Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Espana Fabulosa!!

Well, we are back from an absolutely fabulous trip to Spain. I can't even describe how much I loved it. All the words that you hear that are overused like magical, surreal, quaint, cute, full of character, enchanting etc. are the only things that can come close.

We left on Friday, April 30th and came back on the 9th of May. We were lucky to be able to go with some long time friends Quinn and Mekell Lybbert. We had planned a trip to Spain with them ten years ago but had to cancel when I got pregnant with Ellie. It was great to be able to do it a decade delayed.

There is no way I will be able to go over everything that we did and saw. Between the Lybberts and us we took over 1000 pictures. I'm sure you would like to see every last one of them but I will just hit some highlights. (It is still long but I cut out all I could).

Quinn and Mekell got there a day before us. We arrived at 7:30 am and got right to sightseeing. This is Kyle at Plaza Mayor in Madrid. There was some festival going on there.

Quinn and Mekell saw a bullfight before we arrived and they convinced Kyle to go see one at the end of our trip. I was not at all interested so Mekell and I shopped while the boys went to see it. Kyle was glad he did as it is such a big part of the Spanish culture.

We decided to take a segway tour of Madrid. None of us had ever been on one and it feels weird when you first get on but it is easy to get used to. It was a fun way to see some of the sights of Madrid.

After the segway tour we saw these little GPS go-carts. You use them to drive around the city with a recording telling you where to go and what you are passing. It was a big adventure because if you get off course the lady stops talking to you. (Guess how we found this out?) You are on your own to get back on course. You are also driving with all the regualar traffic. People were taking pictures of us, laughing at us, giving us thumbs up and all sorts of attention. It was great fun.

This is the Royal Palace in Madrid. We were not allowed to take pictures inside.

The next day we went to a town an hour north of Madrid called Segovia. After the day in Segovia we came back to a Real Madrid game. These pictures are out of order as the Segovia pics are next. It was great to be at a soccer game right in the heart of futbol country. There were 80,000 fans there all chanting and cheering. Real Madrid won which made it even better.

When we got to Segovia we parked the car and started exploring. You can see the famous aqueduct in the background.

The aquaduct was made 2,000 years ago by the Romans to bring water to the area. It was made without any mortar. It is quite magnificent and awe inspiring to imagine the engineering and physical labor used to make such a structure.

Here we are at the castle in Segovia. It is the perfect picture of a fairytale castle.

We are on top of the castle with the Mekell and Quinn. You can see part of the cathedral in the background.

The next day we drove to Cordoba which is in the South of Spain. Mekell and Quinn are standing in front of the bell tower beside the Mesquita. The Mesquita was originally a Mosque but when it was taken over by the christians they built a cathedral right in the middle of it. There is alot of Moorish influence in Spain because they ruled it for hundreds of years. More of their influence remains in the south as they were slowly pushed south and back into northern Africa.

This is inside the Mesquita. You can't really tell but the wall above me is intricately carved stone.
There is a room of hundreds of arches when you first walk in. The Christian cathedral is kind of plopped right in the middle.

That night we walked a few doors down from our hotel to a little covered courtyeard that was home to a flamanco concert. Spainiard like to do everything late and this show0 didn't even start till 10:30.

The roads in Spain are CRAZY! The lady driver was driving to her home. This isn't even the squishiest road that we saw cars drive on.

There are beautiful courtyards in the homes all over the South of Spain. This one was in our hotel.

The day after Cordoba we started to explore the white villages or "Casa Blancas" of southern Spain. It was windy and chilly as they are high in the mountains but we tried not to let that deture us from exploring. The first one we stopped at was Olvera. We went in the castle behind us and we were the only ones there. A man unlocked it for us and we just explored the ruins by ourselves. It was so fun to be where no other tourists were discovering an old castle.

Just a picture of one of the white villages. We stopped in Olvera, Zahara and Grazalema before stopping for the night in Arcos de la Fronterra. They were so picturesque and beautiful.

We took alot of pictures of laundry. It gives you the feeling that real people live in these extraordinary places.
Just a picture of an old lady carrying groceries home. Again, I love getting away from the tourist and just seeing how people live.

This is a picture of someone's courtyard in their homes. They even have patio competitions and like people to look in through the gates to their courtyards. We slept in Arcos and enjoyed exploring that town as well. Quinn and Kyle even played a game of futbol with some local kids in front of a cathedral. It is regularly used as a soccer field because it is the only flat spot in town.

The day after the white villages we went to Seville. This is the cathedral there. Christopher Columbus' remains are there. All the cathedrals we saw were amazing and beautiful but I wouldn't want to go to church there.

This is the famous bell tower in Seville. We walked up to the bells. You walk up a ramp that enabled horses to go up as originally it was built to use for the Muslim call to prayer.

This is inside the palace in Seville. It is still used as a royal residence when they are in Seville. It was made by Moorish builders in the Moorish style with the intricately carved stone and bright mosaics and tile. Kyle was expecting Aladdin and Jasmine to jump out at any time.

We are walking around the Jewish quarter of Seville. Many cities and villages have Juderias where the Christians segregated the Jews. They have small winding lanes and are fun to get lost in.
This is the Plaza de Espana in Seville. It was made for the world fair in 1929

We took a tour of the Seville bull ring. It was interesting to learn about the history of the bull fight and how it all works. I still didn't want to see a live one though.

After Seville we drove to Toledo. This is a view of the city from the other side of the river. It was getting dark as we arrived so the photo is a bit dark. All of the guide books told us to stay over in Toledo and enjoy when all the day-trippers from Madrid go home and you can see the real Toledo. We did this and loved it. When we arrived it was already dusk. We checked in to the hotel and started exploring. We walked around for hours. Most of the tourist were gone leaving the locals and the true feeling of a Spanish town. I felt like I was on a movie set not in a real living place.

This is a typical shop that was in every city we went to.

We took lots of pictures on our evining stroll but most of them are pretty dark. This is one of the better ones. Pictures can't really capture a fraction of the character or feeling of a place.

More Toledo in the day.

After Toledo we had to say goodbye to Mekell and Quinn as they left a day before us. The next day Kyle and I went to a summer palace called Aranjuez.

The gardens at Aranuez were huge and beautiful. There were many little girls in fancy white dresses for, what I am assuming, was their first communion.
While I absolutely loved everything about Spain and would recommend the trip to anyone, I have to say that there was one exception. That is the food. The Spanish food is gross. For the first couple of days I was adventurous and wanted to try things that were typically Spanish (minus the seafood which is everywhere). I tried Paella (just edible), spanish omlette (also just edible), roast suckling pig (taste was good but presentation lacking as it had the hoof, spine and thick crunchy skin still attached), and jamon (thinly sliced ham that was totally disgusting tasting like greasy lard). After that we did all we could to find a McDonald's or Burger King. We had pizza a few times and even took a 1/2 hour taxi ride to a Friday's one night. We also bought ALOT of icecream.
It was truly a dream trip. Great company, great culture and history, great architecture, great scenery, good weather and not so good food. We had a little adventure on our way home as we had to fly a couple hours south before heading north again to avoid the volcanic ash. This added to an already long flight causing us to miss our connection in Chicago. We were re-routed and were happy to finally make it home.