All roads lead to Madrid!

Community Highlights Europe All roads lead to Madrid!

The center of all the roads in Spain lead to Madrid!

Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square is home to the center from which all of Spain’s six major roads originate, a little-known fact marked by a plaque that reads ‘Kilometer 0’. Thousands of people walk over the plaque every day, not realizing that they are standing in the geographical center of Spain.


The drive from Denia to Madrid was an easy four-hour drive inland to the north west. It was very interesting to see the landscape quickly change from lush apple and orange orchards to miles after miles of grape vines growing in bright orange soil! Where there weren’t grapes there was olives bursting on the branches ready to be made into wonderful olive oil and snacks! Fun fact, Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil. Not only did the vegetation changed, so did the temperature, going from 21C/70F to 13C/55F, goodbye shorts!


We arrived in Madrid, found our new apartment and set up shop. We were excited to pick up Kathy and Garry for their first adventure in Europe! Here is the planned route:

Kathy booked us an amazing big and bright apartment in the area called Lavapies which is smack dap in the middle of all the action.


It is a 7-minute walk to the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, which we hit the first night we arrived. This is home to Picasso’s Guernica, arguably Spain’s most famous artwork. You may remember us going to Guernica in the north of Spain and touring the museum there of the history of the dreadful bombing that happened during the Spanish Civil War (Hitler helping out Franco in his own country…). In addition to plenty of paintings by Picasso, there is also works by Salvador Dali and Joan Miro.


Madrid is a great walking city, which we took full advantage of! Wondering around the narrow, cobble stone streets in the old town we came across many historical plazas, stunning architecture and restaurant after restaurant! I don’t know how they all survive, clearly the Spaniard’s enjoy their gastronomic experiences.


The four of us decided to head to one of Madrid’s oldest markets which has become one of the trendiest local places to eat. It was a great surprise for all of us, ranging from shops where you could have a nice glass of wine, fish shops where you could pick your raw piece of fish and they would cook it to your liking to shops with perfectly displayed tapas ready for your consumption.


Lots of great eating, time for some more culture and art! We went early to the Prado Museum to attempt to avoid the crowds. The Prado which is officially known as the Museo Nacional Del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum. Additionally, it is considered one of the world ‘s finest art collection of European art. Its collection consists of around 8,200 drawings, 7,600 paintings, 4,800 prints and 1,000 sculptors! There is numerous works by Goya, El Greco, Bosch, Rubens, Velazquez and many more, it was truly stunning! The best known is work on display is Las Meninas – ladies in waiting by Velazquez. The main characters of this famous painting have wandered off the canvas and can be found in life size statues throughout central Madrid’s sidewalks and plazas, they are very cool to see! They remind me of the cow statues throughout the streets of Calgary, but in more an artistic way!


We maximized getting to or by as many sites in Madrid as possible by taking the Hop on, Hop off bus. Most big cities have this tour and it gives you a good outline of the city and its major sites.


To help improve our understanding of the Spanish tapas scene, we bought tickets for the Madrid Tapas and Wine Tasting Tour. This walking tour had a local Madrilian guide 10 of us through 4 local tapas bars plying us with a dozen or more tapas, along with local wines, beers and cider. We enjoyed many of the go-to-tapas like the Spanish omelet, Iberian ham and wonderful pimento peppers. Then some of us experimented with trying tripe and shark! Garry even gave a go of pouring cider like the locals do, he was a natural. Our guide Rodrigo even made a detour so we could see the house where Miguel de Cervantes lived. Cervantes was the Spanish writer of Don Quixote. Rodrigo was very passionate talking about this famous Spanish novel and how important its contents is to the locals. This tour was a trip highlight for Garry!


Kathy had on her list to visit the Sunday’s El Rastro flea market in Madrid. Now, Margo and I have experienced many of the local flea markets in Spain, Italy and France, but this one by far was the biggest one we had visited! It went for blocks and blocks with tables of souvenirs, clothing to antiques, just about everything you would ever need or not!


Once we got the shopping out of our system, we picked up on our walking tour that we started a couple of days earlier. We were sidetracked by the consumption of great eats and drinks at the San Miguel Mercado which ended our walking tour short of a few sites! The sites we caught up on were the Palacio Real. This is Spain’s lavish jewel box of a palace that the royal family once resided at. Unfortunately, there was a federal election that day and the gave the folks that work there the day off to take time to vote, hence we did not see the inside. We wondered through the beautiful Plaza de Oriente which is the gardens that are adjacent to the palace. Then it was off to see the Muralla Arab which is a portion of the Arab Wall that was built in Madrid early medieval Muslim rulers and dated back to the 9th century. We headed off to the Egyptian Temple of Debod that dates back to the 2nd century BC and was transported to Madrid’s Montana Park. The temple was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government to save it from floods. Last on our walking tour was Iglesia de San Gines which is one of Madrid’s oldest churches. The church also has the El Greco painting Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple.


