This is Rob's report on our trip to Spain in July 2006.
It tends to be long and repetitive but the people on the
trip will enjoy it.
I added some stuff 7/5/2011
Once again we traveled with Trafalgar. They always do a
We spent a lot of time on the bus. Spain is a large
country. We visited all the major cities - Madrid, Barcelona,
Valencia and Seville.
The history of Spain is roughly -
- Early - native people starting as early as 60k BC
- Phoenicians approximately 1.1k BC
- Romans 200 BC to 409 AD
- Visigoths 409 to 711
- Moslems 711 to 1492. They were gradually pushed out
from north to south during the centuries long "reconquista".
- Christians totally in charge starting in 1492.
My friend Johnny drove us to SFO
for our flight on Lufthansa. Darn, it turned out the plane was
United leased by Lufthansa so things were not as nice as we
expected. For one thing the drinks on this flight were not free!
We flew to Frankfort
and then took a true Lufthansa flight to Madrid. We were picked up and taken to our hotel.
It looks like all of Madrid is under construction.
Damn! I forgot my camera so we had to use my old reject
which Deb is now using. We took a total of 1297
pictures and 44 movie clips.
Day one - Madrid
We stayed at the very nice Hotel Orense. The first night
was meeting the group, having a group dinner
and taking an evening tour of the city.
By then we had been up over 24 hours but seemed to be able to
Got up the next morning and took a tour of Madrid. Every place you go in Spain there
seems to be some Don Quixote
memorabilia. You'd think The Don and Pancho
were real. This was a fountain dedicated to them. The guide said
an olive tree fell into the fountain and the next day all the
water was gone - sucked up by the tree.
We then headed out to Toledo on the bus.
It's only about an hour away. The old city
is spectacularly placed on a hill surrounded on three sides by
the river Tajo. We hiked around with a guide. These old medieval
cities are so much fun to walk around. The narrow streets, the cobble stones, small shops and all are always beautiful. To
think this was here centuries before America was discovered and
people are still living in these towns.
I was very disappointed that we didn't see
inside the cathedral. According to Rick
Steve's it's the best cathedral in Spain. We never peeked
inside. I guess we need to go back to take a look. We did see a
synagogue, Sinagoga de Santa Maria la
Blanca, that was built by the moslems for the jews but was not
in use after Queen Isabel had the jews eliminated in 1492.
We had our first lunch
here. There is a special ham (jamone pronounced by ha-Moan)
which is not smoked but dried. There is a special version which
is supposed to be better. It was ok but had a tough fatty edge
and not much flavor. The sandwiches(bocadillas) were on very
good bread but served DRY(!), never a bit of mustard or anything
in sight. We ate several of the sandwiches on this trip. I
bought a couple little beers for us. The beer in Spain, as in
all of Europe, was quite good - light and refreshing.
On the way back to Madrid we stopped at a
place selling Toledo steel products. One family bought two nifty
swords. I passed. (extra
Back in Madrid we didn't take the optional tour of the Prado museum they dropped us off and we
went on our own. We took along our new friend Kay. She's quite a
fun lady to talk with, very intelligent and curious. We walked
until we about dropped but decided to go
to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia museum
to see the spectacular Picasso painting "Guernica" and Goya's
"The Third of May 1808 in Madrid" paintings which were in a
special anti war exhibition. Also some Dali's. For some reason
it was free.
We had the great adventure of taking the
subway back to our hotel. I love to ride
the subways, you see the real people and get places quickly. All
subway systems in the world are laid out similarly.
Deb enjoyed the sangrias as often as we could find them.
Usually served in pitchers. I usually had beer.
