My Spain Journal! Days 1 to 8.
Day 1 - En Route - 1:40 am - 8:00 am
I should explain on my trip to Spain I was a chaperon for a group of high school students on an EF Tour so you will see reference to a variety of names in this journal!
On day one we flew from Goose Bay to Halifax to London's Heathrow Airport. The weather was good in all three locations and we met up with Aminda in Halifax.
Day 2 - London - 8:00 am - 10:00 pm - Sunny
After arriving in London and meeting our temporary tour director Matt Bauer, he caught a bus to Windsor Castle. We were unable to see the city center due to millions of people protesting the potential war in Iraq. We got some great pictures and done the full Castle. From there we left and headed toward the Thames River were we got some more great pictures and headed to Eaton College, the school of Prince Harry. This was a real taste of British upper class culture. We then ate at a traditional British pub and headed back to Heathrow where we caught our plane to Madrid, Spain.
Upon arrival in Madrid, Susanna from EF transferred us to the Hotel Torre Hogar. A nice hotel on the outskirts of Madrid at Torrejon De Ardoz. After putting away our luggage we ate at the hotel where I had fish and red wine.
Day 3 - Madrid - 7:45 am - 10:00 pm - Cold and Sunny
Early in the morning we got to meet our tour director Jesus Ruiz. After a continental breakfast we headed back into the city of Madrid. Our local guide Enise gave us a city tour with a short stop at the botanical gardens located in the train station. From there we continued on to the Royal Palace or Palacio Real, an elaborate palace that took 40 years to build?and a century to furnish. After getting my flash to stop working, I got some great pictures, especially outside in the court yard.
We were then given free time in Madrid for the afternoon. We were after meeting Jay Duhl and his group from New Jersey. So we tagged along with them to El Rastro or the flea market. This place was very busy and we were constantly on the look out for pick pockets. We then caught the subway back to Peurta Del Sol where we met one of Jay's friends from Spain. She brought us to a traditional restaurant where we filled up on Tapas. Enroute we got a great look at the famous Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Tapas included Calamari, Olives, Sausage, Ham, Cheese, Peppers, Paella, Bread, Salad and a traditional Spanish drink of Sangria and a local brew Allegra "The Eagle". From there we headed toward the Museo Nacional Del Prado and saw many of El Greco and Goya's famous paintings.
At 8:00 we met back up with Jesus under the clock tower at the Peurta Del Sol. Got to see the famous Bear and Tree statue. He headed off to a restaurant where we had vegetable Paella, some sort of Potato and Egg Pie with Ice Cream for dessert. During the day I managed to buy a fridge magnet, flag, flamenco clappers and an El Greco book.
Day 4 - Cordoba / Sevilla - 7:00 am - 12:00 am - Sunny
After breakfast we heading out on a 4 hour drive to Cordoba with one stop at Almuradiel where I got some local pictures. Got to see the Mezquita, the largest mosque west of Mecca and done a full tour. Also visited the Torre De La Calahorra and got some great aerial pictures. While in Cordoba we also ate some more traditional food. I tried "Bull's Tail", how more traditional does it get?
After another 1.5 hours we were in Sevilla. After quickly getting settled away in the Hotel Ducal, I hit the streets to find a good Tapas Bar. I tried some more local brew in Cruzcampo, the a cafe solo that nearly knocked me off the chair with a nice shrimp tapas. I then met the rest of the group for dinner where I had chicken and "Fried Milk" or "Leche Frita" for dessert.
After dinner our group headed out for Flamenco dancing. It was a great performance and the entire group enjoyed the performance. At this point it was late and we headed back to the hotel for the night.
Day 5 - Sevilla - 7:00 am - 11:00 pm - Rainy
After breakfast we started a city tour at 9:00 am. There were orange trees everywhere and we got to stop for pictures at the Spanish Pavilion From there we visited the 14th-century Alcazar and the 3rd largest cathedral behind the Vatican and St. Paul's in London. It was here I got a picture of Christopher Columbus's tomb. There is debate between the Dominican and Cuba if that is actually his tomb. Then we walked up the massive tower to get aerial pictures of the town which was beautiful. The sun had come out at this stage. Got a great view of the Rio Guadalquivir. Sevilla is 90 km from the Atlantic making it a very easy port to defend. From the tower I was also able to find the Plaza de Toros, "Bull Ring" which happened to be the second largest one in Spain behind Madrid. We headed down the tower and then over to the Plaza where we got a tour and visited the museum. This for me was a real highlight of the trip.
We then quickly headed back to the cathedral, met our group and headed for some more great food. For lunch today I enjoyed the Duck, Poor Man's style with some red wine. We then met the larger group and got our bus. By now it was raining again as we headed for Feungirola on the Costa Del Sol. Once we got to Feungirola we had a buffet for supper and then a meeting regarding our next day in Morrocco, Africa. After the meeting we shopped a little and then headed for a long walk on the beach which was nice. The beach went for miles and I could only imagine what it is like at 40 degrees in the summer. On the way home we got some ice cream and headed to bed!
Day 6 - TeTouan - 6:00 am - 12:00 am - Scattered Rain
This was an early departure as we headed straight for Algeciras the port town. It was about an hour and a half and then 40 minutes on a nice ferry to the Spanish town of Ceuta on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. Unfortunately one girl from the group lost her wallet on the boat. We then picked up our local guide Abdul, ie. Michael Douglas and headed through the military zoned border where no pictures where permitted.
Immediately we were in a different world and proceeded toward TeTouan. En route we stopped for a memorable ride on a Dromedary, different from a camel in that it had only the one hump. This made for some great pictures and funny videos at the expense of our American friends who had trouble getting off the dromedary.
