Spain, Dec 2010

Our 2010 holiday trip almost didn’t happen. The shutdown of many northern European airports impacted our travel almost before it started.

We were booked with KLM from Montreal to Amsterdam. This means that we start at the Ottawa train station, where a bus from KLM shuttles passengers Montreal (Trudeau Airport). This method is used by KLM (and Air France and Swiss Air) as they do not fly from Ottawa.

We took the 2pm bus to the Montreal airport on Saturday. We went in the terminal and got our boarding passes (which had no seat numbers assigned) from the electronic check-in. The terminal was in complete chaos. Then we were all forced to stand in a line-up away from the baggage drop-off. After 10 minutes, an individual from KLM came to speak with each group of passengers and said that even though the flight to Amsterdam was still departing, Amsterdam was only accepting passengers for whom Amsterdam was their final destination. They would not accept any transferring passengers – that meant us. Amsterdam could not handle any more people being stuck in the terminal.

We were given a phone number to call to rebook and were told that we can either go home on the bus or KLM would put us in a hotel overnight.

Rosa excels in these circumstances. She came up with our plan of action. The first action was to rebook the flight before making our decision to stay or go home.

We found the last available pay phone and called KLM. We waited on hold a remarkably short time. The agent was very helpful and she rebooked us Montreal to JFK to Madrid on Delta for Monday morning – 2 days later.

We did not want to wait in Montreal for 2 days, so we chose to take the shuttle bus home. As we did not bring our cell phones, it would be better to try to solve our other travel issues at home.

The next day, we booked VIA rail tickets and a hotel in Dorval. We took the train that evening and spent the night in Dorval. We wanted get to the airport early enough to check-in and still have enough time to start making phone calls to arrange to catch up with our tour.

Monday morning, we took the hotel shuttle to the airport and checked-in, confirming that our luggage was booked all the way to Madrid. I had a few spare minutes so after we dropped off our luggage so I went to Canada Customs and had an officer stamp an inventory of my camera equipment. That way, I will not have a problem when I return to Canada. They told me that the stamp was good for the life of the camera, so I will not need to get the stamp each time I leave.

At 9:00am, we called our travel insurance support number. We had purchased travel insurance to cover any issues should Papa get sick while we were away. We wanted to confirm that the insurance covered the extra costs we were incurring. They said we were covered.

Next, we called our travel agent. We needed her help for two things. First she booked us another flight from Madrid to Granada, where we could catch our tour. Then, we needed help to contact our tour director to arrange the meeting at the hotel in Granada.

Our travel agent is so amazing; she even started filling in some of our insurance claim paperwork for us. This is why we go with a travel agent instead of Internet cheap-fare sites.

Since I brought my iPhone, we could receive the e-tickets by email while we were at the airport.

Our flight from Montreal to JFK was on an older regional jet. How old? It had an ashtray on the wall outside the washroom, just below the no smoking sign.

Rosa at JFK
Rosa at JFK

We had a 6-hour layover at JFK before our transatlantic flight. We had a delicious lunch at Todd English’s Bonfire restaurant. The parmesan fries were so good. We shopped. Rosa had a back massage. I finally saw one of the new Airbus A380s. It didn’t look so big from a distance because of the proportions – it looks like a small plane scaled up, unlike the 747, which has a unique visage.

As our boarding time came closer, Rosa and I still had not been assigned seats. We asked at the gate and were told that our seats had not been assigned and that we had to wait until our names were called or were displayed on a message board. So we waited. And waited. The first boarding call came. Then the second. Then the general boarding call. Many names were listed on the message board and they were allowed to board but not us. And still we waited. The gate slowly cleared of people and grew quiet. And we waited. We overheard some of the other waiting passengers being told they could not sit together as the plane was full. And we waited.

After 30 minutes of boarding and only 10 minutes to the scheduled departure (I.e. the take off time), we still had no seats assigned. There were ten people standing next to the gate waiting for seats. We overheard the gate attendant tell another passenger that there were no more seats left on the plane. That’s when I started to quietly panic.

