SPAIN  - received May 22                                                                               

(by Helen)


Hola!  Cerveza, por favor,  Vino tinto,  Gracias!,  Mucho Gracias!,  Denada!, Descafinado con Leche (decaf with milk), Cafinado solo (just coffee, no milk), La quenta por favor (the bill please), Servicios (toilets)  .  Just had to write those down so that when we look back we will remember the extent of our Spanish after spending over a month here.  How pathetic!  In hindsight we had five years to plan this trip and you would think that one of us would have taken a course or two in Spanish or French to make this part of traveling a little easier.  It makes me want to put Danika in French Immersion when we get home and she starts school.  Knowing more than one language is so important and even though we got frustrated sometimes, at least most of the people in Spain know a little English unlike us who know no Spanish at all.  I don’t blame them for not being overly helpful when we struggle to explain what we want.  This is their country and why should they be speaking English for us when we should be the ones that should try and speak their language. 


I haven’t written a lot about Spain since we’ve been here and Steve wanted me to write some thoughts before we leave for London tomorrow.  It’s hard for me to explain how I feel about this country because I don’t want to sound negative but I want to tell the truth about how I felt.  From the moment we arrived here in Spain I never really LOVED it the way I thought I would.  And to be perfectly honest I can’t really explain why.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but I never really got a real ‘Spanish’ feeling anywhere.  When we first arrived in Malaga and were staying in San Pedro, there were so many English and Irish restaurants and people there; it never really felt like we were in Spain.  We could have been anywhere.  We had a good time there and the weather was great but it just didn’t thrill me too much and this was supposed to be one of the most popular places in Spain.  Maybe it was because it was off season and it was a little quiet but even the beaches didn’t thrill me and the food was okay and we never heard any Spanish music in any of the restaurants we went to.  We kind of went to the same places everyday so we may have been responsible for the lack of excitement but there really weren’t a lot of choices.  I think the prices really threw me a bit too.  That area was so outrageously priced it kind of took the fun out of any outing.  Mind you, we did have a really good time when my sister and her boys came to visit, but we went sightseeing almost every day they were there.  


Going to Madrid was a good thing but even when I first arrived there I wasn’t sure if I was that thrilled to be there.  After the second day though, I really loved it.  When you walk through the streets of Madrid and Barcelona you truly realize how “green” Vancouver is as a city.  These cities are so full of history and amazing architecture, it’s hard to take it all in.  One day Nikolas and I went to a store in Barcelona and the walk from our hotel to the store took only about 5 minutes.  As we walked towards the area known as La Rumbla (the main walking corridor in the centre of the city) I turned to Nik and said,  “this is the perfect explanation for the meaning of the word ‘bustling’”  I asked him if he knew what the word meant and he said no so I told him to look around and see all the hundreds of people walking in every different direction with buses and cars whizzing by and conversations blending into each other and people sitting in cafes and people smoking and people laughing and people yelling and bells chiming and sirens blaring.  It is just totally sensory overload.  It just makes you smile and you feel so alive and want to be a part of it all.  He kind of smiled and nodded and I really think he understood what I was trying to explain. 


When I think of Spain, I think back on our trip (so this is just my personal rendition of what it means to me) and I think about eating olives and crusty bread with every meal.  I laugh that all the menus really offer all the same food.  Well, I should say that we always ordered the same things:  Spaghetti Bolognese, Cheese pizza, seafood and chicken paella, sangria, grilled chicken that was always so juicy but sometimes we wondered if they cooked it long enough.  Even their burgers are always pink in the middle and we would be a little cautious about the kids eating them.  And last but not least, FRENCH FRIES!!!  They come with everything!  Oh, and I forgot the Iberian ham, it’s like prosciutto and it’s in all the sandwiches with one slice of cheese.  When I say sandwiches I mean a long baguette and not two slices of sandwich bread and there is no lettuce or any condiments on them at all.  They are very delicious though and you can get them anywhere, even the local gas station. 


It’s been fun to admire the latest fashions as well.  The big thing this summer is the ‘hippie’ style.  It is in all the major stores and the colours are amazing.  Burnt orange, burgundy, lime green, and turquoise are all very hip colours this year.  The shoes are kind of different too.  Lots of women wear the slipper-type shoe with their flowing gypsy skirts and also any shoes that have ties that wind up the calf are popular.  Clam digger pants that are scrunched up the sides and have ties on either side are very popular.  And everyone still wears jeans and low riders are definitely still very much the style of choice.  Hairstyles really vary but I’ve seen quite a few women with hair colours that are very dark brown to almost black and also this very interesting orange colour that actually looks really good.


Everyone smokes here and it really is something we have actually gotten use to.  You have to because it’s everywhere!  Young, old, men, women, they all do it and have no qualms about dropping their butts (cigarette) on the ground when an ashtray is right in front of them.  We’ve also seen a lot more littering then we expected and it’s too bad because it really is an eyesore. 


Manners are a little different here as well.  When you are waiting in line it’s not just a given that when it’s your turn you get attention.  No, no, it’s who is the fastest to speak up.  If you stand there and wait your turn nice and politely they will step in front of you and do what they need to do.  You will find yourself standing there for hours and you will never get served.  It’s almost like the survival of the fittest.  If you don’t fight your way, you’ll never survive!  It took us a while to get use to this but hopefully it won’t be something we will do when we get home!


 After traveling for so long and seeing many different places in the world I have realized that you get a sense of a place right away.  Spain is a beautiful, vibrant, amazing country and I would recommend it to anyone.  For me, however, it just never really thrilled me.  Hopefully it’s not because I’m getting spoiled or desensitized but I don’t think so because I really loved Portugal and Andorra.  I am so glad we came here and saw so much of this wonderful country but I am also quite glad that we are heading to England tomorrow.  Maybe we over stayed our welcome, I can’t explain it, but we are definitely looking forward to the rest of our trip!