Abdul then brought us to the center of the medina where we toured the streets. Got some nice pictures in front of the Royal Palace and experienced culture shock as we toured some more. We all got to try some fresh goat cheese as we were walking through the streets. We were lead to a really nice restaurant with posh carpets and seats where we tried local Cous Cous, with Shish Ka Bobs, Mint Tea and Cake for lunch. There was live music for us, a lovely lady in the wash room that got you towels and washed your hands for you, then there was the belly dancer that hit on James and a guy who balances flaming mugs on his head.
After lunch we were brought to a Government supported carpet gallery call Dar Essadaka where the local crafts people got to display their art. This was very entertaining and very high quality products. After this experience we headed toward a Moroccan pharmacy where there were all traditional herbs to cure most anything. I bought some saffron and got a message with some natural oils on my neck. After the pharmacy we were bombarded on the streets to buy things as we headed to our bus. We then went straight back to the border to catch our boat. I noticed there were several ferries that resembled the "Apollo" and ferry that crosses the Strait of Belle Isle in Labrador.
On the way back there was a much better view of the Rock of Gibraltar and some American friends were able to meet some guys from Portugal which proved entertaining with the language barrier. It was late when we got back to the hotel and finally got dinner. The Hotel Las Rampas was very pleasant with shopping and the beach just a minute away. The gardens and atmosphere were great.
Day 7 - Granada - 7:00 am - 11:00 pm - Sunny
After a long day in Morocco, there was no break, up at 7, breakfast at 8 and one the road by 9 to visit Granada. We made a quick some at the Malaga airport where Mike from Boston had to leave early due to a death in the family. This was very unfortunate. En route to Granada we say the beautiful Costa Del Sol and then beautiful olive trees and vineyards as we got closer. Before we knew it we were in Granada. Once we checked into the Gran Hotel Luna De Granada we headed straight for the El Corte Ingles for some shopping in Spain's largest department store chain. The hotel was also great here, it was a 4 star with great buffets and a good elevator! It was very busy with tourist heading for the Sierra Nevada ski runs. After only an hour at El Corte Ingles we had to head for the famous and most visited site in Spain, the Alhambra. The tour of the Alhambra and Generalife lasted from 2 till 5 and was amazing. We got some great pictures and excellent views of Granada. It was an comprehensive complex and it was easy to see the different architectural influences and the gardens were beautiful.
After this great tour we got dropped off in the city center. We found another great Tapas bar and enjoyed the best tapas yet on the trip and probably the strongest Sangria. After filling up we toured the Cathedral and I found some more saffron at a great price. At that point we split up with some from the group heading back to the hotel while Jay, Wendy, Aulop and I headed for the old Moorish quarters. This was an exhausting walk up hill but worth it. We got some great views of the Alhambra at night the buildings were similar to that in Morocco. We managed to find a small cathedral still open as well that was nice. After visiting some narrow winding streets we had to head back to the hotel for dinner. It was a nice walk back with lots of activity on the streets and plenty to see. Aulop and I had our picture taken with "Goofy" of all people.
Dinner at the hotel was a great buffet and needed after another long day touring.
Day 8 - Toledo / Madrid - 6:30 am - 3:00 am - Sunny
Yet another early rise but a great breakfast in this hotel, not the typical continental. Still lots of skiers around. We quickly headed toward Toledo, the former capital of Spain, and the home of sword and hand made jewelry. We were now leaving the province of Andalucia and back into Castilla La Mancha. There were lots of great vineyards, olive trees and several castles on the country side hills. Upon arrival in Toledo the bus driver Roberto brought us to a look out point and got some great panoramic views of the old city. It was amazing. There are 80 churches in the city center were only 10,000 people live. 75,000 people in the general area. We were then dropped off in the city center for an hour and you guessed it we tried some more food and shopping. I had a great Paella in Toledo and we quickly saw lots of great swords and jewelry. Time quickly passed and we had to meet our local guide Carlos. We brought us through the streets and gave us a tour of the only cathedral in Toledo it was amazing and had a very unique window, the only one of its kind. From there we gave us an interpretation of El Greco's master piece at Church of Santo Tom?. "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" or in Spanish "Entierro del Conde de Orgaz". I found this to be very interesting and gave me a much better understanding of what the painting meant.
From there we toured the streets some more and visited a mosque. There were sword shops everywhere as we toured the streets. We ended up getting a great view of the Rio Tajo (Tagus) as we met back at San Martin's bridge.
Carlos then brought us to a local factory where people were making swords and jewelry by hand and the gallery of finished work was amazing. Everybody seemed to buy souvenirs here and then we at to depart Toledo.
The drive from Toledo to Madrid was short but there was only about 30 minutes in the hotel before we headed out again for Planet Hollywood. No more traditional food here, I enjoyed a large club sandwich. We were done by 9:30 pm so we then hit the streets of Peurta Del Sol and the Plaza Mayor. The atmosphere is great in these areas and you get a real sense of the local culture. At 11:30 we headed for Casa Patas and famous Flamenco bar with a more traditional atmosphere than that enjoyed in Sevilla. Famous patrons of Casa Patas included Johnny Deppe, Prince, Naomi Campbell, William Defoe, and the list goes on. The atmosphere was great but after a very long day the group found the massive amounts of smoke inhalation a little much to handle. The band however were great and I will always remember the facial expressions and passion they had for their music. Be prepared for a late night, it is normal in Madrid. We got back to the hotel at around 3:00 am but could have easily stayed out till 5 or 6.