Saturday, April 26, 2014

Seville- our new favorite city!

We planned on staying in Seville for 5 days.  After about 2 hours, we knew it wasn't enough!  We also stayed in a room we rented through Airbnb- our first time using this site.  After about 2 hours, we knew we would use it again- the people we were renting a room from, Alex and Sofia, were great!  You can search them on Airbnb with the title of their rentals "Sunny in Triana".  They are a young a very vibrant couple!  Their love of Seville was totally infectious!  Their apartment was in the town of Triana, which is now a section of Seville.  Seville is a conglomerate of neighborhoods, each with its own personality.  This also gives this very large city a sense of being in small town Spain.  We decided it is our new favorite city!  It embraces you like Barcelona, it is homey like Valencia, and it is grand like Madrid!  The best of Spain, in one place!  And totally walkable!  We loved it!!!

First, it was Semana Santa, or Holy Week, in Seville, which is the epicenter of Easter!  Incredible!   The focus is on their "Processions", or parades of the faithful.  But, mass still lasted 2 1/2 hours.  Really something to behold-much like Mardi Gras for the faithful!
 Scary, isn't it?  But it has an entirely different meaning here!

 The procession includes these HUGE things that take many, many people to carry!  Usually they also have candles or some type of lighting, and hold eitherMary or Jesus
 Hundreds carry crosses
Even the sweets reflect the love of Semana Santa!

The Cathedral in Seville is the third largest in Europe, after St. Peters in Rome and St. Pauls in London.  It is truly a huge monument, although we do not consider it the most beautiful.  However, that does not take from its magnificence!  The bell towers base was developed from the tower of a Mosque that orginally sat in this space.
The top of the bell tower (this is a replica on ground level)
 Trivia questions: where is Columbus buried?  Answer: Seville Cathedral!
 Bell tower and rear of Cathedral from courtyard
 Flying buttresses from the top of the bell tower (yes, we climbed it!)
 Cathedral Square at sunset
Cathedral from Triana bridge

We rented a room from Alex and Sofia, a remarkable young couple, with an amazing enthusiasm for Seville.  They live in the area of Triana, just across the river Quadraquevir.  The view is amazing!!!  The Triana Bridge was designed by a student of Eifle, of the Eifle Tower.  On the Triana side, the river is lined with cafes!

Plaza de Espana is a beautiful square designed for the 1912 World Fair- truly amazing tile work!  It is a semi=circle of beauty, with a large pool area for boating.

Even at night, it was beautiful.  Spain does an excellent job at their lighting!

The Torre de Oro, or Tower of Gold, is the structure used to store the gold brought back from the New World.  The Quadraquevir river is the only river in Spain that empties into the Atlantic.  It has a really nice little museum that includes models of the NIna, Pinta and Santa Maria!
 View from Triana
 View from the river walk way

And of course: Flamenco!!!!

We will have to cover the Alcazar, both day and night, on a different post.  It deserves its own!!!!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cordoba: the Great Mesquite! (not the wood for BBQing!)

As early as the mid-700's, Cordoba had a church- St. Vincent's church.  With the ruling moors, the church was torn down and the largest mosque in Europe.  In 1236, Cordoba was re-conquered by King Ferdinand III (not of the Ferdinand and Isabel fame), and Codoba was again Christian.  In 1523, the great Cathedral of St. Vincent began to be built, and was integrated into the remains of the great Mosque.  Much as St. Sophias in Istanbul became the mosque Hagia Sophia, the Spanish retained the architecture.

We decided to take a day-trip from Seville and visit this World Heritage Site- and were amazed!  It truly is beautiful!  The city is very nice,but you can tell the economic collapse has taken its toll here.

The original walls remain, surrounding the complex; a beautiful bell tower was added, and many chapels, along with the central nave, incorporated the orginal structure.  There are about 1000 of the arches!
 Rich in the center of the cathedral: note the support posts and moorish arches!

 Better view of the supports and arches

 Detail of the sacristy ceiling!  Totally beautiful!

 All the doorways were arched in interesting designs

 The entire complex had sky-lights, allowing the light to dance around the complex as the sun moved!

 YEA!  St. George made an appearance!

across the river is the cathedral: here is the bridge, cathedral, Roman arch, and medieval post with the archangel Michael atop.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

MADRID!!!!!! Bigger Than Life!

