So here we go on another of Dave & Martha's adventures. Just the two of us, so the planning is pretty easy. Also, we got some help from our wonderful travel agent Judy. She had helped us for Italy fixing us up with the best located and most interesting places to stay. I got the international air tickets first, the cost influencing our timing of a 20 day stay, flying in and out of Madrid (from SFO).
We had seen on the map someting called the Museum of Ham. Ham is a big deal in Spain so we had to find it. It's really not a museum but a ham emporium with lots of exotic hams hanging around and lots of people hanging around snacking and drinking too.
In one of the main plazas we found Elmo and had to have his picture (for 50 cents of so). We walked to the Royal Palace and paid to go in and see the rooms. We got the Senior price discount even though we weren't EU citizens as the fine print dictated.
On Saturday Madrid has a giant market set up on several streets. We spent several hours there looking at the stalls and the people before having lunch in one of the open air restaurants. In the evening for dinner we stumbled into the restaurant atttached to our hotel and it turned out to be our favorite: good food, fair prices, great atmosphere, and a very short walk. They had something I had never seen before - dual head rotating ceiling fans, very retro and very effective looking.
We had seen a tiki bar on an earlier stroll so after dinner tried it. It was a cellar decorated in the tiki theme, serving tropical drinks (volcanos erupting with dry ice), and catering it seemed to groups of tourist women. You drink from the volcanos through meter long straws. It was fun, and we thought of Ginger and her tiki theme at home.
Next day we walked to the park so see what was there. More people out and about. We found the Crystal Palace, a large glass conservatory, fairly empty except for a slidey thing for kids and a strange machine. It had a water supply and appeared to me a fog machine where they would project images onto the fog. I'd have liked to see it in operation but I didn't find out any more about it.
Neither Martha nor I have a very high tolerance for museums and we are probably the only tourists to have visited Madrid and not seen the famous Prado. But we did see the Sophia Reina museum. They have a good collection of Salvador Dali works which we both enjoyed. On this outing we also saw the train station. It was very attractive with large tropical plants and ponds. I assume we will return here on our return from Lisbon.
In the afternoon, Martha went out to do shopping and I got on one of their red two-deck busses for a drive around tour of the city (again at the much-reduced Senior rate). I saw a lot of the same stuff we had seen on foot, but a lot of new fancy building too.
We had heard great things about Segovia from friends, so the next day we went there. We braved the Metro for the first time, taking it to the bus station and catching a bus for the 1 1/2 hour ride to Segovia. The countryside on the way looks very much like California. The old section of town is up on a hill. We saw the main attractions: the aquaduct and the Alcazar. We also had their famous suckling pig for our lunch. Very tasty and pretty spectacular. From our seats in the outdoor restaurant we saw a large banner which read in part "Hay Festival..." (there is a festival...).
After lunch we came across a lot of hay bales stacked to form an enclosure, started looking around and were chased away by officious people with walkie-talkies. Soon a bunch of horses were herded into the enclosure and then led back and forth. We and other tourists looked on in wonderment. Finally we heard from some locals that they were filming a champagne TV commercial to be aired at Christmas. Martha insisted it was the Hay Festival.
The next day we got up early and took a taxi to the airport for our flight to Barcelona. We debated using the Metro and saving money but we didn't relish dragging our bags very far on the cobblestone streets or jamming into the Metro with our luggage, but opted for the easy way. We arrived in Barcelona and took the AeroBus into town getting off quite close to our hotel.
It was humid in Barcelona, and overall people didn't seem as happy or lively as in Madrid. The desk clerk was downright grumpy. After settling in we took a walk in the area of our hotel. We were near the University and there were lots of students and shops catering to students nearby. A street near the hotel had 3 or 4 electric guitar shops, a tattoo parlor, and lots of black, punk, retro and goth clothing. On the Rambla, a main street, we found this monster guy making his living amusing tourists.
We also found a huge grocery market, with amazing displays of meats, fruits, spices, candies, everything.
In the evening we walked to see one of the Gaudi buildings. It was truly amazing and impressive lit up at night.
