Granada and Toledo, Spain – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The next stop on our Spain tour was Granada. No doubt about it, I was so excited for this stop. I had been wanting to visit The Alhambra (located in Granada) since learning about it in 10th grade Spanish class. No joke!

Aannnnndddd, there was country-wide general strike the day we were going to visit the Alhambra. Which meant it was closed. No joke. Sad panda.

“Huelga General” (General Strike) September 29, 2010:

Huelga General in Spain in 2010

Everywhere, there were signs “Closed for the strike.” It was difficult even finding a place to eat. We ended up finding a pizza place eventually! It was a ghost town everywhere we went!

sign that says closed for strike

Well, luckily our tour operator was able to reschedule the visit to the Alhambra for the next day. That meant that our time would be truncated in the final tour stop, Toledo, but I was okay with that. Not much you can do about strikes!

The Alhambra (Granada, Spain)

Sign for the Alhambra

I’m always a little worried when I have such high expectations for a place. I always wonder if I’ve overhyped it in my head, and if it will be sort of a letdown.

Well, no letdown here! The Alhambra was gorgeous!

The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra

I also just want to point out here that the late September / early October timeframe for visiting Spain seemed absolutely fantastic. Very few crowds!

The Alhambra The Alhambra

Much like other places we had seen already in Seville and Cordoba, the Alhambra is a mix of Christian and Islamic architectures. The Alhambra was originally built as an Islamic Palace. Later, Christian elements were added so that it could serve as a Christian palace as well

The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra

Washington Irving, an American author born in the late 1700s, traveled to Spain and later wrote “Tales of the Alhambra.” There is a plaque dedicated to Irving at the Alhambra

Washington Irving Plaque at the Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra The Alhambra

Like most old places that we visit, there was some restoration work underway:

Restoration work at the Alhambra Restoration work at the Alhambra

And there were some truly fantastic views of Granada from the Alhambra:

View of Granada from the Alhambra Ken at the Alhambra

After walking around and touring many of the indoor spaces and courtyards of the Alhambra, we made our way to what is arguably the most famous part of the Alhambra, the stunning gardens.

Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra Gardens at the Alhambra

With that, we wrapped up our time at the Alhambra, thankful that we were still able to see it despite the previous day’s strike.

Toledo (A brief visit)

Since the strike made us essentially squeeze more activities into a tighter timeframe, we only got to spend a few hours in Toledo instead of the full day. We headed there straight after the Alhambra.

First, our bus stopped on a lookout viewpoint across from Toledo to take some photos of the city! Gorgeous!

View of Toledo, Spain View of Toledo, Spain View of Toledo, Spain

We only had about an hour to walk around in Toledo, and funny enough, we didn’t take many photos. (Very unlike us, I know!)

I think there were two issues. 1) We were starving. So most of our time was spent seeking and subsequently standing in line for food. 2) We were all toured-out at that point. There’s only so much bus-shuttling I can take, so we were happy to see the “organized travel” portion of our trip coming to an end! and 3) Oh my goodness, the steps and steep streets in Toledo. Not great for two out-of-shape people! We were physically tired just getting to the main square! (Some parts of the city even have escalators, pictured below)

Either way, if we ever go back to Spain, I’d love to visit Toledo again and see it properly instead of being rushed.

Steep streets in Toledo Steps in Toledo

Here are the city escalators I was talking about:

Toledo escalators Main square in Toledo, Spain Main square in Toledo, Spain

That was it! We boarded our tour bus and headed back to Madrid, where we had started just four days earlier!

Seville, Spain – Europe 2010 Trip (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)


This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The second day of our tour in Spain was spent in Seville. The day full of activities, excitement, and subsequently trying to figure out how to call an ambulance in Spain.

Plaza de Espana

Our first stop in Seville was the Plaza de Espana. Although it seems like it would be much older, it was “only” just built in 1929 for the World’s Fair.

Plaza de Espana

Much like everything we saw in Spain, it was an incredible mix of styles, including a lot of Moorish influence!

Plaza de Espana in Seville, Spain Plaza de Espana in Seville Plaza de Espana in Seville

We spent a lot of time walking around Plaza de Espana!

Plaza de Espana Plaza de Espana Plaza de Espana

The details were incredible too.

Plaza de Espana Plaza de Espana Plaza de Espana Plaza de Espana Plaza de Espana Plaza de Espana

And there were some truly stunning staircases

Staircases at Plaza de Espana | Seville, Spain Staircases at Plaza de Espana | Seville, Spain Staircases at Plaza de Espana | Seville, Spain Staircases at Plaza de Espana | Seville, Spain

And I also like this reflection shot I captured!

