We began this morning with a nice breakfast and on the bus heading towards the town of Burgos. The extraordinary Gothic cathedral of Burgos is one of Spain’s glittering jewels of religious architecture. It looms large over the city and skyline. On the surface, conservative Burgos seems to embody all the stereotypes of a north-central Spanish town, with sombre grey-stone architecture, the fortifying cuisine of the high meseta (plateau) and a climate of extremes. But this is a city that rewards deeper exploration. Below the surface lie good restaurants and, when the sun’s shining, pretty streetscapes that extend far beyond the landmark cathedral.
We started with a Gothic city gate that leads into a large square by the Burgos Cathedral. This gate is on the modern Camino and has been such for centuries. It is almost across the street from some hotels and leads directly to the cathedral, identified as Spain’s most spectacular Gothic cathedral. It was begun in 1221. You can have a lengthy detailed tour of it, including the tomb of El Cid, but we arrived early in the morning and nothing was open. The cathedral was indeed very ornate, but it is easy to see so many cathedrals as to be less moved. After being told our leave time we quickly continued on through the heart of the old city, past plazas, palaces, and memorials to Columbus and El Cid. Some quick photos and video, we then walked up to the Convent de las Huelgas, founded by the sister of Richard the Lion Heart in 1187. There was an ancient fort, but so little is left of it we were told it was not worth going in to it. Apparently when Napolean’s forces left the city in defeat, they took as much loot with them as they could and destroyed defenses.
That brought us back to town for lunch time. We were both quite hungry and did not find the place someone recommended, so we just picked one on the Camino route. Their English was less than my Spanish, without English language menus. Unfortunately the few terms we know for food mostly did not appear on the menu. Kim ordered a Ceasar salad and I ordered the smallest hamburger listed. Both were huge and we left stuffed. The burger came complete with huge meat patty, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a fried egg sunnyside up on top. The bun was useless. Back on the bus for our next destination.
Bilbao in Northern Spain is a perfect city for a relaxing weekend escape. It’s big enough to keep you entertained with the restaurants and cafes, the beautiful buildings and gorgeous scenery. The nightlife is great and of course there’s the incredible Guggenheim Museum which you won’t want to miss. There is plenty to do but it is also small enough so you don’t feel like you need to rush around and tick all the sights off your list. Bilbao is the largest city in Northern Spain but it is by no means a hectic place. It is the kind of city where you can take your time and stroll around; Stop for a coffee, or head to a pinchos bar for wine and delicious snacks. We took a walk through the old town and browsed the boutiques and traditional stores that felt like they’ve been there since the beginning of time.
Bilbao is so small that you can walk around the whole city in a day. We only had a few boring hours near the museum. You can easily see all the highlights, all the beautiful buildings, the quaint little shops and stunning churches and also soak up the vibe of the city.
You will find it to be charmingly relaxed with a quaint yet stylish feel. It is undeniably Spanish, you only need to look up at the buildings or into the faces of the locals to feel the infectious Spanish attitude. There are rustic and wonky Spanish apartments that tower above narrow, winding streets – these are the type where you expect to see old ladies shouting rapidly from the top windows and drying their washing from their small, flower filled balconies. There are beautifully grand, dominating buildings that sit next to sleek, modern buildings. These buildings contrast so markedly that it makes them both seem even more spectacular by emphasizing what they may or may not have.
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One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world is Madrid, Spain. This is largely in part due to Madrid being one of the most fun cities in the world. Madrid has something for all ages and all tastes, and I’m not just talking food. The city is rich in arts, culture, history, and live entertainment. When people think of visiting Spain, they think of Madrid. You need to see it; trust me, you do. And you know what? I’m going to tell you how to have the most fun during your visit to fabulous Madrid, so keep reading.
This time we ditched the tour group and me and Kim went solo to enjoy Madrid the way we wanted to and see what we wanted to look at. Most of the time we ditched the cameras and enjoyed the attractions and shops.
The first fun thing we did while in Madrid was to buy a pass to the Hop on Hop off bus. We got to visit to the city’s most popular tourist attractions. There’s good reason why these sites attract millions of visitors annually: they’re spectacular!
