McCrights in Europe

June-July 2013

we start in Portugal

Tuesday, June 25

Sandra, Maria and I flew from Des Moines to Newark.  Sam flew from Cleveland to Newark.    Sandra and I took Maria to Manhattan for her first visit to New Yrok.  We walked from Penn Station to Macy's and up Broadway and 7th Avenue.  After a snack we walked accross Central Park.  The subway took us downtown to the former World Trade Center site.

Wednesday, June 26
Sintra, Portugal

We landed in Lisboa, Portugal - a new country for all four of us.  I write Lisboa instead of Lisbon because that's how they write it in Portuguese.  We took the subway from the airport to the suburban train station then found another train to our destination:  Sintra. After a shower and short nap we started exploring.  Sintra is not a large city so we were able to to find everything easily.  We had three must-see sites:  the Palacio Nacional, the Pena Palacio and the Moorish Castle. On Wednesday we went to the Palacio Nacional and found a new must-see destination:  the Quinta de Regaleira, its palace and caves.  We had the most fun walking, sometimes crouched over, through dark caves.  The caves were between 25 and 50 yards long.  We found a 90-foot deep tower - deep because it goes down rather than upward.

Thursday, June 27
Sintra, Portugal

Sinta, Portugal.  Moorish Castle then Pena Palace.  

Friday, June 28
Sevilla, Spain

Sevilla, Spain  We started this day - quite literally - on a bus near the border between Portugal and Spain.  Despite a nation-wide transit strike in Portugal, our bus to Sevilla, Spain, ran on time.  The bus itself was large and comfy.  The passengers, especially a group of young women who were flirting with the driver and/or his helper, were loud and obnoxious all night long.  We slept very little.  Then the bus arrived at 5:20 a.m. instead of 6:40 a.m.  It was still dark and no one was at the bus station except for the half dozen or so passengers who disembarked with us.  We hailed a taxi and got to our lodging way to early to check in.  The person on duty allowed us to hang in the lobby/common area.  Maria and I slept some.  After a while Sam and I left and wandered and grabbed a cup of coffee.  When a new person came on duty at the hostel she immediately woke Maria and told her the rules allowed no sleeping in the common areas.  When Sam and I returned to the hostel we stored our luggage and the four of us started to explore Sevilla.

We walked through a neighborhood park and ended up at the Plaza de España.  The building here is a large government building but the plaza is more of a monument to al of Spain's provinces.  We started looking for a place to eat and found a neighborhood market recommended by Rick Steves.  It was a huge disappointment.  There were few vendors and they mainly sold seafood.  We crossed the street and found a small neighborhood cafe and had a too-late breakfast.  

By the time we got back to the hostel we were able to check in to our room.  It had two sets of bunks beds and its own bathroom.  Four showers after and we all took a nap.  Sandra, Maria and I went walking after our nap and found a shopping area. Not a tourist shopping area.  This was one used by residents of Sevilla.  We also saw a wedding start in front of a church.

At a place where Maria found a souvenir fan to buy, the vendor told us about t2 more places to visit.  One, the Mirador/mushrooms was nothing special.  But he told us about the free Flamenco show not far from our hostel.

On the way back to the hostel we found a grocery store and bought making for supper.  (The hostel had a kitchen for guests to use.)  Walking back we got lost and had to ask for directions twice.  Streets are narrow and not in any type of regular grid system and . . . My compass was way off.

We ended the day at a neighborhood bar that offers free Flamenco shows.  The only cost was for the beer and wine - 2 Euros each.  

Saturday, June 29:  Sevilla, Spain.  Today was our true full day in Sevilla and we had two goals:  visit the Cathedral then the Alcazar.  The Cathedral was build on the site where the Moors had a mosque.  After the Catholics reconquered Sevilla, they decided to build the grandest church.  It is the third largest cathedral in Europe.  Inside is the tomb of Christopher Columbus.  The highlight of the visit to the Cathedral is the climb to the top of the tower - about 18 stories tall.

The Alcazar is the site where the Moorish leader lived and worked.  Ornate in a Moorish way, it is a good introduction to this style of architecture.  

