A Travellerspoint blog

Spain

Madrid

sunny

Madrid sure turned out to be an 'interesting' experience. Unfortunately not nearly as enjoyable as the rest of the places we visited. Of course, there were still plenty of great things that we saw and experienced.

Our trip from Toledo was easy and quite effortless. The train leaves every two hours from Toledo to Madrid and is the only trip out of Toledo as far as I could tell. Finding the hostel we had reserved was not a problem, but trying to find a way to enjoy the hostel was much harder! For starters it wasn't in a particularly good part of town. When we first walked up, Janelle noticed the sign on the outside saying 'no prostitution allowed in here' - not a good sign. We managed to count about 20 or so prostitutes on the street that evening! Of course, these things can be easily ignored, but unfortunately there were too many things wrong with this particular choice of accommodation! A rabbit warren of grimy looking hallways led us to our tiny room, with views of the piping and grime in the back alleyway and other people's open windows. I killed a huge cockroach while Janelle wasn't watching and waited till the next day to tell her. All these things I could usually get over, but for the fact that it fell through on the one thing that to me is essential, a place to SLEEP! There was very little sleeping that night, as wave after wave of people arrived drunk in their rooms shouting and giggling right outside our door kept waking us up. The morning was started by someone who decided he needed to knock on everyone's door to start wake everyone up for breakfast. It was all too much. We got up, but instead of having breakfast, we started looking for somewhere else to stay the other two nights. We found somewhere only a few blocks away which was only 4 euros extra a night and a far more enjoyable experience - it had hot water for one!

Okay, enough whining for now. The Puerta del Sol, the major square in Madrid wasn't far, so we took a stroll down there to get started. The place is throbbing with people at all hours (at least all hours we saw it). One time we walked down there we saw all the hawkers being raided by the police. People set up sheets on the ground and put all their goods for sale, like sunglasses, cds, belts, etc.. on the sheets. As we were walking past, someone let out a warning and all the sheets turned into bags within seconds and everyone was on the run! Quite amusing to watch really, although the police in Spain with their leather gloves do make for a scary sight! Strange though, we saw several other times when police cars would drive straight past without taking note at all.

Madrid is a rather 'new' city as we overheard a Madridian describing it. 'New' in this case means anything less than 500 years old! The city was chosen as capital when it was only a small village. As a result, the architecture and feel of the place is quite different to all the other places we visited. Nevertheless, it has its fair share of interesting things to do! There are several world-class and famous art galleries that we of course visited: The Prado, the city's most famoust museum, houses a large collection of older artwork, with some very famous pieces by the likes of Velazquez and Goya. The Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofia has a very enjoyable collection of modern art and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum has a chronological collection from about 500 AD to now, with all the rooms curated so that you progress through time - a very interesting experience. Each day we were in Madrid we visited another of these museums, which generally take up at least a few hours of slow shuffling.

In a lot of ways Madrid was very reminiscent of Melbourne. The general street culture seemed quite the same and it one thing in common which made it seem particularly similar - a festival! As much as Melbourne loves its festivals, so it seems Madrid does too. While we were there at least there was a photography/contemporary art exhibition going on. The beautiful thing about it was that there was a free show on one evening which we of course strolled down to see. It was basically a projection of some excellent photography and some not so excellent 'video art'. Something to keep us busy anyway. On that particular evening, we then went on to go and see some free jazz at Popular, a bar that has bands on every evening. The drink prices of course made up for the free entry, but the music by the jazz quartet was remarkable!

We spent a lot of time as usual walking around the city, having coffees, etc.. and enjoying the warmth. On the last of our three days when we planned to visit the Palace, we were stopped from doing any more of that though. Janelle sprained her ankle rather badly on a bit of uneven paving and basically couldn't walk anymore that day (and not very well for the rest of the holidays really). That pretty much was the end of Madrid. Time to move on to Rome!

Posted by Peter 00:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Toledo

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Toledo turned out to be a beautiful town, as only was to be expected! We arrived there around midday on the 13th and checked into our first 'hostel', which turned out to be our nicest accommodation so far! The room was very nice and large and featured a rather pleasant balcony out on the street and a very friendly host.