Our first stop was Catedral de la Almudena. At the end of the 19th century building work was started on the Catedral de la Almudena which was constructed on the site of the old Santa María la Mayor church to honour the patron virgin of Madrid. In 1883 the first stone of this monument was laid but the building process was extremely slow. In 1993, the cathedral was consecrated for worship Pope John Paul II. The inside of the church retains a Gothic style, although the outside is Classicist. From here you can go to Mercado de San Miguel and Plaza Mayor.
Back on the bus our next stop was Museo del Prado’s. Museo del Prado’s walls were lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ and Goya’s ‘Third of May, 1808’. The Museo del Prado opened for the first time on November 10, 1819.
We then pasted one of the most well-known monuments in Madrid. Built between 1769 and 1778 under the orders of King Carlos III, it was designed by Francisco Sabatini and erected as a triumphal arch to celebrate the arrival of the monarch at the capital. The granite gate is 19.5 metres tall and is elegant and well-proportioned. The façade features a number of decorative elements with groups of sculptures, capitals, reliefs and masks, among others.
Next up was Salamanca, which is one of the 21 districts that form the city of Madrid. Don José de Salamanca y Mayol, Marquis of Salamanca, gave his named to the area because of his involvement in the district’s project in 1860. Nowadays, the Salamanca district is one of the wealthiest areas in Madrid and some of its streets, such as Goya or Serrano, are part of the most expensive streets in Spain. Here we checked out the Palacio de los Deportes de Madrid, the Viviendas Velázquez, the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas and the Jardines del Descubrimiento.
After a look around we were back on the bus and passing Palacio de Cibeles. This is one of the liveliest, best-known and most beautiful squares in Madrid, and is home to such emblematic monuments as the Fuente de Cibeles and Palacio de Cibeles. The Fuente de Cibeles, the symbol of Madrid, stands in the middle of the square. Goddess of nature and protector of the town, this sculpture was designed by Ventura Rodríguez in 1777. Also in this square is the Palacio de Cibeles (today the site of the City Hall) which also houses the cultural space known as CentroCentro and the Galería de Cristal.Palacio de Cibeles.
We passed Gran Vía, which is one of the most important and symbolic arteries of downtown Madrid, and in few places will you experience the hustle and bustle of this busy street and then the Gran Via, which is one of Madrid’s main thoroughfares, offering leisure, tourism and shopping activities. The segment between Plaza de Callao and Plaza de España is known for its cinemas and theatres.
We then jumped off at Plaza de España, which was a large square, and popular tourist destination, located in central Madrid. In the centre of the plaza was a monument to Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes. The tower portion of the monument includes a stone sculpture of Cervantes, which overlooks bronze sculptures of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Flanking the Plaza de España you find two emblematic buildings of the city: the Madrid Tower and the Edificio España, which constitute one of the most interesting architectural areas of Madrid.
We then missed a few stops and next hopped off at The Palacio Real, which was built in the 18th century by order of Philip V on the site of the old Alcázar fortress, a former Moorish castle. Sachetti began the works in 1738, and the building was completed in 1764.
It was just hitting lunch time and we stopped at Plaza Mayor, which is a symbol of Madrid and must not be missed. Building work began on this huge open area in the city centre in the 17th century under the orders of Phillip III, whose bronze equestrian statue adorns the square. It was opened in 1620 and is rectangular in shape, with arcades running around the edges. This site used to be the venue for many public events, such as bullfights, processions and festivals. Underneath the arcades there are traditional shops, as well as a wealth of bars and restaurants. We stopped in and had lunch.
After some lunch it was time for Kim to shop. We stopped at Plaza del Callao, which was one of the most central and busiest squares in the entire city of Madrid since it is crossed by Gran Vía. It is a commercial area full of shops and entertainment. The buildings have a great personality and are influenced by American architecture as for instance the Cinema Callao building. Plaza del Callao holds a high concentration of movie theatres; most notably the 1920’s Palacio de la Prensa -an outstanding red brick building- and the Palacio de la Música.
Back on the bus we headed to Atlético de Madrid, which has an official museum at the Vicente Calderón stadium in Madrid’s Arganzuela district. It took us through the hundred-year history of the club and through the changes that football has seen in Spain and worldwide. Trophies, shirts, photographs and collections of boots are some of the memorabilia that are on display in the five main areas of the museum.