Sunday, June 30:  Sevilla - the Mediterranean Coast - Granada, Spain.  I picked up the rental car about 9 am.  We rented a VW Polo, a compact, manual transmission, 4 door vehicle.  We left Sevilla and drove east  on an autovia that crossed fields of sunflowers or hay.  We tuned south and crossed the mountains to find the port city of  Malaga.  We took the coastal highway east and found a secluded beach near a park called Cerro Gordo.  We were probably the only non-Spaniards there.  The cold water was quite a relief from the heat we had been feeling since getting off the plane in Lisboa, Portugal.

From the coast we drove north, again across the mountains, to Granada.  Driving in Granada is interesting. They restrict driving in the city center to residents, taxis, busses, and folks with reservations for lodging.  They apparently take photos of drivers and their vehicles to levy fines on non-compliant drivers.

We had directions to our lodging coming from the west - Sevilla, not coming from the south.  We got lost.  Ever when the tourist police pulled up next to us - in that restricted area - and gave us directions, we still got lost.  We finally parked in a 30-minute drop-off area, left Sam and Sandra with the car, and Maria and I took off by foot to find out lodging. 15 minutes later we stopped a police officer and he gave us a good map and great directions to get to our lodging.  We returned to the car, drove through the restricted area again, and found our apartment.

We splurged a bit and rented a two-bedroom apartment with parking.  The parking space requires that we drive into an elevator for small cars, descend 3 stories, and maneuver into a very small space - with a stick shift.  The apartment has a great kitchen and Sandra prepared a couple of great meals for us - after we walked 10 minutes down the hill to a mini-grocery.  This apartment has the fastest Wifi so far.

Monday, July 1: Granada, Spain.  We started the day "early" by waking at 7 to hang up laundry, eat breakfast and walk about 20 minutes uphill to the Alhambra.  We had tickets to enter the Nasrid Palace at 10:30.  Having read that the hosts are strict about allowing visitors into this most special site ONLY during the half hour entry period indicated on the tickets, we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to explore both before and after the scheduled part of our visit.

The Alhambra was the last stronghold of Moorish rule in Spain.  The Muslim Moors ruled parts of Spain for hundreds of years before the Reconquista, or reconquest, by Catholics in/about 1492.  The Moorish sites we have seen are architectural and artistic marvels. Carved stone inintricate designs and arches are the norm.  Ceillings are decorated.   

Links about Granada and the Alhambra:

Wednesday, July 3:  Madrid, Spain.  Prado.

Thursday, July 4:  Madrid, Spain.  

Art Day #2:  Today we started with the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.  This art museum is housed in a former hospital building near the Atocha train station - about 20 minutes walk from the hostal.  The kids and I got in free thanks to Maria's age, Sam's student identification and my Des Moines Public Schools identification (even though the ticket seller said she could not honor it because it did not identify me as a teacher).

The centerpiece of this museum is Picasso's Guernica - his work created immediately after the bombing of the village of Guernica in the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.  Several other Picasso works hang there as well.

Guernica itself is a physically huge work, probably about 20 feet tal and 30 feet wide.  It is painted in white, black and many shades of gray.

The other major collection of work in the Reina Sofia is the works of Salvador Dali.  I found this work weird and confusing and I didn't really understand what I was looking at.  Sandra said she started playing a game like Where's Waldo - trying to find certain elements in each work.

After we left the Reaina Sofia we ate lunch in a street cafe near the museum.  We ordered off the menu del dia and each enjoyed her or his meal.  The joke of the meal was that wherever Sandra sat, she was in the sun.

We split into two groups after lunch:  Sandra and Maria went walking and window shopping, Sam and I took the subway and walked to the Museo de America.  We agreed to meet at the hostal by 5:30 or at the Prado around 6:00.  

On their walk, Maria tried on a Flamenco dress and they lost their city map.  Without problems they navigated their way back to the hostal AND to the Prado.  In fact, they found a slightly shorter and shadier route from the hostal to the Prado.

Sam and I figured out how to use the Metro, i.e., buying tickets from a kiosk, getting on and off the train and finding the right exit.  We walked 15 minutes from the station to the museum.

At the museum (free entrance for student Sam and teacher Joe), we might have been the only visitors that afternoon.  This would be a difficult visit for non-Spanish speakers as all descriptions are in Spanish.  They have a decent collection of stuff from the various lands "conquered" by the Spanish from 1492 onward.  

Sam and I met Sandra and Maria at the Prado.  One can enter the museum for free after 6:00 any evening so there was a l-o-n-g line.  We waited in line for about 20 minutes and found the museum much fuller than when we visited it the day before. However, we were able to see works that we had missed.