The road trip begins! We packed up from our comfortable digs in Madrid and headed south to Toledo.

Toledo is truly one of Spain's magnificent cities. Dramatically sited atop a gorge overlooking the Rio Tajo, it was known as the "city of three cultures" in the Middle Ages, a place where - legend has it - Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities peacefully coexisted. Who would have thought....

We had an amazing adventure through this historic city. We first took in the Cathedral de Toledo which ranks in the top 10 of Spanish cathedrals, no I did not make this up! The cathedral is an impressive example of medieval Gothic architecture, with its enormous interior full of the classic characteristics of the style, rose windows, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults and pointed arches among them. The cathedral's sacristy is quite the art gallery with works from Velazquez, Goya and El Greco.


We were able to enjoy block after block of terrific cobble stone streets as we wandered around the city of tight corridors.

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We set out to find the Sinagoga del Transito, which is said to be a magnificent synagogue built in 1355. Indeed, it was very impressive from the outside, but unfortunately was closed! We settled to do a tour at the neighboring Sinagoga Santa Maria La Blanca. It was smaller but was full of history and beauty.


After an intense culture filled day, we headed off to the Parador de Toledo. The attraction was a terrace with an amazing view of the city of Toledo and the sunset. Ok, we also had to quench our thirst with a fantastic bottle of Spanish red wine! Parador hotels remind us of the old Canadian Pacific hotels that were in Canada (now Fairmont's). Most all of these hotels are in amazing locations with killer views and big price tags. Like Santiago, we opted for going for a drink.


We loaded up the car and headed 350 km/215 miles south to the magical city of Cordoba. This building alone is reason enough to visit Cordoba: the mesmerizing, multiarched Mezquita. Kathy once again, came through with a wonderful hotel for us to stay at and one that could not be any closer to the Mezquita itself! Thank you, Kathy!


The Mezquita is one of the world's greatest works of Islamic buildings dating back to AD 784. The Mezquita is a symbol of the worldly, sophisticated culture that flourished more than a thousand years ago when Cordoba was the capital of Islamic Spain and Western Europe's biggest and most cultured cities. With having had 3 expansions over the years, the Mezquita can accommodate up to 40,000 worshipers and is over 14,000 sq meters or 150,000 sq feet! The oddity of the mosque is that in the 16th century a Christian cathedral was plunked right in the middle of middle of it, hence the name "Mezquita-Cathedral". They say (whoever "they" are) that it is impossible to overemphasize the beauty of Cordoba's great mosque, with its remarkable serene (minus the crowds of tourist) and spacious interior! It’s so interesting to see a combined mosque and Catholic Church - although the mosque is no longer used. Check out the pictures and decide for yourself.


There also is a spectacular courtyard called Patio de los Naranjo that is that forms the entrance to the Mezquita. It is filled with orange, palm and cypress trees and fountains. It was the site used for ritual ablutions (the act of washing one’s self) before entering into the mosque to pray.


One last experience we had to take in at the Mezquita, was the climb up the Bell Tower or Torre Campanario. The climb takes you to the top of a 54m/177ft tower with panoramas and a birds-eye view on the Mezquita.


We also took in the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba. This Alcazar was built under Castilian rule in the 13th & 14th centuries on the remains of a Moorish. This fort like palace was where Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, made their first acquaintance with Christopher Columbus in 1486. The floor to ceiling mosaics were stunning! The time and effort that it took to create them is unimaginable Margo and Kathy loved walking through the terraced gardens, full of fishponds, fountains, orange trees and gardens.


Cordoba was Kathy’s favorite stop, not a big city and so much to see. Here are some street shots around the small part we saw, including their Arc di Triomphe and Puente Romano, a Roman bridge built in the 1st century B.C. crossing the Guadalquivir river. Most of the current structure dates from the Moorish reconstruction in the 8th centuary, now that's old!


Keeping with Garry's love of horses, we took an informative & fun horse and carriage ride around Cordoba's oldtown. Complete with narrative from our driver Pepe who only spoke Spanish, but fortunately he knew how to use Google translate!


But wait there were more horse to see! Pepe pointed us to the Caballerizas Reales or the Royal Stables and suggested us to go and explore the property. These elegant stables were built on the orders of King Felipe II in 1570 as a center for developing the tall Spanish thoroughbred warhorse know in Spain as the caballo andaluz. The stable still breeds these fine horses and house about 47 of them today. They are trained in equestrian disciplines which they show off during a 1-hour evening performance that we took in, quite impressive!


From Cordoba we headed to one of our favorite cities in Spain, Granada. The drive was an easy 2 hours south east of Cordoba. We were drawn there 3 years ago for the allure of the Alhambra but found it to be a wonderful city to explore and looked forward to showing Kathy and Garry around.

The Alhambra is Granada's and Europe's showcase of its Moorish history. It is set against the backdrop of the stunning Sierra Nevada peaks. This fortified palace complex started life as walled citadel before going on to become the opulent seat of Granada's Nasrid emirs. Their palace from the 14th century (Palacios Nazaries) are among the finest Islamic buildings in Europe and together with the gardens form Granada's great headline act. The carving in the stone throughout is unbelievable. The detail so perfect and to think it was all done by hand. One great example of this work is the “Patio de Los Leones” where 12 sculpted lions hold a gurgling fountain on their backs. The unfortunate part for Kathy and Garry's first visit to the Alhambra was it was windy, raining and cold, bummer. We made the best of it and made through the majority of the sites and were rewarded with the warmth of the bar at the Alhambra Parador, how convenient!

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Garry surprised us by taking us for a wonderful dinner at an amazing restaurant to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and our 20th. It had stunning views of the Alhambra to top it all off. Oh, that Garry, thanks so much!


Its fortunate that most of these towns, including Granada, have tons of cool streets to wonder through aimlessly through and burn off all the calories. The only challenge is that we usually end up at another eating establishment enjoy the local fair. Its kind of like a dog chasing its tail....but someone has to do it!


There was two miradors or viewpoints that we walked to take in unobstructed views of Granada - Mirador San Nichols and Mirador San Cristbol.


We also had some great views from our hotel that Kathy found for us of the Alhambra and the Albaicin neighborhood.

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Next stop after Granada was the city of Seville which is the capital city of the province of Andalusia. Granada and Cordoba also fall into this province. The city’s population is just shy of 1 million folks. The drive took us straight west passing thousands and thousands of olive groves, no wonder they are the number 1 producer of olive oil in the world. Italy buys 60% of all olive oil made in Spain, surprise to me!


Loved our pad right in the center of Seville, set around a pretty courtyard. Thank you, Kathy for finding it!


We dove right back into our history lesson by touring the Palacio de Las Duenas. This palace was built in the 15th century and was the favorite home of the world’s most titled noble, the late Duchess de Alba, who owned the mansions, castles and estates all over Spain. We could see why it was her favorite, it was massive with wonderful gardens, hordes of rooms and lots of antiques/collectables. It is still owned by her family and just opened for public tours in 2016. Garry and I figured that they started the tours to drive a little extra cash to keep the place standing!


We finished up our tour the palace and set off to discover more of Seville. Fortunately for us the rain had taken a break so we thought we would take a walk past the giant Seville sunshade/pergola known Las Setas (mushroom). It is the largest wooden structure in the world and is quite the city land market.


Seville’s immense cathedral is awe-inspiring in its scale and captivating with its gold and silver finished alters. This is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and was built between 1434 to 1517 on top of the remains of the city’s main mosque. A fan favorite exhibit is the monumental tomb of Christopher Columbus, his son is also entombed in this cathedral. It is spectacular to see this massive cathedral lit up at night, what a sight!


The province of Andalucía, specifically the small town of Jerez (just south of Seville) was the birthplace Flamenco. The area has produced the most, and best, singers, dancers and guitarist in the whole history of Flamenco history, not bad. With that kind of history, we needed to take in a Flamenco show and the one we chose to see was excellent!


The next tour was of the Plaza de Espana and the plaza in the Parque de Maria Luisa. Built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It is quite a large area consisting of a huge garden area, walking paths and even pond that you can rent a rowboat! Sorry we didn’t check that of the list Garry, next time. It also contains some government buildings as well. In front of the government buildings are tiled alcoves of each of the provinces in Spain. You can see a few of them in the pictures below.


In keeping with wedding anniversary activities, the four of us headed to the AIRE Banos Arabesque (ancient baths) to enjoy the different temperature pools and massages. One pool was on the roof with an unobstructed view of the cathedral, simply amazing, especially with a glass of cava and chocolate truffles at sunset! A top highlight of our time together in Spain.


Next, we boarded a high-speed train back to Barcelona. Margo and I were quite excited be heading back there to visit some of the places we had seen last April. This was Kathy and Garry’s first highspeed train ride and it did not disappoint! It was a 5.5hr ride, hitting speeds of 300kmh/186mph and incredible smooth.


Margo and I booked a place in Vila de Gracia which was the area that we stay last April for 5 weeks. It was fun see the places we had shopped at or eaten at in the past. We even managed to take Kathy and Garry up to the rooftop of Hotel Casa Fuster to enjoy the endless view.


Kathy and Garry had on their list to visit Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and Palau de la Music Catalana which Margo and I toured in April. We were pleased that Kathy and Garry enjoyed these as much as we did.


Margo and I enjoyed touring Casa Batllo (a Gaudi building) with Kathy and Garry. The building recently had a restoration of the exterior and had been closed for some time. Very cool place!


Here is another Gaudí building (La Pedrera) and one of his benches out front:


The walking in Barcelona is great, whether you see new things or sites you have seen before it never gets old. We wandered down La Ramble to the port, grabbed a bike taxi to the Olympic park, grabbed a drink along the seawall and watched the sun go down…awesome times!


Another area that Margo and I toured Kathy and Garry through was the El Borne area. We walked through the Arc de Triomphe and Parc de la Ciutadella on our way to a restaurant that we enjoyed in the past called Llambers. Unfortunately, they were full for the night but were able to hold 4 seats for us at their sister restaurant called El Chigre. So, we hustled over there to enjoy fresh artichokes and Padron peppers. This was followed by a perfectly cooked red snapper and cornish game hen that we all shared, over the top! We indulged in some local wine, cider and vermouth that helped wash the food down!


The next day we went to the Riberia district, home to Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Margo and Kathy took in the 13th century Basilica which included a tour of rooftop. Garry and I held down two chairs at a nearby plaza and sampled their beer!

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It was fun to meet up with people we had met during our time last April in Barcelona. Matteo was a fantastic waiter Llambers (the restaurant I mentioned above) and now is the manager at La Gambeta, a seafood restaurant just down from his old restaurant. He welcomed us back like family and treated us like royalty! Kathy and Garry feasted on a whole seabass (cooked in salt), Margo enjoyed risotto with fresh local mushrooms, and I had seared tuna.


Another great eating and people watch place is Placa Reial, located in the old city. It was even hot enough to shed our jackets during our relaxing lunch.


Tucked just off La ramble is the landmark Mercat de la Boqueria. Here you will find over 200 different food vendors and restaurants. The mercat is dubbed “the best market in the world”, we certainly enjoyed it! We stopped for a fresh lunch, Kathy and Garry had mixed seafood platter, that they said was amazing and Margo and I enjoyed a fresh grilled piece of sole!


Time to do some walking and burn off a few calories! We took a funicular halfway up Montjuic (Jewish Mountain) and then a bus to the top of the 185m/607ft. hill. Montjuic is strategic in location as it is at the foot of the Mediterranean and is home to the Castle of Montjuic. We enjoyed a greatviews, a long walk and even saw the 1992 Olympic which is also house halfway up the hill.


We had an amazing time with Kathy and Garry during their inaugural trip to Europe! It was great to be able to celebrate our milestone anniversaries together and as usual have many, many laughs. As a side note and some of you know, Kathy and Garry introduced me to Margo over 25 years ago, hence there is lots of history there! Thanks for introducing me to my wife of 20 years, the love of my life! We look forward to seeing and traveling with you again.

Garry loves horses, so we decided to include a horse section to the blog, starring the beautiful Andalusian thoroughbreds from Cordoba, even taller than me!


We can’t get enough of the dogs of Spain; don’t you love Corolla’s jacket? Indy was a squirming puppy, hard to get a picture of she was so excited and who couldn’t love Lilly...❤️????


Kathy took this photo of us meeting a couple dogs from Germany in Barcelona for a visit:


And for our cat lovers, a cute kitty from Toledo, guarding her street:


This featured blog entry was written by margofiala from the blog Lost together...again! 🎶.
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By margofiala

Posted Sun, Dec 01, 2019 | Spain | Comments