GRANADA – We took the ALSA bus line cross-country. Since it’s off-season, we didn’t need to purchase tickets in advance on our SmartPhones, but we did anyway and bought them two hours later than we meant to. No problem, with a translation App, the lady at the ticket booth exchanged them for an earlier bus. She spoke English but appreciated my effort and likely thought my accent was comical. Right before getting on the bus, I dropped my ticket, and it floated onto a man’s shoe. He kindly picked up his food, gingerly grabbed the ticket before it flew away, and handed it to me with a smile. I should also note that we take taxies instead of schlepping luggage to and from our lodgings (a new thing for us). Writing down the address and showing the paper to the driver while trying to speak pigeon Spanish seems to work fine. The fee is anywhere from 5 to 10 euros depending on the traffic, how many passengers are in the vehicle, and whether or not the city crossing goes through more than one zone. We considered using Uber, but the credit card we used with the US account wasn’t cooperating, so we weren’t able to take advantage of the lower costs.
The Alhambra in Granada was the main reason we returned to Granada. On our last visit, the tickets were sold out. We bought them in advance this time and had to provide our Passport number to complete the purchase. In the early morning, we walked up the beautiful tree-lined path with birds serenading us from above. The path is also lined with tall wrought iron lamps that looked like they were straight out of The Chronicles of Narnia. When we reached the Alhambra, about a half-hour before our entry time, there was a small line forming among the buildings that towered over our heads. Once inside, the interior facades are like nothing I’ve ever seen with tiles and plaster reliefs on every surface. The complex has sixty spots to stop and review with a guide/audio tour. There is no short way to explain, other than looking online at photographs or going there in-person. Another option is to get a copy of Washington Irving’s book called The Alhambra, to get an idea of what it was like in his time in the 1800s. Even all these years later, many of the things he describes are similar to what I saw. I think we could have spent the entire wandering around the complex, but we only stayed two hours. It was colder than down in town, and we hadn’t worn enough clothes. The walk down the massive hill was not quite as heart-pounding as the journey up. When we got back into town, we explored the narrow roads, some with merchants others with home, and found the Archaeological Museum. We learned it was created by the Royal Order of 1879. Prior it was an Antique’s office. Inside there are parts of armor, pottery, and statues. In the inner courtyard, decorative tiles cover the floor and the kick panel of the stair treads that I’d love to have in my house.
MALAGA–The most noteworthy site in the old town is the Cathedral (Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación; Our Lady of Incarnation) with an audio-tour well worth the time. The shape isn’t like most cathedrals. We usually only spend thirty-minutes exploring such places, but this one captivated us, and we were there for about two hours learning about the connected stories. Later in the day, we visited the Picasso Museum, which covered the stages of his work from traditional to modern in detail. I am now a fan of his work and find it inspirational. Perhaps, I’ll try my hand at art again without worrying about anyone else’s opinion for a change. All of this education made us hungry. We found the local market for some delicious food.
Overall, in my opinion, this beach town is different from the United States as the town doesn’t feel like a beach area to me until we got down to the shore. The place reminds me of all the others in Spain, except this one has a beach a short walk away that looks nothing like the center of town. By the coast, there are several short boat trips that are available around the harbor, but we chose not to partake. There are lots of vendors and food stops as well. The most fascinating site was a tall ship called the Galileo, which is a replica of the original sailing ship and has traveled around the world 50 ports over the last few years. However, I’ll have to say, my love of walking on the beach on a cool day overtook most of the other sites. The wild parakeets and birds by the hundreds were there either flying or perching, which added to the experience.
MADRID; Tapestry Factory. We meant to go here the same day as the Prado, but instead we spent the entire day in the Prado and missed this entirely. http://realfabricadetapices.com/en/museum/tours-and-temporary-exhibitions/
Madrid’s Prado Museum – General entry ticket also included a timed entry to a temporary exhibit with Goya’s sketchbook drawings. The line on-site was not long, so we didn’t need to get the ticket online in advance. We managed to walk through almost all of the exhibit halls on the three levels to view artistic works (paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, drawings, and prints) from all over; Spanish, Flemish Italian, German, Dutch, French. Artists that appealed to my senses were Picasso, Bosh, Raphael, El Greco, Ruben, Goya. NO Photos allowed, too bad. I like to take photos of the works and the labels next to them as a learning tool.