We walked back to the hostal together but Maria and I decided to take a late  night photo paseo.  We walked towards the Palace by a different route and found ourselves 10 minutes south of our destination.  Once we got to the plaza between the cathedral and the Palace, we found ourselves in a group of high school-aged Italians.  They were loud and chanting.  Maria and I walked 20 minutes back to the hostal - again by an unfamiliar route.

Thursday, July 4:  Madrid, Spain.

Friday, July 5:  Madrid, Spain

This morning we walked to the Palacio Real - the Royal Palace.  People say it is the third biggest royal palace in Europe after the Versailles near Paris and ___.  The ticket seller wouldn't sell the reduced price teacher ticket to me  because my DMPS idenification cad did not identify me as a teacher.  Sandra and I paid full price; Sam and Maria paid reduced price.

The Palacio is huge - at least 2000 rooms.  Our public tour consisted of 20 rooms.  The rooms and hallways were elaborately decorated.  Many ceilings had fresco-style paintings on them.  Super-ornate chandeliers were everywhere. The state dining room, with its table set for 60 guests, had 15 chandeliers.  One room had walls covered on embroidered silk.  Another was covered in ceramic tiles and decorations.

At the end of the tour we visited the royal armory - a collection of weapons and suits of armor.

Upon leaving the palace we decided to hurry to find the cloistered nuns that sell cookies through a revolving door.  We followed the directions from Rick Steves - go to the Market of San Miguel, walk down the short hill on Calle ___, Turn right, look for #3, ring the door bell, say "dulces", enter the door when someone unlocks the door.  When we got inside a custodian directed us to the lazy susan.  We paid 9 Euros for 500 grams.  they weren't that good.

We walked several blocks to the Market of San Miguel for a light lunch of fish tapas, paella, ice cream and yogurt.  A Coke from Carrefour then we walked back to the hostal, approximately 15 minutes.

After a short nap, Sandra, Maria and I walked down to the Prado (approx. 20 minutes)  We boarded Bus #27 whose routee goes north from the city center to a more business, less touristy part of town.  We travelled on wide, tree-lined streets with some interesting buildings including the Biblioteca Nacional.  We took the metro back to the Plaza del Sol and Maria led us back to the hostal (approx. 15 mins)

All 4 of us walked down the street to the supermarket for a 14-Euro supper:  apples, bananas, wine, chocolate, cookies, salmon, ham, bread.

For our last paseo in Madrid we walked on the Gan Via - Madrid's equivalent to NYC's Fifth Avenue.  On the Grand Via and on the street between the Plaza del Sol we saw well-decorated buildings.  We found a McDonalds decorated with rainbow flags for Gay Price Week and then came to a street concert and setting the the Mr. Gay Pride España.

Saturday, July 6:  driving from Madrid to Barcelona, Spain.

Sandra and I got up early, packed and walked 20 minutes to pick up the rental car.  Agent Bianca Eugenia did a good job.  We added Sandra as a driver and we changed the drop off time to this evening in Barcelona.  Driving back to the hostal was easy as we had passed Calle Atocha several times. We parked in a rare free spot in front of the hostal, packed up and left.  

As we were driving away Maria announced that she had walked, alone, to get Sandra a donut from Dunkn' Donuts for her birthday.  She walked about 15 minutes- by herself - and bought the 4 donuts.  Then she walked back.  She said had she had a problem she would have hailed a taxi.

Other than missing a red light and almost driving into the pat of an on-coming city bus, we had no problems following the signs to the A-2 autovia to Zaragoza and Barcelona.  

I drove the first approximately 200 km (120 miles).  Sandra drove the second 200 km.  I finished the last 210 km.

The route was a bit hilly between Madrid and Zaragoza.  Then flatter for a while around Zaragoza.  Hilly again approaching Barcelona.

On the way we crossed the Greenwich Median or 0 degrees longitude.

After arriving and missing one turn on the way to finding our lodging - university dorm-style, connected and adjoining rooms - we were able to check in and unpack.  After getting directions to the rented car return, Sam and I took off to dump the car.  It took 90 minutes to get slightly lost, then ask directions from a taxi driver with a smart phone, check the car in then walk approximately 1.5 miles back to the lodging.

We ate food from a kebab place on the street and everyone absolutely cleared their plate.

A short paseo then back to the rooms to share a small birthday cake with Sandra.

we continue in Spain

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