Day two. Up and on the road. It's a LONG drive to Barcelona. The roads are modern
and nice. Everyone obeys the laws here since they instituted
some tough penalties. They recently introduced the point system
and seem to really punish you for minor infractions. In one
place you could lose like 4 out or your 12 points for illegal
parking! We saw lots of windmills around
On the way we stopped in Zaragoza
and took a look at the Basilica de
Nuestra Senora del Pilar a huge church with a magic Virgin on a
pillar(pilar). The name Pilar comes from this place. A
spectacular and huge church. We had a few minutes for lunch. We
nipped into a place selling tapas but they seemed to be a bit
expensive and confusing so we had a
small beer and left. We then found a bar
where we ran into our friends Malcolm
and Anne from South Africa. We had a bite to eat
and a beer then back to the bus.
Finally we made Barcelona.
In Barcelona they speak Catalan rather then Spanish, but do
understand Spanish. So some things are spelled differently here.
We had time for a quickie city tour as we went to a spectacular
dinner on the boardwalk area. This was
the best meal of the trip. Right near the water, looking out at
a boat harbor, good food, good drink and
lots of fun people. Then a quick tour with a beautiful
water and light show before going back
to our nice hotel and bed.
Next day out touring we saw the Gaudi cathedral
Sagrada Familia. Gaudi worked on it from 1883 to 1926 and barely
got four spires built. It still only half finished and will take
another 50 years. Newer architects/artists have modified
and added their touches as construction
continues(More Pictures). We
glimpsed the Palau Guell
We also visited the Cathedral de Barcelona
another large beautiful cathedral. Deb,
Kay and I then proceeded to take the Metro and walk up up up to the Gaudi
gardens. Quite interesting but never completed. It was supposed
to be a gated community on a high hill
for the wealthy but was never successful because it was too far
from the center of town. Quite impressive and creative however.
We and Kay went to a small restaurant where
Kay bought lunch. Very nice! Deb had a
pitcher of strong sangria and got pretty wound up. After some
hiking and searching we found the metro and returned to the
Cathedral de Barcelona for another look. Unfortunately we didn't
have time to return to the Sagrada Familia.
We had a nice dinner
that I can barely remember. We had a fun time in Barcelona, it's
a great city.
Today we drove down the Mediterranean coast to Valencia
with a stop at Pensicola (pronounced pen-See-kola). The entire
coast seems to be under construction. Lots of English and
Europeans buy condos here for vacationing.
In Pensicola there is an old Knight's
Templar fort. Later it was used by a pope pretender and named
Castell del Papa Luna. For the making of the movie "El Cid" they
modified the top ramparts of the castle.
The sights of the
Mediterranean here were fantastic some people went swimming. We had lunch
at a place near a bunch of fishing boats. We ordered the small
Hake - oops they were like smelt with
guts and heads. When we ate them we had
to think of something else. This looked like a classic European
resort town. (extra
Back on the bus and on to Valencia. A very
nice bus tour and another fabulous cathedral.
Supposedly the Holy Grail is here. In fact the pope visited
recently and used it in his mass. Had Indiana Jones only known.
Unfortunately the cathedral was closing
but we did have time to nip up 300 winding staircase steps to
the top of the bell tower
with our friends Malcolm and Anne.
Our included dinner at the hotel was a giant paella.
Most people were disappointed because the meat was chicken
instead of seafood. I liked it. Paella is like Italian rosotto
only more of a restricted list of spices.
It's interesting to see that most air
conditioners are hanging outside the apartments.
It looks like 20-25% of apartments have
air conditioners. Also everyplace we went we saw laundry
This morning we had a tour of Valencia that knocked our
socks off. They have built a fabulous set of buildings
in a dry river bed which are stunning.
I'm not sure if they are to entertain the locals, attract
visitors or to make a statement, but whatever, they are amazing. (extra
We then headed out to Granada with a
stop in the sweet little town of Alterra(??) near the tour
directors house. We nipped into a place and had a lemonade that was to die for, then into
the "supermarket". Prices for meat seemed to be similar to what we pay,
though it threw me off a bit until I realized the weights were
in kilos (2.2lbs).
Another stop for lunch
and another stop to look at a "cave" house
in Guadix. People are actually living in these cave houses in the
As we drove to
Granada it looked much like California and most of the western
US - dry and mountainous.