The Palace of Madrid – A massive establishment. I loved the room that had 2-dimensional, nature-oriented, wallpaper, and ceiling plaster designs that had been the kings changing room. Sadly, we were not permitted to take photographs of its interior. Several places we’ve been have had this restriction. I can’t figure out why. No flash makes sense. In one museum, a guard explained that if the art is less than 70 years old, it would be a copyright violation to take photos, but most things are far older. Another thought; to get photos, you have to buy a book from the shop? Truthfully, I have no idea.
Diner place in the wall https://mesondelchampinon.com/en/ We went here THREE times! The food is delicious. The establishment is fitted into a cave-wall with multiple rooms for cozy dining.
The market; Mercado de San Miguel – a rather posh selection of eats including a swordfish head on display next to a wide range of whole fish to take home an prepare. The beggars outside were desperate. If you want to give them something, make sure it’s already in your pocket, and don’t dig into your wallet or purse in front of them. Others in town have gotten creative to acquire your funds; dressing up like a Mickey mouse, posing in full make-up as a statue, or selling tissue pack & other things. There are also roving musical entertainers, who have baskets or music cases to put donations into or buy one of their CDs.
TOLEDO; There are many small places all over town that surprised us when we least expect them to appear. It’s somewhat of a treasure hunt to find everything along the narrow roads that wind between buildings. Many passages are only 6 or 8 feet across. Here are a few of things we found. Mini-Museums- Catapults (ways to breach castle walls), Brujería(witch’s use of herbs for good and evil), Knights of Templar (healers & soldiers for Christ). Each one took about 45-minutes to go through. Also, the Museum of Santa Cruz with a few El Grecos in the back behind a wrought iron gated wall are gorgeous. There is also the El Greco Museum/house at a different location. On we go…. To make up for losing the opportunity to go to the Tapestry Factory in Madrid, we found a marvelous collection of tapestries in Toledo at the Infantes Museo of Tapestries & Textiles. There were as many as six from each artist telling a story that went from one to the other. Overall, there must have been several dozen to view. This next museum is unexpectedly large; The Military Museum – goes on and on behind the excavated area. Allow hours to go through. A must-see is the El Transito Synagogue and Sephardic Museum with Moorish influence and beauty.
Toledo Cookie Quest – marvelous fun. We trekked around Toledo randomly and found a door that advertised marzipan. I felt brave as I was leading the mystery walk around town. My knee felt strong, so I lead our party of two. In the door we went, a light came on and an arrow pointed down the hall. There was a sign that said, both in English and Spanish, to ring the bell to order. Mmm, what to order; see the list on the wall. Without some hesitation, I rang the bell and from behind a door a woman’s voice emerged. I didn’t understand a word, so I told her, in Spanish, that I did not speak Spanish but English. She asked what we wanted and said to open the little door. I obliged and found a lazy-susan with a box of my selection. I replaced the box with money and closed the door. A few minutes later, I heard the lazy-susan turn, I opened the door, and my change was there. The best event of the day! https://www.instagram.com/p/BeTiae2F3Yk/? utm_source=ig_embed
BARCELONA (3rd visit) – Is within official Spanish borders but they are Castilian. They speak Catalan and Spanish. Sagrada Familia – Some might recognize this from the end of Dan Brown’s book, Origins. The beginning takes place in Bilbao at the Guggenheim Museum. None of this is spoiler information if you haven’t read. We got in today without a line. The security was tighter than the airport. The guard examined my key fob, made sure the metal in my pocket was an umbrella and told me to put the whistle away that I had fastened to the outside of my purse. The last time we came here, maybe six years ago, they weren’t so strict. Never mind. The audio tour and the grounds are magnificent. The light that filters through the stained glass is like none other. No, I should say, the place is like no other with all the organic shapes and stories portraying Christ’s life. I loved coming all those years ago, and I loved it today. It’ amazing that Sagrada will be complete on the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026. There was a place to sit for prayers, and I sat right down to have a few. I hope to return in the future. Each visit, I feel inspired to carry on. Check this website or others to have a look- https://sagradafamilia.org/en/home
Gaudí Architecture– On this trip we only walked by Antoni Goudi’s buildings, on previous visits to the city we went inside them. They are all fluid and organic. In the US, when we say something is gaudy, it is not a complimentary word to attribute to his name. It’s a shame because his work is fabulous. I’d love to live in a house that looks so organic with curved walls, tiles, and everything Gaudí.
Walking, walking. Down by the marina, there are ‘super yachts’ more like cruise ship made by a company called Heesen. On the more conservative side of the marina are sailboats of more manageable sizes for self-navigation. There is a walkway around all these hosts shopping and eating establishments. There’s also a Maritime Museum and a few amusements for children.
