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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cordoba another Constantinople

While planning the trip, two cities which we were visiting in Spain were fixed Madrid and Barcelona in that order. The tricky part was to plan the rest of it. We could do the northern part with Bilbao, San Sebastián and Pamplona, which is pleasant in the summers and that could have been clubbed with the French Riviera, to really make it a happening trip. The time we were travelling almost coincided with the bull run in Pamplona. A festival which is now so familiar to Indians because of the movie 'Zindagi na milegi dobara.' We did watch the movie again to see if we could get some help in planning the itinerary. But they have changed the timing of the festivals according to the story line. In actual the Tomatina festival takes place in August and the Bull run in July, while in the movie the order is reversed.

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The request for Spanish visa by Indians has increased manifold after the release of the movie. It does take a while to procure the visa for Spain it's best to apply for it, at least a month prior to the visit especially in summer.
Or we could take it easy and do central Spain near Madrid, Salamanca, Valladolid, include the nearby places Segovia, Toledo.

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The southern part which is more touristy includes Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Valencia. It's warmer in the south especially Seville. But people said that to see Spain it is a must to visit Seville. Then of course we could include Malaga in the south.

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We decided on Southern Spain, despite the heat. As we did not have many days with us, we planned on day trips for Cordoba and Granada. That was how we reached in Cordoba on a Monday, a day when many attractions are closed, but the main, Mezquita, which we wanted to visit was open. We took a superfast train (Ave), this time from Atocha Station at 7:00am in the morning reaching Cordoba at 8:42am. We were quite impressed by the coach. We boarded the train like one boards a flight.
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At the station there was no locker facility, we asked an official for such a facility nearby.  Outside of Madrid and Barcelona, the locals are not versed in English, but they are helpful and use sign language to help. He told us to look right after leaving the station. We could not take our luggage with us while going for sightseeing, so we had decided to keep it in a luggage locker. we
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Sunday, July 21, 2013

A lazy Sunday in Madrid

We reached Madrid by 2pm, so I decided to catch the flea market in El Rastro which is there every Sunday till 4pm in summers. We quickly made our way there. It was an interesting market but already winding up, strange that though the Spanish seem so laid back but they are very punctual. The trains are on time and especially if the superfast (Avi)train is late they give compensation, if its late by less than 15mnts, and full refund if they are late by 15minutes or more, quite unlike the trains in UK which are late by the norm. We had to buy a shoulder bag and some other general stuff and souvenirs. On the way we spotted a candy shop and clicked a snap for Soumya as the shop was closed & we couldn't buy anything.

After that we went into a sleepy cafe just to give our feet some rest and catch a coffee.
Then we headed for the Plaza Mayor, which is a large open space, square, to enjoy the distinctly european culture of sitting in an open cafe. Madrid seemed to me a city of squares, innumerable and this was the largest of them.
We sat in an outdoor cafe and tasted the Mediterranean cuisine.
As we came out of the square there was a parlour of frozen yoghurt which seemed to be a rage all over Spain & to which Shaleen took a liking with a vengeance, I think there was hardly a parlour we crossed where we did not stop for the yoghurt, no matter how much we had just eaten.
By now it was time to head for the Museo del Prado, it was free entry time between 5-8pm on Sunday, (but they closed down by 7pm). As we walked along Paseo del Prado I had planned to just take a look at the Caxia Forum, which had seemed an interesting building with a vertical garden.

We reached Museo del Prado, along with free entry, there were free locker facility to keep our stuff, usually all over Spain there were lockers where you could put a one euro coin, lock your stuff and when you retrieve your belongings, you get it back, the euro.
We quickly headed towards the 1st floor, took a look at the Ruebens, few Goyas. In general it reminded me of Louvre, which is the better of the two. But the art is different and that cannot be compared. Photography is prohibited inside. Much to our disappointment they herded us out one hour earlier than what we thought was the closing time.
There were scores of tourists just lazing around outside and we did the same.
Next we walked to the Parque del Buen Retiro, just close by, something similar to the Central park in New York. Bustling with activity. the artificial lake being the centre of things.

After spending some time in the park, we took a metro to Gran Via, most cities in Spain have a main road, which is known as the Gran Via, something like the Mahatma Gandhi marg in India.
Gran Via we thought would be comparable to The Champs Elysses in Paris, although that was not so, but it still had its own charm.

