MADRID, SPAIN

MADRID

 
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.

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BARCELONA, SPAIN

BARCELONA

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.

Check out our movie here:

https://youtu.be/aXNLOX1XWrM

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FRENCH RIVIERA-AVIGNON-CARCASSONNE

AVIGNON

I do believe that Avignon was one of my favorites in a large town in Provence. And if you arrive there on a warm spring day with the roofs of the medieval buildings outlined against the wonderful blue Provence sky, I think you’ll understand why.

Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse Department and has enough to see and do to warrant a two or three day visit. Unfortunately we only had 3 hours to explore as much as we could. If you had the time there’s the 14th century Palais des Papes, basically the palace of the French pope, in the days when there were two Popes in Europe. And of course there’s the famous Pont d’Avignon (Pont de St Bénézet) which stretches into the river Rhône and the historic ramparts that surround the city.


Or just explore the old part of the city: discover typical streets like the rue des Teinturiers with its paddle wheels on the Sorgue canal which flows through the city, and numerous little streets and squares paved with cobblestones – all named after the ancient professions of the Middle Ages.

Take in the beautiful façades of the private mansions built in the 18th and 19th centuries. If you’re in to religious buildings, there are several small chapels to be visited as well as the cathedral. You should definitely visit Avignon’s covered food market. Open in the mornings, from Tuesday to Sunday, the market has around 40 stall holders, true ambassadors of local produce: fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, olive oil and other culinary specialities of Provence.

Unfortunately Kim caught the dreaded Bus Flu (from a traveler who was pretty much sick the whole time), and she didn’t have the energy to explore too much of Avignon.


For a town the size of Avignon, it is remarkable how many great shops you will find here.  We ignored Rue de la République, Avignon’s high street with the usual fast fashion chain stores, and focused on Rue Joseph Vernet, Rue de la Petite Fusterie and the streets around them instead. Here, Kim found the French brands that she loved. She was on the lookout for Sessún, Petit Bateau, Sandro, Comptoir des Cotonniers, American Vintage and Repetto. I let Kim have a little shop while I bolted through the winding streets of Avignon’s city center towards the Papal Palace. There’s no way you can miss this architectural marvel. The Papal Palace towers over much of Avignons old town and looks like a real-life version of a Game of Thrones set. You can enter the building and take a tour of the palace, but the 20 rooms that are accessible to the public are empty (most of the furniture got lost during the French Revolution). There are some intricate frescoes to see inside, so if that’s your thing, purchase a ticket and walk right in. The Pont Saint-Bénézet lies in ruins now, leading only halfway over the river Rhine. It once connected Avignon (and a watchtower of the Papal Palace) to the Île de la Barthelasse, an island that was a popular destination for the city folks to unwind. The famous bridge used to be the largest of its kind in Europe, spanning 900 meters. Some quick photos I bolted back down to catch up with Kim again.



We then took stroll through the Square Agricol Perdiguier park beside the tourist office which lead us to Place des Corps Saints, a small square with cafés shaded by plane trees. We had lunch at Ginette et Marcel, which specialises in tartines: slabs of toasted country bread covered in anything from cold meats and cornichons to warm goat’s cheese and honey. We then headed out a little early and took the opportunity to take a couple of photos.

CARCASSONNE

First of all, I’ll concede that the city walls and towers are, without a doubt, magnificent. Carcassonne is well worth a one-hour stroll to appreciate some of the most remarkably intact old fortifications you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, Carcassonne is a few hours away from anything else that’s really worthwhile, so most visitors get stranded here with more time than they need.


The city of Carcassonne can be divided into into 2 parts: La Bastide Saint Louis, the “newer” part of the city which was built on the left side of the river Aude by the “Black Prince” in 1355, and La Cite Medievale, or the older Medieval City



We arrived late in the afternoon and headed out to the smaller but more famous sibling, the ‘La Cité’ citadel, Carcassonne’s (lower) town, which dates back to the Middle Ages. Known as the ‘Bastide Saint Louis’, it features typically French bars, shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as all the standard services and amenities you’d expect, and as such it’s the perfect antidote to the tourist attraction that towers above it. We strolled through its streets and checked out an handful of charming boutiques, several great places to eat and a couple of unusually stylish overnight options. While not exactly a shopaholic’s paradise, Carcassonne’s lower town has some eye-catching boutiques that are a good source for take-home treats and self-indulgent souvenir purchases. They are all concentrated in the grid-system of streets leading off from the Place Carnot and can be whizzed round in an hour or so if you’re pushed for time. We slowly walked back to the hotel for dinner, then wandered out to take a couple of night shots.


The next morning we were up just before sunrise to walk the upper town, which is surrounded by a double wall, the area in-between is known as the lices or “lists” where medieval knights once did their thing. Whilst the outer wall is the work of Louis IX, parts of the inner wall date back to Roman times. The citadel includes the Château Comtal,  the central castle of the upper town dating from the twelfth century with an amazing 31 towers. It was early and we were the only ones up exploring the castle. We then headed back done to Pont Vieux and the banks of the Aude which was a wonderful place for a picnic once you’ve done the upper town. The bridge dates from the fourteenth century and boasts a Gothic chapel at its western end dating from 1538 to catch up with everyone for breakfast.
Check out our tour video here:

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