The next day we walked down the Rambla and joined a "free" Gaudi walking tour. These free tours are great because the tips-only approach makes for pretty dynamic guides. On the tour we were introduced to the Barcelona Metro. I was "massaged" a couple of times by their pickpockets, but they didn't get anything. We soon learned what they looked like (scruffy gypsies working in pairs) and how they work and were not bothered again.
Another thing we like about the "free" walking tours is that there are plenty of younger people and you can visit with them because everyone speaks English. We were certainly the oldest on the Gaudi tour, but the next day on the Old City tour we met other pensioners.
We saw several Gaudi buildings, then after the tour we went to see Gaudi's Park Gruell. It's up on a hill and covers a large area. Amazing design and architecture. We climbed to the top for a commanding view of Barcelona. As we walked into the more popular areas, the park became very crowded with tourists from all over the world.
We sought out Barcelona's Picasso museum. There were a lot of his earlier works and sketches there, and we did get the idea that he kept working at what interested him. The same theme was repeated in various forms. And he worked his way up to larger canvasses, doing sketch after sketch and trying different variations. The museum did not however have a great collection his later more abstract and famous works.
We tried but couldn't find a restaurant to match our favorite in Madrid. We tried tapas, but found you don't get much food for your money. Everybody raves about them, but we didn't get the attraction. Lunch seems to be our favorite meal. We found an outdoor cafes at 1:30 or 2 and had substantial meals. After we get back to our room, shower and rest a bit, we notice that it's 8 or 9 PM. Oops, gotta get some dinner. So maybe it's anticlimatic or something.
On our last full day in Barcelona we walked down the Rambla, the long wide tree-lined street, to the harbor. We had a very nice lunch (again) in an outdoor cafe looking out on the water. We went back to the Rambla for dinner in an outdoor cafe. Drank sangrias, ate pizza, and watched people for quite a while. It's a pretty active street scene on Saturday night.
We flew to Malaga, on the Costa del Sol, picked up our rental car, and drove to Torremolinos. The car was a nice new Renault Laguna - diesel 6 speed, and quite comfortable and quiet. It's always a hassle finding one's hotel in town, but with the help of our lady of the GPS we finally did and paid to park in the underground parking area (the street parking was impossible).
Torremolinos in my opinion was an armpit, though Martha liked it, saying it's just a little beach town. The streets were crowded with tourists from all the northern European countries there to see the sun before winter descended on them at home. They seemed a scruffy lot in their wife beater shirts and flowered shorts. We took the elevator down to the beach level and strolled out to where they were all sunbathing. There were some very very large women topless and guys of all sizes in their speedos. The streets were lined with restaurants and beachy stores.
We revisited the beach that night and had a pleasant sit watching the moon and tranquil sea. A couple (he perhaps 60s and she perhaps 40s) came down also to the water's edge. She prceeded to undo her top and then wriggle out of her bottoms and went into the water quite naked. She frolicked a bit then put her clothes back on. That was our entertainment for the evening.
Next day we drove to Gibraltar. The GPS lady was not charged up so we had more than usual struggle finding our way into the Gibraltar area. We parked the car at the border, walked into Gibraltar, and took the first bus we could find. Turned out it was not exactly the bus the guide book had mentioned. We did a bit of transferring and wandering and finally found the tramway to the top of the rock.
It's quite an impressive rock, rising abruptly almost 2000 feet from sea level. We saw the famous Barbary Apes which live on the rock. They look very cute; but later in the trip we saw a woman with a large bandage on the arm from being bitten by an ape. We also heard that the same day an 8 year-old girl had been grabbed by the leg and dragged away briefly by an ape.
We had planned a day trip to Grenada to see the Alhambra. But after driving to Gibraltar and back and hearing about the parking and restrictive ticketing, we opted for a bus tour. We were very glad to let someone else do the driving; plus we met and visited with some nice people in our group.
The Alhambra was very crowded with tourists, but well organized and controlled. The place is beautiful and deserves its reputation. Everywhere you look is a photo-op, so please excuse the large number of pictures here. The moslem influence has survived the take-over by the Catholics in Spain because the Alhambra was owned by the royal family and not the church.