This was the scene as we walked towards our hotel.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Segovia - one of Spain's most bike friendly cities

Segovia was a day trip from Madrid. It had been a difficult choice between Toledo or Segovia. After reading several reviews on tripadvisor, I decided that Segovia would be the more picturesque of the two. Segovia is one of Spain's most bike friendly cities. As we had got down from the bus, there had been several cyclists just getting ready for a race. We tried to take bikes on rent but could not manage it. As we walked back to the area where we were supposed to catch the bus. It was fun to loiter around on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes just lying down under the trees, having more of the wonderful cherries, buying souvenirs from the local shops, catching a bite to eat.

Entrance to the cathedral

                                                                                                                            on the other side of the aqueduct                                             Plaza Mayor Segovia

Just near the Plaza Mayor in Segovia was a patisserie Limon y Menta, where we bought the Segovian speciality ponche segoviano a rich lemon infused sponge cake coated with marzipan and topped in icing sugar.
We were back in Madrid around 2pm, but we had missed the bus to the station and had to take a taxi.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fairy tale city of Segovia

After the Flamenco show at Villa Rosa tablao, where we had food also, we roamed the streets in Madrid, tried tapas in one restaurant. It was like a party going on in Madrid at night.

As the lonely planet guide says, no night in Madrid is complete without chocolate con churros (deep fried doughnut strips dipped in hot chocolate), we made our way to Chocolateria San Gines. By that time we were so full, we could hardly appreciate the churros and lovely chocolate. The central location of the hotel where we were staying proved to be a big advantage to us as we ,we just walked everywhere.

Puerta del sol in the morning

Next day, we started early as we had decided to reach Segovia in time to beat the crowd. We got the renfe train from Chamartin, it was a half an hour journey. As we had the tickets to Segovia from Chamartin, we were issued free tickets on the cercanias train to the station concerned, from our metro stop,next to the hotel. The train's speed was more than 200km/hr.
The video shows the huge Charmartin station. Both the videos in this post are by mistake in the portrait mode.

Going by train definitely cut short our commuting time, than if we had gone by road, as we had been planning earlier, but as fate would have it Shaleen could not get an international driving license issued in Lucknow due to some glitch. Though we had done a lot of research into going by road. Major hurdle to that was the lack of parking space all over tourist places in Spain. Even the hotels charge for parking,. many parking areas charge by the hour and they may be full, esp. the peak season in which we were traveling. So in the end we traveled everywhere by train, which had its own advantages of being faster, more relaxing time for sightseeing, no parking hassles, all railway stations were in the centre of the cities, so we just walked to our hotels rolling our luggage along.

We got a bus from outside the Segovia- Guiomar station.and got off at the stop for the roman aqueduct. Hot air balloons were visible in the sky and one of them landed just by the side of the road as our bus was passing by  

El Acueducto (Roman aqueduct) is an 894m long structure made around AD 50 as a part of complex system of aqueducts and underground canals that brought water from the mountains more than 15km away. Major restoration work took place in the 1990s.

We walked uphill towards the Alcazar, a prototype fairy tale castle, which inspired Walt Disney's vision of Sleeping Beauty's castle. On the way we bought some cherries which were the best we've ever had. We also meandered into the cathedral and had a look around.

It was a lovely walk along the almost deserted roads. We reached Alcazar at its opening time, with two or three people around, and by the time we had completed our visit the place was swarming with tourists and school groups. We purchased tickets with a tower visit and audio guide included for 16Euros.  
  Inside the Alcazar
famous pine cone ceiling            view of the city from the alcazar

video from the tower of alcazar

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Killing the night - Madrid

We reached Madrid, later than we were supposed to, and the airport was quite outside the city, it was like the countryside. Arrival time in Madrid was 20:25 local time.It was sunny outside like 3pm Indian time.

We used the metro to reach our hotel 'Hostal Madrid', which was near Puerta del sol. We took the train, it was quite simple. Our hotel was a short distance away from the metro station we just walked over to it.

The Hotel's lobby. We had a room with a balcony overlooking the street. Soon after checking in we decided to hit the streets.The friendly hotel staff helped us make a reservation at a tablao "Villa Rosa" for Flamenco.


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