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
Crowne Plaza in Madrid, which was cheap and centrally
located, but otherwise unremarkable (background of the picture
to the right).
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.
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...
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 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
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