We started with a visit to the Iglesia de Santo Tome, a fairly unsignificant church with an extremely significant painting inside by El Greco. We spent quite a while in there looking at the painting and managed to catch a tourguide explaining how this was one of the four most famous paintings in the world.. of course that sparked a discussion on whether or not it really was. His other three in the top 4 were Mona Lisa, the Nightwatch and a painting by Velazquez (which name has escaped me, as has the El greco one :)). Funny how two spanish artists managed to feature

There is a lot of El Greco to be seen in Toledo, including a house museum with a lot of his works which is what we visited next. One thing we have found on our trip is that our Youth Cards actually seem to be paying off as they did on this occassion again, gaining us free entry to the museum!

There are a lot of things to be seen in Toledo and a lot of people are trying to make money off of that.. One of the two synagogues, which is rather small, but still very beautiful inside, costs 1,50 to enter. The other is currently being renovated, so not hope of even entering there. Prices for food and drink seemed higher than Cordoba and Sevilla, which was a little unexpected, but not surprising considering the amount of tourists visiting the town.

The Cathedral was a rather pleasant and lengthy visit. Every little town in Spain has a big cathedral it seems, which is usually its prime attraction. The Cathedral in Toledo was quite worthwhile though, with some very nice artworks inside, from the likes of Breughel, El Greco, Goya, Velazquez and many other big names - undoubtedly not all peacefully obtained! There was also an exhibition of Cardinals' cloaks and treasury items which provided some more interest.

It seems that every night there is something going on in Toledo, probably partially because we were there on the weekend, but also because the Corpus Christi celebrations were starting to heat up. Last night as we were wandering from the river back up the (rather steep and tiring hill) we came across a procession on their way to the cathedral. No big pointy hats at this stage, probably saved for next week, but still an interesting thing to encounter and something we hadn't really expected. While the procession walked up the windy streets on their way to the cathedral, we caught the rather convenient, and very stylishly created, escalators on the side of the mountain! I tell you, there is nothing more handy than escalators on the side of a steep hill.
In the evening we wandered to the cathedral to see where they had ended up and found there was a public performance of traditional dance and music going on. We of course stayed there for a while to watch the singing and dancing that was being put on display for us.

All in all, Toledo has been a very enjoyable experience. Now on to Madrid.

Posted by Peter 00:00 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Cordoba

sunny

It's certainly been a more relaxed part of our holidays in Seville and Cordoba. Thanks to less tourist attractions, ie buildings etc, we have had a chance to take it a little easier. The weather in Cordoba has been scorching, so we have happily joined in with the locals in their siestas. Pretty much everything is shut from 2 till 5:30 anyway, so not much else to do!

Our first day here, we basically just walked around a lot and managed to cover a grand circle of the town, walking past about 8 or 9 (all beautiful) old churches along the way! Lunch was memorable at a little restaurant called La Lechuga (the lettuce I believe), which had some very nice tapas for us to snack on. We immediately followed that up by going to the local bodega (bar), which served wine straight out of the barrel - they had a whole cellar that we could see in the background as well. The price was of course suitably low at around 75 cents, although it wasn't the finest brew I've ever tasted After our drink at the bar, we jumped to the following extreme, with a visit to the ancient sinagogue just down the road, a tiny little building, but supposedly there are very few left in Spain that are that old. Finally at the end of the day, while wandering on our way back to the hotel, we heard the sounds of flamenco and followed them to find a show being put on. Of course we had to pay, but it was a great experience to just sit and watch for over an hour!

Yesterday we made our visit to the Mezquita, the lovely old mosque that underwent numerous changes over the centuries and was finally converted to a cathedral in 1600 or so. Very beautiful place to spend some time. As in all major attractions there are a lot of tourguides showing people around and explaining things in their language. It becomes confusing sometimes when the tourguides are standing near the pulpit and all the tourists are in the pews - they really do look like preachers! It was extremely hot yesterday, so we spent a considerable time in our hotel room siestaing till it became a little cooler. It is far more pleasant to wander around in the evenings, so we have generally been doing that most nights till past midnight.

Today we visited the Alcazar here in Cordoba, which is a lot smaller than the one in Seville, but still quite enjoyable.. There are also a lot of Roman remains here in Cordoba, which makes for a somewhat different scenery to Seville. For lunch we revisited La Lechuga, the restaurant we went to on the first day because we had enjoyed it so much.

Tomorrow we head to Toledo very early in the morning.

Posted by Peter 00:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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