Reflection at Plaza de Espana in Seville

Seville Old City

After our time at Plaza de Espana, we walked around Seville’s “Old City.” It was so charming and it was lovely to just walk around and take in the sights. It certainly helped that the late-September weather was cool and gorgeous!

I’m not sure what any of the specific buildings were that I was photographing, but they’re all of Seville’s Old City:

Seville Old City Seville Old City Seville Old City Seville Old City Seville Old City Seville Old City Seville Old City Seville Old City

Cathedral of Seville

As we meandered through Seville’s Old City, we saw this place, the Cathedral of Seville (the next stop on our tour). The Cathedral of Seville is the third largest churh in the world and the largest gothic style church in the world.

It was really cool, as you walked through this gate, you finally saw the cathedral in its entirety. It was a beautiful and unexpected site as we rounded that corner through this gate

Cathedral of Seville from a distance Cathedral of Seville

As we approached the cathedral, we were able to see additional beautiful details on the outside of the structure.

Outside the Cathedral of Seville Outside the Cathedral of Seville Outside the Cathedral of Seville Statues outside the Cathedral of Seville Ken outside the Cathedral of Seville

Once inside, we spent a lot of time admiring the details.

Inside the Cathedral of Seville Inside the Cathedral of Seville

According to our guide, this altar took 40 years to build. The statues at each level are actually different sizes, but were made like that to give the illusion that they are all the same size, instead of getting smaller toward the top

Golden altar in the Cathedral of Seville

The cathedral is home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus, pictured below:

Tomb of Christopher Columbus in Cathedral of Seville

The cathedral is also home to the Giralda Tower, and you can climb to the top of the tower.

Giralda Tower in Cathedral of Seville

There were 37 ramps, (not steps), built to reach the top of the tower. That way the muezzin (the person that leads Muslim calls to prayer from the Minaret) could ride a horse to the top, instead of walking up steps.

Ramps

Here’s Ken at the top of one of the ramps:

Ramps in Cathedral of Seville

I am a total klutz on stairs, so I was so thankful for these lovely ramps for a change! There were also windows along the way up to look outside and enjoy the views of Seville.

The viewing tower was home to church bells and, of course, stunning views of Seville.

Church bells at top of Seville Cathedral Church bells at top of Seville Cathedral Views of Seville from the Tower of Seville Views of Seville from the Tower of Seville Views of Seville from the Tower of Seville Views of Seville from the Tower of Seville Views of Seville from the Tower of Seville Views of Seville from the Tower of Seville Church bells at top of Cathedral in Seville At the top of the tower at Seville Cathedral

We descended back down the 37 ramps, met up with our tour group again, and then we went on the next stop of our very busy tour!

Royal Alcazar Palace

Another stop on our VERY busy day in Seville was the Royal Alcazar Palace.

Alcazar Palace in Seville Alcazar Palace in Seville Alcazar Palace in Seville

If you look closely, you can see that some of the building fronts are actually fake!  They’re just fabric covering the front of the structure, designed to look similar to the rest of the palace.  We learned that they were covering up restoration work currently underway at Royal Alcazar Palace.  We had never seen anything like that before!  I mean, of course we see sites and monuments under restoration all the time, but usually it’s just ugly scaffolding.  I thought this was so clever!

Restoration at Royal Alcazar Palace

And it’s no wonder that the Palace is undergoing restoration.  It was built in the 13th century, and part of it still serves as a palace for the Spanish royal family!

Real Alcazar in Seville Real Alcazar Royal Alcazar Royal Alcazar Royal Alcazar Royal Alcazar

I feel kinda ashamed to admit that I had never heard of this place before, (but hey, I guess there are also still plenty of sites in the United States I’ve never heard of), but it was so beautiful.  I definitely recommend it if you go to Seville!

Ken and I at Royal Alcazar Royal Alcazar Royal Alcazar Palace Royal Alcazar Palace Royal Alcazar Palace Royal Alcazar Palace

 

Boat Ride on the Guadalquivir River

Our extremely busy afternoon of touring ended with a relaxing boat ride down the Guadalquivir River in Seville. We were so tired from being on our feet all day, we barely got up to take any photos! Instead, we just sat in our seats and enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we floated down the river.

