Madrid is a large bustling city sometimes referred to as the golden triangle of art due to its three huge art museums. It’s like any other big city, busy but with many large parks for some peace and quiet amongst the bustling. We had the impression that Madrid may be a city to pass through and not visit, but decided it was definitely worth some time.
Here we learned about a Spanish painter from the late 16th and early 17th century named El Greco whose style inspired the works of famous artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne. We rented bicycles and rode in an enormous city park that rivaled Golden Gate Park in size. And we stayed in a neighborhood renowned to be very multi-ethnic. We learned that a lot of Senagalese people lived there and ate some of our favorite Senegalese dishes in local cafe. Life on the streets started about 9 pm and continued at least until 3 am.
Toledo. A short high speed train ride away from Madrid, this small city is on a hill, with a huge fortress on top. The streets were tortuously winding, making navigation to a given place very challenging! We had trouble finding the largest cathedral in town! We spent way to much time in its Alcazar, a combined fortress/palace. We´d heard that the Alcazar (military fortress/castle) was the key thing to see in Toledo, so we spent hours there, looking at a displays about the history of toy soldiers, the history of military uniforms, and the history of military medals. At the end of all this we asked each other, “are you at all interested in toy soldiers, military uniforms, or military medals?” Neither of us were, but we did pick up a few fresh perspectives. For example, it seems that Steven Spielberg must have visited this museum, as some of its displays look like Darth Vader and the armies of the Empire.
Cordoba. This is one of Char´s favorite Spanish cities. It has many historically interesting sites
and it is situated on both sides of a river with several beautiful bridges connecting the two sides. One of the coolest sites is the Mezquita, originally a mosque – now a cathedral owned by the Catholic Church. Inside it looks more like a mosque. The structure overall takes up what would be a minimum of 4 “normal sized” city blocks. Inside it is full of lovely Islamic style arches and the original Mihrab. The mosque was continually enlarged during the centuries
when Andalucia was ruled by Islamic leaders. In the 15th century, the Spanish monarchy took over. They preserved much of the mosque, but eventually built a huge Catholic Cathedral was built in the middle, with chapels around the edges. So there is an unusual juxtaposition of Islamic and Roman Catholic religions and styles.
For horse lovers, Cordoba has a ‘royal barn’ which routinely puts on shows with the beautiful Andalusian horses. We were lucky enough to see one. It was meant for entertaining the crowd, so it included a lot of theatrical interaction between the people and horses, showing off the athleticism of both, and the beauty of the traditions surrounding Spanish riding and flamenco dance.
Sevilla is grand collection of enormous monuments, cathedrals, parks, and boulevards. It was in Sevilla that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella granted Columbus´ request for 3 boats and some hardy men.
Magellan began his trip around the world from Sevilla. The huge quantities of gold and silver stolen from South America arrived in Sevilla. The Spanish Exposition of 1929 was in Sevilla, so the Spanish government spent lots of money improving the city to impress the visitors coming from all over the World.
The Alcazar (Castle) in Sevilla is definitely worth seeing! Like some other sites, its architecture represents the Islamic and Spanish influences. The detail and artistic design of the Islamic part of the Alcazar defies the imagination with its intricate detail, scale and beauty. The Spanish Catholic side is impressive in its size (though not its artistry).
One of our favorite discoveries in Sevilla was the Universidad International Andulacia which had some very creative art. We discovered it during a bike ride when we rented bikes from the city’s publicly available biking system.
In Sevilla, we also saw a local, free flamenco performance that was outstanding. One singer, one dancer and one guitarist entertained us for close to 2 hours. The dancing was so intense, especially when it was fast! We were impressed that the Flamenco seems to range from sort of a calm, yet pent up mood, to a crazy fast expression of passion!
Jerez de la Frontera. Think Sherry and Horses. This is a charming Andalusian town. Evidently
it exploded when a local, a Brit, and a banker got together. The British love sherry; the local knew how to make it; the Brit knew how to sell it, and the banker knew how to tap into the capital Spain accumulated during the draining of South America´s gold and silver. Perfecto!
Jerez de la Frontera is home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, and they know how to ride and show the horses athletic ability! The riders and horses make riding look easy as they are so well disciplined and calibrated together. The horses are powerful and fluid, we saw how they could prance to the music and hop on their hind legs.
That is NOT EASY for a horse! No cameras were allowed but we did collect a little footage outside the arena.
Tarifa is as far south as you can get in Europe – you can see Africa 15 km away. The great
things about Tarifa are the beaches, the kite surfing, the wind surfing and the vibe. The kite surfing and wind surfing attract a young and adventurous crowd. The wind blows every day of the year, and it blows from a direction that results in smooth waters that are also shallow. The beaches arc so if you make a big mistake you wind up on a beach instead of out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Dan took a fun lesson, which happened to be during a rare rain storm.
Tarifa´s beaches are enormous long arcs of clean white sand. As you may know, some of the
women go topless, and a few of the men go bottomless, so one tends to look at more than the turquoise water and white sands.
As you head up the Spanish Mediterranean coast from Tarifa, you go by Gibralter. We felt like idiots because we kept seeing this huge “island” and asked ourselves what it was. Then we realized it looked like the rock of Gibraltar you can see on some of the insurance company advertisements! Duh. It’s the real Gibraltar! It is an interesting place in that you think it should be part of Spain, but it’s owned by the UK officially. There are some joint agreements between Spain, the UK, and Morocco to govern Gibraltar, but these seem to be under incessant negotiation.
More photos of Madrid
More Photos of Cordoba
More Photos of Sevilla
More Photos from Jerez de la Frontera
More Photos from Tarifa