Alicante, Spain - received May 18


 Alicante with the castle in the background



(Written by Steve - May 15) 

We are getting ready for our next leg of travel to a tiny little country called Andorra, but before we leave I guess I should say something about Alicante. Alicante is one of the nicest places in Spain we have been to in the last month, and has some of the nicest Spanish beaches. We have been traveling for 141 days, over 25 countries and have only seen 2 days of rain (Papeete and Curacao). I know, now that I said that, it is going to pour rain tomorrow that will be o.k., because I miss it a little. Just a little! Not only has it been sunny, but it has been really hot, I am not quite sure why, but almost unbearable. Alicante (ancient Lucentum) is quite a large city in the southeastern part of Spain. It’s in Valencia, capital of Alicante Province, a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea. It is in a fertile agricultural region, especially noted for wines. Other important products include olives, almonds, oranges, dates, rice, and barley. Mining of rock salt and calcium phosphate and fishing and manufacturing are leading industries. The WHO has voted Alicante the healthiest place to live in the world, because of the lack of humidity due to the salt content in the air. The city is the export outlet of the province; its manufactures include textiles, acids, and other products. Population (2001) 284,580.



Alicante beaches are beautiful, see?


Our second day here we met up with Angie, Gordon and Jeannette, some friends from the QE II days. We went over to Jeannette’s place and swam and had dinner, and had a blast, the highlight of our stay here. We have been doing tons of schoolwork with Nikolas so he can catch up and also our usual 10 mile walks around the city. The salt ponds were very interesting and if you read Nikolas’ story about them, you might be like me and learn something The people here are quite nice, but I get the impression that they are not big on tourists. The weather has been fantastic as usual and we managed to hit the beach a few times. The city is quite empty, with only half of its stores open so walking around is a tad dull.

 This stop (Alicante) has been the strangest one on our journey, and we are glad to be on the move again. I say this because everything kind of changed when we rolled into this city. We gave up the Van we were using and now are renting a mini van to drive the last portion of Spain and Andorra. So the whole time we were in Alicante, we were without wheels and that can put the brakes on little road trips to the outskirts of the city. Don’t get me wrong, we saw a lot, but for some reason we were all bummed out the last few days. Nikolas has been really home sick and Helen and myself have hit a bit of a wall, travel wise, so it feels good to be moving on.


(Written on May 18, 2005)

Just so you know, it rained all day yesterday (May 17th) after I told you we have had so little rain in 5 1/2 months.







Posted on May 13

(Written by Steve May 13, 2005)

What can we say about Valencia? It’s the place where the best oranges come from, and no matter where you look along the Autopista all you can see is orange groves. The beaches here are supposed to be beautiful; we unfortunately did not have beach weather so we can not really comment on them. The 3 days we were here we spent doing homework, Laundry and walking the city. We also did not get a chance to see Barcelona beat Valencia either as we decided to ruin our appetite by seeing a bullfight that night. Just so you know, Barcelona won 3-0 and remained 6 points ahead of Real Madrid to take their division. We did do our usual 5-10 mile walk through the city and can only tell you that it is not the nicest place in Spain. The Spanish here do not see a lot of Westerners and don’t know much English, so we ran into a few problems. People here don’t have the nicest flats and don’t drive the nicest cars but do have some very modern buildings. The city itself seems to be going through a reconstruction phase and I am sure in 10 years will be completely different than what we are looking at now.

If you are looking for nice beaches or the best oranges, come to Valencia. If you want Museums, cobble stone streets and wonderful café’s maybe you should head to Madrid. We are very glad we came here except for the bull fight (see Helen’s story) and maybe would love to come back in a few years when the construction phase is complete.



The Bull Fight in Valencia

 posted by Steve April 8

(written by Helen)

May 8, 2005

***my story is about a bullfight and is quite graphic so it may not be suitable for everyone****


more pics


Well.  When I think back, someone did tell me that we had to see a bullfight when we were in Spain.  Or did they say DON’T see a bullfight when you go to Spain.  I can’t remember but today we found ourselves sitting in the Plaza De Toros Bullring in Valencia Spain and we watched our first and last bullfight.  Well, I can only speak for myself but I don’t need to witness that more than once. 

It was more my idea to go see one and in hindsight I don’t regret it, but, it was way more difficult to watch than I ever imagined.  We drove into Valencia from Madrid; it took us about 4 hours and it took us awhile to find the hotel.  The problem with driving in the big cities in Spain is that there are no left hand turns anywhere.  If you miss your street you have to drive for half a mile until you get to a round-a-bout and then it’s next to impossible to figure out which street you need because they all look alike or the intersection is a five way stop and everyone’s beeping at you if you even hesitate for a second.  Steve gets pretty stressed out but he has been doing quite well considering his inexperience.

Anyways, we finally made it to our hotel and we got our ton of luggage up to the room.  The bellmen always look at us strangely as they are lugging all 8 of our bags into our little room.  They know we are only staying a few nights and they don’t seem too impressed with our mother load.  Steve or I always make sure we mention quickly that we are traveling for 12 months but that still doesn’t seem to make their expressions change.  I’ve finally come to the realization that this isn’t going to work much longer.  I have to get rid of at least 2 suitcases because we can’t carry them ourselves and when we return this van we will be on our own.

Well, we decided to check out the city and as we were heading out we just stopped at the front desk and asked if there was a bullfight on today.  It was 20 minutes to 6pm and the girl at the counter told us she thought that it started at 6 so we had to decide quickly.  We decided to jump in a cab and head over there just to see if we could get tickets and if not we would just walk around and go for something to eat because we were starving.  Well, the tickets were available and the fight was starting in 5 minutes.  We bought the cheapest tickets and found out that they were cheap because they were on the sunny side of the arena.  They more than double in price if you want the shade.  It didn’t matter where we sat because I knew that we wouldn’t be staying too long. 

As soon as we sat down the show began.  It started with some guys on horses followed by all the matadors as they walked out into the bullring.  They have a live band and the crowd cheered and cheered as they walked around the bullring and bowed and waved.  It was actually pretty cool because they had on these amazing costumes that were very colourful.  Then about six matadors with pink capes stand around the bullring and finally the poor bull is brought in.  He already has two arrow-like daggers sticking out of the top of his neck and he was black and very angry.  One by one the matadors tease him with their capes and then they run behind a wall when he comes running.  One matador finally takes the lead and stays out with the bull and does his thing.  This part was actually interesting to watch because the bull isn’t suffering that much yet and the matador has some amazing moves as he lures the bull to his cape and then swooshes it up and over the bull as it comes charging by.  Every time the bull goes through the cape the crowd cheers “Ole!” A couple of times the bull comes through the cape and then turns suddenly and comes charging again and the matador has to be quick and get out of the way while he holds up the cape.  You can hear the crowd gasp and I’m tempted to believe that in some ways they kind of want the bull the snag the matador, even just a little.  I guess that’s human nature.  I wanted the bull to get him because I thought what he was doing was cruel.  I didn’t want the matador hurt but I was definitely cheering for the bull.

