Alcazar y Toro!

October 27, 2011

Hola, amigos. We spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon touring the Real Alcazar, the royal palace and gardens that are at the heart of the old city here in Seville. It lives up to its billing for beauty, particularly the extensive gardens and the many courtyards.

Stop numero dos de la dia was at the bullring in Sevilla, one of Spain’s oldest and most beautiful. We weren’t sure if it would be worth the entry fee for the tour and the chance to see the inside of a real live bullring. After doing it, we’re still not sure. But we did get the chance to take a few photos which we’ll share here with the later offer of 8 x 10 glossies (autographs printed on, not authentic). In the end, I’m glad to have gotten a look at one of these places where old Papa Hemingway may have sat to take in a fight. And we got to see the head of the mother of the  bull that killed the great Manolete. I spit upon you mother of the bull that killed the great Manolete!

Sheila is grabbing a little siesta as I update the world on our travels. She has done an outstanding job with her Spanish, by the way, making good friends with a waiter who let us know that the dish we ordered included a “tiny octopus” (pleasantly rubbery it was) and also managing to communicate with the hospital staff during what will forever be known as El Noche de Woozy.

Now for some picturas.

Our friend in the gardens of the Alcazar.

Shayla breathes a sigh of relief as she sees we will make it out of the Alcazar hedge maze alive.

Bring on el toro.

Vive Manolete!


Todo en Sevilla

October 27, 2011

As for photos, I’m just going to let this worn cherub who looks to have taken a little recent graffito to the forehead  say it today. A visit to Seville’s massive cathedral, the biggest gothic cathedral in the world, so they say, was our main focus on the tourist itinerary. It is, indeed, a truly impressive place with an interior that soars upward. I even managed to overcome my fear of heights to go up La Giralda, the bell tower. (It was actually pretty tame and as I watched toddlers and 90-year-olds come down, I became convinced that I could handle it.)

We’ve got two more full days here, but plan to use one of them to take the train to Cordoba. Not sure if we’ll do that tomorrow or the next day. Also on the agenda for Sevilla are the Real Alcazar and possibly a visit to the bull ring, which you can tour even when the bull fighting is out of season.

Toledo a Madrid a Sevilla

October 25, 2011

First, a bit about last night, when we made a stop that definitely wasn’t on our itinerary – a la sala de emergencias in Toledo.  Second, I’ll break the suspense and assure you that all is well.

Sheila had been feeling poorly through much of the day, but soldiered on to go out to dinner with Lynn and Jack, the couple from Colorado we met at breakfast. She started feeling worse during dinner and decided it would be best if she headed back to our hotel. On the way up the steps of the basement restaurant, she wobbled as I had my arm around her. On the way out the door, she gave away and crumpled to the ground, passing out for 20 seconds or so. (Mostly I caught her, really I did.)

It was a scary moment, but staff of the restaurant and bystanders were wonderful and helpful. Somebody brought a chair out and Sheila took a seat to see if it would pass quickly, which it didn’t. Then as it was dawning on me that we should get a cab, one drove by and I waved it down. But right behind the cab was an ambulance that someone at the restaurant must have called.

The EMTs, who spoke no English, seemed to have no question we were heading for the hospital. So off we went. Sheila in back with one EMT and me in front riding with the other.  At the hospital, it was  strange feeling as they sent Sheila down the hall to the ER and told me I couldn’t go with her, but had to sit in a waiting room with about sixty other people. Longish story, somewhat shorter, after a little more than an hour the call came over the speaker that “Shayla Waiver” was released. After some searching and help from more kind Toledeans, I found my way to her through a maze of hallways and we got a cab home.

Who knows what it was – maybe some dehydration, fatigue, a bit of a bug, low blood sugar or some combination of all of the above. Our thanks to the Spanish medical system for this “adventure” that saw us through the ER in about 90 minutes, no charge for that or the ambulance. (I had my Blue Cross card, but they didn’t ask for it. They did ask for a passport number, but I didn’t have it on me, and that didn’t seem to be a problem.) Thanks also to Jack and Lynn for picking up the bill as we fled the restaurant. We’ll be sending them a check in Colorado and hope we might cross paths again here in Seville. (For any Weavers/Hortins reading out there, Jack reminds me a lot of Uncle Bob in both appearance and demeanor.)


This morning, we headed over to the Santa Cruz Museum in Toledo, an amazing collection of art (lots of El Greco) and artifacts. Especially amazing for a free museum.

Then it was off to the train station to ride back to Madrid, then on to Seville. Train ride was fast and efficient as always. The landscape: mostly olive groves rolling to the horizon, broken by some more rugged terrain here and there.

