A Travellerspoint blog

Spain

Seeking Don Quixote in Toledo

sunny 22 °C

When Miguel de Cervantes wrote about Don Quixote, the Man of La Manche, in 1605, Toledo was no longer the seat of the Spanish Crown. But the enormous castle cum palace that King Carlos V had occupied in the middle of the 16th century dominated the skyline as it does today...
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We've written before about the castles of Spain because they are everywhere. While many are somewhat Disneyfied, Toledo's Alcazar is home to a very modern military museum and retains nothing of its regal splendour. However, Toledo's other castle across the River Tagus looks as though it means business...
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This 11th century Castle of San Servando was home to the Knights Templar during the Crusades and even appeared in El Greco's painting of Toledo in 1604. Its name, it is claimed, is derived from the Cervantes family. So, while we assumed San Servando might be a major tourist attraction, we were surprised to discover that nowadays it is a fancy youth hostel that is reached by taking the Route de Don Quixote across a Roman bridge...
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Never judge a book by its cover, or the quality of marzipan from its wrapper. We say this because Toledo was once a centre of silk manufacture, but today it is known for its marzipan. Half the shops in Toledo have marzipan for sale - often described as handmade using only the finest almonds...
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All around the world we are assailed by salespeople assuring us that their products are handmade by their granny in the mountains, so we were more than a little sceptical and in the end we bought our marzipan from a nun in a convent...
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She wouldn't lie - would she?

Toledo is a major tourist attraction and both the city and its tour guides are unlikely to let the facts get in the way of a good story. And so, while the author Miguel de Servantes looms large in the story of Toledo, he spent little time here and actually wrote about Don Quixote while in jail. The Man of La Manche is regarded as the western world's first real novel, where Quixote, (a minor aristocrat like Cervantes himself), imagines himself to be a chivalrous knight seeking to right the wrongs of the world while everyone else thinks he is crazy. This is Cervantes' statue in Toledo...
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And this is where the fictional Quixote is said to have walked with his faithful servant, Pancho...
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However, while the castle might be a youth hostel, the marzipan mass produced and Don Quixote a bit of a myth, there is a lot about Toledo to love. This is the patchwork of medieval tiled roofs as seen from our hotel balcony...
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Toledo is an absolute maze of narrow streets interwoven with flights of steep steps. It is very easy to get lost, but equally easy to find the way out by climbing to the highest point - the Alcazar.
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We are now nearing the end of this part of our European trip. We shall soon return to England and hope to take some of Spain's warmth with us. In the meantime, we will say goodbye to Toledo as we dine on our hotel's rooftop terrace and watch the sunset over the Cathedral...
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Hasta luego desde Espana

Posted by Hawkson 13:28 Archived in Spain Comments (7)

Regal Segovia

Our 700th Blog Entry

semi-overcast 12 °C

This is the seven hundredth time that we have posted about our Blissful Adventures around the world and, thanks to Covid, it is exactly four years since we last celebrated a centennial. The world has changed in so many ways since our six hundreth blog in South America and many of our travel plans over the past two years were, initially, merely postponed, but eventually dropped altogether. And, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the lingering effects of the pandemic, some places on our bucket list may have to wait for sometime. While we are enormously grateful that much of the world is re-opening for us to explore, we are saddened by the fact that several of our faithful armchair followers are no longer able to travel along with us. Perhaps Eileen, Vera, Jean, and James' cousin Roy, are still with us in spirit as we continue to shine a spotlight on the brighter parts of this hurting world. Today we are in one of those brighter places: Segovia in central Spain where there is fresh snow on the surrounding mountains...
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We knew it would be colder when we took the train from Madrid high into the Guadarama mountains to the ancient city of Segovia, but even the locals had been surprised by a heavy dump of snow the previous day. By the time we arrived, the snow had disappeared from the city streets and the fairytale castle, the Alcazar, was bathed in bright sunshine...
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The Alcazar of Segovia is, in every respect, a museum of Spanish royal life and was used by Walt Disney as a model for the castle in the 1950 movie, Cinderella. Much of it was built by King Alfonso VIII and Eleanor, his English wife, in the 12th century, but later monarchs made many improvements and additions. Another English queen by marriage, Catherine of Lancaster, added the great Hall of the Galley in 1412. The enormous gilded ceiling is said to represent the upturned hull of a galley...
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As we wander from one magnificent hall to the next we can picture the great ceremonial occasions that were held here when this was the primary residence of the kings and queens of Spain...
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One royal resident, King Philip II of Spain, briefly became king of England by marrying Queen Mary in 1554, but when she died in 1558 Philip sent his great Spanish Armada to invade England and dethrone Mary's successor, Elizabeth I. And we all know how that turned out! The Alcazar of Segovia has had so many occupants and uses that entire books are written about it. Suffice for us to say - just look at King Philip's fabulous throne room...
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The Cathedral of Segovia is equally impressive...
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The opulent decoration and religious artwork in the numerous side chapels rivals that of any of the world's best known cathedrals and the 300ft high bell tower and the vaulted ceilings are breathtaking...
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The narrow cobbled streets inside the walls of the old city of Segovia are lined with touristy shops and cafes - many offering the obligatory morning snack of churros and hot chocolate. However, in Spain, the hot chocolate is so rich and thick that you can actually stand a spoon up in it...
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The entire Medieval city of Segovia was protected by a virtually impregnable wall that forms the foundation for many of today's buildings...
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But Segovia was a city long before the middle ages and many of its buildings, including the castle, stand on Roman foundations. One of Segovia's most important archeological artefacts is a Roman aqueduct that has been delivering water to the city from springs in the nearby mountains for two thousand years...
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With more than a hundred and fifty slender stone arches bridging the valley beneath the old city walls, this is one of the finest examples of Roman architecture still standing in the world and still in use today.
It is still cool in the mountains so we are now heading back to the warmth of the south and another Medieval city - Toledo.

