It’s 6AM here in Western Washington, but the whole Knitting Doctor household has been awake since 4:30. That would be 1:30PM in Madrid, in case anybody is wondering. We both stayed in bed for a bit trying to get back to sleep, but my brain is telling me that it’s time for tapas and a little copa de vino tinto. The pets all looked at us like we were nuts for getting up in the middle of the night.
We flew back yesterday, in what seemed like a 24 hour travel marathon. Actually it was a 24 hour travel marathon, now that I think about it. Hotel to airport, Madrid to Atlanta on a 9 hour flight, then 2 hours in the Atlanta airport, most of it spent standing in crowded, sweaty, and noisy immigration and customs lines. Then another 5 hour flight home. John’s son and family were keeping Riley for the time we were gone, and we just could not wait another day to get her, so we drove there last night to pick her up. By the time we got home and collapsed in our own bed, it was over 24 hours from the time that we woke up whatever day that was in our Madrid hotel. It’s enough to make you despise travel.
But, but, Spain! What a wonderful place! This was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had, and I’m just ready to go back in a heartbeat. (For the record, the immigrations and customs process in Spain went much more smoothly than in the good old US of A.) We were there for three weeks, which seems like a lifetime, though we didn’t even begin to really “see” Spain.
Here’s what our itinerary looked like: We started with 4 days in Madrid, which is an exciting cosmopolitan city, with great food, and two of the finest museums in the world (Museo del Prado, and the Thyssen). We didn’t actually get to them until our last day in Spain, but you could spend weeks in either one and not see everything. The Thyssen was actually my favorite of the two, despite the fame of the Prado. If you ever get to Madrid, don’t miss it. It has the most amazing collection of paintings, and gives you the whole history of art in one museum.
The middle part of our trip was spent on the Costa del Sol, in Marbella. This actually was what started the whole idea of going to Spain, as we have one of those timeshare weeks, and they have a resort near there. Though the Mediterranean is wonderful, the south Spanish coast leaves something to be desired. It’s one long strip of big resorts, some fine, others just big concrete block buildings, and the region has little Spanish flavor or culture remaining. That said, it’s hard to complain when you are walking on the beach in November and sticking your toes in the Med. We took a day trip to Gibraltor which was also fun. There are many little Spanish hill towns up in the mountains near the coast, some of them plastered with tourist shops, but mostly they are very charming, and we did a number of drives up to the hills.
From there we rented a car and drove to Granada, yet another fabulous city. Here we actually stayed at the Parador in the Alhambra, which was the only Parador we stayed in while in Spain. (Spain has a system of state-run hotels called Paradores, which range from ancient buildings remodeled as small hotels, to more modern accommodations.) The Alhambra itself was incomparable. (I’m struggling with finding enough adjectives here to describe all this!) It was built as a walled city/palace during the time that the Moors ruled Spain, and most of the palace dates from the 13th century or so. We had arranged for a private tour guide to show us the place, and spent hours just roaming around.
Our next stop was in Arcos de la Frontera, which is another of the small hill towns, close to Jerez. This might be my favorite of the hill towns. It’s not nearly as touristy as some of them, and has an old part of the city that is just the most fun place to walk around getting lost. The older part of town is a warren of tiny streets and ancient buildings, many not even close to wide enough for a car to pass. Our hotel was a charming old place right on the edge of a cliff, with a rooftop patio to watch the sunset at night. I think we walked every inch of Arcos, and tried numerous tapas bars in an effort to find the best one. Our best driving trip was on the way to Arcos; we took a side road up over a mountain pass through another hill town called Grazelema. The road was spectacular, and we stopped for lunch and a little more vino there…yet another place that I’d love to go back to someday.
After Arcos, we spent three days in Sevilla, which easily was my favorite of the big cities that we were in. We did the usual tourist things: took a tour, saw the cathedral (third largest in Europe), saw another Moorish style palace, the Alcazar, did a riverboat ride. The best thing, though, was just walking. Sevilla’s old town is another of those mazes of tiny streets, most of them undrivable. We found ourselves wondering how people move into apartments in these places, with streets barely big enough for a wheelbarrow, much less a moving truck. We just walked and walked, stopping into more tapa bars and fun little shops. Our hotel there, the Convento la Gloria, was recommended by the Madrid travel agent that we used to help set up parts of the trip, and was probably our favorite of the trip. It was indeed an old convent, and the rooms were tiny and fairly spartan, though with a huge bathroom by Spain standards. It was right in the heart of the old town, just a few blocks from the Cathedral and the famous Santa Cruz district. The service was outstanding, and the restaurant that was part of the hotel was fabulous, though we didn’t find it in any guide books. (Meson Don Raimundo)
From Sevilla we took the train back to Madrid, and got to ride the Ave train, the fast train. Spain’s train system is really wonderful. When they say that the train leaves at 1200, they seriously mean it. It does not pull out of the station at 1201. If you are not on it, too bad. They don’t wait. They get you where you are going, at exactly the time that they say they will. (I probably don’t need to make comparisons to our train system, or lack of one.) We checked back into “our” Madrid hotel, which was the Gran Hotel Canarios, which was catty-corner from both the Prado and the Thyssen. We spent the afternoon at the museums, then overhauled our luggage in preparation for the trip home, then went out for one last meal in Spain. Our travel guy, Carlos, recommended a place near Plaza Mayor called Taberneros, which was an upscale tapa place that had some of the most creative food that we ate in Spain, as well as a great wine list. They didn’t speak much English, and I don’t think that it is on the usual tourist list of places to go, but after three weeks in Spain deciphering menus, we were able to manage pretty well. Our limited knowledge of the Spanish language improved during the three weeks, though certainly nobody will ever mistake us for locals.
There are whole provinces of Spain that we didn’t even think about getting to, and Barcelona is on my list of places to go next time. It’s a wonderful country, with friendly people and centuries upon centuries of history and culture that is fascinating. We took hundreds and hundreds of photos, but haven’t even started sorting through them, so photo-posting will have to wait. And the pictures don’t do it justice anyway. I did get some knitting done while I was gone, but still on the same projects, so no pictures of that either, for now. I didn’t find one yarn shop in Spain, though I didn’t really look very hard. They have a lot of sheep, though, so I’m sure there is yarn there somewhere. That will be for the next trip! Adios for now!