Then it started to get worse.  A guy on a horse that was completely padded up on either side came out with a huge spear.  The bull is then lured over to the horseman and he spears him very badly on its back.  Now the blood starts running down the poor bulls back and thank goodness the bull was black because you couldn’t really see it that well.  The bull actually rammed the horse up against the boards and they had to lure him away with all six of the matadors.  The horse was not injured, thank goodness.  Then two other matadors came out with four more daggers and they tease the bull until it comes running at them and at the last minute they throw the daggers into its back and jump out of the way.  It’s pretty dramatic and of course the place is going crazy.  I was shielding my eyes partly from the sun and mostly because I wasn’t sure I really wanted to watch this, but I did.  Next comes the main matador and as he enters the bullring the crowd jumps to their feet and cheer while the band plays some very festive Spanish music, with spine-tingling trumpet solos.  My stomach kind of rolled when I saw that under his red cape was a very long sword.  I wasn’t sure how they actually kill the bull but when I saw that, I was pretty sure I understood what was coming.  I told Steve to cover Danika’s eyes but she really wasn’t watching.  She was looking around at the crowd and she was hiding under her little jacket because the sun was just beating down on us.  Thank goodness.

The bull is not as lively as he was when he first came out because he has lost a lot of blood so this guy just teases him with his red cape and the bull kind of runs forward quickly and then just stops when he’s through the cape and then he slowly turns around and comes at him again.  The bull is really slow now and it bothered me that this matador was moving around the bull so confidently.  He would pose with one arm bent in front and one arm bent in the back with his legs straight and together, the typical matador pose and the crowd cheered him on.  I thought, “Yeah sure, how powerful are you when this poor bull is half dead”.  But hey, I don’t get this whole thing and it has been a tradition in this country for centuries, so who am I to say?

The end was near and sure enough the matador set himself up for one more run at the bull and as the bull came toward him he stuck the sword completely into the bull’s back.  Without getting too graphic, the bull is now spouting blood from his mouth and back and within minutes he falls to the ground and the crowd jumps to their feet and start waving white papers and cloths and they were cheering like crazy.  A bunch of guys come running out and they finish the job by jabbing a knife into the top of it’s head and then they tie the bull’s two hind legs to the back of two horses and the horses drag the dead bull around the bullring and out, while the crowd continues cheering. 

We all got up and left after that, and some people were giving us some very interesting looks as we were walking by them.  The guy at the door was saying something to us in Spanish and you could tell he was basically saying, “hey, where the hell are you going?”  Apparently they torture and kill three other bulls during the performance but Steve and I both decided that we did not need to see anymore. 

Like I said before, I’m not saying that it was a mistake to go but it certainly was not something I care to ever see again.  To me there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to do that to a poor helpless animal and I don’t know, maybe if I knew the history behind it I would be a little more receptive.  I doubt it, but it’s over now and it will probably haunt me for a few days.  I thought Steve was going to puke when we came out.  He is a huge animal lover and I knew that it would be very hard on him.  Nikolas thought the whole thing was cruel and disgusting and we talked about it all through dinner and after too.  He said he much more enjoyed the soccer game we went to last night and I was glad to hear it.

So that’s my bullfighting story and I’m sorry if I offended anyone with the graphics but I needed to write it down how I remembered it.  It’s too bad that they don’t just tease the bull a bit with some capes and then lead it out of the ring without killing it.  As I write this I know that I am a hypocrite.  All my vegetarian friends are going to ask me how that can bother me and yet I can still eat a steak or burger.  Well, I had vegetarian pasta for dinner tonight!


Bull fighting:  The Spectacle

Six bulls, to be killed by three matadors, are usually required for one afternoon's corrida, and each encounter lasts about 15 minutes. At the appointed time, generally 5 PM, the three matadors, each followed by their assistants, the banderilleros and the picadors, march into the ring to the accompaniment of traditional paso doble (“march rhythm”) music. The matadors (the term toreador, popularized by the French opera Carmen, is erroneous usage) are the stars of the show. They wear a distinctive costume, consisting of a silk jacket heavily embroidered in gold, skintight trousers, and a montera (a bicorne hat). A traje de luces (“suit of lights”), as it is known, can cost several thousand pounds; a top matador must have at least six of them a season.

When a bull first comes into the arena out of the toril, or bull pen gate, the matador greets it with a series of manoeuvres, or passes, with a large cape; these passes are usually verónicas, the basic cape manoeuvre (named after the woman who held out a cloth to Christ on his way to the crucifixion).

The amount of applause the matador receives is based on his proximity to the horns of the bull, his tranquillity in the face of danger, and his grace in swinging the cape in front of an infuriated animal weighing more than 460 kg (1,000 lb). The bull instinctively goes for the cloth because it is a large, moving target, not because of its colour; bulls are colour-blind and charge just as readily at the inside of the cape, which is yellow.

Fighting bulls charge instantly at anything that moves because of their natural instinct and centuries of special breeding. Unlike domestic bulls, they do not have to be trained to charge, nor are they starved or tortured to make them savage. Those animals selected for the corrida are allowed to live a year longer than those assigned to the slaughterhouse. Bulls to be fought by novilleros (beginners) are supposed to be three years old and those fought by full matadors are supposed to be at least four.

The second part of the corrida consists of the work of the picadors, bearing lances and mounted on horses (padded in compliance with a ruling passed in 1930 and therefore rarely injured). The picadors wear flat-brimmed, beige felt hats called castoreños, silver-embroidered jackets, chamois trousers, and steel leg armour. After three lancings or less, depending on the judgment of the president of the corrida for that day, a trumpet blows, and the banderilleros, working on foot, advance to place their banderillas (brightly adorned, barbed sticks) in the bull's shoulders in order to lower its head for the eventual kill. They wear costumes similar to those of their matadors but their jackets and trousers are embroidered in silver.