But there was nothing we could do until our names were called. We waited in mortified silence.

Finally, some luck – our names were called. I yelled out that we were here and they gave us our tickets, but they were not together. I was unhappy, but at least we were going to reach our tour.

Once on the plane, one couple asked if I could switch my window seat so that they could sit together. I agreed even though I love the window seat – at least I can make another couple happy.

Then our good luck happened again and the woman sitting next to Rosa agreed to switch as well and Rosa and I could be together for the 7.5-hour flight.

Due to the late departure from JFK (as they loaded the final passengers and their luggage), we arrived in Madrid more than an hour late. When we retrieved our bags from the carousel, the side of my luggage was inexplicably coated with something sticky and sweet. I can only guess that a jar of honey in someone else’s bag broke, which brings up a good question. Who puts jars of honey in their checked luggage?

We collected all our bags and went to the shuttle bus to Terminal 4, which is on the other side of the airport. Terminal 4 seems to be just for Iberia, and it is a new building. Wow, what a beautiful building. It is one of the best terminals I’ve been in. We were taking the final flight from Madrid to Granada.

However, with the late arrival from JFK and waiting for the shuttle bus, when we tried the automatic check-in, the flight was closed. We had to get in the customer service line to get rebooked (again) for later in the afternoon.

The flight to Granada was uneventful and short. When I saw my honey-coated bag on the baggage carrousel I turned to Rosa and said, “Oh, there’s my baklava.”

In the evening our tour went out to see a Gitano flamenco performance. It was held in a room carved out of the side of hill (a cave). It was an intimate environment where the performers danced only inches away. I was legitimately afraid they would hit my camera lens as they were spinning.

The first morning of our (shortened) tour, we went to the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex in Granada. The Alhambra is an interesting mix of the original Moorish architecture and later Christian elements. The history of Spain is clear to see in this one fortress. The Muslim Emir started the original citadel in the 9th Century; the Christian kings conquered the region in 1492 and added their own imposing palace and church.

Alhambra interior decorations
Alhambra interior decorations

The Moorish influences are seen in the nondescript palace buildings, which are actually wondrously decorated inside. The ceilings in particular are spectacular, as it was a tradition to have lavish ceilings in homage to the wonders of Allah (God).

On the other hand, the palace of King Charles V was more impressive on the outside. Along the outside wall were a series of rings and a ledge around the bottom of the walls. They were used by knights to mount their horses.

It started to rain and we had left our umbrellas in our luggage, so we could not continue to see the gardens. I would have liked to see the gardens on a nice clear day.

We learned that the tour was still short by 10 people due to the weather chaos. Other people on our tour had stories about their own travel problems. In CDG, the food line-ups were 3 hours long and the line to speak to customer service was up to 7 hours long. Rosa and I were very lucky to not get stuck in airports when we travelled.

Carmen Escalona, curator, and Rosa
Carmen Escalona, curator, and Rosa

We arrived at our hotel in Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol (Sun Coast) at 2pm. After getting checked-in, I took a nap as I was still exhausted. Rosa sorted clothes and then went down to the bar for a coffee. In the late afternoon, we took a walking tour of the hillside village of Mijas. Just as we left the hotel, it started to rain. In Mijas, I wasn’t off the bus more than a minute before my shoes, socks and pants were soaking. We stopped first at Casa Museo and saw some old grape and olive presses. After the rest of the tour party left, Rosa and I struck up a conversation with the curator, Carmen Escalona. We found out that she also created all of the artwork and dioramas in the museum. We took our pictures with her.

Leaving the museum, it started to really pour. We took shelter in shops as we tried to make our way back to the bus. One store in particular caught my eye – Fotoart, which was displaying the most amazing African photos from local photographer Jesús Jaime Mota. I might order some of his prints.

In the evening, we had a seafood dinner. It was plate after plate of tapas (mostly deep fried seafood). The main course was sea bass packed in layers of rough rock salt.

The next day we visited another continent and had more travel woes.