Walked from the Seville train station to our Hotel Murillo, great location and nice hotel right in the old Santa Cruz neighborhood. First impression from a quick walk around town is that this is likely our prettiest stop (and possibly the narrowest streets) yet. Feels like we’ve taken a real step to the south with both the architecture and the flora. Lots of orange and red and yellow painted plaster, very lush, and we’ve seen enough dates and limes lying on the street that we’re considering foraging to economize.

Adios to Toledo and its striking train station.

I'm pretty sure that most of us have eaten at least a couple of olives from the trees we saw today between Madrid and Seville.

In Seville. It's all about the color, I'm sayin'.

Out of the ER and into the streets: Shayla Waiver lives to fight another day on the streets of Spain.

En El Greco’s ciudad

October 24, 2011

Despite the warnings, we visited the plain in Spain. And, of course, that means you’re mainly going to get rain. Ha. Actually a pretty gentle rain and just for half the day. Spain needs it, so I think walking some slick cobbles on steep hills is a small price to pay.

Did our usual wandering around the neighborhoods today. A few of the sites/museums were closed on Monday, so it was pretty quiet in the town. Hoping that we’ll be able to get into the El Greco Museum tomorrow, though the time is a little tight with making our train. We’ll see.

I had an excellent hour-long run this afternoon that took me on a path that follows the Rio Tajo, part of a very long Appalachian Trail sort of path that crosses the region. The run also took me by the bull ring and into Toledo’s pequeno soccer stadium. Click here and you’ll see the Garmin read of my run. (If you’re reading out there, TH, this is my space age watch I told you about. Click on “aerial” on the map for the satellite photo view.)

Writing this as we rest up a bit before heading out to dinner with a couple we met at breakfast in the hotel dining room. Jack and Lynn, they’re from Colorado, driving around Spain on a trip to celebrate his 70th birthday. He taught math, she taught English, and Lynn is from Clinton, Illinois originally. So we’ll have  few things to talk about. They seem like interesting, well-travelled people.

One of El Greco's views of Toledo

The morning sky that gave us rain also gave us an El Greco-like view out our hotel window. All is forgiven.

View on the path along the Rio Tajo.

I was among the 95% of American middle school boys who took Spanish and did a report on bullfighting. I've long remembered that tickets are sold according to whether the spectator wants to sit in the sol o sombra, sun or shade, or some of each. I've long shared this fact with Sheila, who seems to find it more fascinating every time I do. Today, she received confirmation of my wisdom.

Madrid a Toledo

October 23, 2011

Managed to get myself out of bed for an early run up to and around Buen Retiro. It was dark, but the park was well lit and it didn’t feel like too many thieves were lurking in the woods with daggers of the finest steel from Toledo (I’ve been working the “finest steel from Toledo” thing pretty hard today). Birds singing in the morning, I tried to file that sound away for winter.

We got some coffee and pastry at Plaza Mayor, then went over to the fabled El Rastro flea market. It was as large as promised, seemingly endless as it spilled off onto sidestreets. A lot of the same tourist stuff you’d expect — pashminas, humorous underpants, Madrid Real soccer stuff, and more practical items like bins of nuts and bolts and an old woman who seemed to have every sort of adhesive tape ever manufactured. A swing by the royal palace for a look  and then to the train station for the 12:20 to Toledo. Streets of Madrid are something to see on a Sunday morning. They have an impressive street-cleaning operation and it is much needed.

Again enjoyed the seemingly effortless efficiency of the Euro high-speed rail trains. I look at the digital clock in the coach at 12:20 and the train starts to roll without an announcement. It’s 12:20. We’re going to Toledo. What else would we do?

Made our way through the small, beautiful train station then up the prodigious hill/cliff to the old core of Toledo. The two Euros apiece for the bus up the hill/cliff might have been a wise choice. But this was a more authentic experience. And think what we can do with that four Euros saved! We were able to find our way to the Hotel Abad pretty quickly and checked in. It’s a big step up from the Hostal Astoria in Madrid. Abad once was a blacksmith shop that’s been converted into kind of a chic, hipster hotel with exposed brick and beams and such, great views toward the country side and two — count em two — balconies, one for the bedroom and one for the bathroom.

Out the door, quick tour of the town, stop in a church to see an amazing work by El Greco. Then got some cheese, jamon, and wine from a shop down the street to have a cheap dinner in our room. Sheila put her Spanish to the test and passed with flying colors as we dealt with the shop owner who was just the mix of gruff and sweet that you’d want… and he had a bullfight on the TV.

This circle of buildings was a block or so from our hostal in Madrid. One of our favorite spots on the cityscape, shows Madrid's architecture at its elegant best.

Bridge on the steep walk from the train station to Toledo: Prepared to storm the walls of the old city and Alcazar with rolling suitcase.