The green parakeets that we saw in Seville and Malaga appeared again. This group had small circular tags around their necks that resembled the type one would put on a cat. They can be found in Parc de la Ciutadella, where the 1929 World’s Fair was held. We meandered through the paths on either side of a narrow grass-covered open space surrounded by closed cultural buildings. We ended up sitting by the pond filled with various species of birds, which included the parakeets who comically grabbed chunks of bread from large pigeons.
The famous Las Ramblas is worth one walk-thru to see the sale stands and places to eat with street entertainers as long as you mind your purse and wallet. During the winter, there seem to be fewer pickpockets and more vagrants who sadly are indeed the real thing. They live on a parallel street to Las Ramblas and other places in the city where they can find sheltered areas under buildings eves.
Random bits – There are a few Marijuana shops in the city, and it’s not unusual to smell the aroma in the air while randomly walking around. If you like puzzles, there’s a shop that has them from front to back ranging in designs from 500 to 40,000 pieces. There is at least one road with independent and current artist’s work displayed in galleries. Our wanders took us randomly to a large ornate metal building that housed an archaeological site, with no entrance fee, called El Born Centre de Cultura & Memória that contains the foundations of many from the 1700s market. Other places we found were the first century BC Roman Temple of Augustus columns hidden within a modern building. At one time the columns had apartments wrapped around them for the sake of history, not practicality.
Food- There are Tapas (small plates) eating establishments all over town. Since we’ve been in Spain for quite a while, we didn’t go to many in Barcelona. It’s challenging to find places that are economical and authentic – Nola’s was delicious; we went two times. Instead of ordering from pictures on a menu, there were fresh dishes behind glass on the counter where we could make our choices. We also tried a chain called Frankfurt that features German sausages; no surprise, they weren’t as good as Germany, but they were a change of pace. We enjoyed an Asian place called Hot Pot, where we cooked our soup on a hotplate at the table with ingredients we selected from the menu (like the Melting Pot chain in Maryland where you dip/cook your fondue). Be warned Hot Pot’s hot spiced selection is scorching, order the least spicy and add spices from the optional spice buffet. My hubby was sweating and coughing from his first taste of medium hot.
The big hit in Barcelona was the craft beer establishments; particularly, one called Craft Beer and the other, Bier Cab. The latter had a viewing window to observe the chef, which was an enjoyable experience without having to pay for a ‘cooking class’ as he was quite precise in his methodology. Everything was presented on the plates like a 5-star. I could go on for pages explaining as I was enchanted. If you want a cooking class, we passed by a place that is worth looking into http://www.cookandtaste.net
SIDE TRIP; MONTSERRAT – requires a day of dedicate travel on city transportation. A ticket can be purchased for round trip travel via the information booth at Plaza D’Espana metro in Barcelona. I saw some tour-buses but don’t know anything about bus or car transportation up to the site. There are several rail-car options to choose from in the summer, but in the winter, there is only one. The green Funicular car took us up the steep hill to the monastery. Then there is a hike up to the top of the mountain. We got confused about the ticket because it was different than other metro tickets. Thus far, we just put the card in the turn-style to enter, at the exit we walked through. For this situation, we needed the card to enter and exit at Plaza D’Espana. When we arrived, there were mountains around the monastery. We tagged into a crowd of people and entered the back where the Black Virgin sat on an alter. This was quite a treat and monitored closely by the guard who tagged closely behind us and closed one door after the other as we went along. On the way, we got a quick glimpse of the inside of the church through the wrought iron gated walls.
SIDE TRIP; TARRAGONA – It’s a small town on the beach, but slightly inland it feels like a typical Old Town from any place in Spain. It’s a great place to take a break from a big city with sites, good food, and ocean walks. We stayed in an Airbnb in the square of a pedestrian zone (Plaza Uncibay) with many cafes. In the back alley, there are several pizza places as well as Moroccan restaurants. We went a few blocks away to a pizza place called Pizza Amarcord that was unlike any other. The proprietor spoke almost no English, this is unusual, and he helped us order four different samples of pizza to go with our beer and gave a complimentary shot of Lemon-cello after we ate. Hand signals, a partially English menu, and the internet helped. The reviews online were 4.6, I only mention because several places we’ve been to during this trip did not meet the rating standards that were listed, or they were out of business or closed for the winter. This particular place was just as reviewed. The proprietor was charming. I mentioned the internet; our AirBnB place in Tarragona does not have internet, which is the first time this has occurred. After getting over it, there’s more time to read or write without the internet as a distraction. I started reading The Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving.