Spain 8/03

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The "Wayne" in Spain - No Hablas Ingles?....

Spain was a study in contrasting regions - From the big city sights and art of Madrid, to the 500 year old cathedral of Toledo, to the Roman aqueduct of Segovia, to the flamenco atmosphere of Andalusia in Cordoba and Seville. Armed with a bit of planning and a slice of anticipation, Ben and I ventured for a week in late August to discover what Spain had to offer. For me, the gems of the trip were in the south, Seville and Cordoba. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza in Madrid, which was cheap and centrally located, but otherwise unremarkable (background of the picture to the right).

You can click on the map at the right or use the navigation buttons at the bottom of this page to view individual pages for Madrid, Toledo and Segovia, and Cordoba and Seville. I also updated the site's Art page with Spanish art from this trip. We tacked on a one day stop in Frankfurt, Germany at the end of our trip, and did some sightseeing there. Pictures from our Frankfurt day are at the bottom of this page. I had also been to Frankfurt in December, 2002.

The sights...

Art, history and worthwhile sights were plentiful throughout our trip. The four pictures below show Ben and I together at the Royal Palace in Madrid, at the Museo Victorio Macho terrace overlooking the Tajo River gorge in Toledo, in front of the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia and inside the Mezquita Mosque in Cordoba.


I've always enjoyed the squares and pedestrian streets in Europe, and Spain's were alive in August. The first picture below is Madrid's Plaza Mayor (reminiscent of Venice's St. Marks), the second is Madrid's Plaza de Espana around midnight (shot from our hotel window), the third is Segovia's Plaza Azoguejo by the aqueduct and the fourth is Toledo's Plaza Zocodover, just inside the ancient city walls.



The weather was hot throughout the trip, but not unbearable, with daytime highs around 90F. The infrastructure in Spain was sub-par for Europe, with train system problems and a general lack of attention to detail. One exception was the new AVE high speed train from Madrid to Seville which worked well, was fast, clean and efficient. Some major sights closed whenever they felt like it, not at their posted closing times. I'm not real picky about restaurant cleanliness, but Spain was less so. You had to choose restaurants with care.

Madrid was the first European capital I've visited that presented a serious language barrier for exclusively English speakers - even though we were armed with Ben's 5 years of high school Spanish. No one at Madrid's tourist sights or main Atocha train station spoke a word of English. The tourist information booths in Atocha specifically excluded any questions about the trains, even refusing to answer where the train information was. And they were mostly closed. The language problem was most pronounced in Madrid, and better in Seville. Spanish people we met were pleasant, but not friendly. Again that was better in Seville than in Madrid. Madrid had a lot of street people around, some a bit aggressive, but not any worse than in New York or Paris.

The art and architecture of Spain was very good - culture was not lacking anywhere we went. The Prado museum in Madrid was the best, but some small venues (e.g. El Greco house, Santo Tome', Victorio Macho museum in Toledo, all the alcazars) with relatively little art were worthwhile. I did some wine research before the trip and was able to find one standout Spanish wine at a restaurant in Madrid: La Rioja Alta, SA, Vino Ardanza '96 Reserva Rioja, which goes for about $22 a bottle retail.

Travel hints...

Prior to the trip, I received some expert advice from friends who lived in or visited Spain before. In addition, Rick Steves' Spain & Portugal 2003 and Frommers Spain 2003 were helpful. James Michener's "Iberia", written back in 1968, was recommended to me and was a good color commentary for the trip. I got a lot of practical insights and advance visualizations of the sights from Carmen and Jim's personal website. Ben and I bought first class Iberian rail passes before the trip, which were a good bargain. It's too bad the RENFE train system was such a mess. As I have discovered elsewhere, in Spain the warnings about Cathedrals (Toledo and Seville) requiring long pants and no T shirts was pure rubbish. Most people visiting the Cathedrals wore shorts. Madrid's metro worked okay, and felt safe during daylight hours. We bought our metro tickets in sets of 10 for about 5 euros - cheap. Museums' and historical sights' photo policies spanned the whole range from good (Madrid's Prado - no flash allowed) to downright stupid (Madrid's Reina Sofia - you have to check your camera at the door - please join me in boycotting museums promoting this idiocy).

Our day in Frankfurt...

Wednesday, August 27th


Since our plane connections in both directions were in Frankfurt, I booked us a day there on the return from Spain. We stayed at the Hilton, which is just off the Grosse Bockenheimerstrasse, nicknamed Fressgasse - Pig-out Alley - for all its food shops. The first picture below shows Ben there eating a frankfurter in Frankfurt. Frankfurt was at its best in August, with excellent weather and the squares and pedestrian streets filled with outdoor cafes. We headed to the Old Opera House (second picture below) where we bought tickets for that evening's show - "STOMP". STOMP is a show of movement, objects, sounds and even abstract ideas. The cast uses everyday objects like brooms and garbage cans, but in non-traditional ways. There's no dialogue or plot. Very entertaining for our last night of the trip. The third picture below shows Ben and I in the middle of the Altstadt (old city) square. We walked just off the square then for a quick look at the old Roman walls and the cathedral (pipe organ - fourth picture below).


Home Up Madrid 8/03 Toledo & Segovia 8/03 Cordoba & Seville 8/03

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