Prado y Parque

October 22, 2011

A pretty simple day of it today — El Museo Prado and the Parque del Buen Retiro for the most part. We had tickets for opening time, 9 a.m., which seems to be the territory of the Japanese and the Americans. We made a beeline for the “star attraction” paintings so we could get to them before the big tour groups. For the most part, we succeeded. Overall, we both thought the Prado was a great museum experience. Not as overwhelming with sheer volume as some museums and the crowds weren’t unreasonable. Velazquez, Goya, El Greco are the heavy hitters and we spent a lot of time with them and found some other less expected favorites.

After that we headed to Parque Del Buen Retiro, just a couple of blocks from the Prado, with cheese and chorizo baguettes in a bag for lunch. We’d explored el parque the other night and had just scratched the surface. It’s huge, beautiful, varied, well-loved and well-maintained. And with a quiet spot in the sun it is an excellent place for a “buen retiro,” which I’m going to say means “good nap.”

After finding tickets tight for the Barcelona to Madrid train ride, we decided a little planning might be in order and went by the Atocha station to check on tickets for the next legs of our trip. So we’re now set to head to Toledo around noon tomorrow, then a couple of days after that it will be back up to Madrid for the trip to Seville since you can’t do it direct from Toledo.

Just got back from dinner at a place just behind our hotel. Wish we’d found this whole network of squares and alleyways last night instead of taking something of a death march in search of dinner. Oh, well, it built character and allowed us to get to know many out-of-the-way streets in Madrid, particularly since we passed by them multiple times.

If I can wake early enough, hoping to get a run in tomorrow morning. The sun doesn’t come up until about 8, so the morning runs are dark ones. Main plan before the train to Toledo is El Rastro, a Sunday flea market that the guidebooks build up as a major weekly event in Madrid.

Cecelia y Tomas behind El Prado.

These guys were among many warming up for a 10K in el parque. It crossed my mind to see if I could sign up, run back to the hotel and change into my running stuff, do battle with the Madrilenos. But then I thought about the chorizo I'd eaten, my tired feet, the impact upon Spanish/American diplomacy after I whupped up on guys like these two... I got a beer instead.

Barcelona a Madrid

October 21, 2011

Took a quick walk around the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona today, then made our way on the Metro to the train station for the high-speed AVE ride over to Madrid. Overall impression of Barcelona is that I loved it — the blend of the narrow, gray, stone streets of the Gothic Quarter, the  broad boulevards of the Eixample, the crazy Gaudi stuff, the mix of people, the general kindness of the people, the setting with Montjuic, the hills rising behind, and the Mediterranean. Hard to sum it all up.

Had to make a quick decision between a four-hour wait to go tourist class on the train to Madrid or a 45-minute wait and paying a rather pretty penny for first class. We made the call to lay down the cash, ride in style, and try not to look back. General swankiness and the way food and drink came constantly with no charge made it seem like the somewhat right thing to do. Also nice to get to Madrid at 3 instead of 6 when our stay here is a pretty short one.

My first impression coming out of the Atocha train station in Madrid was “Dios, Mio!” Compared to Barcelona, it just felt very large. I’d say that impression has continued. Just walked back from dinner and the crowds of people were tremendous. A lot of the city is really beautiful, though, particularly lit up at night, hotels along the Paseo del Prado.

The Hostal Astoria where we’re staying wouldn’t be one of those hotels. But, as promised, it is relatively inexpensive, seems to be quiet, and clean. Our room isn’t much bigger than the double bed that’s in it.

We’ve taken a couple of walks around town and my sense of city direction, usually pretty reliable, was twice baffled by the Latin Quarter already. That neighborhood just has my number.

Tomorrow we head to the Prado at 9 a.m. I hear they have some nice pictures there.

A favorite street in Barcelona, location of the Picasso Museum.

In the span of three hours of train travel from Barcelona to Madrid, the landscape reminded us of different parts of the American west -- Utah, Colorado, Texas, Badlands, and so on.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid. It would appear that half of the population of Madrid is out looking for food and drink. The other half are dressed up in funny costumes or posing as statues in the hopes of grabbing some Euros off tourists.


October 20, 2011

Jeez, my adoring public is hungry for updates. It’s not easy, you know, trying to live the life of a world citizen, drink cafe con leche y cerveza both, wander along the Mediterranean shore, and keep up a blog. Not easy at all. And then you’ve got spotty wireless access on top of it and we’re talking major stress. So, hoping to post a few photos below to give a flavor of our Barcelona stay so far. It’s been great. Lots of walking around the warren of streets here in the Barrio Gotica where we are staying. A wonderful dinner with our old friend Tom and our new ones Francesca and Dylan. A big day yesterday looking at the Gaudi buildings and mustering the heart and gray matter between the two of us to tackle the Barcelona Metro, which was actually easy. A nice ramble around town this morning and afternoon with Tom showing us around Montjuic, the Olympic Stadium, and then some cervezas on a deck that just kind of hangs out over the city. Spanish people, at least those in Barcelona, get high marks from us. Very nice across the board, says I.