After the placing of the banderillas, a trumpet sounds signalling the last phase of the fight. Although the bull has been weakened and slowed, it has also become warier during the course of the fight, sensing that behind the cape is its true enemy; most gorings occur at this time. The serge cloth of the muleta is draped over the estoque, and the matador begins what is called the faena, the last act of the bullfight. The aficionados (ardent fans) study the matador's every move, the ballet-like passes practised since childhood. (Most matadors come from bullfighting families and learn their art when very young.) As with every manoeuvre in the ring, the emphasis is on the ability to increase but control the personal danger, maintaining the balance between suicide and mere survival. In other words, the real contest is not between the matador and an animal; it is the matador's internal struggle.

The basic muleta passes are the trincherazo, generally done with one knee on the ground and at the beginning of the faena; the pase de la firma, simply moving the cloth in front of the bull's nose while the fighter remains motionless; the manoletina, a pass invented by the great Spanish matador Manolete (Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez), where the muleta is held behind the body; and the natural, a pass in which danger to the matador is increased by taking the sword out of the muleta, thereby reducing the target size and tempting the bull to charge at the larger object—the bullfighter.

After several minutes spent in making these passes, wherein the matador tries to stimulate the excitement of the crowd by working closer and closer to the horns, the fighter takes the sword and lines up the bull for the kill. The blade must go between the shoulder blades; because the space between them is very small, it is imperative that the front feet of the bull be together as the matador hurtles over the horns. The kill, properly done by aiming straight over the bull's horns and plunging the sword between its withers into the aorta region, requires discipline, training, and raw courage; for this reason it is known as the “moment of truth”





Madrid, Spain  - received May 5

(Written by Steve May 6, 05)


WOW! What a massive crowded city! It took us over an hour to drive around the hotel and we kept getting lost and making it worse. Some Madrid Bombiero’s tried their best to help with directions, but a bus in the round-a-bout did not like the left I was about to make and that event cost us another hour. Anyways, I love, love, love this place and everything about it, I will most definitely come back one day. I say “I” because Helen and Nikolas are not that thrilled and don’t feel super safe, so if I said lets go, they would run to the car. We had only planned to stay here for 3 nights but just found out that Madrid Real is playing Real Racing S.C., so we extended our stay and went to the game. Real Madrid won 5-0 and Ranoldo was spectacular. Beckham on the other hand was a bit of a sissy boy, he coughed up the ball 4 times and had a bit of a soft game. He still managed to get a standing ovation when they pulled him half way through the second half when the 4-0. Of course it was incredible to watch this game in front of 90,000 crazy fans, and our seats were awesome so we will never forget our first European Football match.



more pics

Madrid, capital and largest city of Spain. It is also the capital of the autonomous region and province of Madrid. The city of Madrid is located in the historic region of New Castile near the geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula. Madrid is Spain's administrative, financial, and transportation center. The city is famous for its historical landmarks, museums, active street life, broad boulevards, and outdoor cafés.

Madrid lies in an interior region that Spaniards call the heart of Spain. This region is divided in two by the Sierra de Guadarrama and the Sierra de Gredos mountain ranges. The city has an area of 607 sq km (234 sq mi) and lies within a larger autonomous community and province, both also called Madrid, which make up the same area of 7995 sq km (3087 sq mi). The city of Madrid spreads over several rolling hills at the northern edge of New Castile. Its average elevation is about 640 m (about 2100 ft) above sea level. Until about 1960 the small Manzanares River marked the western and southern boundaries of the city, but since then urbanization has spread across the river. Once a greenbelt at the edge of Madrid, the river is now bordered by high-speed roads that provide motorists with access to the center of the city. Beyond the developed part of the city, which ends abruptly, Madrid is surrounded by farmland.

The traditional heart of Madrid is an area 3.9 sq km (1.5 sq mi). In 1656 King Philip IV had a city wall built around the area. Over the next 200 years the city grew through construction of taller buildings and the use of open land within the wall. The first major expansion outside the wall was to the east; this area, known as the Barrio de Salamanca, is still considered an exclusive neighborhood.

Major plazas and monuments mark the old inner city. On the west side of the Manzanares River is a large park known as the Casa de Campo (Country House). Overlooking it is the Royal Palace. The palace stands on the site of the older Alcázar Palace, which began as a medieval fortress. In the early 1500s the Alcázar was used as a hunting lodge, and it was remodeled by King Philip II after he established Madrid as his capital city in 1561. The current palace was built from 1738 to 1765 after a massive fire destroyed the Alcázar. Today the Royal Palace stands as a huge, neoclassical monument to the Spanish monarchy in the 1700s.

From the Royal Palace one can follow the old Calle Mayor (Main Street) a few blocks east to the equally imposing Plaza Mayor. We tried to get into the Palace, but we could not find the entrance and after 2 hours of walking we were too tired to go in. Madrid has many plazas (large public squares lined with buildings), and the Plaza Mayor is one of the most notable. This plaza was built from 1617 to 1619 and served as the civic and economic center of Madrid until the end of the 19th century. It was used every day as a public market and was the scene of public ceremonies. It was also used as a bullring for royal festivals and held as many as 50,000 spectators. Now the Plaza Mayor is primarily a tourist center. A few blocks farther east along the Calle Mayor is the Puerta del Sol. Considered the center of Madrid, this plaza is the point from which distance is measured on highways leading away from the city.

From the Puerta del Sol the main east-west route through the old city continues as the Calle de Alcalá. This street runs a few more blocks east to the Plaza de Cibeles and the nearby Puerta de Alcalá. The Plaza de Cibeles is named after a statue of Cybele, the Roman goddess of nature. In the 18th century King Charles III placed the statue at the plaza, regarded as the main entrance to Madrid. Today the plaza is marked by the immense central post office, which was built in the early 20th century. The Calle de Alcalá continues eastward from the old city, passing the Plaza de Toros (bullring), which can accommodate 25,000 spectators. Though once on the eastern edge of Madrid, the Plaza de Toros is now surrounded by the city.

Running north-south from the Plaza de Cibeles is the most famous street of Madrid. The name of this tree-lined boulevard changes three times. The two oldest sections, the Paseo del Prado and the Paseo de Recoletos, made up the eastern edge of the city until it began to expand after 1850. The word prado means meadow or pasture in Spanish, and the area that is now the Paseo del Prado was an open meadow area until around 1740. Thereafter the Prado area was gradually developed into a combination of boulevards, walkways, and fountains lined with museums, libraries, and sidewalk cafés, as well as the royal Botanical Garden. The two older sections of the street are also near Madrid’s Retiro Park. Retiro means resting place or retreat in Spanish. This park began as the gardens around a royal palace and in the 1770s it became a public park. The third section of the famous three-part street is the Paseo de la Castellana, which runs north from the old city and was extended several times as the city grew. This boulevard is lined by the skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings typical of Madrid’s modern sections.