We then headed to Centro Comercial Príncipe Pío, which is a shopping mall in the western part of the city of Madrid. The building that houses the spectacular shopping extravaganza started life as a railway station. It still performs that duty, though to a much lesser extent today than it once did. It also has some bus lines, as well as a Metro station, all of which means that access to and from Centro Comercial Príncipe Pío is about as good as it gets in Madrid.
The shopping center has three floors where you will find shops with names like, Stradivarius, H & M, Eurekakids, Mango, Tapioca, Zara, Tintoretto, Bottega Verde, Natura, Parfois, Pull & Bear, and Colonel Oisho, Kim was in heaven. We stayed and had dinner then jumped back on the bus for an night tour of the city.
For starters, we loved Barcelona; absolutely loved it. We would recommend Barcelona to just about any traveler (experienced or not) because it is such a visitor friendly environment. Not only is the city packed full of life and color through its architecture and character but also through its people and the rich mixture of culture that can be found there. Boasting a reputation as one of the most attractive cities in Europe, Barcelona celebrates its role as the capital of Catalonia. The city’s cosmopolitan international vibe makes it a favorite city for many people. Boredom is almost unheard of for visitors to the city, with a range of activities and attractions to enjoy.
There’s something about the electrifying mix of beach and big city that gets us thinking about the Gold Coast, Queensland. With this in mind, we had more than an inkling that Barcelona would be love at first sight. From its wide avenues, plazas of gorgeous detail-drenched architecture, international population and proximity to the Mediterranean, Barcelona didn’t disappoint.
The biggest impression this city left on us was its attention to detail. Everything from the ground we walked on, to the buildings we peered up at was covered in beautiful, intricate patterns and ornate decor. Gaudi’s footprint was certainly left on this capital of Catalonian culture and seeing his bizarre, legendary works was aesthetically fulfilling.
This city is buzzing with excitement, which with a population of over 4 million is no difficulty. It is the number one most-visited city in Spain, and the second-largest in population, after Madrid. It’s well-regarded for its economic, entertainment, and cultural offerings, and seemingly has it all: a Mediterranean climate, a bohemian feel and an undeniably energy.
A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t have been complete in my mind without seeing Camp Nou, home to Barcelona F.C.: arguably one of the best teams in the sport, in the world.
We arrived late afternoon to Barcelona and after a change of clothes we headed to Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is the heartbeat if the city. You simply can’t visit Barcelona without making a visit to this popular bustling city street. Go shopping, enjoy a meal, drink a glass of sangria or two, and watch the people go by. There are usually always street performers to keep you entertained. But whatever you do, watch your belongings. Las Ramblas is one of the most common places to get pick-pocketed in all of Europe. Happy to say, we escaped without incident. We had time to have a look at a couple of shops, then we took in a Tablao Cordobes Flamenco Show. Combining an excellent meal with a look at the traditional Flamenco dancing, the experience offered a great insight into Catalan culture and the passionate dancing which has been taking place here for over forty years.
Up early the next day we explored Gaudi’s architecture La Sagrada Famila. The construction for this church started in the late 19th century, halted in 1926 when Gaudi died, and continues today with his style in mind. They say it could still take another quarter of a century to complete. We didn’t go inside, as the line wrapped around the building, but simply marveled at its uniqueness and detail from the outside. We then moved onto Casa Batlló . The roof of Casa Batlló resembles the back of a dragon. Its vibrant exterior displays colorful mosaic made from broken ceramic tiles, while bone-like adornments surround its windows. For obvious reasons, it is commonly called The House of Bones. Just a few blocks from Casa Batlló was Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry) It was built in the early 1900’s by Gaudí and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 for its uniqueness, artistic and heritage value.
We then jumped on the bus and passed La Monumental and Montijuic. We then passed trees and gardens and onto the site left behind from the 1992 Summer Olympics, though it is still in use today. We had a look around the chairlift and lookout before heading back to the hotel to catch up on some washing. That afternoon we jumped in a cab and took a tour of Park Güell. Park Güell is a little off-the-beaten-track, but totally worth the effort to get there. We Wandered through the gardens and took our time looking at all of the unusual and colorful sculptures and mosaics throughout the park.
We then watched the sunset at Turo dela Rovira viewpoint. It offers some of the best views over the city, this site was once a military installation protecting the city, but now visitors and locals gather to enjoy the view and see the sun setting over the Mediterranean.
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