Looking forward to another fun evening in Barcelona tonight…then to the train station and the ride over to Madrid tomorrow.

OK, some pictures to make up for my current inability to process and say anything articulate  and/or illuminating about what we’re experiencing.

Where else would we shop for gifts for Grace and Arline?

Sheila eagerly awaits her fourth cafe con leche of the morning.

Proof that the man behind the camera is here and getting more sun-scorched by the minute. This is on the roof of Gaudi's "Pedrera," which roughly translates as "rockpile," an amazing apartment building he designed in Barcelona.

The ultimate street souvenir? A small Catholic volume plucked from a box of books discarded for recycling. Appropriately, we here walking to the Sagrada Familia when this find was made.

Pictures can't capture this mind-bending cathedral/permanent construction site -- Sagrada Familia.

Ex-pat Tommy Henry and Sheila at the Greek theater on Montjuic.

I loves me some narrow streets. Adios, amigos.


October 17, 2011

Left Kennedy in NYC at sunset and flew into Barcelona at sunrise. Weird that interlude of an overnight flight. But all went well, right on time. Took the airport bus in and walked down La Rambla to find our place with Lin, Tom and Francesca’s friend. It’s a great spot, right in the heart of the Gothic Quarter.

Took a groggy ramble around the neighborhood, down to the water, and to the Barcelona cathedral. Then back here for a much-needed nap. Now typing this looking out on Calle Aviyon. Photo of the view to follow.

True, we won’t encounter the same Spain that old Washington Irving found when the American author traveled there in 1829. Any doubt about this was dispelled when our college friend Tom Henry, who has long lived in Barcelona, gave me directions to the place we’re staying — head down La Rambla for a few blocks, he e-mailed, until you get to the corner with the McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yes, to be expected, and the apartment where we’re renting a room is upstairs from the American Apparel.

Manolete, one of Spain's greatest bullfighters, never ate at the Barcelona KFC. But he was likely thinking about the pleasures of a cheap jamon sandwich when this photo was taken.

Still, I wanted to take a look back at what Irving had to say about Granada, the last stop on our trip and home to the Alhambra. But before I get too puffed up about my literary history research, I’ll admit that I didn’t get through much of Irving’s The Alhambra, preferring instead to spend my evening’s hovering, on the wings of  Google maps, over the streetscape of the places we’ll visit.

But I did get far enough in the book to find this, which I liked, and plan to establish as the official motto of Tom and Sheila’s Spanish Ramble 2011. Says Irving: “…above all we laid in an ample stock of good humor and a genuine disposition to be pleased; determining to travel in true contrabandista style; taking things as we found them, rough or smooth, and mingling with all classes and conditions in a kind of vagabond companionship. It is the true way to travel in Spain.”

That is a fine commandment for travel in anytime or anyplace, it seems to me. For that matter, it would serve one well sitting on the couch at home.  I hope to let those words remind me to be open to the full experience, focused on the moment instead of pondering when the train to Seville leaves tomorrow, worrying whether my shirt smells, questioning whether I should or should not have bought that item, or whimpering that there are only three days left until we get on the plane home.

So here’s the rough plan: Barcelona-Madrid-Toledo-Seville-Granada-Barcelona. Anticipated highlights are many: Seeing our old friend Tom and meeting his wife, Francesca, and son, Dylan; Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; The Prado in Madrid; ubiquitous one euro jamon sandwiches in Madrid; tidy little Hotel Abad in Toledo; wandering and wandering labyrinth-like streets in Toledo and elsewhere; celebrating the 30th anniversary (toasting, toasting) of when Sheila and I got together as college seniors student teaching in suburban Chicago; high-speed AVE train to Seville; looking out of window of said train at an arid landscape; gleaming white bullring in Seville; churros; bus or train ride across Andalusia; a few memorable morning runs ; mountain backdrop of Granada; touring the Alhambra where Irving lived and wrote for a time; hearing Sheila unleash her recently polished Spanish on the dazzled Spaniards; meeting up with our Illinois homeboys from Wilco, who thoughtfully booked a concert on our last night in Barcelona; lots of hanging out at cafes trying not to look excessively American; and so on.

As time and Internet  access allow, I plan to update this blog with our travels as we go. It actually makes some sense to have it here on this out-of-training-lately running blog dedicated to linear movement; this, after all, will be “Covering Ground” gone large.