On our last day on the Costa del Sol, we took a bus into Malaga city. They have an ancient fortification called the Alcazaba which we toured. Malaga is a large city with an attractive old-town section. We strolled, lunched outside, and enjoyed it before taking the bus back.
Got back in our nice car and drove about two hours to Sevilla. Our lady of GPS is a bit out of date, so the newer freeways are unknown to her. But she did help us arrive at our hotel without too much hassle.
In Sevilla since we had a car, our hotel was quite far from the center of town. I had no desire to drive into town, so we found the bus stop and took a rather long bus ride into the center. There's a lot to see in Sevilla, but we were wearing down, so we walked a bit, had lunch, walked some more, then took a taxi back. We had a down day the next day and rested for our trip to Lisbon.
Our trip to Lisbon consisted of getting the car back to the Avis people in Sevilla (the GPS wasn't very helpful), taking a taxi to the bus station (always the easy way), taking a very long (6 hour) bus ride to Lisbon, and a taxi to our hotel. It was about 8:30 PM when we arrived.
The first day we did a walking tour. It included a ride on the famous elevator which takes you to Barrio Alto (where Fado is famous), and a ride on Tram Number 28, twistier and crazier than SF cable cars. In the evening we went back to Barrio Alto in hopes of hearing Fado. We took the metro and then the Funicular up to the higher streets.
Their Metro is so slick compared to our primitive and limited BART system. The ticketing is flexible so you can buy one trip or larger passes. We each bought a 24 hour pass for 5 Euros each. The cars are neat and clean inside, and show with a lighted sign the stop they are approaching. The Madrid Metro was very extensive and had modern cars also. And the cars come about every 5 minutes, unlike poor old BART. In fairness, as Martha points out, BART is inter-city, going longer distances and serving fewer people, thus can not justify the frequency of the European Metro trains.
The funicular is very neat. One car goes up as the other goes down. They are kept in sync by cables under a slot in the street. This is important since they counterbalance each other and can only pass each other in a small wide section of the street. But unlike SF cable cars, the cable is not powered and is firmly attached to the cars. Traction is done by electric motors in each car driving on the rails. There is an electric wire overhead. We didn't find any Fado, but did hear a variety of music and lively street activity.
We ate in a lively little joint. One thing that I haven't seen in the U.S. is that when you sit down, they bring the menus and also a basket of bread. Unless you send the bread away, it will appear on your bill later as a separate item. This little bistro went one step further and brought a plate of spicy meat chunks too. I was pretty hungry so I didn't wave anything away and tucked into the bread and tapa. I thought it was tasty but Martha didn't want any since it turned out to be marinated octopus. So that and a salad was plenty for my dinner. Martha had a salmon dish she said was great and we emptied a bottle a white wine. In the end they had added on 6 Euros for the tapa. Maybe I'll have to start waving everything away in the future, though the locals seem to keep and eat the bread. Much to ponder...
We went on a river cruise - 2 1/2 hours on the Tagus River. It was great! Super views of Lisbon from the water. We saw the old bridge, which looks much like the Golden Gate bridge, and their new bridge, 10 miles long with a dramatic high rise section.
For dinner we tried a trendy Italian place near our hotel. We each ordered a pasta dish, but both turned out to be rather experimental, and very rich with cream etc. We'd had some wine before dinner so we were feeling a bit loose, but we both grew impatient with the whole restaurant scene. We were ready to head home.
The next day we took the Metro to Parque das Nações, fancy modern buildings built for the 1998 World Expo. Spent some time there looking at the stores in the giant mall. Spent more time sitting and staring at the river, then headed back to catch out sleeper train to Madrid.
The train was quite expensive but worth it to me since I love the idea of sleeping in our own compartment. The compartment was smaller than we expected and there was no separate storage for baggage, so we stored our large duffle bags in the shower. To my surprise dinner (including wine) and breakfast were included. We arrived on time back in Madrid, took a taxi to the airport and had an uneventful but very long flight home.