told it had to be pre-ordered. I am sure I saw tears well up in Jacinta’s eyes at that point but this was probably because she was shortly to leave us, bound for Nice.

After seeing her off at the train station, mum and I headed to Barcelona. A late lunch in full view of the Sagrada Familia was the perfect introduction to the city. The following three days were crammed full of highlights. The Picasso Museum was one of my favourites – I love his work and it was all beautifully presented, tracking his various artistic phases. A special exhibition Degas antes de Picasso was also on show at the time which placed many famous works from both artists side by side to illustrate how Picasso may have been influenced and inspired by Degas. This exhibition was nearly as good as the Picasso Museum itself.  We also went to the Miro museum and his brilliance was sadly lost on me.

We visited many of Gaudi’s famous architectural works around the city, all of which were very impressive and fun to try and capture with a camera. The exterior and interior of the Sagrada Familia was impossible to beat, though the Pedrera (stone apartment building) was also a highlight.  Just to top it off, we also went to an excellent Catalonian guitar concert in the Palau de la Musica Catalana and I went to dinner with an old friend who I had lived with in Montreal when I was 22.  Both nights were fantastic.

I had always wanted to visit Barcelona and now I know what all the fuss is about. The city has a magic combination of old world ambience and vibrant modernity. It is beautiful and cosmopolitan, the Catalonian culture gives it a unique character, the art scene is one of the best in the world and apparently the nightlife is second to none (easy to believe).  I always thought a city that combined Sydney and Melbourne’s best qualities would be hard to beat. Barcelona manages this (in a very rough sense) with much more on the side.

We returned to Madrid and spent two nights staying with my ex-girlfriend, Amelie. It was great to see her again and both nights involved drinking/talking until 4, in true Spanish style. Unfortunately I had an early morning flight to Nice after the second of these nights and arrived in a rather poor condition.



  1. Adam… you shaved!!!

  2. Spain – what a great place. Who can ever read this without a touch of nostalgia.

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