So we spent 3 days in Madrid, a city we totally love!  There is only one word to describe Madrid: BIG.  Everything is big- big avenues, big buildings, big churches, big palaces, big museums, big plazas,  big parks, big crowds, and big sky- the clouds were amazing.  Madrid is not a cozy little bedroom city like Valencia, or a cuddly city like Barcelona. Madrid is serious!  The people were surprisingly nice for such a big city, though.  Even in crowds, they were well behaved.  And everything we wanted to see was quite close.  We wandered thru the streets everyday just looking at everything- and we would quickly end up in another area we thought was far away.  The down-side: getting a good photograph is hard.

Madrid is known for their art.  Because they were the capital of an empire, they have a lot of it!  The Big 3 museums: Prado, Thyssen, and La Reina, would all take days to go thru.  Luckily, we did them before:-).  So we went on their free times and spent 2 hours in each. Before, we identified which artists we wanted to see.  Sadly, no photography, so no pictures.  At Prado, my all-time favorite is Fra Angelico's "the Annunciation" (  At La Reina, Picasso's "Guernica" is the only piece we spent time on (  Thyssen is a wandering museum of great paintings.

We also met some people that we hung with a bit.  Lenny and Jan, from the foothills of CA were on our cruise.  After the cruise, they went up to Salamanca as Lenny's grandparents immigrated from that area.  They also turned us on to the best restaurant!  Ginger, in a little square off Calle Atocha before Plaza Mayor.  They had the very best Curry Chicken I ever had!  On our walking tour, we met Tinh, from Viet Nam.  We went to the La Reina together.  His ability to understand modern art was amazing.  I tend to think more concrete, so modern art makes no sense to me- but his understanding of it was extremely welcoming.

Anyway- enough blathering on, here are some pictures for you:

the park in front of the Royal Palace- check out the clouds!

 Rich and I in Retiro Park

 Grand Via at sunset

 Communications Building (now a museum)

 Grand Via at street level

 top of a building on Grand Via!

Rich at the Palace

Monday, April 14, 2014

Valencia- an overview

So after just 4 days here in Valencia, we believe we have found a city we could live in- much like Portland, Oregon!  It has everything: great buildings, great food, great people, great museums, great public spaces.  So here is an overview for your viewing pleasure:

Valencia has the Mercado Central- Central Market.  Much like the Boqueria in Barcelona, only bigger, better, and less crowded.  You need cookies, vegetables, meat, fish, flowers, it is here!  We came here a couple times to buy rolls, ham and cheese and fruit for lunch...and of course pastries:-)
 (above) Rich in the middle of the marker
(below) Nothing says a family dinner like roast pig head and broasted hooves! 

Valencia built the MOST amazing Art and Science complex we have ever seen!  It is truly an architectural marvel you have to see to believe.  I am only posting a couple photos because you could have hundreds and it still not capture how awesome it is.  Plus, the art is incredible, we understand the science center is great- we did not go into it.  It also has an aquarium, which we did go into, and an Imax theater, which we saw a documentary on the search for the origin of the Nile- it was amazing! The complex itself is incredibly huge!  It covers a couple city blocks.
 This is a covered walkway for the entire complex- both a walkway and park, with benches for sitting to rest or to enjoy the absolute beauty!
 Rich at one of the many large ponds.  On the left is the science complex, and in the background is a large auditorium.  The ponds are so large, you can rent boats or those giant balloons children get into and roll around water in.
 The Aquarium- it is really a large area and has Baluga Whales, walrus, a Mediterranean Sea complex, a tropical complex, and a California Coast complex, oddly enough.  It also has the longest aquarium tunnel- where you walk thru an entire aquarium, with fish swimming all around you.  The only thing: do NOT go to the dolphin show.  Whoever put that boring-ass thing together should be shot.  I was so bored, I pictured the dolphins turning into zombies and eating the trainers!
 This giant sea monster jumped out of the aquarium and almost ate Rich!!!  Good thing I have him well-insured!