We signed up for the optional trip to Morocco. We left the hotel at 8am for the one-hour trip to the ferry. We were all excited. Rosa was humming the soundtrack from Out of Africa. I was humming Toto’s Africa.

The ferry was a fast catamaran that took us from near Gibraltar to Ceuta in just 35 minutes. It was a nice opportunity to get to know our fellow tour members. We struck up a very good conversation with twin sisters from South Africa.

Upon arriving in the town of Ceuta, we joined with a local tour bus and guide. Ceuta is actually a Spanish territory so there is actually a border crossing to leave the city and enter Morocco. Once through, we drove to the city of Tétouan, disembarked and entered the souq (or medina). It was like a bazaar. There were farmers selling their fresh vegetables and fruits. Some of the sellers had no more than a bag or two of produce for sale as they sat on the sidewalk. This really affected me. I realized that these women (they were frequently women) were as close to subsistence farming as I have seen. All that they had left over to sell for money was a meagre bag or two. It was all they could spare.

Tétouan butcher
Tétouan butcher

There were other established stores as well selling cheap electronics or fresh fruit or dates. Some stores sold hand-crafted jewellery or hand-made dresses. Other parts of the souq specialized in fresh meat. Very fresh – live chickens. The blood on the floors indicated that they were also butchers.

We had reservations at a restaurant for lunch. We had a local soup with chickpeas, followed by beef kabob and a pile of couscous and chicken in the middle of the table. During lunch there was music and folk dancing. Sweet Mint tea finished off the meal. Rosa got a henna tattoo on her left hand.

We continued through the souq. We stopped at Berber carpet business. The same family had owned the business and building for generations. It reminded me of our Turkey trip.

A little after four o’clock we were back on the bus. Thus began our next travel adventure. The bus got caught in a huge traffic jam at the border. After waiting 30 minutes, the tour guides elected to cross the border on foot. This was fascinating as we had a chance to mix with the local Moroccans. It was also the nicest weather of our trip so far. We walked for some distance while Rosa and I had a deep discussion with friends from our tour on the topics of what is free will and the differences between Canada and the US.

Richard and Rosa in Ceuta
Richard and Rosa in Ceuta

We stopped walking after maybe 2 KM as there was supposed to be another bus that had been arranged to pick us up. However, we found out that the second bus was stuck in the traffic jam going in the opposite direction. We gave up waiting and decided to walk to try to catch the 5:30 ferry. We walked another 2 KM when our original bus drove by; the driver did not see our group among the rest of the pedestrian traffic. Eventually the tour director reached the bus by cell phone and it stopped to pick us up and drive us the final kilometre to the ferry terminal. Once there, our travel issues continued. We had missed our 5:30 ferry, which was the only ferry that had left on time. We tried to get on the next ferry, but it was late. I think some of the ferries may have been cancelled too. We waited in the terminal for hours, unsure when we would board or even if we would need to spend the night in Africa.

There was no restaurant in the terminal, so we bought chocolate bars for dinner.

Finally we got tickets for the last ferry, but it was not the fast catamaran. The crossing would take more than an hour and a half. We boarded after 9pm. There was a small bar onboard that had sandwiches, but they ran out before everyone in our party could eat. I had a sandwich that was basically mashed potatoes on a bun. Unusual but filling.

We finally got back on our bus back to the hotel at midnight. We asked to stop for food on the way back, but every gas station was closed. Finally we found one that was open, but the doors were locked for security. The attendant refused to open the door for us. We were forced to order by looking at the shelves through the window and then telling our tour director what we wanted and he would translate to the attendant and she would go get it off the shelf and give us the food through a sliding drawer in the wall like they would use to serve food at a maximum security prison.

The following day we travelled to Gibraltar. We took the optional tour of the rock. It was in a smaller local tour bus. We started at the extreme southern point. There was a lighthouse there and, unexpectedly, a mosque. The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque was a gift from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Many of the workers who built the military installations in Gibraltar came from Morocco. From the lighthouse, we could look out over the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa where we had been the previous day.

