So I’m now sure why I’ve been putting this off for so long, but here goes.

Our flight to Madrid was uneventful, but long. As expected, I didn’t really sleep on the plane, so I watched “The Descendants” instead. Good movie!

When we arrived at our hotel, we realized it wasn’t really in a central area. There wasn’t much to do, so we wandered down the street to an anthropology museum that was free. Then we wandered around the streets people watching. There was a nice little pedestrian walkway across the street from our hotel that looked like it would be lively during the week, but on Saturday, the city was fairly quiet. We also trekked up to a large park that was apparently the size of Central Park, but we only touched on one end of it.

Day 2 started bright and early with a bus tour of the city. Madrid was the one city on the trip where I felt slightly short-changed. The bus tour went through some cool parts of the city, like the old town, but the guide only briefly pointed things out before we had to go stand in line at the Prado Museum. Had we not been exhausted from traveling the day before, we may have wandered around more, but we would have had to find our own way there.

We had a few hours at the Prado, which is a world famous art museum. Of course with Spain’s Catholic history, a lot of the paintings were quite violent and dark. We saw famous paintings by Valazquez, Degas and Picasso. Of course, we only scratched the surface of the collection before it was off to El Escorial.

El Escorial is a royal palace that was built by King Phillip II. It houses a monastery, mausoleum and beautiful gardens. We strolled through a cute town on the way up a hill towards it.

On the way back to Madrid, we stopped by the Valley of the Fallen, which is a church/memorial to those lost in the Spanish Civil War. It was quite impressive as we drove up the hill, over a bridge looking down on the valley, then walked up to the plaza in front.

The next day we headed towards an afternoon stop in Cordoba. It was hot, about 95 degrees, but the humidity was low. We walked through the Jewish Quarter then made our way to the Mosque of the Caliphs. A lot of the architecture in Spain is a mix of Muslim and Christian art because of the long religious history, and this site was definitely one of the best examples. Inside, it was what looked like an endless sea of candy-cane arches, and parts were opened up with magnificent alters. We wandered down through an old Roman arch over a bridge and got a great view of the city.

We spent two nights in Seville, which is in the heart of Andalucia. If I ever go back, I’d love to take a trip south to Jerez, which is apparently horse country, and to some of the smaller Roman-influenced towns to see some more ruins. But, I feel like we got a good sense of the city.

Our hotel was in a nice spot near a few parks and a cute neighborhood. It was fun wandering the narrow streets at night to see how the locals live. Homes in Seville pride themselves in decorating their courtyards, so we peeked in to a few on our walk.

The next morning we did a bus tour to get our bearings and headed to the main square to see the Alcazar, a Moorish fortress that was taken over by Queen Isabella. It was probably one of my favorite sites because I love Muslim design. The ceilings, walls and floors were incredibly detailed and preserved. The gardens were quite extensive too.

Our last night in Seville was spent at a dinner theater where we saw an authentic Flamenco show. It consisted of a lot of clapping and twirling and shaking, and the men weren’t too shabby to look at!

Our drive to Granada featured miles of olive trees and grape vines. It’s interesting to just watch things go by when driving on the highway. I was noting the types of buildings, cars, and general scenery, which reminded me of California in many ways.

The main attraction in Granada was the Alhambra complex. It was basically a small city at one point and was another beautiful example of Moorish/Christian architecture. The Generalife gardens offered a beautiful view of the city.

We headed to Valencia the next morning where we passed by cave dwellings where people actually live in homes carved into the sides of hills. I wish we’d gotten a chance to look at one up close, but we had a long drive. We also crossed through Spain’s version of the Grand Canyon, which wasn’t nearly as deep, but still impressive. We also got a quick glimpse of the Mediterranean as we drove alongside the coast. Each little town had sections for British tourists, Dutch tourists and other nationalities.

When we arrived in Valencia we took a quick bus tour of the major sites. The river through downtown was diverted years ago and now the empty river bed has been turned into a park. There was a lot of modern architecture and we visited the arts and sciences complex which featured museums and a theater in a very modern style. The shallow pool surrounding some of the buildings is apparently filled in with sand to become an arena for the Global Champions show jumping tour. Cool!

We spent our final two days in Barcelona. We actually stayed in a decent spot where we were withing walking distance of many of the sites of the 1992 Olympics, an art museum, and an old bull fighting ring turned into a modern shopping mall. We took a bus tour that stopped off by the harbor where many of the Olympic sports were played.

We took a trip up the hillside to Montjuic for a nice view of the city and a look at Gaudi’s modern architecture at the Park Guell. We saw his unfinished cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, which was started in the 1800s and won’t be finished until 2026.

Our last excursion was to Montserrat, which involved a crazy, winding drive around a mountain with break taking views. My photos can’t do it justice. The monastery itself was beautiful, but the views from outside were awesome.

Our flight back was pretty awful. The plane was late, so we missed our connection at JFK and there were no flights left, so we took a taxi ride through Queens to get to La Gaurdia, sat for a few hours, then finally landed at Dulles around 10.

I was really glad I went on this trip. It was fascinating be among people who don’t speak English as a first language. All of the people seemed so beautiful and stylish and all of the cities we visited were clean. I’m a fan of history, but it was nice to see the modern architecture and go to the mall in Barcelona to see how modern Spanish people live.

Next stop Ireland!

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