Most of Madrid’s growth has happened during the 20th century. Unlike many American cities, Madrid had few separately governed suburban cities on its borders until the 1970s. Madrid’s large and fast-growing metropolitan area incorporated towns and industrial suburbs that once were independent areas outside of the city. In 1975, when longtime authoritarian leader Francisco Franco died, this method of growth began to change. Since then the government has built superhighways and regional commuter railroads to encourage development of areas outside the city limits.

Until 1975 Madrid’s growth was rapid but poorly planned. New areas received public services slowly, and large new skyscrapers destroyed the traditional ambience of many older districts. Since 1975, when Spain entered a new period of democratic government, Madrid has attempted to recover its traditional atmosphere. Many sections still have traditional open-stall markets, plazas, and narrow, cobbled streets that preserve the feeling of a small town. Elsewhere, city authorities have promoted the renovation of 19th-century neighborhoods by requiring that builders retain old building facades and construct modern buildings within them. As a result, many districts that date to the 19th and early 20th centuries retain a lively street life with small shops, café-bars, and family businesses. Increasingly, however, older businesses coexist with American fast-food chains, supermarkets, and modern department stores.

The lively street life of the city reflects the kind of housing available to madrileños, as the people of Madrid are called. Most people live in apartment buildings, with stores and offices on the first one or two levels. While many people rent their apartments, most own them and participate in cooperatives that maintain the building. Because living spaces are small by American standards, madrileños do most of their socializing in the streets, bars, restaurants, and parks of their neighborhoods. Only a few very wealthy areas north of the city have single family houses with gardens and yards similar to those in American suburbs. Many of the newest neighborhoods are collections of large apartment buildings standing in open fields. Most of them are now being built as planned neighborhoods with parks, playgrounds, and public swimming pools.

Until about 1960 Spain was a poor country, and most Spaniards had few modern conveniences. Now most people who live in apartment buildings in Madrid have washing machines, microwave ovens, gas stoves, refrigerators, and other modern appliances. Many families also have automobiles; there are almost one million cars in the city. Although Madrid has a good subway system, buses, and commuter railroads that connect the city center with the outer districts, the city is choked with traffic. The large number of motor vehicles, combined with Madrid’s narrow streets, crowded apartment buildings, and scarce parking, makes traffic jams common.

Madrid’s population has grown dramatically during the 20th century. According to official censuses, in 1900 Madrid had about 500,000 inhabitants, but by 1960 the city proper had 2,259,000 people. By 1970 it grew to 3,146,000. Since that time the total population of Madrid’s metropolitan area has decreased slightly, with a population of 2,938,723 in 2001. Madrid province had a population of 5,423,384 in 2001.

Madrid has long been the center of Spanish government and culture. As a result, it has drawn its population from all over the country. Spain itself has four major languages: Castilian, Galician, Basque, and Catalan. Most of Madrid’s population has come from the Castilian-speaking regions of the country. Castilian, usually referred to as Spanish, is spoken with several regional accents. The dialect most often heard in Madrid is a modified version of the one spoken in the historic region of Old Castile. The people of Madrid are more similar in their language and national background than the populations of most large European cities.

Madrid is also homogeneous in terms of religion, because most Spaniards are members of the Roman Catholic Church. Although most madrileños are not overtly religious and most do not go to church, they are usually baptized, married, and buried in Catholic ceremonies. During most of the rule of General Franco, from 1939 to 1975, the Catholic Church was the only religious group with legal status in Spain. Non-Catholics were severely restricted. After Franco’s death in 1975, the close links between the church and the government began to break, and the 1978 constitution guaranteed religious freedom. At that time Madrid’s small Protestant population began to attend their own churches openly. The most active missionary groups include the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. The city also has a small Jewish community with active synagogues.

Madrid is the cultural center of Spain, with theaters, museums, libraries, and educational institutions that attract many scholars and visitors. Of Madrid’s public universities, the oldest and largest is the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, also known as the University of Madrid, with more than 130,000 students. The school originally opened in the nearby town of Alcalá de Henares in 1508 and was moved to Madrid in 1836. Another university, the Universidad Autónoma, was opened in 1968 on the north edge of the city, and in 1977 a third, the Universidad de Alcalá, opened in Alcalá de Henares. The Universidad de Carlos III opened in 1990 on the grounds of an old army base on the south edge of the city.

Madrid has many museums. The most famous is the Museo del Prado The Prado is actually a complex of three facilities on the eastern side of the Paseo del Prado. It has arguably the best collection of European paintings in the world. The museum also houses a fine collection of art from the Spanish school, which includes artists such as El Greco, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco de Goya. Another notable art museum is the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a museum of contemporary art named for the current queen of Spain. It opened in 1986 as a center for temporary exhibits, and its permanent collection was inaugurated in the early 1990s. The museum specializes in 20th-century paintings, especially works by Spanish artists. It includes one of the most famous paintings by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937), which portrays a city bombed during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). The painting is an evocative depiction of the tragedy caused by the war. I do not have a lot knowledge about art, but standing in front of Picasso’s creations was very cool, and even Nikolas was quite entertained.

Madrid also has other notable museums, including the Thyssen-Bornemisza art museum, named after the family that collected its works. The museum houses about 800 paintings, mostly European, in the Villahermosa Palace. The Lazaro Galdiano Museum contains paintings, antique jewelry, porcelain, and tapestries. The National Library, north of the Museo del Prado, has copies of almost every book ever published in Spain, as well as a gallery of Spanish art. We went into this museum yesterday and even our kids thought the place was fantastic. The exhibit on the Adonis, Venus and Cupid showed how the artwork had been reconstructed back to its original form, and it even captured Nikolas’s attention. The exhibit showed through x-rays how the artist changed the original design to the existing one, and it is done in stages for all to see. The library also shares its building with the National Archaeological Museum. Madrid’s other notable museums include the Museum of the Army, the Museum of the Navy, the Museum of Bullfighting, and the National Museum of Decorative Arts.