It’s rather mind blowing that this extremely narrow body of water is all that is separating the two oceans – at one point the strait was closed and the Mediterranean was dry.

What a strategic point – all the shipping traffic between the Mediterranean and near East countries to the two American continents flow through this 13 KM body of water. We could not see the Atlantic, as there was another strip of Spain that was between Gibraltar and the Atlantic about 10 – 20 KM away.

Gibraltar Barbary Macaque
Gibraltar Barbary Macaque

Next, our bus climbed up the rock to St Michael’s cave. Even before the bus stopped, we could see some of the famous Barbary Macaques. They were jumping on the roof of the bus and trying to get in the bus looking for food hand-outs (they were not aggressive they just wanted food). They ranged from the size from babies up to nearly adult males weighing 13kg (30 pounds). The bus driver gave them a peanuts so that we could take photos; I didn’t take any because I didn’t want to encourage it – I took photos later without offering food.

We entered St Michael’s Cave and we were breathless – it was a massive cave with huge stalactites and stalagmites. They were easily 3 to 5 stories tall. It was amazing. I could have spent hours there. I wish I had a tripod and a super-wide angle lens. I took dozens of photos for HDR and panoramas. One part of the cave was converted into a concert hall for about 100 people. Rosa wanted her photo there. It was dark and high contrast so I had to use a flash to take a picture of Rosa. The first results were disappointing so I took the opportunity to experiment and learn to balance the light. Using auto-exposure was not working – the background was nearly black while Rosa’s white coat was blown out. The exposure was f/2.8 and 1/60s. I tried bouncing the flash off the white limestone walls (the ceiling was too far above) but there was too much light fall off and the background was too dark. So I switched over to manual mode and set f/2.8 and 1/60 (same as auto-exposure). Then I started trying longer shutter speeds. I went to 1/20s and moved up to 1/5s. The camera had been set to second (or rear) curtain sync although I don’t think it made much difference for a still photo. With a longer shutter speed, the camera sensor had enough time to expose the background correctly while the flash nicely illuminated Rosa in the foreground.

After we left the cave, we stopped at the cafe for a quick coffee. While we were ordering a monkey snuck in, leapt up on the counter and snatched a package of cookies and ran out. It happened so quickly.

We drove back down the rock and were dropped off at Main Street for some shopping. It was crowded as it was Christmas Eve. But it was great for people watching. And the weather was perfect – sunny and warm.

We elected to walk back to the border crossing inside of taking a local bus. The only road into Gibraltar crosses the only runway in the territory. When planes are landing or taking off, the traffic is stopped. I wanted to walk across the runway.

Returning to our tour bus, we started the 2-hour drive to Seville.

Entering Seville was fascinating. The main boulevard was lined on both sides with the most stunning buildings in many different architectural styles. They were built for the 1929 Exposición Ibero-Americana (World’s Fair). I didn’t take as many photos as the late day sun was causing havoc with reflections on the bus windows.

For dinner, we had a good (but not great) tapas meal in a restaurant near the Sevilla Cathedral. The wait-staff were a little disorganized which reminded Rosa and I of our meal in Naples exactly 4 years previous. As before, the highlight of the evening for us was having interesting conversations with new friends.

At midnight, people set off fireworks to mark the start of Christmas Day.

The catafalque of Christopher Columbus
The catafalque of Christopher Columbus

The next morning was a walking tour of the old city, the same area where we had had dinner the previous night. It ended at the cathedral. The Seville cathedral is the third-largest in the world. As it was Christmas day, we only had a few minutes to take photos inside between masses. Inside was the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Whether or not you agree that he discovered a continent where people already lived (and that the Vikings also discovered 500 years previous), he is certainly one of the most prominent figures in western history.

The cathedral was built on the site of a mosque that had been partially destroyed by an earthquake. The current bell-tower was the original minaret.

Rosa and Bozo sing at Christmas lunch
Rosa and Bozo sing at Christmas lunch

We had a three-course lunch. Bozo, our tour director, and Rosa sang Christmas carols; the rest of the people on the tour joined in too.