Seville from boat ride on Guadalquivir River Seville from boat ride on Guadalquivir River Seville from boat ride on Guadalquivir River

Somebody Call an Ambulance

After the boat ride, we met up with our tour bus again, and headed back to the hotel. What happened next has become a legendary story. (Well, in our household anyway!)

There were two exits from the bus. One in the middle and one in the front. Ken and I were seated near the back of the bus, so it made more sense to exit from the middle door. However, I took one look at those steep steps (much steeper than the front steps), and was like, umm, forget it. I’m a klutz, I know my limitations, so I just walked to the front exit.

Ken, in the meantime, exited through the middle door.

When I emerged from the front door of the bus, there was a commotion near that middle door. I’ve written about this incident before on the blog, in my “Being Prepared for Emergency Abroad” post, so I’ll just reuse some of the language from that post:

At the center of that commotion was Ken. He had fallen down the steps of the bus. He sunglasses, which had been clipped to his shirt, flew off and slid across the sidewalk. I saw him start to stand up, and then sit back down on the ground. Three or four folks we had met earlier on the bus, including the tour guide, were helping Ken gather some things that had fallen.

There was a small cafe with outdoor tables and chairs about 30 feet from the bus. I told Ken that the sidewalk was dirty, and to see if he could get up to sit on one of the cafe’s chairs. He got up, not saying much except that he hurt his ankle. He sat down on one of the cafe chairs, and I pulled up a chair to face him. I looked down at his foot, and told him to lift his leg so I could look at it.

He lifted his ankle and just dropped it back to the ground right away. I just kept looking at his foot, and kind of annoyed I said, “C’mon, let me see your foot!” And he didn’t move. And then I heard the folks from the bus who were still standing around start gasping, and one said, “Oh my god.”

I looked up at Ken’s face, and his normally flushed red face was emptied of color. His face appeared gray and ashen. His eyes were rolling in to the back of his head and he was completely unresponsive.

I immediately thought he must have also hit his head in the fall, even though he only mentioned his ankle. I started screaming at the top of my lungs for somebody to call an ambulance. In my high-school Spanish, I started yelling, “Necesitamos un doctor!!” “Ambulancia!” (Even though I had no idea if that was the word for ambulance in Spanish, but it seemed close enough). Nobody seemed to do anything, including our Spanish-speaking guide, so I started running into nearby storefronts, saying, “Llame ambulancia,” (call an ambulance) hoping I was making some sort of sense or even using the correct vocabulary.

I ran back to the table, and saw that Ken was conscious. A doctor who happened to be eating at a neighboring cafe heard the commotion and came over. Through our guide acting as translator, the doctor said that if Ken hit his head, he needed to go to a hospital right away. Ken insisted that he had not hit his head, that he must have just fainted from his ankle pain. (Ken had told me on prior occasions he has the propensity to faint, but I never actually witnessed it, so the fact that he might have fainted didn’t even cross my mind.)

Anyway, after that incident, Ken and I went to a restaurant next to the hotel. I figured the fact that we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and it was now almost evening certainly didn’t help prevent him from fainting. Ken is a kinda picky eater, and didn’t eat much at the restaurant since it was a lot of unfamiliar foods, so we went to a McDonald’s right afterwards and he loaded up on food there.

We had a disagreement in that McDonalds about whether he needed to go to an emergency room. While I was ordering the food at the counter, he was sitting at a table. As I walked back to the table when I was done, his face was, once again, devoid of all color. I asked him if he fainted again, and he said no. He said that he was just alarmed at how big his ankle was already.  Here’s a photo of his ankle while sitting in that McDonald’s:

Sprained ankle

I was insisting we find a hospital, and he was being stubborn, saying things like, “I don’t even know how that would work with insurance and paying them and stuff.” And I said it didn’t matter, that we would figure it out, explaining that my sister once had fallen in London and had to go to a hospital and it was no big deal. I kept telling him that he needed x-rays and potentially crutches and some ace bandages. And he said if it was seriously broken, that he wouldn’t be able to walk on it.

You get the idea. He never did end up going to the hospital. And I still give him crap about it to this day.

We went back to the hotel. I got him some extra pillows so he could elevate his leg, and went to the hotel restaurant to get ice for his ankle. (And can I just say, finding ice in Europe is such a hassle). They obviously didn’t have ice, and they directed me to the hotel bar, which luckily had some.

After we both relaxed, and I think we both had a short nap as well, we both called our families to let them know what had happened before we posted about the ordeal on Facebook.

By the way, we continued to take photos of his foot as the days progressed.  Isn’t it crazy that bruising and blood pooling?