Nearby is the Cultural Center of the City of Madrid, which has an art gallery, conference halls, and a zarzuela theater. Zarzuela is the Spanish form of light opera. Scattered around the city are numerous other art galleries, many dedicated to the work of particular Spanish artists. In some ways the most spectacular museum is the Royal Palace itself, where visitors can tour the living quarters of 18th-century and early 20th-century royalty. The palace also houses a large Carriage Museum, the Royal Armory, and a research library of 18th- and 19th–century books and palace records.

Several of Madrid’s historic buildings have become cultural and administrative centers. Near the Royal Palace is the Royal Opera House. Originating in the 1850s, the Opera House was renovated in 1997. The 17th-century Carcel del Corte (City Prison), near the southeast corner of the Plaza Mayor, is now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Casa del Correo, the city’s original post office that dominates the Puerta del Sol, was built by King Charles III in the 1760s. It now houses the government offices of the Autonomous Region of Madrid. The huge Cuartel del Conde Duque (Barracks of the Count–Duke) is located a few blocks north of the Royal Palace. Built in the 1700s as a barracks for the royal cavalry guards, it has been renovated as a cultural center. It now houses the Municipal Archives, the Municipal Periodicals Library, Madrid’s public library, an exhibition gallery, and other cultural facilities.

Madrid has several societies created to promote scholarship in various fields. One of the oldest is the Academy of the Spanish Language, which was founded in 1713. The Academy of History, founded in 1735, has a major library and collection of historical documents. The Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1757, has an important art museum, as well as an archive that includes engravings from which famous artists, such as Francisco de Goya, made their prints. Another important cultural institution is the Ateneo, which was founded in 1820 and reopened in 1836. The Ateneo has long been a center for cultural and intellectual debate in Madrid and has one of the city’s finest libraries of 19th- and early 20th-century scholarly books.

Not far from Madrid are several important monuments and places of historical interest. The most impressive is the immense monastery-palace called El Escorial, located northwest of Madrid at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Built by King Philip II from 1563 to 1584, it was Philip’s favorite residence. El Escorial houses the tombs of most of Spain’s kings and queens since Philip, and contains a magnificent art collection and library, which are open to the public.

A few miles away stands a gigantic civil war memorial built by General Franco. Known as the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), it took more than 15 years to complete. It consists of a concrete cross nearly 150 m (nearly 500 ft) high, built on top of a huge crypt tunneled out of solid granite inside the mountain itself. A monument to Franco’s victory in the civil war, and constructed with the forced labor of prisoners of war, it is no longer a very popular place for Spaniards to visit.

Nearer the city at El Pardo, north of Madrid, is La Zarzuela, a small royal palace originally built by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V during the 16th century for use as a hunting lodge. Today it is the residence of the Spanish royal family. South of Madrid is the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, a museum and park noted for its extensive gardens. It was built in the 18th century and was the spring residence of the royal family until the late 19th century because of its mild spring weather. In the opposite direction, near Segovia, is the Royal Palace of La Granja, a relatively small palace. During the 18th century the royal court used it as a summer retreat. The palace gardens include a spectacular collection of fountains inspired by those at the Palace of Versailles in France.

Madrid is famous for its numerous sidewalk cafés and café-bars. Madrileños often walk along the avenues in the evenings when the city's many fountains are illuminated, although this activity has declined as many boulevards have become more crowded with automobiles. There are several large parks within the city. The most important is Retiro Park, which is much like New York City’s Central Park. It features many tree-lined avenues, an art exhibition pavilion, an artificially created lake, monuments, fountains, and a rose garden. A second large park is the Casa de Campo, which has a cable railway, monorail, and a modern zoo. Another park, the Parque del Oeste, has a broad area of trees, rose gardens, and walks between the city and the Manzanares River.

Madrid has a growing variety of fitness centers and sports clubs with golf courses and tennis courts. Spaniards, like most Europeans, are fans of soccer, and Madrid has two huge soccer stadiums, each holding as many as 100,000 people. The city also has a large horseracing track and several large public swimming pools. In the winter madrileños can ski in the nearby mountain ranges, the Sierra de Guadarrama and the Sierra de Gredos. In the summer many people leave the city to escape the heat and spend weekends in the mountains. As prosperity increases in Madrid, it is becoming more common for people to build summer homes in the valleys of the two mountain ranges.

Until 1900 Madrid was almost entirely an administrative city. Its few industries produced goods for consumers in the city itself. Beginning in the early 20th century, Madrid grew to be an important industrial center. The city’s major industrial products include motor vehicles, aircraft, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, processed food, printed materials, and leather goods. Because the area around Madrid has few industrial raw materials such as iron, coal, or oil, the city has little heavy industry. Its factories feature light manufactures and assembly of products, including cars, trucks, appliances, and furniture, using semifinished components made elsewhere.

While Madrid is an important industrial center, it is more important as a center of service activities. These include government, banking, publishing, insurance, and finance. Madrid is also a major center of Spain’s tourist industry. For example, more than 41 million tourists visited the country in 1996; as a result, Madrid has large hotel and restaurant industries.

Madrid is also the center of Spain’s highway and railroad systems. Both systems were built with roads and lines running from Madrid to Spain’s most important seaports. Since the mid-1970s the government has moved aggressively to upgrade both systems, and excellent freeways now connect Madrid to Spain’s other important cities. The railroads have not been developed as rapidly for heavy freight, but the passenger system has improved greatly. Regional commuter lines run between Madrid and the nearby provincial capitals of Segovia, Guadalajara, and Toledo. The country’s first high-speed rail line was begun for the Sevilla World’s Fair in 1992, making it possible to travel between Madrid and Sevilla in about two hours.

The city of Madrid has extensive subway and bus systems. The subway system doubled in size between the early 1960s and the late 1990s, and it now reaches the outlying industrial and residential communities. Madrid’s airport, Barajas Airport, is served by airlines from all over the world and is also the center for an air service that connects most major Spanish cities to Madrid.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 authorized the creation of several Autonomous Communities within Spain. It granted them authority over many aspects of local schools, universities, regional planning, and traffic control. These communities were further divided into provinces, although some consist of only one province. The Autonomous Community of Madrid, of which the city of Madrid is the capital, contains a single province. Like the other autonomous communities with only one province, there is no separate provincial government.