Lunch (and dinner) is served late in Spain, even in the winter months. It was after 3pm before we finished. Our next destination was Casa de Pilatos (Pilate’s House). It was so named as the son of the original owner discovered that the palace was the same distance to a nearby temple as the distance from the home of Pontius Pilate and Golgotha. A duchess still lives in one part of the palace. She will be the last royal resident. The palace has 140 rooms. The main feature is the marble courtyard that includes a statue of Athena from 5th century BC and a large white marble fountain. The interior has 500,000 individually made ceramic tiles. There are many indications of Moorish influences, including a room decorated (like the Alhambra) with the name of Allah – the builder felt that the name of God in any language was to be revered.

Our final tour stop was the Plaza de España, which was the centre of the 1929 Exposición Ibero-Americana. It is a Neo-Mudéjar style building that now houses government offices, including City Hall. It is semi-circular in shape, with 29 ‘Province Alcoves’ representing each province of Spain in beautiful ceramic tiles.

In the evening we attended another flamenco performance. According to Rosa, it was the best flamenco she had ever seen. She gave the performers a standing ovation. Even I thought they were good. After the performance, we had our multi-course Christmas dinner at the hotel. After dinner, we went to the hotel disco bar to burn off some calories. We danced until nearly 1am.

We travelled to Lisbon the next day. It was about a 5-hour drive from Seville. Like other EU borders there are no checkpoints, just a sign by the side of the road. Somehow the Canada-US border (“worlds longest undefended”) seems rather well defended with all the hassles with crossing the border and the TSA.

The day was sunny but chilly. We took a bus tour of Lisbon.

We took a short walking tour of the older part of the city. It seemed a little run-down. We later found that this was the same all over Portugal, perhaps due to the economic problems.

The next stop was the Jerónimos Monastery and the attached Church of Santa Maria. The construction was started in 1502. It was an impressive building nearly 275 meters long. In the Church are the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões. Vasco was the leader of the first European sea voyage to India (around the Cape of Good Hope) and Luís was a poet and writer who documented the lives of many of the Portuguese explorers; he is considered Portugal’s greatest poet. The church was interesting for the single-span ribbed vaulting.

Rosa at sunset
Rosa at sunset

Nearby was the Padrão dos Descobrimentos or Monument to the Discoveries. It is monument to all the Portuguese explorers from the ages of exploration and discovery. The sun was setting, so I took the opportunity to use the golden hour of light to take some portraits of Rosa and our friends from South Africa.

Our last stop was on a hill above Belém Tower – although I preferred to have stopped closer. We were too far away to truly take in this symbol of Lisbon.

In the evening we had dinner in at Café Luso. During the dinner, there were performances of Fado, a traditional Portuguese music genre. The singers were absolutely amazing. The music was the highlight of the dinner. Backing the singers were three musicians on double bass, guitar and a Portuguese guitar. The later was excellent with a fast, accurate picking technique. Interspersed with the singing were traditional dance performances.

Rosa likes Lisbon. I do as well, but I also find that the city is run-down. Many buildings are in need of maintenance and there are many abandoned buildings with smashed or missing windows. I guess it’s from the economic problems.

The following day, visited the summer royal palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra) in Sintra. The interior had many rooms decorated with ceramic tiles in different styles. Although not as lavish as other palaces we have seen it was nice to see. In a café, we had a local speciality, Queijadas de Sintra, a kind of cheesecake.

Fishing village of Cascais
Fishing village of Cascais

After that, we visited Cascais. Cascais was a fishing village that later became a summer home for the royal family and the rich. It still retains both aspects. It is a working fishing village, and it is surrounded by areas of wealth – the Estoril Casino and former Formula-1 track. In the port, the fishermen still manually repair their fishing nets. It was very quiet when we were there – I’m sure that it would be very interesting on a sunny morning as the fisherman are preparing to go out or when the return with their catch.