Being Prepared for Emergency Abroad

 

Seville by Night

The entire rest of the day was free from our organized tour, and since Ken obviously needed to rest his ankle, I went out exploring on my own. I took the subway from our hotel back to Seville’s Old City, where I walked around for a bit. I was surprised that there wasn’t a whole lot that was open. But it was still fairly crowded with folks at restaurants and just walking around the city.

I headed back to the hotel, still exhausted from the day’s excitement, and went to bed!

 

Cordoba, Spain – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

 

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

After spending some time on our own in Madrid, Ken and I went on a four day tour, hitting several beautiful cities in Spain. (For those interested, it was this tour, offered by Viator).

Our first stop on the tour was Cordoba!

Narrow streets in Cordoba Views in Cordoba

I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I spent a year living in Egypt right after I graduated college. It was amazing how similar much of the architecture was in many Spanish cities to what you’d see in the Middle East. That is all the Moorish influence in Spain!

Cordoba is an amazing mix of ancient Roman, Muslim, and Christian influences. And stunningly beautiful!

Around the city of Cordoba in Spain Around the city of Cordoba in Spain Around the city of Cordoba in Spain

Much of our afternoon in Cordoba was spent at this place, which has many names, including The Great Mosque of Cordoba, aka the Great Cathedral of Cordoba, aka the Mezquita.

So, the this place originally started under Christian construction, then Muslims took over construction after their conquest of the area in the 7th century. Fast forward about 600 years, and then Christians ordered it to become a Christian place of worship once again. So, there is a big mix of architectural styles.

For instance, the following photo looks like other photos I’ve taken in Egypt or Jordan:

Arches inside the Great Mosque of Cordoba

But then on the outside of the structure, you have church bells:

Outside the Great Mosque / Great Cathedral of Cordoba Outside the Great Mosque / Great Cathedral of Cordoba

And inside the mosque / church, you have portrayals of saints.

Christian figures inside Mosque/Church of Cordoba Christian figures inside Mosque/Church of Cordoba

This was a recurring theme walking throughout the entire structure. It was really an amazing site to see.

Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba

The outside of the Mezquita was also gorgeous.

Outside the Great Mosque of Cordoba / the Great Cathedral of Cordoba Outside the Great Mosque of Cordoba / the Great Cathedral of Cordoba Outside the Great Mosque of Cordoba / the Great Cathedral of Cordoba Outside the Great Mosque of Cordoba / the Great Cathedral of Cordoba

And we were able to see some additional colorful buildings that surround the structure.

Around the city of Cordoba

Afterwards, we walked across the “Roman Bridge” in Cordoba.

Roman Bridge in Cordoba

Caught our shadows!

Our shadows while walking across the bridge

And as we walked across, we could turn around to see some great views of Cordoba.

Views of Cordoba from Roman Bridge Views of Cordoba from Roman Bridge Views of Cordoba from Roman Bridge

So, a few days from then, there was a strike scheduled in Spain. And we knew it would disrupt some of our travel plans while there. But there was also grafitti ALL OVER THE PLACE in Spain essentially “advertising” the strike, or the “Huelga General.”

Grafitti for general strike in Spain in 2010

And that was it for our afternoon in Cordoba. We traveled the rest of the evening to Seville, where we spent the next two days seeing some truly amazing and beautiful sites! More on Seville in the next post in this series!

Madrid, Spain – Europe 2010 Trip (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

 

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

Since we weren’t able to check into our hotel right away, we started exploring Madrid. Our hotel was centrally located, so we were able to do all our afternoon exploring on foot!

Practically right across the street from our hotel was the Plaza de Espana, which had some fantastic statues.

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana in Madrid Plaza de Espana in Madrid

A short walk from there, we discovered the Jardines de Sabatini.

 

Jardines de Sabatini and Palacio Real

Jardines de Sabatini Jardines de Sabatini Jardines de Sabatini in Madrid

The Jardines de Sabatini kind of “back up” to a beautiful structure called Palacio de Real.

Jardines de Sabatini and Palacio Real Jardines de Sabatini and Palacio Real Jardines de Sabatini and Palacio Real

We walked to the front of the building and saw the front of Palacio Real.

Palacio Real

 

Almudena Cathedral

Adjacent to Palacio Real was the Almudena Cathedral.

Outside the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid Almudena Cathedral Almudena Cathedral

We took some time and walked around inside the cathedral as well. I love when stained glass lights up the inside of a church so beautifully!