This night we had dinner
then went on an optional tour to the Albayzin, the old Moslem and now gypsy
part of the city to see the gypsy dancers. The dancing was so-so but spirited, Deb liked
it. The views of the Alhambra and environs during our walk
through the medieval city were spectacular. We took a special
small bus to get through the area. The bus ride was heart
stopping! The driver went way too fast through these little tiny
streets with people dodging out of the way. Whew! The bus ride alone was worth the extra money.
Today we toured the Alhambra.
Extremely beautiful. Charles V who had kicked the Moslems out of
this area built a palace right on the
grounds. He didn't live long enough to complete it so it stood
without a roof for several centuries. I can't say enough good
things about this beautiful place. The Moslems don't have living
figures in their art so the artistic
decorations are geometric patterns and Arabic script. They use
four colors red for blood, green for
oasis or heaven, blue for the sky and gold for wealth. The gardens were spectacular.
We were given some time for lunch and
sightseeing. We went to the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) a lavish place for the last resting place of Ferdinand and Isabella as
well as their daughter Juana(de loca) and Philip the fair and
young Prince Michael. They spent a fourth of their fortune on
this chapel. We had lunch with Malcolm
and Anne again.
We then drove on to Sevilla (Seville).
Sevilla is considered the most Spanish of cities. Bull fighting
is very important, the best Flamenco is here and it was/is
a very wealthy town. Ferdnand and Isabel decreed that all ships
returning from the new world would sail up the Guadavier river
and unload here to be inventoried and taxes levied.
Tonight, after dinner we took a horse
carriage ride around the city and Maria
Luisa park to a Flamenco show. The show was spectacular! The
dancing was professional and the guitar playing superb. We were
in the front row and had a great time!
Today we are up and touring Sevilla. We stopped by Maria
Luisa park for our group picture and a
quick trot up a big building built for
the 1929 world exhibition. Because of the stock market crash the
exhibition was a bust but the city has these beautiful
The cigarette factory where Carmen (as in
the opera) supposedly worked is now a university building.
The third largest cathedral
in Europe Iglesia de la Magdlena is here.
In size just behind St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in
London. It is extremely beautiful. Covered with new world gold
and silver, and it contains Columbus'
body. Seeing there are four places in the world that claim
to have Columbus' body they did a
DNA test and found they could not prove it was not his body so
they claim it proves it must be his body (?). The church
has the worlds largest alter piece containing 48 gold panels of the life of Christ. Pretty
We were then on our own downtown. We nipped
into an Irish pub for lunch. We toured
the Alcazar. It was built in the 10th century by the Moors and
revamped in the 14th century for king Pedro I. The palace is intentionally confusing to make
it more interesting and surprising, and it is. An amazing and beautiful
place with more beautiful gardens. We
saw a wedding going on here with
pictures being taken in the garden. Queen Isabella debriefed
Columbus here. It's still used as a royal palace. The
temperature was boiling. Deb made good use of her Spanish air
We were told to take bus 23 back to our
hotel. The plaza was totally under construction
but we found (thanks to a local) the tourist office. They said
to take circular bus #1. After much walking around in the deadly
heat we jumped on bus 1. It was wrong! The bus driver waved his
arms and indicated we needed bus #2 on the other side. We
searched around and had a difficult time finding the stop,
meanwhile a bus #2 went by so we had to wait for the next one.
Deb was sweltering. Finally we got on the bus
for a pleasant trip back to the hotel. Don't tell Deb, we could
have taken a taxi for 5E.
After we got back we had time to go for a
quick beer and some tapas with Malcolm
and Anne. We had olives and baby clams in garlic olive oil.
Tonight we had a
tapas dinner in a quaint nice place with stuffed animal heads on
the walls including a bull. Tapas,
paella and good wine. We then went for a boat tour on the
Guadaquavire. Strangely Seville is a port city even though it's
about 100 miles inland. This is because the river is wide and
navigable. A very nice boat ride indeed.
