Adios España

Ok…. so we’re sitting at the airport waiting to board which means that we are at the end of this leg and the end of the whole epic trip. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the people following along, all the people who commented on the blog and on Facebook – knowing that people are reading makes it all worth while.

Tomorrow in Barcelona looks set to be utter chaos with major strikes, more marches and protests and apparently there are marches into Barcelona from outlining towns in Catalunya – so although we’re sad that it is all going on, we’re also very pleased to be going home.

So…. The highlights:

Jenny: in no certain order – The Douro Valley, Porto, the Coimbra University, Seville, the old Jewish Quarters, the history, the buildings, the food (in the beginning, when we weren’t sick of it), the tours and the lovely guides, the little walled towns, I’ve had my fill of cathedrals, but I have to say The Alhambra (Grenada) and the Mezquita (Cordoba) were my faves, and of course the top of the list is the Sagrada Familia, making the paella, pastel de nata, the weather and sitting outside to people watch.

Shell: in no certain order – everything Me Jenny said + finding me new red shoes and being able to be understood in Spanish.

The lowlights:

We agreed – the smoking and the crowds of tourists (yes, I know we are part of that group, but…

So what have we learned on this trip? We learned that…

  1. Spanish people don’t take a breathe when they talk
  2. the taxi drivers must go to the Stirling Moss School of Taxi Driving
  3. there is no Uber in Barcelona!
  4. restaurants don’t open until 8.30pm +
  5. kids stay up until all hours
  6. you really only need 2-3 outfits when you travel
  7. you should get to the buffet breakfast early
  8. and that you shouldn’t overload on breakfast in case you find tasty morsels when you’re out and about
  9. we love Ruby port wine
  10. noise cancelling headphones are a necessity to everybody’s personal safety

DOORS! DOORS! GET YA DOORS!

For those regular followers, you’ll know that I love a door, but rather than peppering the blog with shots of doors and their knockers throughout each post, I thought I would save them all for one post at the end…. If you don’t love doors, there is nothing for you to see here.

Door lovers, enjoy…

And here are the knockers, handles and peep windows…

And some tiles….

You’re welcome.

There’s no place like home

Today – our last full day in Barcelona, and indeed our whole trip, we went in a different direction. I like to take the backstreets. It gets you away from the crowded tourist spots and you always find hidden treasures… and today was no exception. We went out in search for shoes. Spain produces some lovely shoes and Me Jenny had been holding out until we got here so we didn’t have to carry extra things in our suitcase…. also because in all the shoe shops we’d seen so far – they all had winter stock in and we were after something a little lighter.

We finally found a shop that had exactly what Me Jenny had been after, however, we experienced what can only be described as the rudest shoe salesperson we have ever encounted, who couldn’t even take her finger off the trigger on the Dyson she was pushing around our feet for the two seconds it took for us to ask to try a size…. she just rolled her eyes and kept on vaccing… so with that, we spun on the comfy shoes we were already wearing and sighed deeply knowing that our shoe journey was probably over….. then we took a spontaneous back street…

And we found these!!!! I love them. Handmade right here in Barcelona. Mine are on the left and Me Jenny went for a more sedate pretty pair…

Each morning for the whole trip we have had a sizeable brekky to set us up for the day, and then each day we’ve come across something delicious looking, but we couldn’t try it, because we weren’t hungry…. each morning we said, ‘shall we just have a light brekky today?’ and each day we had a similar amount….. not like ‘big breakfast’ size, but enough to make you not hungry for a few hours….

Table decorations in the breakfast room

Anyway, today we said it and we meant it. Just a little light something and then as soon as we found our shoes, we turned a corner and there was an empanada shop! We’ve seen these all over Spain and wanted to try one, but never did because… breakfast!

Not today…. we shared a little ham and cheese number and it was delicious.

There is a sign on the wall that says: “As they can be eaten with the hands, it is unforgivable to use a knife and fork.” I agree.

And some amazing art – is there no end to the use of a coat hanger? We sat here and admired this artwork while we ate our empanada.

There has been a lot of talk about Christopher Columbus on this trip. Each guide we spoke to told us that he had done something or other in the building we were in. He met with Queen Isabella in this palace…. He sat with the priests in this room…. etc… And here he at the end of Las Ramblas pointing to something else he did – The Americas.

We found ourselves a lovely spot for lunch overlooking the marina and had glasses of Rose that were nearly as big as our heads…

And Jenny picked out which boat she would like for her birthday…

Tonight I had booked a special birthday dinner for Me Jenny at a Michelin Star tapas restaurant Called Bodega 1900. The reviews were fab and it looked like it would be a great experience.

So I donned my new ruby slippers for the occasion and Me Jenny popped on her new top…

And here was what we tried…

  • special liquid olives
  • razor clams
  • tuna with a tomato and onion sauce (this one tasted way better than it looked, therefore no photo)
  • 3 day cured, thinly sliced beef
  • tomato bread (a staple in Spain)
  • calamari sandwich with aioli and ‘special sauce’
  • calamari with squid ink
  • meatballs

Then we had cheesecake, but that was gone before I could get a photo!

From the street, you walk through the front part, which has a couple of small tables and a bar along the wall where you can sit and on the right hand side, they are preparing the cold dishes…

Then through the doorway, you go through to the bar on the right and the table area before the kitchen where they prepare the hot dishes.

You can choose to have the ‘surprise’ menu where the waitperson/chef choose 10 dishes for you or you can just choose from the menu…. We were a bit concerned that we’d get something we didn’t like, but if you choose for yourself and you don’t like it, you’ve only got yourself to blame, so that’s what we did.

Everything was delicious. Happy Birthday me Jenny.

A day with Mr Gaudi

Yesterday we hit the town to look at one of the major things that Barcelona is famous for – Mr Antoni Gaudi.

In most of our hotels our room as been miles away from the lift, or through a couple of miles worth of tunnels…. but in this one – we we’re good to go – I’ve taken this photo from the doorway of our room. Thank you Hotel Colon!

First we found the Place Reál where some of Gaudi’s first works are on display – the lamp posts for example.

Then we stopped at the La Boqueria Markets. Last time I was here with my lovely friend Felicity, they were closed on the only day we had free…. so that was a bit saddening – but this put a smile on my face (and hopefully hers too!)

Then we cruised the streets making our way up to our destination – the Casa Batlló. I loved this image of the pretty Vespa trying to fit in with the big black motors.

The yellow ribbons are for the Catalan Independence…

The line wasn’t huge, but it was still existent…. I’d been in before and Me Jenny wasn’t keen on all the stairs – especially at €25 a ticket, so we just admired her from the outside. How do you think this design would fit on the canals in Mandurah or along Chapman Road in Gero?

A couple of blocks up the street is another of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The bottom and the roof top are a museum, but the rest is residential apartments…. Imagine living there!

I love the curved lines in all his buildings… this shop down the street a bit obviously also loves the curves!

We sat down to have a caña along our way and we asked the chap behind the counter if he had beer and what Me Jenny and I both heard was, “Yes, we have Australian beer.” “Really, what kind?” was my reply. “Australian. Australian”, is what we thought he said, confused as to what we meant. So I went over the taps to see and this (pic below) was the only tapped beer they had…. Now say that with a Spanish accent. Goodness, we laughed – well Me Jenny and I did – the guy didn’t know what was so funny.

Our Gaudi day tour next lead us to the masterpieces of all masterpieces – The Sagrada Familia. We had tickets for a 4pm guided, skip the line tour – skip the lines tours are my favourites…. the guided part – although our chap had some interesting information, sometimes it’s just nice to get in and soak it in by yourself.

So this church started being built in 1882. Gaudi wasn’t actually the original architect – there was another bloke who after a year pulled the plug and they gave it to Gaudi, who was only 30 at the time. For the first year, he followed the first guy’s plans of a modest, single tower church and then decided to scrap that idea and start again.

When Gaudi died in 1926 only a quarter of the church had been completed. he was 73 when he died (hit by a tram!) so he knew that he was never going to see it completed, but the builders were going to follow his carefully laid out plans – all drawn up with sketches, notes, and plaster models, etc…. until 10 years later in 1936 during the Spanish civil war, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and the broke into Gaudi’s workshop destroying a lot of his plans. It took 16 years just for them to piece together what was left and construction started up again in the 1950s and since then with advanced technology and building techniques and more up to date materials, there are some that say that the design is too far from Gaudi’s original plan, but others who say if Gaudi were alive today, he would’ve be a fan of progression and would have wanted to use what technology was available to him.

This is what it’s meant to look like when it’s finished… 18 towers – 12 for the apostles, one each for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (they get the ones with the winged creatures), one for Mary (she gets the one with the star) and the tallest of for Jesus (he gets the big 3D cross)

This is a model showing what has been built (in grey) and what is yet to be done (in cream)… They’re aiming to be finished by 2023 – the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death….

Just quietly, I think they might be dreaming.

They don’t have any financial assistance from the government nor from the church, they only rely on donations & ticket sales – but with 4 million visitors every year – we worked out that at an average of €37 per ticket – that’s €148,000,000 per year just in ticket sales alone… how many towers can you buy with that much?

This section below is definitely new since last I was here. I’m not sure I love the difference in colour or that it covers up a bit of the original facade, but…. who knows, in the end, maybe it will all look amazing.

This is the facade on the other side…. I’ve always thought this side looks a bit like it’s melting. Originally this side was meant to be painted and those melty bits are actually flowers and plants and animals, but you have to get close to make them out.

The only thing on the front that was ever painted is the tree at the top covered with white doves…

There are also bits and pieces over the years that have fallen off or damaged due to civil war, so they’ve been fixing those as well which is why they are a different colour to the rest of the facade… The Roman soldier lost one of his legs, someone lost a hand and the harp player had to be replaced altogether.

Then we went inside. I love the inside of this church. We’ve seen some churches in our time, and this trip has been no exception, but I love this one because it is sooo different. The stained glass windows are amazing and have been designed in those colours to capture the sun at different times of the day, and they have writing included paying homage to saints, holy places, etc… The pillars are designed to look like trees in a forrest; the winged bull is one of 4 winged creature statues statues a bull, a lion, a person’s head and an eagle which will go on the top of the 4 towers.

Outside on the first side we looked at we could get a closer look at some of the statues… The ones on this side are truely depressing! They represent the stations of the cross – this one for example is when Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (even the rooster got a gurnsey!)

Last time I was here I purchased a fridge magnet like this below and for the life of me I couldn’t remember what the numbers meant…. So today I found out (possibly for a second time?) that each row of numbers adds up to 33 – the age Jesus was when he died.

A quick look in the gift shop on the way out and I’m telling you – I keep seeing signs for the Camino – whether it be markers on the ground or words in stain glassed windows – I’m definitely being called….

After being completely Gaudi’d out, we returned again to our hotel to look at our own cathedral… with the Gaudi Museum in front of it!!! There’s no getting away in this city.

And as we are thoroughly sick to death of Spanish tapas food…. we found some Japanese noodles #grateful!

Happy Birthday to Me Jenny

Today is Me Jenny’s birthday….. we’re going to see if we can find her some Spanish shoes and then we have a special tapas dinner for a special lady at a special tapas restaurant that has a Michelin Star!!!

Me Jenny should have her own Michelin Star just for being so fabulous.

Um….

Three hour train journey from Valencia to Barcelona – all was normal. We noticed a few stops out of Barcelona that there were police at one of the stops and a crowd of what looked like students, but didn’t think anything of it. When we got to the the Barcelona train station, we hopped off the train – everything still normal, then we got to the door to find a taxi and were met with a crowd of people and about 200 armed police surrounding the entrances to the building. First we thought maybe it was climate change activists. There didn’t seem like a lot going on, but with that many police we thought it best to move away from the area quick smart.

So we got to the taxi line along with approx 2000 other people all lining up patiently for a taxi – of which there were none! We stood and watched for about 10 minutes and 2 cabs pulled up so we made the decision to start walking in the direction of our hotel and away from the station thinking we’d hail a cab on the street.

We walked for a bit and then found another taxi stop. We stood and waved at quite a few, but they were either occupied already, or they drove straight past. We were a bit far from walking distance from our hotel and so with two suitcases and Me Jenny, walking the whole way there was out of the question. We gave a final wave and were again ignored, we turned to start walking down the street a little more and a taxi pulled up, calling out to us – he’d essentially flagged us down! We jumped in and in our best Spanglish, tried to ask what the hell was going on a the station and that’s when we learned that today, of all days, was the day that the sentencing had been given for the 9 politicians of the Catalan Independence Party and the followers of that party were not happy Jan!

Here’s a bit of brief history from what I can understand:

In 2017 Catalonya’s Independent party – who wanted to become a republic away from Spain bungled a vote to do with becoming independent… they didn’t do things lawfully and were initially charged with ‘rebellion’, ‘sedition’ and ‘misappropriating funds’ – the bigger charge of ‘rebellion’ was dropped, but they were all found guilty of the other two charges. Their fate has been discussed for the past 2 years, but today all 9 of members who were involved were sentenced to prison terms ranging between 9 & 13 years – pretty harsh in the eyes of most people, but especially their loyal supporters – 100s of 1000s of them, and they all took to the streets and more seriously – to the airport to share their disapproval.

Pic: El Pais

It was chaos! The police blocked the roads to the airport, so the protesters walked the 16km distance – it took them 3 hours, so the police were well prepared by the time they got there. Riot Police.

When we first arrived and finally go the cab our driver explained in arm flailing Catalonian (which is easier to understand) what was going on and that he would try to get us as close to our hotel as he could as all the roads were blocked, so he dropped us on Las Ramblas and then just gave arm waving directions. I had been to the square before, so was ok with where we were going…. then as the afternoon progressed, we wandered around for a bit and there didn’t seem to be anything else going on.

The feeling in the street for us was like they had a protest earlier on in the day, but that it had finished and everybody had gone home. We had a bit of tapas, looked around, but then when we got back to or hotel to sit and look at the cathedral, we heard the chanting and the cheering and the singing of what we learned was the Catalonian national anthem.

The view from our room…. at least we had something lovely to look at during the ‘troubles’

We could’ve been listening to a footy game from outside the stadium. There were police everywhere and helicopters flying overhead.

We weren’t sure if these were extra protests that had happened on the fly after the announcement of the sentences or if they were preplanned on top of the earlier marches – just in case the sentencing went south. We didn’t know how long they would go on for or how long they were going to occupy the airport for – we’re flying out in 3 days. There was utter chaos at the airport with quite a lot of people injured by the police brutality – many of the instances were filmed and uploaded straight to Twitter. It was horrifying!

This was at the airport Pic: NBC News

We considered our options – would we try to get a train to Madrid and fly out of there? Would we just stay in our hotel until Thursday? We emailed our lovely travel agent – Lyn Tyson (seriously, book her for all your travel needs – she’s awesome…. and how much of a relief it is to know she is a phone call away if things like this happen)

The noise we could hear from our hotel went on until about midnight and then when I got up to check at about 12.30am, the street was empty and the city was in silence.

Then today we woke up it was like nothing had happened! People were getting about their business, going on tours, eating tapas, sipping sangria, shopping, and going to work…. Nobody that we spoke to mentioned it at all.

Pic: Fodors

After yesterday I can’t imagine that that is the end of it and that there will probably be more protesting to come, but hopefully by then, we’ll be well and truely back in sunny Mandurah eating something other than tapas!

Fear not dear friends and family – I’m looking after Me Jenny and we are keeping ourselves extremely safe, avoiding major squares where people might gather and staying relatively close to our hotel area. Also the amount of police that are in the city should be making us feel safer. We have one more day, then we’re on our way home.

The river runs dry!

Our final tour in Valencia was to the City of Arts & Sciences. Valencia used to have a river running through the centre that used to flood all the time and after the last time in the 1950s they decided to divert the river around the city (flooding rivers seem to be a theme in Spain!). Anyway, they were left with an enormous dry river bed and didn’t quite know what to do with it.

They couldn’t just leave it as a gaping hole in the ground – it went for 9kms through the city. The choice was to make it a multi lane highway or an open public space….. so over the space or 30 years, they have made it into the most awesome open public space. Running tracks, playgrounds, walking/bike paths, baseball & football fields, ponds & fountains, a performance space…

… and this – the City of Arts and Sciences, which is an architectural marvel.

The second half of our tour was to be wined and dined by Nick, our chef who presented us with a 10 course degustation tapas dinner with matching wines on the top floor of Valencia’s tallest building.

The views weren’t too bad….

Then the sun went down and all the lights came on…

Then like clockwork – the moon came up and she was a beauty. It was one of those moons that were really red and full and so clear that you could see the little American flag not waving…. almost. But naturally, you can’t take good photos of the moon with your iPhone. It just doesn’t do it any justice.

But in real life, it just got better and better.

Our group consisted of a couple (one from the USA, who spoke a bit of Spanish and the other from Estonia – English speaking); a couple from Romania (he spoke a little bit of English, a more Spanish, she spoke both languages well); 3 older siblings from Spain who only spoke Spanish and us.

So, we wondered what was going to happen over dinner with this big language barrier, but thought that there were enough people with both Spanish and English that we should all get along well.

However…. the couple from Romania didn’t speak to anyone except each other, the Spanish trio spoke a little bit to each other, but not much and the man from USA talked solidly and exclusively about himself in English to us.

I tried desperately to use google translate to communicate with my table mate – one of the Spanish ladies which was funny even it if wasn’t successful, and so in my very broken one word Spanish and a bit of mime, we had a laugh together. It wasn’t until half way through the dinner that we learned Mr USA could speak Spanish and he spent what time he wasn’t regaling us with his achievements, letting the Spanish speakers know which part of his achievements they’d missed out on. He asked no questions. Maybe his knowledge of Spanish (and English) was limited to “I” statements only.

Anyway….. besides that little snippet, it was a lovely evening with a great view and delicious food….. and I may have a new best friend from Pamplona.

Paella time!

Today, as the title of today’s blog suggests – we were going to learn to make paella…. hopefully better than the one we had yesterday! We walked from the hotel through the old town to get to the school and passed some lovely buildings and parks along the way…

First we had to have a group photo… Sure we look happy to be in this pic… nothing unusual in this one… it’s only the beginning…

We followed our host – Orla (from Ireland) to the Centre Market to buy our ingredients… on the way there we passed a small square with this mural. It looks like an opera singer in a big frock standing in a paella pan…. I quipped to Me Jenny – ‘oh, aren’t you lucky that you didn’t decide to wear that today? That would have been embarrassing’, and a lady walking next to me said, ‘Oh, no, I think it’s an opera singer…. in a paella pan.’ Um…..

The Central Market has been around for yonks and is apparently the biggest undercover market in the all of Europe. I don’t know how they check these things… is that somebody’s job? I could do that job.

Anyway, the symbol or mascot of the Central Market in Valencia is the Cockatoo. That’s right, there’s one a the top of the building and in the logo. Apparently it’s because of the sound of the market – lots of chatter. Do cockatoos do a lot of chattering in Spanish? Maybe they do.

This market would have to be the freshest that Me Jenny and I have seen thus far. A lot of the stalls were closed today because it was a national holiday, but there was enough for us to do some purchasing. It used to hold over 1000 tiny stalls, but now there are approx 400, and they’re now a bit bigger.

We’ll just get a pic of that moment that we all climb the steps…. Me Jen and I are working our way to the back…

Orla went stall by stall and explained each of the ingredients and why you use one thing rather than another in a traditional paella.

And we’ll just get a photo of each stall we visit…. Can you spot us here? Major points if you can.

What about in this one?

Or here? (I think this one is my favourite)

Traditional Valencian paella, just so you know is made with chicken and rabbit and then beans, then you have your seafood version and a vegetarian/vegan version. Our group was making all three which are all prepared a little differently and Me Jenny and I opted for seafood.

In this tray of snails they were mostly sleeping, but there was one rogue dude who had climbed to the top of the basket, had a look over, contemplated his escape and then turned back around… Obviously I’m guessing that’s what he did – that would have taken an hour to stand and watch! I caught him on the downslide and made a guess at the rest.

We walked back to the school and donned our chef’s outfits… not too shabby. Me Jenny looked a little like she was going fishing in a dinghy before we did hers up at the back.

In the kitchen our ingredients were all set out for us and our paella pans (the pan is actually just called ‘paella’- apparently you call the food after the instrument.)

We met our Chef, Carolina who was a riot. She only spoke Spanish, so Orla translated everything, but Carolina was so animated that you could pretty much tell what she was saying….

Then we got cooking. It was chaotic and we didn’t always know what was happening, but it was good fun, and by the end….. I think this bottom photo shows the exact time that I asked Me Jenny if she had any idea what Chef Carolina had just said and Me Jenny replied, “nooooo!”

… and le voilà! That’s ours at the front.

Naturally we danced around the paella…..

Then we did a bit of posing with our paellas, then we got stuck in!

We were awarded a certificate that says “non professional” paella maker – just in case you tried to add it onto your resume… I tried to make my chef’s hat like Carolinas… I think I pulled it off.

And that was our day….. but not before one more group pic… front and centre for the finale.

Now that we’re experts…. who wants paella?

Let’s go fly a kite

This was the carpet that we walked on between the lift and our room in our Madrid hotel – it took 130 steps – Me Jenny counted (every time). Lucky it was pretty carpet…..

Then we hit the train station ready to head east(ish) to the coast – to Valencia.  I’ve got to say – I LOVE train travel and wish the we had it in WA.  Although the train is so fast here, I want it to go for longer.  Today we travelled at 300+ kms ph!  I only just barely got into my audio book and it was time to pack up and get off.

We got to our hotel and thought as we were on the coast, we should hit the beach – or at least a bar/restaurant near the beach. We asked a young chap at reception for a restaurant recommendation in an area near the marina. He suggested a place about 3kms north off the marina and we just went with it.

So it turns out that the place the young chap recommended was a bit run down, dirty and the table tops weren’t entirely attached the bottoms….. so we went two restaurants down … After deciphering what the hell “duckling grilled octopus” was – turns out it was octopus hearts – don’t you love google translate?

We tasted our first seafood paella. It was ok, but wasn’t as spectacular as we were hoping for. It seemed to lack ingredients. Maybe a muscle or two?  The traditional paella in Valencia has chicken, rabbit & beans, but we were by the sea, so it seemed like the ideal situation to try a seafood paella.  Also – just FYI, the word ‘paella’ refers to the pan in which the paella is cooked.  Did you know that?  We didn’t.

We were lucky enough to be entertained by this lovely chap giving his best “Girl from Ipanema” in Spanish.

When we’d finished we wandered back down the pathway towards the marina….. mainly to walk off the paella, but also do have a squizz at what goes on down here and to get us closer to a taxi…

People were using the beach for all sorts of activities…

Firstly, there were these wooden slatted paths, for people to shower on the beach, but then they don’t have to walk on the sand again – ingenious! Also great for wheelchair users.

In the 2-3kms we walked there were climbing equipment for kids, volleyball nets – like 25 of them – that’s a whole open air arena! There were also were cafes a plenty, places where you could learn to surf, paths wide enough for bikes and scooters, joggers and slow walkers. There were even basketball rings – I’m not sure how people would get a game going on the sand though???  It was late afternoon when people would have finished work and taking their ‘siesta’ – which doesn’t have to mean sleep… it really just means break from work.

We stopped to sit and watch these amazing kites flying.  There were two chaps controlling one each and they were mesmerising to watch…

There was a sandcastle – how amazing is this?  This is ‘sandcastle busking’ – a chap built it and then put the hat out the front to collect money from lookers….. 

IMG_5777

If you zoom in you’ll see he’s added his own drama…

IMG_5778

It’s a shame that I had just given all my change to this guy…

So after a couple of small cañas listening to this chap, we found the taxi rank and headed home… passing this statue in the middle of a roundabout !?  Any thought as to what the hell it might be?

IMG_5782

Welcome to Valencia!

The rhythm is gonna getcha

Our last day in Madrid. No tours, no early get ups, just an easy wander around and maybe we’ll buy some shoes? Who knows?

Me Jenny had read about a square not far from us that had a flower market. We found it on the map and headed in that direction. When we got there, we thought, oh bless…. there’s one stall….

… but as we walked in further, we saw that there were exactly 4 stalls. All a bit sad really, even though the colours were pretty and the flowers were pretty cheap!

The other night on our tapas tour we visited a stall in the Mercado de San Miguel. It has some history that is too drawn out to go into, but now it’s a tapas haven, full of tapas bars and seating for people to try different things. It’s a bit pricey, but it was all good. On the tour we only visited one stall and it was really crowded, so we decided to go back before the Spanish go for lunch and have another crack.

Here were some of the little delicious delicacies on offer…

There is some seating – but ALL taken, so most people just stand at the bar have a drink and quick bite and move on.

Then it was shoe shopping time.

With a pair of shoes for Me Jenny in hand, it was decided that we would take the long way home through the area we went on our tapas tour, but this time in the day time and down some streets that we hadn’t been before.

There were some groovy restaurant fronts…

And interesting murals…

Once home for a small siesta, we were jolted by the sound of drums and chanting. Out our window we watched the parade for World Mental Heath Day go by.

On our last night in Madrid decided to head back to Casa Alberto – one of the tapas bars we visited with our tapas guide, but again, we decided we were going to get there earlier than local Spanish people would turn up. This time we got a table and and it was a much more relaxing experience… even if the tables are so close together that you literally have to sit hip to hip with people behind you.

The way this place was run was fantastic, as were the people who frequent it (local Spanish people or people like us trying to fit in). There was no pushing and shoving, there were no loud yobbos – people were respectful and waited patiently – like they all knew the rules and knew that they weren’t going to miss out. Also the people working there were like a fine tuned machine. One person behind the bar and one person in front (and a couple roaming around). They knew where everybody was, what they’d ordered, what they were waiting on and where they were up to in their tapas experience. It was great to watch and be a part of. We also had some lovely tapas and a complimentary drink to finish – not sure what it was, but it was delicious.

Let me just talk to you briefly about the ‘rhythm’ in Spain…

7am-9am – breakfast
by 12pm (obviously starving, but not saying anything!)
2pm-4pm – lunch
6pm-9.30pm (not one bit hungry, then after 9.30pm too tired to think about eating!)
8.30pm-10.30pm – dinner

It’s no wonder so many primary school aged kids want to move to Spain. I’ve not directly asked any, but I’m sure they would when they discover that kids go to school from 9 until 2pm, then they go home for their lunch (2pm-4pm). However some other schools (depending on the area and school) go from 9am to 5pm with a 2 hour lunch break, so that might not be as enticing. But then they’re out and about with their parents in restaurants at 9 or 10pm for their dinner (some probably even later, but we were home in bed by then, so we wouldn’t know!). Some restaurants don’t even open their doors until 9pm. I’m sure that some families are eating in their own homes, but we didn’t witness that.

We asked one of our guides in Seville about the lateness and she couldn’t see a problem with it. “The kids go to bed by 11pm – they get 8 hours sleep a night. How much more do they need?” she said. Probably more than that is what I thought, but didn’t say out aloud and also – if kids are up until 11pm – when do the grown ups have quiet time?

Since we arrived in Spain we’ve been trying to eat like Spaniards – pushing lunch back until 3ish and then not eating again until about 8.00pm (which is still super early for people here). I can’t imagine that flying when we get home! #kitchenisclosed

This was a scene that we came across on the way home from our tapas meal at about 9.30pm. I think these poor babies were tired and ready to go home, but they sat there patiently waiting until their selfish, late eating human was finished (well I assume they did – we would have been home in bed by then!)

How mean! 😦

The lucky butt

Today’s cultural activity was a walking tour of old Madrid and then a tour of the Palace Real. Me Jenny and I don’t love a large group tour, so have opted for small groups or private tours when we can. I don’t enjoy wearing the ear piece and I hear better when I can see the guide’s face/lips… I find that in large groups the guide has to walk and talk, otherwise they’d get nowhere and I miss most of what’s being said.

And…. a first for us today – our small group consisted of us and a lovely Spanish speaking couple from Argentina, so our guide had to say everything twice – once in Spanish and then again in English. It probably made the tour twice as long as it needed to be.

So we started walking towards the palace, but just to see where we would go later on…. that’s the queue for people to get in – and that’s only half of them!

This tour really doubled up on a lot of information that a guide from the tapas tour told us in relation to the history of who was here and when the christians took over, etc… This chap below (don’t know if he’s somebody significant, our guide didn’t know) but he’s looking at an ancient wall from the Moorish times that they have preserved under glass…. whoever he is, rubbing his butt obviously brings you luck!

We also learned that the symbol of the city is the bear climbing up the ‘strawberry tree’. It never occurred to me that Spain would have bears, but apparently, they’re out there in the forests.

You can tell that this section of the city has ‘Moorish’ history because of how close the buildings are to each other. They loved a narrow street – making it shady for the people, and also having narrow windy streets was a defence tactic.

Having a tour in both Spanish and English really highlights how many more words are needed to explain something in Spanish. Spanish needs about 3-4 minutes of non stop words and then English 15-20 seconds – tops!

Here our guide is telling our Argentinian friends something in Spanish while Me Jenny and I stood aside and discussed why short pantaloons were invented.

If it looks like these buildings are on a bit of a lean, that’s because they are!

At the bottom of the curved street is the oldest restaurant in the world. 1725 is apparently when they opened their doors and they have the Guinness Book of Records certificate to prove it.

In the window they have a miniature dolls house version of the inside of the restaurant, so you can see that it goes over 3 levels. You can also see the miniature version of the kitchens.

It’s not a cheap place to eat – maybe for a special occasion? Probably safe to say that they are not the original prices.

In one of the main squares on the city – Plaza del Sol there is a building that used to be the post office and just outside on the pavement is this marker. It is their point of centre. Every street in Madrid (or possibly Spain, if you go by the map) is measured from this point. The streets are all numbered from this square as well, so Calle 1 is pretty close and if you’re after Calle 48, you’ve probably got a bit a walk ahead of you.

Street performers are having to step it up a notch here. I don’t know how long these two people had to do this for, but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the money? A bit more inventive though that the standing statue.

Once we finished our walking tour, we headed back to the tour office to meet with some more people (!!!!) to do our palace tour. That’s right – more people and you know what that means…..

I guess the one good thing about going with a group is that you get to enter through the group entrance which is generally quicker.

So this is the palace – the royal family don’t live here anymore, but they do hold banquets and royal ‘do’s’ here on occasion.

You would think though with all their dough, that they’d do something about their shutters!

There’s a massive courtyard out the front and to the left the palace looks directly at the Cathedral – so when royals get married they do it in the Cathedral and then zip across to the palace for the shindig after.

So our tour group had about 30 people. ½ Spanish speakers and ½ English speakers. Our guide did a great job of flicking between both languages however there was a lot to say about each section of the palace, and as I explained Spanish seems to take about 5 times longer to get the information across, and when she did start the English version, she moved straight on into it, so you always missed the first few sentences trying to work out which language she was speaking in.

So since we were missing most of the information and there was a lot of standing around waiting in a very crowded palace, we thanked our guide, handed our ear pieces back and bid her adios. There were English signs in each room telling you what you needed to know… The palace started off quite sedate, but as you moved from room to room it got more ridiculously ornate (that rhymes!).

The one thing that I did hear her say is that the man in the painting below had a very big nose and that’s how you recognised him. I can’t tell you who he is though.

So whilst we sat in a square nearby with a caña (beer) in hand, we wondered which room in the palace our group would be up to….

Then we slowly wandered home stopping for lunch at a place that our tapas guide recommended. It was a wine/tapas bar with a groovy vibe. People came in and stood at this centre table, had a glass of wine and a tapas plate of something, then went on their way. The turn over is amazing.

… and lucky us – we found white asparagus again, so we took our time.

Talking about Tapas

One of our organised tours in Madrid was a walking tapas tour which we were muy excited about. Our guide, a lovely French/Irish chap living in Madrid who looked a little like Bradley Cooper in the right light walked us around a few different areas of the city to show us different types of tapas. I was clearly very engrossed in what he was saying or the food was so good because I didn’t take any photos!

Part of the tour took us to the main square – the Plaza Mayor, which needs a tiny bit of interesting history…

Originally, Toledo was the capital of Spain, and even before that it was a Moorish city. Madrid was just a small military outpost that the Moors set up to protect Toledo from the Christians.

Felipe II decided to move the capital to Madrid in 1561 because he thought that the church and nobility had too much of a stronghold in Toledo, and he wanted more control. Maybe that’s where the saying “Holy Toledo!” came from?

Just on the outside of the city wall there was a market where people would sell their goods and because the weren’t technically in the city, they didn’t have to pay any taxes, so King Filipe II decided to build the 3 other walls to make the Plaza Mayor a square and thus, they were now in the city and had to cough up the dough.

In the centre of the Plaza Mayor there is a statue of Filipe III atop his horse, commissioned in the 1600s. In April 1931, during the Second Republic, the statue was damaged at the hands of some antimonarchists when they popped an explosive into the horses mouth. It was blown apart, however the most curious part came next… the explosion scattered hundreds of little bones around the square and people freaked out thinking it was possibly the spirit of Filipe III, but on closer inspection they found that the bones were from little birds who had, over the centuries, sought shelter in the horse’s mouth (and belly, which was hollow), but once they flew in, they couldn’t get back out and so the inside of the horse became a  cemetery of little birds.

When they repaired the statue, they made the horse’s mouth closed so that this tragedy would never be repeated.

Anyway, back to the tapas!

We went to quite a few places that sold traditional tapas dishes. For example there was one place that sold only bacalao (cod). Two men behind a bar and one bloke in the kitchen deep frying the fish and passing out tray after tray, then the men behind the bar would put two pieces on a plate and doll them out to customers with a tall thimble of wine. People stand at the bar, eat their fish, down the wine, have a chat with their mates and then move on. This place has been here since time began…

Below is a tapas bar called “Albertos” and it was this busy the whole time we were there. The tables are tiny and not frequently empty. It’s a first in first served basis at the front part of the bar and a sit down restaurant at the back where you order full meals, but out the front is all about the tapas. If you don’t have space at the bar it can be difficult to eat and drink and hold your bag at the same time all the while you’re having to move for people trying to get through and waiters carrying plates. I have to say it wasn’t terribly relaxing, but it had the best vibe out of all the places we visited. Me Jenny and I are planning to go back tomorrow night, perhaps a little earlier before the Spanish people get hungry.

A walk in the park

Our first real full day in Madrid… What to do? What to do? We had some tours planned and wanted to try and avoid going over the same ground, so today we decided to have a little look at the Park Retiro.

But first – brekky at the lovely hotel dining room with its magnificent dome…. even the silverware had an arty flair about it…

Then it was out into another glorious day…

The park was only a few blocks over from our hotel, so the walk was lovely in the shade of the buildings, and then we had these lovely long pathways full of statues of past kings and notable people… this bloke is “Sancho – the Brave” – I reckon he might have commissioned this one himself.

The Spanish (especially the Madridians claim that this is the most beautiful park in the world and they could be right!) The park covers 125 hectares and is beautifully kept. A little like New York’s Central Park where tourists and locals come to participate in all sorts of activities. Rollerblading, sport, group activities, you can hire a boat on the lake, take a stroll or just sit with a beer and watch the world go by…

This is the monument of Alfonso the XII opened by his son Alfonso XIII.

And this is the spot where you take your selfies. There were people getting up on the pillars to do their ‘Insta-worthy, – just being natural – just sitting here and somebody took my photo – look away poses’, but Me Jenny wouldn’t be in it!

We strolled right around to the monument to get a closer look… She’s pretty big.

Then we sat on the steps and watched the boats and the ducks and the occasional fish jump out of the water.

This duck was doing a bit of ghosting….

And this one was hightailing it to get in on the boat action. “Susan! I said I DID want to come on the boat!! Wait for me!”

There is this barge boat that does a round of the lake each hour (I think) regardless of whether it has passengers…. these three people had it all to themselves.

In another section of the park there is the Crystal Palace – inspired by the one in London. It was apparently built for exhibitions and not, as you probably first thought, for people who don’t throw stones…

This was a lovely spot to sit and watch…. there was so much action. In the pond there are ducks, geese, swans and turtles then across the pond – on the path you can see in the photo below – there was a. constant parade of action – police on horses, people rollerblading, people stretching and lunging, walking groups, etc…. that’s right, I said lunging.

We also witnessed an attack on a turtle which was despicable…

The turtles were just sitting there, minding their own business in the sun when these two menacing pigeons flew in and eyed them off…

Then one pigeon just flew in and landed on the turtle’s shell! He quickly slipped right off, but still, his intentions were clear.

One final look at this tiny paradise in the middle of one of Europe’s busiest cities.

There are buskers all around the park – most of them very pleasant to listen to, except maybe one chap who was practicing a particular section of one song and he wasn’t going to move on until he got that bit right! These guys were good though.

All that walking lead us to a fairly quiet cafe overlooking the lake where we could partake in a cold beverage…

And have a chat with a local…

Just outside the park and in fact all over the city there are these statues…

The artworks (which come from a 1656 painting by Diego Veláquez called Las Meninas that hangs in the Prado Museum) is the brainchild of Spanish sculptor Antonio Azzato, who designed the sculpture and recruited a group of artists, fashion designers and singers to help decorate the Meninas, which he delivered to them white, like a blank canvas.

Here’s the original painting… Les Meninas means “Ladies in Waiting”

Everything in Spain is the oldest or the biggest or the first…. this fortress gateway is apparently older than the Arc de Triumph in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin…. probably put together!

This is Madrid’s Town Hall! It used to be housed in a fairly ‘towny hally’ looking building up the street a bit, but they clearly needed a few more rooms.

I tell you what the Spanish do well and that’s outside spaces. This walkway is the median strip between two directions of a Main Street. It’s lovely with places to sit, fountains, trees for plenty of shade…. and more importantly our hotel was just at the other end of it.

Made it to Madrid

So the good news is that we got to Madrid…. we managed to check out of the hotel, catch the train and arrive at our Madrid hotel all on the correct day! Phew!

Madrid Hotel – The Westin Palace…. they tried to give us a room with a ‘city view’, which we booked, however ‘city view’ to them actually meant ‘a view IN the city – in this case of the building across the street which was covered with scaffolding and I was having none of that. So a little chat with Elise at reception and she gave us this view of the fountain. Gracias Elise.

We got ourselves organised and then took ourselves out for a walk. I quite like a botanic garden and Me Jenny loves any sort of garden, so that’s the direction we headed.

First we passed the Prado Museum. We’re right in the centre of the cultural world here….. but I think we’ll probably give it a miss. Culture overload!

While staring at this statue and trying to work out who he is…. I offered, “Do you think he might have been a painter?” Me Jenny, “or a lollypop lady?” Who knows?

The botanic gardens seemed to be going through a bit of a transition period with about 80% of the sections needing a lot of work – weeding and cutting back and planting, etc…. I’m no gardener, but I know for €6 each there should have been a fair bit more to look at….

Here are the highlights…

It was a lovely place to sit and do some contemplating though. There were lots of people laying on benches like this reading books or eating their lunch. Perhaps they pay an annual fee to come in each day or maybe if you’re local, you don’t pay?

Me Jenny appreciating a little orchid in the glasshouse.

Then we came across the bonsai section! (Matt – I thought of you immediately) It’s a bit of a shame that they weren’t sitting against a background of a different colour so they stand out more, but there were a hundred of them. So lovely.

After our visit, we stopped off at a cafe for a quick beer and as we were sitting, watching the world go by, I noticed a woman sitting down at the next cafe with her partner. My immediate thought was that I thought I recognised her and my mind went through that whole ‘where would I know her from?’ thing. Then it hit me – this was a woman that I’ve never met in person and have only seen a profile picture on the website of the celebrant association that we both belong to. She lives in Victoria, so we’ve never met, but we have been on the same conference call (which doesn’t help to visually identify a person!). Anyway, I knew that she was in currently in Spain – to walk the Camino de Santiago, so the chances were higher and the more I looked at her, the more certain I was that it was her. So I approached and said, “Hi, sorry to bother you, but do you speak English?” she answered, “Yes.” “Are you Australian?” I continued. “Yes” she said, more curiously. “Are you Leslie from Victoria?” I completed my line of questioning to a look of total confusion as to who the hell this person in front of her was and her partner commented, “Oh for goodness sake!, she knew somebody on the bus yesterday!”

So I explained who I was and we marvelled at how small the world was and how I have a talent for recognising somebody I’ve never met from a photo I’ve only seen a small handful of times in one of the busiest cities in Europe across the other side of the world from where we both live.

I mean what are the chances of that happening? No seriously, I want somebody to do the maths.

We were all just as amazed as this chihuahua!

Umm… Oops!

So yesterday we did our last things and last night we had our last meal in Salamanca – even toasting to our last evening in this beautiful city. We went to bed, setting the alarm with enough time to get up, wash hair and have brekky before our train to Madrid….

We packed our bags and did a double check in the room before heading to reception to check out.

The man at reception asked for our room number and looked very confused when he said, “Um…. we have you here as staying until tomorrow.” “Sorry, what?, but we’re already packed!”

In quadruple checking my paperwork – I realised that he was indeed correct and that we had one more day/night here in beautiful Salamanca.

Sorry Lyn! All your hard work to organise everything into a “Travel for Dummies” folder and we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’ – Me Jenny doesn’t know where we’re going next let alone what date!) and I still stuff it up!

Anyway, the chap at reception and I had a little laugh and we went back to our room to plan out another day in Salamanca. As we thought yesterday was our last day we looked at everything, so we googled really hard to find something we hadn’t seen yet and came up with nothing!

So, we headed for the river. I thought if we walk along one side, we can cross a bridge and walk back down the other side and over the 2,018 year old bridge that we crossed over on our first night here thinking it would be different in the day time.

So we hit the path and got to walking….. This is a car bridge – the one we walked over first on our first night.

Then we followed the path – dodging runners and cyclists and other walkers who were powering on through their Sunday…

And the view was lovely…

We walked for a good 45 minutes before we crossed one of the 6 bridges and walked back along the other side. There were exercise equipment every couple of kms or so which I tried out for exactly the time it took for Me Jenny to take these pictures… (note photographer in bottom right hand corner lol)

… but this side wasn’t as salubrious as the other…. and we found ourselves pretty much alone, walking behind abandoned old factories and then we were all of a sudden on the main road in/out of town! Um… just how far have we walked?

Where the architecture suddenly turned “call the police”…

But we pushed through and found the walking/bike path and we arrived back at the first bridge. From there things were starting to look pretty again.

Jeez I love a good reflection.

Our own Princess Di…

Here’s the old Roman bridge that has apparently been around since the year 1AD!

View from the bridge… there were people everywhere today – walking their dogs (note dog having a swim in the river), jogging, wandering around the city centre in their Sunday best – it was a great day for people watching.

So after checking paperwork again for the 17th time – I think we’re going to Madrid tomorrow.

San Estaban

Our last day in Salamanca, so we thought we’d best go inside and have a look at the San Estaban Convent – it was across the road after all. Now that I’ve seen the astronaut on the cathedral, I’ve been keeping my eye out for any other little quirky additions. There are some very traditional statues on the front of the Convent, but I can’t help but think that these two are perhaps recent additions…. the chap on the left looks a little like a ‘Far Side’ character.

The first thing you see is the King’s Cloister, which is a lovely spot.

Followed by these amazing arched walkways around the outside…

The birds seem to have taken a liking to this building as well… we counted 3 nests.

There’s a lovely harden in the Cloister and they’ve positioned mirrors around so you can see the ceiling details without breaking your neck.

There was something written about ‘living nature’ in the cloisters as it represents a heavenly paradise – I wonder if this an artist’s interpretation of that? It also looks like it could be a take on a nun’s habit, and we do mostly think of nuns living in convents, however, this convent housed friars, so maybe this is also a way of adding a feminine touch?

This was a later addition – used as a dining hall. It was huge and felt more like a stable.

This room was quite significant – it was a tiny space where the powers that be got together to make group decisions – like where Christopher Columbus should go on his journey! They decided he was allowed to go but he first had to go and ask Queen Isobel for the money and permission to sail under the Spanish flag.

Here’s Me Jenny doing a little bit of thinking before she makes the decision to move on to the next room…

This room was a lovely chapel, which lost a tiny bit of it’s ‘old’ appeal with the addition of this automatic glass door.

At the front of this chapel, we noticed these two doors with the basin and hand towel and naturally thought that they were bathrooms/toilets – which, yes, did seem odd at the from of the chapel, but it seemed plausible… but then we did a bit of reading and it turns out that they’re confessionals. Still not sure what the basin and towel are for… I guess it depends on what you’re confessing?

The staircase which was built in in 1553 is amazing. How it is still standing I don’t know…

And if you look carefully there is a sculpture of Mary Magdalene lounging…

Climbing both up and down on the stairs, they felt solid, but with a distinct lean to them…

The next door lead you into the church, which was HUGE!

84 metres long, 15.5 metres wide and 45 metres high at the highest part. It was finished in 1693 and took 170 years to build.

Upstairs around the Cloister…

When Christopher Columbus, or Chrisobel Colon, as he was known in Salamanca, travelled to South America and bought back news of indigenous peoples living there, it was decided amongst the friars that they were to be treated like human beings….

Around the walls of the upstairs verandahs there were sayings written in Spanish like this one that translates to: ‘By natural right nobody is superior to another’

Downstairs along the last corridor there were 3 tiny doors… yes, they looked smaller when you were standing far away from them… but still small by regular door sizes. The last one was open – it was a small wall cavity, the size of a toilet with one chair and a little window with a video screen playing behind it…. Me Jenny had a couple of sins that she needed to confess to Saint Teresa before we left (she loves it when I make her pose for photos). Saint Teresa is apparently the patron saint of sick people, people in religious orders, people ridiculed for their piety and lacemakers.

Needing a bit of al fresco, we picked a direction and wandered in it, the streets become deserted very quickly once you cross the street out of the tourist areas. We found ourselves sitting outside of another church on a bench across from a garden just taking a breather.

We must have been close to a hospital or old folks home as there were a few older ladies being walked with assistance by younger ladies. We smiled and said ‘Hola’ as they passed us…. as we went to leave, we stopped and looked at out map deciding which street to go down and one of the younger helpers called out to us and gave us directions.

She didn’t realise that we were trying to look around the non tourist areas, and she didn’t understand our ‘we’re ok, gracias’. She spoke no English and we think she may have even been Russian, so she kept insisting that we go down a street that would lead us directly back to the main square. She wasn’t going to let us go down any other street than the one she was recommending…. so we took it. We managed to find a different route once we were out of her sight and avoided going back to the square.

We both really felt like Italian food for dinner and did a bit of googling for restaurants in walking distance. This one had a few good reviews, so gave it a try – it was agreed that it was the best meal that we’ve had since getting to Spain! A big call I know, but you know when you just really feel like something and they deliver? Also the staff were really friendly and patient with our attempts at Spanish! Gracias mi amigos!

Thank you Salamanca – Buenos Noches!

Salamanca Meandering

Today was another day of meandering…. she was a little overcast in the morning and even threatened rain, but she held off and it was a glorious temp for Salamanca meandering….

Our first stop was to the Nouveau Art Museum and on the way we stopped back off at the lovely garden we stumbled across in the dark last night…

The museum is an amazing building with a full wall of stained glass windows. Naturally it used to be a palace and it’s full of Art Deco delights.

Pic: Museo Casalis

Porcelain, bronze, glass, dolls, teddy bears and toys, furniture and somebody had a weird obsession with clowns! It’s a shame though that they wouldn’t let me take any photos except in the cafe area…

Then we wandered a different way up and around the cathedral following some lovely music which bought us to this amazing building…

This poor chap that you can see at the bottom here with his guitar was playing some beautiful music, so lovely and serene that it drew you in and I thought we could find somewhere to sit and listen to him…. But when we turned the corner and found where the sound was coming from we found that he was competing with a tour guide whose mic was broken (so she shouted to her group), the church bells were chiming loudly and this man stood and chatted to him mid song, so he did what he had to and stopped while it all happened around him.

The carvings on the front of this cathedral were so intricate… It was amazing, but I’d like to draw your attention to one scene in particular…

Above the left hand door – Nativity. I want to know the intention of that bull. Also one of the 3 wise men is kneeling on what appears to be a Canadian Mountie hat. I have questions???

When we were in the museum we spoke to a German couple who spoke Spanish and English and helped us out when buying out tickets, so then naturally we bumped into them for the rest of the morning, not only in the rooms of the museum, but out and about on the street as well. In fact they gave us a little snippet of information that was quite interesting. On the column on the side door of this cathedral there is a hidden gem….

On the left hand column, four motifs up, you’ll find an astronaut! That’s right.

This Cathedral was built between 1513 and 1733, and had some restoration work done in 1992. Apparently it’s a tradition of cathedral builders and restorers to add details or new carvings to the facade as a sort of signature. Hopefully records and the internet are still in tact in 500 years, otherwise there could be some questions about the history of space travel!

We continued our wandering through the old town and out the other side, there are beautiful buildings and wood carved doors all over this city…

Me Jenny has been banging on about white asparagus since the last time she had it – 10 years ago? I don’t know, but it seems a long time that I’ve been hearing about bloody white asparagus and today – we found some. Let me just say – delicious! Huge and delicious. Washed down with a lovely glass of sangria. Me Jenny’s pretty happy.

A full day of meandering can make a lady a tad weary, so a siesta was had so that we would be able to stay up with the Spanish grown ups & their kids!!! People here don’t go out until 8.30-9pm to have their dinner. We have often been the first people at a restaurant at 8pm and even then they’re sometimes only just opening their doors after their own siesta. There were still kids out and about at 10.30pm when we had to call it a night. So we did one last look at the big square at night with the pretty lights and then hightailed it home, pushing kids out the way left, right and centre!

Pants

Me Jenny and I were sitting in a square today marvelling at some of the outfits people were wearing…. high heels over cobble stones; puffer coats in 25°, matching plaid with stripes and florals and whatever else you felt like, etc… There are a lot of students living in Salamanca attending the university hence there are a lot of different fashion statements – and to those people I say – good on you!

After people watching for about an hour Me Jenny said slowly as if she’d given what she was about to say a lot of thought: “You know what our problem is?

Me: “Um….. no.”

Me Jenny: “We just don’t wear our pants tight enough.”

Pic: today.com

Hola Salamanca!

Today was our first train trip. So far we’ve had car transfers between places which have all been fabulous as it meant that not only did somebody pick us up, help with our bags and drop us at the door, we also got to stop and see some places along the way… However we were also pretty excited about getting on the train. There is something about train travel that we both love. They’re comfortable, you can read or look out the window. You don’t have to worry about the traffic and they’re usually on time and next thing you know you’re in another city!

This journey had us leaving from Córdoba and travelling to Madrid, which was a fairly uneventful, but comfortable trip. We arrived at the main station in the south of Madrid, but then we had another train 2 hours later to take us to Salamanca which departed from the station in the north of Madrid. These stations are 4 Metro stops from each other, but that would’ve meant doing all of the following:

  • finding the Metro
  • carting our bags downstairs (I assume, we never found it… we never even looked)
  • buying a ticket in Spanish
  • getting off at the correct station

“Sure – that’s all doable!” I hear you saying to me while you aggressively shrug your shoulders in disbelief, but this trip is about the following travel slogans: “travel comfy”, “look after your mother” and “take it easy and watch out for wankers™️” That last one is not officially trademarked, but my Dad is working on it.

So….. we (and when I say ‘we’, I totally mean the fabulous Lyn Tyson – Travel Manager extraordinaire!) organised a transfer from the station in the south to the station in the north. We were picked up by a lovely man who spoke perfect English with a Russian accent and he very nicely pointed out landmarks and important buildings on our 20 minute drive.

Like this building that looks like a plug…

We sat and waited for the platform number our train would be leaving from and as the time of our departure loomed closer, you just knew that as soon as that number appeared there would be a mass rush to the gate.

I’ve not seen this before, but on each platform before you board the train there is an X-ray machine for your luggage that everybody has to put ALL bags through. This all happened in such a rush with people throwing their bags on top of other bags (we only had a window of about 4 minutes for everyone to board the train). There’s no way that the man looking at the X-ray screen could have seriously looked at all the bags properly, but we played along and made it to our carriage with plenty of time… it does make you wonder though why the X-ray part (which isn’t a bad idea) couldn’t have been done in the 30 minutes prior to the train leaving? Leaving Córdoba the same X-ray system happened, but we were allowed onto the track as soon as the previous train had departed, making it a much more civilised procedure.

You know that great feeling when you’re on a train or a plane or sitting in the back seat of a car and you can zone out with your headphones on, listening to music or a podcast or in my case an audio book and you get totally into it and then all of a sudden you arrive at your destination? The second part of the journey was two hours, but it just wasn’t long enough.

So now we find ourselves in Salamanca. Every single person we’ve spoken to since arriving in Portugal and Spain has told us how much they love Salamanca. A few of our guides who were not Spanish by birth came to Salamanca to study Spanish and they all said, “ohhh, Salamanca! You’re going to love it. It’s the most beautiful city in the whole of Spain.” So we were of course looking forward to getting here.

We purposely didn’t book any tours here because I thought we’d be all toured out at this stage and because the city is so small, it was going to be lovely to just wander around

We are staying in the old district again and our hotel – the Don Gregorio is lovely. This is our salon/foyer/lounge area.

And just outside and across the road is this… It’s the San Estaban Convent (Saint Stephen’s). This is where Christopher Columbus once stayed and it was also the headquarters for Napoleon’s troops during the Independence War. How’s that for a bit of name dropping?

We went for a little walk around town and we could immediately see why people love it here. Around every corner is a new marvellous view….

A Cathedral here….

A church tower there….

This is Casa de las Conchas – the House of the Shells. It’s covered in 300 scallop shells clinging to the outside. It used to be owned by a bloke who was the doctor for Queen Isobel and a member of the order of Santiago – who’s symbol is the scallop shell. He was clearly a dedicated member! The building is now the public library.

These are on the doors….. I felt right at home.

And this is just outside for photo ops…

We stopped for refreshments at a little cafe surrounded by all these amazing buildings, but with one of the most lacklustre attempts at a table centrepiece…

At the top of the old bell tower there is a stork nest…

And this was perfect for people watching…. I see nothing odd going on here. Honestly, it’s enough to give you whiplash!

Then through this gate is the Mayor Plaza – the main square which was built back in 1729 and was completed in 1755 (the year of the Lisbon earthquake!!! Coincidence or conspiracy?) There’s nothing written about the plaza being damaged in that quake though, so maybe just two big things that happened in that year…

The square is lined with cafes, restaurants, touristy shops, ice creameries, etc… with a huge open space in the middle. It was initially built for bull fighting and used as such until the mid 18th century. The shops and cafes probably came after that!

In the evening we went for a little walk down towards the river and passed this petrol station.

Then we were faced with this lovely sunset from the bridge over the river and from the other side – some lovely reflections.

We walked along the bank on the other side and walked back over the the next bridge – which was this one…. This bridge has been there for hundreds of years and has seen floods, wars and the introduction of cars. It’s been rebuilt a few times and is now pedestrian only.

Pic: Spain is Culture
It was too dark to take a pic myself and we were on the bridge making it tricky.

On the way home we wandered through the maze of cathedrals and university buildings and found some lovely gardens…

There were quite a few people just hanging out in the gardens which overlook the river, including a group of teens who sat in a row on a bench all looking at their phones.

Thanks Salamanca – great first day!

The Jewish Quarter

Part of our tour to the Mesquita/Cathedral was a walk around the Córdoba Jewish Quarter where we are actually staying. Our hotel is a converted tradition home with a patio (courtyard) in the middle and rooms surrounding it. There are lots of patios in this building, so this would have been many homes joined together to make this huge hotel.

Our first stop was to the old Synagogue… Apparently there were plenty of Synagogues around the city back in the day, but now this is the only one and they only found this one by accident. Dating back to 1315, it was converted to a church in the 16th and then held the Guild of Shoemakers – ‘blessed are the shoemakers’ until it was rediscovered in the 19th when a chunk of plaster fell off the wall revealing some Hebrew inscriptions on the wall prompting them to do a bit more digging and low and behold…. they found Moorish decorations, Jewish writing and a Christian cross on the wall underneath all the plaster – so over the centuries, everybody used it for one reason or another and the fact that all the religious symbols were hidden was probably the only reason it was saved.

This is Ben Maimon – he did a bit of everything. He was a doctor/healer, a philosopher and an astronomer. He spoke all the local languages of the day – Arabic, Latin, Hebrew and probably Spanish if that was a thing back then… he was Jewish, however the sculptor made him look Arabic to show how the two cultures/religions worked in harmony at times throughout history and also he lived his life in Cordoba, Morocco and Egypt, where he died. He was very influential in his day and it is said that if you rub his foot his knowledge will be passed on to you. I gave it a little rub, but Me Jenny didn’t want or need to… she’s smart enough already.

There are only small touches like this iron work in the window that tell you that you’re in the Jewish quarter…

There is a street marked on the map of the old town called the ‘Street of the Flowers’… which was lovely and when you get to the end you turn around have a lovely glimpse of the tower…. As we approached the courtyard at the end, there were these two very safety conscious men doing a spot of grinding or welding… I’m not sure, when I saw the sparks flying, I looked away (obvs. not before snapping a pic!)

After our tour, we visited the Mercado Victoria where foods of the world are on offer. We stopped to watch a chap making triangular empanadas, he was quite masterful the way he scooped out the filling with his bare hands and then in one fluid motion folded the pastry into a need package before turning his head only slightly to sneeze over the whole counter that he was working on. He turned back to us to explain something, but we had already spun on our heels. Ew.

Seen in a souvenir shop – find the English sign… lol

Bless this man. He was walking and just stopped right there to play. He sounded like he was tuning up his violin, but also he didn’t have a hat or is case down to collect money – maybe he just liked to play?

To our left we have the old walled city and to the right the modern world. Back in the day the Jewish people weren’t allowed to live in the city, so they lived unprotected outside the walls, but then when the Christians took over they very graciously said that they could move into the Jewish quarter – but that was it!

We had a little wander over the old Roman pedestrian bridge….

Then caught the sunset on our way back over….. if you look closely you can see Mary Poppins has also joined us.

Then time for a bit of nosh… We’ve been loving the olives and a sangria in the evening and in the day time we usually go for una cortada (which is a short mach) and a small beer chaser (una caña – pronounced: ‘canya’, like Tanya)

Jenny’s Córdoba highlights:

  • The Jewish Quarter
  • The little streets, cobblestones and old town walls
  • The gardens – it’s a lovely green city
  • The lovely orange trees
  • The Mosque/Cathedral
  • The bridge and the river
  • It’s a nice, friendly town with no hills!
  • The nice terraces, plenty of places to sit and people watch with a caña.

I couldn’t agree more.

One more thing that Jenny loved, although we didn’t buy any…… Bread – with the crusts cut off!

And so it will be Adios Córdoba….. We have our last night tonight and then tomorrow we catch our first train to Salamanca!

¡Hasta mañana!