Our afternoon was free. Rosa wanted to shop at El Corte Inglés, a popular Spanish department store chain. The store near our hotel had 6 floors of shopping and 2 basement floors for the food court and movie theatre. I had lunch (sushi) in the food court, and then went to buy some new shoes to replace the pair ruined in the heavy rain in Mijas. For an afternoon snack, I had some sort of pastry with whip cream. Since the name was written in Portuguese, I have not idea was it was, but it was delicious.

In the evening, we took the ferry across the River Tagus to a fish restaurant. They had plate after plate of seafood, culminating in crab legs. They gave everyone a small plastic hammer and a board to smash the crab shell open.

We left Lisbon the following morning.

The first stop was Fátima, about 90 minutes from Lisbon. At the edge of town, the tour bus stopped at a religious store. It was large and absolutely full of iconography. Thousands of statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, thousands of rosaries, huge crucifixes and so forth.

Next stop was the site of the apparitions. The pasture has been paved for a huge square with churches (Our Lady of Fátima Basilica and Church of the Most Holy Trinity) at both ends. The actual location of the first apparition has a separate shrine (the Chapel of Apparitions). Down one side of the square is a white marble path. A few pilgrims were walking on their knees along the wet path. Some wore homemade kneepads; others wore ones from local shops. One huge man wearing a leather jacket and sneakers was walking on his knees past the sanctuary. His wife held one of his hands and his young daughter (who he was the same height on his knees) held his other hand. I wondered what he was thinking about as he took the painful route.

Candles and wax offerings for sale in Fátima
Candles and wax offerings for sale in Fátima

We could not enter the Basilica as there was a mass in progress. Next to the Chapel of Apparitions was an area or pit where pilgrims were burning huge candles. We had a quick lunch (I had a surprisingly good tomato soup), and I went to look at the local shops. They were full of the same religious items as the store we visited on our way in to the town. But they also sold the huge candles and wax effigies of body parts (arms, legs, eyes, breasts and most internal organs) and of little children. I guess the point is to buy the wax items and then burn them in the pit next to the sanctuary.

Leaving Fátima we travelled north to the town of Oporto. The city is a place I could spend days photographing. It is built on steep hills on either side of the River Douro. It is not a beautiful city – it is in need of even more maintenance than Lisbon – but it looks so interesting. There are narrow shopping streets and many imposing churches rich with a patina of life.

We stopped by the river for a tour of the Sandeman port winery and wine tasting. On the way to the hotel we squeezed in 90 minutes of shopping. I bought a pair of stylish shoes for less than 10 Euros. Portugal is much less expensive than other European countries.

The evening dinner was a buffet at the hotel.

The next day we headed to Madrid. As it was the longest drive of the tour, we had to get up at 6am.

We stopped at Salamanca, which is the fourth oldest university town in Europe.

We only had an hour. Rosa and I went to a tapas bar for a quick bite. While Rosa went shopping I explored the local market – the fish was so fresh the crabs were still moving. Walking back to the palace square, I bought a Florentine pastry. Three minutes later, Rosa stopped at the same pastry shop. Europe has the best pastries.

The next short stop was Ávila. The old town is completely enclosed by a medieval wall with 88 huge watch towers. It is one of the few places we have seen with all the original walls still intact.

After check-in at our final hotel in Madrid we had an hour before our evening walking tour. Rosa went shopping, although there was not much around our hotel. I bought a cheap (and therefore disposable) mini-tripod for my camera. Then I walked to the Atocha train station. I knew from our previous trip to Madrid that there was a tropical garden inside the older part of the station. It was well worth the time to go back to see it.

Dinner at La Opera De Madrid
Dinner at La Opera De Madrid

In the evening, we had a tour around the Royal Theatre (Opera House) followed by a wonderful dinner at La Opera De Madrid restaurant. I had Coquille St Jacques and Duck Confit. During dinner, every 10 or so minutes an opera singer would come out and sing selections from operas.

I love Madrid. This evening the city is so vibrant. I love the Old World ambiance of the architecture. I love the crowds. I could spend many more days here although our tour was coming to an end.