Stained glass window in Almudena Cathedral, Madrid Inside Almudena Cathedral Inside Almudena Cathedral Inside Almudena Cathedral Inside Almudena Cathedral Inside Almudena Cathedral

After spending time in the cathedral, we walked along the exterior some more, taking more (and more!) photographs.

Outside Almudena Cathedral Exterior of Almudena Cathedral Exterior of Almudena Cathedral

Then we stopped and had a quick lunch. If you’ve ever been to Spain, you know that Ham, or “Jamon” permeates every meal. So we thought it was appropriate to start out with some famous Spanish ham on bread!

Ham (Jamon) sandwich in Spain

So, I should point out that something very strange/amazing happened to me on this trip. Although I took four years of Spanish in High School (and managed to get very good grades in it), I had not really looked at or studied Spanish in eleven years. But there was just something about being around Spanish again that EVERYTHING I had learned in Spanish class just started rushing back. I mean, everything. Correct verb conjugations, random nouns and adjectives, interrogatives. It was truly a testament to how amazing the human brain is.

So, with that said, we had to go pick up tickets for the Bullfight for that night. We had pre-purchased tickets online, but you had to pick them up at some ticket office that was not the same location as the arena. We set off to find the ticket office, and once we got there, I just started conversing, almost effortlessly, in Spanish with the two older gentleman working the ticket counter. (Perhaps not effortless for them to listen to though. I’m sure I sounded like a toddler with all my grammatical errors I was probably making). I asked them the best way to get to the Bullfighting stadium. They got out a map and explained how to get there. Then the asked me what subway line our hotel was on. Told them what line we were on, etc.

Anyway, I digress. I hope this doesn’t sound too much like bragging, but I was so impressed with myself remembering all that Spanish all of a sudden! Ken thought it was impressive, but also bizarre. He knew I studied Spanish in high school, but I don’t think he ever heard me speak a word of it. So to all of a sudden be able to converse with Spaniards, it seemed so out-of-left-field!

After picking up our tickets, it was time to check into the hotel. It was a small, independent hotel, but we had fantastic views from our little balcony.

View from hotel balcony in Madrid

We were so tired and jetlagged, that we squeezed in a little nap in the hotel before the bullfight started. (I’m not one to try to “force myself” to stay awake when jetlagged. Somehow I never seem to have trouble falling asleep again later that night!).

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

We headed Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas for the bullfight. The stadium itself was beautiful both inside and outside. The actual bullfight itself though made me (and Ken) both pretty sad.

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid Outside of Plaza de Toros Outside of Plaza de Toros Outside of Plaza de Toros

We had purchased “sombra” tickets, which meant “shade.” “Sol,” or “sun” tickets were cheaper, but that meant that the sun would be in your eyes for at least a portion of the bullfight.

Tickets for bullfight in Madrid

As you can see, the “Sol” side of the stadium wasn’t very crowded!

Sol side of stadium at Plaza de Toros

We had actually arrived relatively early. The seats in the stadium were uncomfortable and hard, so we took advantage of the seat cushions they had available to rent. Here I was carrying them back!

Me at stadium

So, this is without a doubt the result of my own ignorance, but I did not quite realize just how violent the bullfight was going to be. I also did not realize that the end result is to kill the bull. I literally just thought it was a matter of waving colorful scarves and getting the bull to charge the matador.

The bull is systematically hurt using a series of awful looking tools, and then eventually killed.

Game 1 Bullfight begins. Round one is a general teasing of the bull with capes.

Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain

Disclaimer: Those who are a bit squemish should not continue beyond this point. Nothing too crazy, but certainly sad. There’s images of blood and animals getting killed.

Round two: After teasing the bull, someone comes out on a horse and stabs with bull with a large spear-type thing. Nothing fatal (yet), just to make the bull angry. The horses are blindfolded and wear armor. For a while in bullfights, more horses died from gorings than bulls actually died. So now they wear armor.

Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain

More teasing of the bull ensues. Since he’s hurt, he’s even more angry.

Watching a bullfight in Spain

Notice the dark blood pouring down his side:

Watching a bullfight in Spain

Round 3: Picadors stab the bull with some sort of stick that stays attached to the bull. This makes him even angrier.

Watching a bullfight in Spain

At this point, I’m really like, WTF?

Then more sharp sticks are added:

Watching a bullfight in Spain

There are these small walls that a matdor or picador can run behind for protection:

Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain

Then eventually the matador delivers the fatal blow using a sword. Apparently the more skilled the matador, the fewer the stabs it should take to deliver the fatal stab. This matador took so many stabs that people in the audience started whistling loudly (their equivalent of booing).