The city of Madrid has a city council and mayor, both of which are popularly elected. All Spaniards 18 years of age and older are entitled to vote, and the voter turnout is usually high. Each member of the city council also serves as the city administrator for a particular area of government—for example, culture, police, taxation, or education. The Autonomous Community of Madrid has an elected regional parliament similar to many European legislatures. The regional parliament elects a president who heads the regional government. A cabinet of ministers assists the president with the various administrative subdivisions of the autonomous community’s government. Most offices have four-year terms.

Both Madrid’s municipal and regional governments face significant issues involving welfare, primary and secondary education, and regional development. Most debates focus on the best way to manage rapid urban growth and improve the quality of life within Madrid. Particularly important are the issues of growing traffic problems and the pollution created by so many automobiles. In the 1990s the government began to require emission controls on cars and to encourage the use of cleaner types of gasoline. Nevertheless, the pollution problem remains serious.

The city of Madrid and the Autonomous Community have worked closely to develop long-term plans for the region. The results have been mixed. Two major superhighways were built around Madrid to reduce congestion in the main part of the city, decreasing the travel time from the airport to many central hotels from about an hour to about ten minutes. However, the number of vehicles continues to grow, aggravating traffic congestion. Regional plans began to encourage outlying areas to develop residential and industrial zones at the same pace, so that people can live closer to where they work. In addition, planning efforts have helped public transit keep pace with the city’s physical expansion.

Local government in Madrid confronts the same issues of urban crime and drugs as in other cities. During the rule of General Franco, the combination of general poverty and heavy police repression kept levels of crime and drug use low. After Franco’s death in 1975, both problems became more pronounced as government policies changed and personal incomes began to rise. In particular, tourists are often the target of petty crime. Spain has fairly harsh laws and punishments for drug trafficking, and thus far the problem has not reached the level of other European capitals.

The area around Madrid was occupied by villas in Roman times, but there is no archaeological evidence of an actual town until after Ad 800. Scattered evidence suggests that a small, walled town—referred to as Mageritah, Maricen, or Mayrit—appeared following the Moors’ conquest of Spain in about AD 854. In 1083, Christians from the region of Castile captured the Moorish kingdom of Toledo, which ruled the small town of Madrid. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the kings of Castile used Madrid’s Alcázar, a fortress built by the Moors, as a hunting lodge. The kings also occasionally called the legislative body, the Castilian Cortes, to meet there.

In the mid-15th century Henry IV, king of Castile and León, founded the Royal Monastery of San Geronimo, with extensive lands that included the area that is now Retiro Park. The Monastery Church still stands behind the Museo del Prado near the park. In the 16th century Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (also known as Charles I of Spain) called the Cortes to meet in Madrid at least twice during his reign. The most important meeting took place in 1528, when the members of the Cortes swore their loyalty to Prince Philip, Charles’s son and the new heir to the throne of Spain. As Philip matured, he wished to separate his entourage from that of his father’s court in Toledo. Therefore, beginning in 1550, Philip used the Alcázar in Madrid as a residence.

Madrid was then a mid-sized Castilian town. Five years after Philip became king in 1556 as Philip II, he chose Madrid as the permanent seat of his court. Philip II rarely traveled out of Castile, and to govern his distant provinces effectively, he needed a permanent base for his large staff of secretaries, lawyers, accountants, and bureaucrats. Once the court was permanently established in Madrid, the city grew rapidly. An increasing number of aristocrats, feeling a need to be near the king, built palaces in the city. These changes attracted thousands of merchants, bankers, construction workers, and servants. Estimates based on household numbers suggest tremendous growth: in 1600 Madrid had almost 100,000 people, and by 1630 it had from 150,000 to 175,000.

By 1590 Philip II had modernized the Alcázar palace with a Renaissance facade and had begun building the Plaza Mayor. His son and successor, Philip III, completed the Plaza Mayor in 1619. The next king, Philip IV, and his first minister decided that the Alcázar was inadequate for royal needs, and in 1534 they built the Buen Retiro Palace. This palace was located between what are now Retiro Park and the Paseo del Prado, including the grounds of the Monastery of San Geronimo. It was a sprawling complex of palaces, gardens, tennis courts, and stables, but most of it was destroyed when the French occupied Madrid during the Peninsular War (1808-1814). The small part that still exists is now part of the Museo del Prado complex.

In 1898 Madrid installed its first electric trams, and in 1910 the city began the first demolitions for the creation of the modern Gran Vía. This major street enables traffic to move freely through the old city. By 1919 the first line of the Madrid subway was in operation between the Puerta del Sol and the new districts north of the old city. In 1926 the city began its first attempts at creating a long-term plan for development as a modern metropolis. The following year construction began on University City, now home of the University of Madrid.

The 1930s were chaotic for Madrid, as they were for the rest of the country. In 1931 a new democratic republic was founded in Spain as part of a period of dramatic social and political upheaval. The country became polarized over heated issues, including expansion and modernization of Spanish education, separation of the Catholic Church from the Spanish government, and revolutionary changes in labor and economic relationships. Madrid became the scene of intense political unrest, strikes, and riots. Death squads representing both the political far right and far left began striking their enemies. The situation continued to worsen, and in July 1936 a group of military leaders led a rebellion against the government. Because the rebellion succeeded in some areas of Spain but was stopped in others, the country entered a bitter three-year civil war.

As the capital of Spain and the seat of the government, Madrid was an important city during the war. Initially, Madrid resisted the rebellion due to military troops and voluntary worker militias who fought against the rebel troops. In late 1937 madrileños, assisted by international volunteer troops known as the International Brigades, again resisted a fierce siege of the city by General Francisco Franco and the rebel forces. For most of the war, the frontier between the rebel forces, known as Nationalists, and their opponents, known as Republicans, ran along the Manzanares River and through what is now the Parque del Oeste. The Nationalists regularly attacked the western district of the city and the university with artillery bombardment, and the entire city suffered frequent bombings by German planes assisting the Nationalists. Madrid was so important during the war that when the Nationalists finally occupied the city in March 1939, the Spanish Civil War was over.

Following the Nationalist victory, General Franco began a nearly 40-year rule of Spain. Although Madrid remained the capital, it was deeply scarred by the war. During the first 15 years of Franco’s rule, Madrid was impoverished due to a lack of capital and industry. The economy gradually improved after 1950, bringing a flood of people into Madrid. The Franco government, however, had few resources and no policy to deal with this immigration. As a result Madrid became surrounded with huge temporary slums. After 1960 the government began a massive housing program to construct thousands of cheaply built high-rise apartments, and by 1970 most of the temporary slums had been eliminated.