Rosa and I spoke later that evening about what it means to take a tour instead of touring by ourselves. I had thought of meeting new friends as a fringe benefit – the icing on the cake. Rosa pointed out that it should be thought of as one of the primary reasons we take tours – the cake itself. And upon reflection I agreed. We look forward to who we will meet when we go on a vacation as much or more than what else we see on the tour.

Our final day in Spain started with a quick bus tour of the city, starting at Plaza de España and the monument to Miguel de Cervantes, writer of the most well known Spanish novel, Don Quixote. At the bottom of the monument were two bronze statues representing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Next, we went drove around the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) and then to the Museo del Prado. A tour guide took us to see some of the treasures of two of Spain’s most important painters: Velázquez and Goya. She told us about what made Velázquez’s paintings so unique. His most famous painting, Las Meninas, was one of the centrepieces of the Prado collections. Next, she took us on a tour of Goya’s works. As a young artist, he failed to enter art school on multiple occasions, but he was ambitious. He was hired by the Royal family to paint the designs to be used by the tapestry weavers. He used his time with the Royals to gain access to their painting collection, where he studied the works of the masters. In time, he grew his skills and became a remarkable painter. Like Picasso (who was inspired by Goya’s work), his style changed over time, showing a flexibility that allowed such varied works as “Charles IV of Spain and His Family”, “The Third of May 1808” and “Saturn Devouring His Son”.

After the Prado guided tour was over, we had a quick lunch and then went to see works by one other artist that both Rosa and I enjoy: Hieronymus Bosch. We stopped at “The Garden of Earthly Delights“.

After the Prado, Rosa went shopping at El Corte Inglés and I went sight seeing.

I started with a walk through Parque del Buen Retiro, which is behind the Prado. It was a pleasant afternoon, with a light mist from the coming rains. Rosa and I had walked through the park in our previous trip, and I wanted to see it again.

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

After the park, I took the subway to see Plaza de Toros – Madrid’s bullfight ring. The building was beautiful. I would have liked to go inside to see more, but there was a circus that was using the building. The bullfight season ends in November.

Next, I headed off to see the Palace again. I wanted more time to walk around and take photos. The palace is an elegant neo-classic building, imposing to the area around it. Next to it is the new Almudena Cathedral, which opened in 1993.

I walked from there back towards the shopping areas, stopping to see the old Town Hall, and the glass-enclosed market called Mercado de San Miguel. If I had more time (and perhaps less equipment), I would have spent more time in the market, taking pictures of the crowded tapas bars and fresh meats and produce. After our experiences in Russia (camera theft), I am much more nervous in crowded areas when I have my camera bag.

Eventually, I met up with Rosa in the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol. This plaza once served as Kilometre Zero for Spanish roads. A tower on one side of the plaza has a bell that rings in the New Year, which we will miss by a day.

We went into the nearby El Corte Inglés and had a snack. Together, we shopped a little bit and then went to get our VAT rebate forms at customer service.

With that task completed, we went back to the hotel to prepare for the farewell dinner. The dinner was again highlighted by conversations with our new friends. I spoke with someone who had actually been to a Beatles concert – awesome! The dinner was over too soon and we were back at the hotel. In the lobby, the ladies from the tour wanted a group photo. Rosa and I and our friends also took some photos together. We went upstairs to complete the packing for the flight back the next morning.

The flight back was uneventful. Rosa talked with a girl from Paris who was coming to Montreal to complete her studies. They talked about fashion and shopping in the city of lights for the entire flight.

Once back in Canada, we took the shuttle bus back to the train station in Ottawa. Here we faced our final travel issue. The battery in the car was completely dead. We had to call CAA at 7pm on New Year’s Eve. They arrived, jumpstarted the car, and we arrived back home around 8:30pm, where the battery in our other car was also nearly dead. I called CAA the next morning for another jumpstart. The following day I bought jumper cables for both cars as soon as Canadian Tire opened.

Our photo gallery (password protected):

To see where we went, download and open this Google Earth file: Spain 2010.kmz.

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