Then the bull finally lays down, dies, and is dragged out of the ring.

Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain Watching a bullfight in Spain

We stayed to watch one more round, then we left before it was over. Neither one of us are vegetarians or even die-hard animal lovers or anything like that. And apparently the bull that is killed is used to feed poorer families in Madrid. But I there’s just such a big difference between killing a bull humanely for meat, and torturing and killing them in a bullfighting ring.

As we left, we saw where the bull is dragged.

Watching a bullfight in Spain

We both left, feeling sad, but with a new understanding of what exactly goes on in a bullfight.

When we got back to the hotel, I feel like I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow!

The next morning, we were departing on an organized multi-day tour of different cities in Spain.

Europe 2010 – Spain and Mediterranean Cruise – Introduction (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

I’m starting a new Blast from the Past series today! This will cover our two week trip to Europe in 2010. It all started out as a phone call from my sister that she had found a great deal on a Mediterranean Cruise out of Barcelona. From Barcelona, the ship would make stops in Nice, France, and then on to Portofino, Florence, Rome, and Pompeii in Italy.

It didn’t take much convincing for us to get on board (no pun intended) with the idea! We actually booked the cruise pretty fast to take advantage of the deal. Then it was time to figure out the rest of the details. Neither one of us had ever been to Spain before, so I thought it would be great to spend a week or so traveling around Spain before departing on our cruise from Barcelona. Ken and I ultimately booked tickets to Madrid, (paid tickets unfortunately! This was before I knew how to really play the points and miles game!), then booked an organized tour that took us to Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, Toledo, and then back to Madrid. From Madrid we were on our own again, and then took a high speed Renfe Train from Madrid to Barcelona. In Barcelona, we met up with my sister and her family and we spent a few days there before departing on our cruise.

Despite a labor strike that disrupted some of our travels for a day in Spain, it was a fantastic trip filled with stories that we tell to this day. You might have already heard the few crazy ones. Like when Ken fell down the steps and REALLY hurt his ankle. And of course, unbeknownst to me, Ken was carrying an engagement ring in his camera bag for the first 10 days of our trip before he proposed in Nice!

Although we didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in Madrid because of the way the rest of our itinerary worked out, what we saw was fantastic, and I unfortunately learned that I didn’t really understand what bullfighting was all about, and I left that feeling kinda sad.

So, here’s just some introductory information before next week, when I’ll jump into our time in Madrid.

We flew nonstop from Washington Dulles to Madrid on Aer Lingus (an Ireland-based airline. Go figure!)

Aer Lingus flight at Washington Dulles waiting to depart

We arrived in Madrid bright and early in the morning and made our way to Madrid’s subway system that was connected to the airport.

Here I am, looking a little worse for the wear after a long flight in a coach seat!

On walkway at Madrid airport

The subway system was beautiful and really easy to use.

Madrid subway system at airport

Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how I forget EVERY DAMN TIME that many of Europe’s subway systems don’t have escalators or elevators. Although we were careful not to overpack, it was still pretty annoying that we had to drag our suitcases up several flights of steps, especially because we were so tired and cranky from the long flight.

When we got to the stop for our hotel, there were multiple subway exits to take, and unfortunately we couldn’t find the hotel. Like at all. We were walking around aimlessly with our luggage, Ken had out his handheld GPS, and we both had out our iPhones trying to figure out where the heck to walk (this was before the iPhones had better navigation and walking directions).

Pretty embarrasedly, we ended up hailing a taxi and taking it the, oh, quarter mile to our hotel. Whatever. We were tired!

I should point out that it was this incident that was the sort of final straw of my days of traveling “like a student.”  No more would I try to figure out a subway system in a new city after a long flight while dragging a suitcase to a hotel I wasn’t even sure how to get to.  From that point on, it was taxis, always, from the airport to hotels.  There’s plenty of time to figure out the subway system when I’m more rested!  And since then, that’s what Ken and I have done for every subsequent travel.  Taxi or arranging a ride with a hotel/airport transfer service.  It is so much more relaxing.

We got to the hotel, and since it was still well before check-in time, they didn’t have a room available yet. We were prepared for that. But I went to the lobby restroom where I washed my face, changed my clothes, and freshened up my makeup. Ken also changed his clothes, and then we just relaxed for a while on the lobby sofas. We both felt a lot more refreshed, and we checked our luggage at the hotel and headed out for some Madrid sightseeing!

I’ll start to cover Madrid in the next post!