Valencia has a great, long beach!  It is far larger than we thought- both in length, and depth.  And the water is really blue.  We spent today walking it.  The sand is fine, like flour!  Perfect for walking along and collecting shells.
 Of course we got hungry and HAD to eat paella, which was started here in Valencia!  So we had Paella Valenciano, made with chicken and rabbit (I know, its sad because rabbits are so cute, but that wascally wabbit was delicious!!).  The only issue- they tossed in a couple snails!  UGH!  I took those things out as fast as I could!
And of course I had to try a Red Martini- made with vermouth.  As recommended by my Camino Amigo Ivan from Asturias (Spain).  Very good!

As I had written in a Facebook post, many years ago, Valencia got tired of the river flooding the old town, so they re-routed it.  Yes, re-routed it,meaning they changed its course.  Amazing, isn't it!  Of course they then had this dry river bed with lots of great bridges.  And of course the rock walls that all European cities built to contain their rivers.  So what could they do?  Why- they have this awesome park that runs the length of their city!!!!  The park has tons of trees, running and walking and biking trails, soccer fields, play grounds, restaurants, picnic areas, and it is beautiful!  And in much of it you can see the old town.  Truly, it is a great public space.  On one end, the zoo, on the other end, the art and science complex.  No real pictures, because no one wants to see a picture of a park, but: 
 As we were walking, we looked up and saw this great view of roof tops.  Just thought is was beautiful!
Here is another picture from the walking trail.

But of course, the night belongs to Valencia!  One thing we noticed when we climbed the bell tower was that roof tops we often domes of tiles that shimmered different colors in the sunlight.  But- the city really does belong to the night- they way the city lights the monuments and buildings and squares is just amazing!  Plus all the interesting building tops prove a dramatic night time scene!
 Rich in the Plaza de la Ajuntamiento (city square) with city hall in the background!
 The science and art center at sunset!
 The original city gates at sundown!
The cathedral late in the evening, the public square is well lit, and flood lights on the buildings illuminate their beauty!


All the plans of mice and men!  So we had the perfect plan: Valencia for a few days, then to Granada for the Alhambra, then to Seville for Good Friday and Easter- perfect!  But then our lessons for flexibility came into play!  And you all know how flexible Rich and I are:-).  First, no tickets to the Alhambra- for weeks!  What?  This is early April, how can they be sold out?!  So we decide we will wing it, and go to get out train tickets anyway.  No seats from Valencia to Granada!  What?! And to make it worse, no seats from Granada to Seville!  What?!  What?!  The one great monument we wanted to see- the Alhambra- is now off the table, and our beautiful little plan is ruined.  But wait:  there are seats to Madrid, and seats from Madrid to Seville.  In the end, a silver lining: we get to see Madrid, which was not even on our radar.  Even though we were put out, we know there are no disappointments, just different adventures.  Oh- and I was then late in cancelling our room in Granada and got hit with a hefty cancellation penalty- OUCH!  For Cheapskates like us-that hurts!  But, we got a col room in Madrid, so...  Off to the beach now here in Valencia where it is sunny and warm!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Valencia- we're loving it!!

God it was hard to say goodbye to Barcelona today!  Even though we stayed at a cut-rate hostel the last two nights, we met some really interesting people staying there, and we had a balcony over-looking the old Roman wall, a cute square with statues, and a boulevard covered with Beau-Art buildings (Laetana Blvd).  And, they were all beautifully lit up at night.  But it was time to go, and a 5 hour train ride later, here we are.  But in the few hours we have been here: WOW!!!!  We are loving it!  Great old town with windy streets, plazas, churches galore, statuary, lots of wall-art (not graffiti, actual paintings on walls!), beau-arts boulevards, and great prices.  We are staying at this cool little pension in the old town, with the nicest, and most enthusiastic woman imagineable.  So here are a few photos just to whet your whistle:-):

 Plaza De La Reina, with the cathedral and belltower.  We climbed the bell tower!  Easy climb in the old medieval circular stone staircase style

 Inside the cathedral- very nice

 Check out this cop car!!!!!  Guess there isn't much crime here!  

 We had a light lunch, cafe con leche, and dessert: Banuelos, dipped in hot, thick chocolate!  Better than churros!!!!!

 Rich on top of the belltower- it was REALLY loud

 View of the cathedral and Plaza De La Virgen (and Basilica of the Virgen- blue dome- awesome painting inside the dome)

This is the town square!  All beau-arts buildings showing the power of Spain!  Beautiful!  It has this very cool fountain, too, but I could not fit it into the picture.