An autumn trip to Spain – 2012
With the fall tree colors almost gone in Colorado, it was time to exit our cold home state for a more interesting place – and this year that was Spain. We flew from Denver to Philly for a couple hour layover and then did the long overnighter to Madrid.
A forty five minute chauffeured drive from the airport brought us to a wonderfully located hotel – the Paseo del Arte in downtown Madrid. Just across a roundabout from the train station and walking distance to most of the museums in which we had an interest, the lodging was just about perfect. Our first afternoon was spent exploring the main part of the city.
<<<The Jamon Museum.
We hoofed it 2 or 3 miles to the plaza in front of the famous Royal Palace and inadvertently found what turned out to be our favorite restaurant in the city, the Cafe Oriente. While the food photo might appear disgusting to someone not familiar with octopus, the dish was outstanding as were all our other courses at this cafe.
Walked around the Royal Palace plaza for a while and then wove our way back through the city admiring the architecture and shops. Passed through Retiro Park on our way home and stopped to enjoy some tapas and cold white wine before getting back to the hotel. Next morning it was off to museums – the first one being what turned out to be our favorite in Spain – theThyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Unlike some of the possibly more famous ones, the Thyssen contains a wide range of periods and styles instead of focusing on a narrow band of artistic time.
Nearby was the Caixa Forum which we visited briefly, but I'll acknowledge not completely understanding its purpose and artistic focus. The William Blake exhibit there was somewhat interesting though we thought not overly so.
Then it was another hike off to lunch at an iconic Madrid seafood restaurant called La Trainera (The Drifter in English). Turned out to be a mixed experience. Our reservation didn't show up when we entered and sitting in the back room meant somewhat poorer service. The food was fine though neither of us thought on the same level as Cafe Oriente.
Next morning was the big event of Madrid – a visit to Prada – by reputation one of the three top museums in the world. World class it was. Major paintings by the best of the Spanish artists – Velasquez especially and my personal preference – Murillo for his ability to portray light and darkness magically.
The galleries were almost overwhelming given the multitude of masterworks available to view. In retrospect however, we both agreed that that looking at the same type of paintings over and over eventually proved to be "too much of a good thing".
Had a nice lunch at Prada and then walked to another pair of museums – the most interesting probably the Reina Sofia which contains more modern art and particularly one of the few existing versions of Picasso's Guernica. For the most part, while we enjoyed riding the outside elevator for its views of the nearby plaza, only the second floor exhibitions of the Reina appealed to us. However, at the plaza we enjoyed what I regarded as an almost perfect pizza at this outdoor restaurant.
Our last day in Madrid was on a bus tour to the medieval town of Toledo. Admittedly a highly "touristy" kind of trip, the ride there was interesting and the drive around the river that surrounds the city for three quarters of its circumference was worth the price of admission by itself. We visited a marvelous cathedral in town that took over 250 years to complete. Toledo was famous for its tolerance of a range of religions as well as its weaponry manufacture.
A visit to the local Damascene jewelry maker left our credit card balance a bit higher too. We finished the visit with a quick tour of the military museum atop the highest point in the city.
A short video of some areas of Madrid:
The next morning we left Madrid for Barcelona on the local bullet train. At 300 kilometers per hour, it was only a three hour trip to the latter city and actually may have been faster than by flying there.
As in Madrid, we did a tremendous amount of walking in Barcelona too – probably a good 8-10 miles a day. If nothing else, it helped us walk off a lot of the calories from the great food we ate everywhere.
In Barcelona we stayed at the Ayres Hotel near downtown. In hindsight it was something of a mistake. Not because it was a bad four star hotel, but because of the location neither near the beach nor close to the main shopping areas. That having been said, the service was fine though we'd not repeat staying there should we be in this city again.
Our first afternoon was spent in another long walk getting all over the city and ending up on the shore where we had a very nice paella meal – our only one of that type on the trip.
Beautiful pastries too>>
The shoreline was slammed with people on the weekend day and fun to watch a sailboat race as well. Architecture very interesting, particularly a 'W" Hotel that we could see in the distance further down the beach drive.
Spent some time in a weekend Farmer's Market and then went through a wine tasting festival on the way back to the hotel where we picked up a few bottles of the local whites.
Next day we did our only Metro ride back to the beach and visited most of the morning in the shore side aquarium which bills itself as the Mediterranean's largest.
The grouper "eyes" us>
We found it fun to visit but maybe not as impressive as it declares itself to be. Then close by we visited the Historical Museum of Catalonia. Very nicely done tracing the history of the province from prehistoric times to the present.
Then it was off the Picasso Museum. (Yes, we did lots of museums.) To be frank we were really not wild about this particular one. Many of the exhibits had been donated by the artist's wife after his death, and had Sue been his ex wife, she'd probably have gotten rid of many of these same works as well. Just not enough of his good stuff here to raise our interest level very high.
Our biggest problem in Barcelona was trying to find some recommended restaurants. We got lost relentlessly looking for a handful of spots we wanted to try, and until the last day of the trip, were pretty disappointed in some of the places we ate.
Next day it was off again on another long hike – this time in search of the Juan Miro Foundation. Miraculously we made it there without incident and really enjoyed it. Probably our favorite museum of the whole trip.
Nicely laid out with many of his more important and interesting works, it's a pleasure to visit. Nearby on the heights above the city we were able to walk to the MNAC or National Museum of Art of Catalonia. Another great find with a wide ranging variety of art and sculpture from ancient times to the near present. One of our favorites.
Hopefully and without gushing too much, the highlight of our trip was visiting the various Gaudi buildings in the city. I'd seen photos of these structures in the past and thought they were a bit weird bordering on wacky. They were nothing like that at all when viewed up close and personal. Simply stunning is all I can say.
The Casa Batllo and La Pedrera were amazing, and the cathedral Segrada Familia is simply out of this world. The latter is still under construction over a hundred years after it was begun. Absolutely worth the trip to Spain alone just to walk through and around through this structure.
Some video shots in Barcelona:
We continued through other museums the next day and the last day of the trip did the long ride to Girona and Figueres to visit the famous Dali Museum in the latter city. Girona is a walled city, quite pretty, and where we had lunch before finishing the trip in Figueres.
< Lunch in Girona. Dali outside >
Having enjoyed the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, we felt the one in Figueres was a must see. And it really was. The only problem was the crowd of people that made enjoying the various exhibits very difficult. Still the imagination of that man was astonishing. Particularly fascinating was the jewelry collection which can be seen in the trailing video but probably not appreciated as it was up close and personal.
A bit more Barcelona, Girona, and Figueres:
Finally some good food! After exiting the bus back in Barcelona we happened on our best tapas restaurant of the trip – the oddly named "Bimbas" in the main shopping district. Everything about it was great. The variety of flavors we tried and the great house wines as well. Couldn't have been a better end to the trip.
Having now been to Spain, we likely won't return, but we definitely enjoyed the trip as much as anywhere we've been in Europe or the Middle East.