Next day we are on our way back to Madrid with a stop in
Cordoba. Cordoba has the Mezquita a Moorish mosque and the most
important in the western world. It is a forest of 850 columns. A cathlic cathedral
was built right in the middle of the mosque. Despite Michener's
moaning it seemed to me to blend in ok. Charles V said he had
make a mistake allowing the church to be built there. Too bad
the sides have been walled up because it's a bit dark and no air
moves. Clearly Gaudi had been here and took notes. We had a good
guide. (extra page)
We had some time for lunch so we nipped into
a nice little restaurant and had a
couple tapas - olives and a small
paella. The best paella I had the whole trip. Very nice.
Back on the bus and on to Madrid with a
quick stop at another Don Quixote place.
On our first visit to Madrid we had left our
passports and other items in the room safe. The tour director
had called ahead and the hotel was holding the items at the
desk. Unfortunately I had to take two subways to get back to the
other hotel. I dashed. When I came up from the subway I was
disoriented. I asked some guys on the street where the hotel was
and thank goodness they spoke perfect english. Got the papers
and rushed back to catch the bus to the final dinner. I was a
bit late but the bus had waited a bit and just as they were
pulling out they spotted me sprinting. They hailed me, I jumped
on and away we went.
Tonight was our going away dinner in an
elegant restaurant near the opera house. A beautiful meal with
very good wine generously served. We had a great time with the gang. A quick bus ride to see the city at
night then Deb and I took the bus back to
the hotel and missed saying good bye to our friends Malcolm and
Anne. I hope we see them again sometime.
We got to our bedroom about 11pm but had to
do some packing and preparation for the trip home tomorrow. Up
at 3am to catch the 4am drive to the airport. What a drive!
People were still out on the streets and some bars open! We saw
an accident - a girl on a scooter was laying in the road.
Finally the airport. Getting on was
uneventful but when we got to Frankfort we had one hour to make
our gate. Unfortunately it was on a different concourse and we
had to go through a German checkpoint. The line was a mile long!
We begged for cuts and they let us through. They gave us a
THOROUGH search! After literally dashing through the airport we
got to the gate and there was a shuttle bus sitting there! We
got on the shuttle and finally made it to the airplane. Thank
god it was a Lufthansa flight. Once in the air it was quite
nice, free drinks(!). We were pretty beat but didn't sleep much.
Finally we got to Portland, picked up our luggage and went
through customs. We were chosen to have our luggage searched so
we left it there for searching and proceeded to our plane.
Finally we made it to SFO, our luggage wasn't there. We got a
shuttle and after a bunch of waiting we went home. The driver
was an interesting guy from Iran. After we got home we had to
drive to Johnny's and get our car. By the time we went to bed
we'd been up well over 30 hours.
Over all a great trip.
A few observations.
- I never did figure out those low drinking fountains in the rooms. They made brushing
your teeth difficult (joke).
- I understand that various dialects are spoken
throughout Spain, not just Catalan.
- This group of people were a bit "closed" compared to
other trips. Probably because of several groups.
- One group was from Hudson Ohio
where my brother Tom graduated from high school.
- Spain had the least concession to English of any
country we have visited so far, including Greece.
- Because we like to do things on our own we had to
interact with the folks. We found them helpful and friendly but
hardly a one knew English. Not a problem.
- Our guide was professional and
helpful. She knew more history then any previous guide. I
- We saw some quite nice graffiti.
- I saw a real live bull fight on tv the first night.
Sunday is the main bullfight
- While it was hot in Spain it turned out it was hotter
- Our credit union has "turned off" Spain so it made
getting cash a bit of a problem.
- Sangria (blood) recipes seem to be up to the person
mixing them - wine, fruit and perhaps something stronger added
- The wine in Spain was good and not expensive with the
meal. Usually the good stuff was about 12E.
- We saw these bulls all over
Spain. The advertise Osborns sherry and are protected by law.