Posted by Hawkson 08:28 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

Majestic Madrid

sunny 20 °C

Almost every European capital has at least one easily recognisable icon and if we showed photos of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Colosseum, you would immediately know where we were. But Madrid doesn't have anything that really stands out despite its wealth of majestic buildings. For instance: this is the Royal Palace...
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It may be much grander than Buckingham Palace, but Spain's royal palace doesn't seem to generate the same kind of buzz among tourists. There are no smartly turned-out guardsmen; no household cavalry; no crowds hoping to catch just a fleeting glimpse of royalty to be able to forever say, "I saw the Queen or the King." Spain dumped the monarchy and became a Republic under Franco in the 1930s, but in 1978 the King was re-instated and remains very popular today. However, the royal family no longer lives in the palace.
There are a multitude of architectural delights in Madrid, but in order to enjoy the sheer majesty of the city you have to look up...
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While it is difficult to capture the enormity and grandeur of many of Madrid's buildings from ground level, it is very pleasant to wander along the wide tree-lined bulevars filled with fountains and statues...
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While the buildings and streets are themselves historical artefacts, Madrid is renowned for its many museums. However, to visit all the major museums would entail a week of mind-numbing information absorption. So we cut the brain fog to a minimum by sticking to the most important. This is a statue of Goya which stands outside Madrid's most famous art museum, El Prado...
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Despite the difficulty of booking online, and the horrendously long ticket queues, we managed to visit this renowned museum famed for its many Goya paintings. No photos are allowed inside the museum, however, pictures were allowed at the nearby modern art exhibition in the Palacio de Comunicaciones...
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This celebrated masterpiece, (which just looked like a load of old chairs and a few bits and bobs to us), was described as a perfect metaphor for the isolation caused by Covid. There were quite a number of more esoteric works in the gallery, including a lump of concrete in a backpack. Maybe we are naïve when it comes to modern art, but we actually found the building itself more fascinating...
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Also fascinating, and much prettier, are the numerous ancient, glazed tile, storefronts that adorn shops, bars and restaurants. The centre of Madrid is dotted with plazas filled with cafes, bars, and restaurants. This is just one side of the enormous Plaza Mayor...
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And this is the Plaza Santa Ana as seen from our balcony in the early morning before the restaurants and bars have set up their tables and umbrellas for another busy day...
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Another feature of Madrid is its extensive central park, Parque del Retiro, and the attached botanical gardens. Madrid has long hot summers, so the public gardens are filled with plants that we might think of as tropical. The tulips and spring bulbs have already passed their best under the swaying banana palms and the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom under the olive trees...
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When the historic railway station became too small for the high-speed lines, the Spaniards attached a new station next door and turned the old one into an enormous hothouse filled with tropical plants. It was a good idea, because, after weeks of brilliant sunshine and temperatures touching the thirties, we finally hit a cool patch that even the Spanish meteorologists described as a blip of winter in the midst of spring. However, the cool, damp spell was short-lived and the sun was soon shining again on Madrid's majestic buildings. This is the Cathedral...
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We could easily spend a week here enjoying the fabulous meals in the excellent restaurants, but our waistlines can't take much more so we are moving on. Next stop: the historic city of Segovia.

