The setting of our second Europe was Spain. One of the reasons for choosing Spain was that Rosa wanted to see some flamenco dancing. I had hoped to see some Spanish bull fighting, like Ernest Hemingway, but the fighting season ends in November.
We landed in Madrid and took a taxi to our hotel, which was north of the city center. We napped and then went out to Museo del Prado. As it was late in the day, we could only see one small part of the collection. It was a new exhibit on Spanish paintings – they were so vivid in color. After the museum closed, we walked around Parque del Retiro, which was behind the museum.
The next day was spent entirely in the Prado. One of the highlights for me was to introduce Rosa to the works of Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych was much larger than I had thought from the pictures in my art history books. I’ve loved the works of Bosch since my art history class in university.
That night we bought tickets to see a Flamenco performance. It was interesting, but Rosa was disappointed that there were no female performers. I thought one of the younger male performers looked exactly like Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage.
The next day (Christmas Eve), we visited the Prado again (I think) and then walked home. Normally we would take the subway to our hotel, but on this day we walked all the way back. It took about 2-3 hours, as we window-shopped along the way. One of the malls was still open until 7pm, which was surprising as it was Christmas Eve. After dinner, we went out to walk around the neighborhood. We stopped in a church that was a few blocks from our hotel; Rosa wanted to hear a choir. It was the first time I have been in a church for years. However, there was no choir that night.
The next day was Christmas, and everything was shut down. We decided we would travel to Segovia, which is about an hour from Madrid by train. Thus initiated one of our more memorable escapades. Our first challenge was getting the tickets for the train ride. We took the subway to the appropriate train station to buy the tickets. There was an information booth open, so we tried to ask them to ask where to buy tickets. The operator kept pointing off into some corner of the station. However, as the station had many levels, with big open spaces (sort of like the inside of a shopping mall), we couldn’t figure out where he was pointing. We were asked for money from the same homeless person over and over again, as we were the only people in the entire station. Finally, we found the ticket machine, which was around a corner making it completely hidden from us until we stumbled upon the dark hall.
So we got on the train, which had more people on board. About halfway there, the train stopped. Our tickets didn’t indicate that the trip required changing trains, but when everyone else was leaving, we asked a passenger about Segovia. He pointed out the door and said ‘yes’. We grabbed our stuff and ran off the train, following everyone else through a series of gates and pathways between different rail lines, and got on another train. There was no signage indicating what to do, or why we changed, or even if the train was really going to Segovia, but we trusted that everyone else must know what they were doing.
It was a good choice, as the second train did go to Segovia. We had to take a shuttle bus from the train station to the old part of the town. We went to the Alcázar (castle). Our tour book said it was one of the models for Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyworld, but I find that very doubtful. It was not open on the holiday. We continued into the old town to see the Cathedral. On this trip, we learned more about ourselves as a couple, as Rosa and I have different eating schedules (I have more stamina). We went to a nearby bar that was open (on Christmas Day!), and over tapas we learned how to better communicate. It is moments like this that has cemented our relationship – always working to keep our communications open and honest. That is why we will have a very happy life together.
In the afternoon we walked around Segovia. We snuck into a hospital to use the washrooms and then played outside on a teeter-totter. We made our way down to the impressive Roman Aqueduct. It dates to the 1st century. We stopped in another church on the way back to the bus, and this time there was a small choir and Rosa was happy.
The trip home was much less eventful. I don’t even remember if we had to change trains going back.
One of our lifesavers in Madrid was the Starbucks across from the Prado. We went there nearly every day to get something to eat and drink. Across from the Starbucks was the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which had the best collection of modern art we have seen. It had works by Dalí, O’Keeffe, Lichtenstein, etc. Rosa doesn’t like modern art, but I do enjoy all forms of art. I had not seen any works by most these modern artists before, except in my art history class.
Our last day in Madrid was spent walking around the shopping streets, such as Gran Vía, then past the mayor’s office (Palacio de las Comunicaciones).
The next day, we took a train from Madrid to Barcelona, which took around 6 hours. We left from Atocha station – which is the main train station. It was also the location of the 2006 bombings. Inside the station, which is an open plan, is a 4,000m2 covered tropical garden with tall palm trees.
In Barcelona, our hotel was actually quite far from the city center. It would take about 15 minutes to walk to the train station, then a 10-minute train ride to the nearest subway station. So we could not plan to return to the hotel during the day – it was about 45 minutes.
Our first stop in Barcelona was Plaça Catalunya where we started our walk the 1.2km long pedestrian street, La Rambla. Our tour books indicated that La Rambla was infamous for pickpockets, but the crowds were small in the winter, so we did not have any problems.
Many buskers were performing along the street. Many were statues, where they stand still and the tourists can take their pictures with them. Rosa and I laughed at some of them, in particular a Cleopatra who didn’t really have a costume; she just wore some skimpy clothes and painted her skin yellowish-gold. It was entirely unconvincing! No one even gave her a second glance, let alone any money.
Just for kicks, we visited Museu de l’Erotica, which was along La Rambla. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been. It was mostly just posters from movies (some main-stream), photos from Helmut Newton and magazines, and some artifacts from history and pre-history. It was only 2-3 rooms, and the displays were not well organized.
One of the highlights of Barcelona was the Sagrada Família cathedral. It was started in 1882, and the completion is forecast for 2020. It is so different from any other church, even in its unfinished state. When it is complete, it will be just incredible. The architect, Antoni Gaudí, created a number of buildings in Barcelona. Later in the day, we visited the Casa Milà apartments. Even the chimneys were works of extraordinary art.
In our tour of Barcelona, we found the Palau de la Música Catalana, a theatre dating back to 1908. We checked at the box office to see if anything was on and were delighted to find that there was a ballet performance the next night. We immediately bought tickets.
Because the hotel is far from the city, we had to dress up for the day for the evening performance. This was fine, but we had to be careful not to get too dirty or messy. The interior of Palau de la Música Catalana is amazing with a breathtakingly beautiful stained glass skylight. The performance was actually an exhibition of famous pas de deux from various ballets. Rosa was very impressed with Tamara Rojo, who could perform a 180-degree penché. Getting home after the performance was difficult. We took the subway as far as we could, but it closed at midnight. The trains were also not running that late. We started to walk and realized we were miles from our hotel and it was close to 1:00am. We waited until we could see a taxi, and then I yelled as loud as I could to ensure that the driver could hear us. It worked, and we were home in about 10 minutes.
One day, we walked along the waterfront, stopping at the monument to Christopher Columbus, and ending up near the Olympic village from 1992.
Our last day, nothing was open again (New Years Day), so we started by visiting the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. The Cathedral had an impressive neo-gothic façade. We had another adventure here, when we attempted to buy candles (or maybe it was holy water) for Rosa’s mother, who is a devote catholic. We tried to find out if the candles had been blessed by the Archbishop of Barcelona, who had given the mass earlier in the morning. One woman claimed to be able to speak English, but when we asked the questions, she was completely unable to understand us. Our lesson: anyone can claim to speak English, but that doesn’t mean they actually do.
Our last destination was Parc de la Ciutadella, near the waterfront. It was a nice walk. There was a very nice fountain there, and one of our memorable photos was just Rosa and I in front of the fountain – the happy couple celebrating 1 year together.
Our photo gallery is available here: photo gallery http://gallery.myredbmw.net/v/Travel/Spain2005/ (password protected). To see where we went, download and open this Google Earth file: Spain 2005.kmz.