Posted by Hawkson 08:07 Archived in Spain Comments (6)

Alhambra Encore

sunny 29 °C

While Ernest Hemingway thought that Ronda was the most romantic city on earth, President Bill Clinton believed that this was the most beautiful view in the world...
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This was Clinton's view of the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas in the Albaicin district of Granada. The Alhambra is one of the most famous examples of Islamic architecture in the world and is here because the Moroccan Moors conquered Andalucia in the 8th century and reigned for several hundred years. The fortified palace was begun in 1238 by Muhammad I, the founder of the Granada Emirate. This is the view of the Mirador de San Nicolas looking back across the valley from the Alhambra...
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The Alhambra became a renowned tourist attraction in 1832 after British/American writer, Washington Irving, stayed in the palace and published a series of essays titled, 'Tales of Alhambra.' Although largely fiction, Irving's tales caught the imagination of the well-heeled travellers of the day. There is no need to be well-heeled to visit Alhambra today, although, as we discovered, if you plan on visiting during the Easter holidays you had better book weeks in advance. We visited the Alhambra in October 2009 so were not totally disappointed when we couldn't get tickets. We wrote a post in 2009 titled "Alhambra - A Tale of Cabbages and Kings," and this is one of the pictures from that post - the harem's swimming pool...
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The Alhambra is always busy, but the queues under a scorching sun on Good Friday made us glad that we didn't have tickets...
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We did, however, get to wander in the shade of the forest that carpets the hillside beneath the fortress...
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And we got to see several of the ancient Moorish gateways that once protected this place...
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In 2009, we were so engrossed with the Alhambra that we didn't visit the ancient Islamic quarter of Albaicin, and we didn't spend any time at all in the city of Granada. This time we stayed in the city and started with a tour of Albaicin...
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The ancient Islamic quarter is a network of narrow alleyways that carpet the hillside opposite Alhambra. Its labyrinth of cobbled streets and multitude of steep stone steps make it virtually impassable to traffic. Only residents and taxis are allowed to navigate the streets so it's a great place to walk...
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Traffic is also restricted in many of the streets in the city of Granada and we spent our days sitting in sidewalk cafes enjoying the traditional churros and hot chocolate while watching the world pass by. This is life in the sun as it should be...
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After a long drive back to Malaga on the Mediterranean coast through the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains on Easter Sunday, we arrived in time to catch the very last Semana Santa parade just as Jesus was about to enter the Cathedral...
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With a sun-filled and very interesting Easter week in Andalucia at an end, we are now taking the high-speed train north to the Spanish capital, Madrid. The weather forecast is not promising, and we may regret leaving the sunny south, but we have made a good start on our summer tans.

Posted by Hawkson 16:54 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Romantic Ronda

sunny 29 °C

We have run across Ernest Hemingway in several of our travels and even stayed at the same hotel as he in Havana - albeit long after his death. However, Ronda in Andalucia appears to have been one of his most favourite haunts. In his famous 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway wrote: "There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first bullfight in, if you are only going to see one, and that is Ronda." This is the bullring...
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Hemingway continued, "Ronda is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town, and as far as you can see in any direction, is a romantic background. If a honeymoon or an elopement is not a success in Ronda, it would be as well to start for Paris." We don't relish the idea of watching bulls being tormented and killed, neither are we eloping nor on honeymoon, but we have to admit that the mountain top community of Ronda is a wondrous sight for one very special reason - and this is it...
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This is the 390 foot high bridge that joins the old city on the right hand side with the new city on the left. It was commenced in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete. Here is another view of this incredible construction...
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Ronda is an ancient town perched high above a broad valley filled with orange and olive groves, A deep canyon, formed over millions of years by the Guadalevín River, split the mountain in two and created an almost impenetrable barrier to would-be invaders. The sheer-sided mountains rise straight out of the valley on either side of the canyon...
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Ronda began life as a Celtic settlement six centuries BC, but, despite its defensive location, it has changed hands many times in the last two and a half thousand years. Traces of Roman and Moorish architecture remain. These are some of the Moors' walls...
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This city has seen bloodshed many times over the centuries as competing religious and political factions fought for control. However, the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 saw one of its bloodiest periods. Hemingway returned to Ronda in his Civil War novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," to describe the execution of Fascist sympathisers who were thrown off the cliff to their deaths...
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On a more romantic note - our hotel in the oldest part of Ronda began life as a private mansion in 1736. While the San Gabriel retains many of its original features, its architect and builder could never have imagined that one day it would have a fully functioning cinema...
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The cinema has just 5 seats and we were the only guests watching a feature presentation of the 1941 Cary Grant classic, "Arsenic and Old Lace."
We went to bed when the movie finished at ten, but most guests went out to witness the silent Semana Santa parade that began at midnight. We woke briefly to the rattling of chains and the mournful chanting of penitents as the parade passed the hotel on its way to the nearby cathedral at 12.30, and then slept soundly in a bedroom that has been slept in for nearly 300 years. This is the cathedral the following morning...
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Not a penitent in sight.
P.S. The street thermometres all read 33 degrees in Granada today, but we didn't want our friends at home to be jealous so we said it was a mere 29C.

Posted by Hawkson 10:27 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

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