After Franco’s death in 1975, life in Madrid changed as Spain shifted to a system of democratic government. For example, the material standard of living rose dramatically. Madrileños gained better housing, more education opportunities, and more modern conveniences. However, during this time traffic in Madrid became a serious problem. During the 1960s, Franco’s government tried to make room for cars rather than regulating them. They bulldozed boulevards, installed a huge parking ramp under the Plaza Mayor, and built overpasses in major plazas. In an effort to improve traffic conditions, the democratic government began a new plan of urban development, halting the destruction of boulevards and streets and implementing more systematic control over the traffic problem. The city developed traffic and parking regulations, renovated plazas and parking lots as playgrounds and parks, and removed unsightly overpasses.

In 1983 Madrid became the capital of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, which was created under a 1981 law. The region grew as an industrial center to become the wealthiest autonomous community in Spain. In 1992 Madrid was designated as the cultural capital of Europe, which focused international attention on the city and its arts. By the late 1990s Madrid had become a large, dynamic city working to handle the issues surrounding its growth.

So after all that Madrid history we are ready to hit the streets again, a week here is not enough time to see this wonderful city. Today we are going to try and find Goya’s tomb, the Royal Palace and maybe Warner Brother’s amusement park.



(Written by Helen)


Ronda, city in Málaga Province, in the region of Andalucía in southern Spain. Ronda is located 66 km (41 mi) west of the city of Málaga and 131 km (81 mi) south of Córdoba. It has a magnificent setting in a gorge of the Guadiaro River, surrounded by an amphitheater of rugged mountains.


The old Moorish quarter of the city, known as the Ciudad, rests on a narrow promontory of land, enclosed on three sides by precipitous cliffs. The only natural entrance to the Ciudad is past the ruins of Alcazaba, an Arab fortress that was destroyed in 1809. The newer quarter, called the Mercadillo, lies on the other side of the gorge of the Guadiaro River. This gorge is spanned at its narrowest point, 70 m (230 ft), by an 18th-century, single-arch bridge, from which magnificent views are obtained. The principal sites of interest are the Alameda, a park with a fine view; the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, originally a mosque; and the Casa del Rey Moro, built in 1042.


The Roman city of Arunda was 11 km (7 mi) north of the present-day city of Ronda, but a few remains have survived. The Moors made Ronda a virtually impregnable stronghold, and a small independent kingdom lasted there until 1485, when it was taken by Ferdinand II of Aragon. Population (2001) 34,468.


We were feeling quite lonely and bored after my sister and her kids left so we decided to take a day trip to Ronda.  Many people told us it was a must-see so even though we were not that excited about it we decided to go.  It always happens like that, we don’t really have an interest in seeing a place but we go anyways and we end up loving it.  Well, that’s exactly what happened with Ronda as well. 

When we started off, the sign on the highway said 45km so we thought it would be a quick half hour drive to this place, but what we didn’t realize is that it is at the top of a huge mountain.  The drive up was like your worst nightmare if you are prone to car sickness.  Nikolas is prone to car sickness and I was actually laughing because the road was so unbelievably curving and winding and everyone drives so fast and there is only one lane up and one lane down so you have to go fast too or they just ride your butt.  Poor guy.  He actually did really well and we only had to stop once so he could get out of the car and get some fresh air.  The drive took almost an hour but once you get there it is so worth it. 

The city is built on the cliffs of a massive gorge and the buildings are literally built into the sides of the walls of the gorge.  The streets are all narrow and cobblestone and Steve barely maneuvered our van around some corners, it was unreal.  We drove around for about half an hour before we found a parking spot so suffice it to say it is quite a touristy place. 

We walked straight to the Plaza de Toros which is supposedly the first bullring ever in Spain.  It is an arena that is steeped in history.  The bullring opened in 1785 and The Romero family, which produced three generations of the finest bullfighters, emerged in Ronda during the 18th century when bullfighters on foot replaced horsemen.  The most famous of the Romeros was Pedro, the leading and most representative figure in the history of bullfighting.  He retired after spearing more than 5,600 bulls and without ever having received the slightest scratch.  The ring is unique in that it has two galleries of arches and no open-air sections therefore almost every seat is in the shade.  The sections contain five rows of seating on two levels and 136 beautiful columns, forming 68 arches on Tuscan columns.  The adornments, costumes and apparatus typical of the times of Francisco de Goya are used for these bullfights, which take place at the beginning of September, so we did not get to see one. 

Situated underneath the seating area is the Museo Taurino, a small but fascinating bullfighting museum. Exhibits include a collection of etchings, engravings, lithographs and illustrations of Francisco de Goya.  There are also books, documents and engravings related to equestrian arts, oil paintings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, posters, costumes and lots of other material.  Nikolas really enjoyed this place and we had a big discussion about whether we really wanted to see a bullfight while we were in Spain.  I said that we should but Nik and Steve said that they didn’t really want to see a bull get tortured to death so we haven’t decided yet whether we will go see one or not.  We did stand in the middle of the arena with Danika as our bull and pretended we were bullfighters.  It was lots of fun.

After that we went for lunch at a very nice café that we found down a lovely cobble-stoned street.  We had pizza, chicken, soup, cod, and it was excellent and it was also a little cheaper than the coast.

After lunch we headed to the gorge and just stood there in awe as we looked out at the view.  It is spectacular.  You look over the countryside and it looks like a patchwork quilt with all the different shaped squares and rectangles of farmland.  One section would be green grass, the next would be rows of some vegetation, the next would be a rectangle of dirt that had just been neatly plowed.  You are so high up that we actually got dizzy as we were looking.  There is a bridge that was built in the 18th century and it is an amazing feat of engineering.  It crosses the gorge to the original Muslim Old Town which is full of ancient churches, monuments and palaces.  There is also a place called Casa del Rey Moro where you can climb down a Muslim-era stairway that is cut inside the rock and leads right to the bottom of the gorge.  This place is really breathtaking!




Unfortunately our day took a little bit of a scary turn at this point.  As we were walking away from the gorge we came upon a playground and the kids decided to play a bit.  There was a group of school children there and I was watching them when all of a sudden Danika came walking up to me and she was just screaming.  I thought she had fallen and when she finally calmed down a bit she told us that she was running down three stairs and when she got to the bottom I guess she landed really hard and she said her head snapped sideways and she felt a crack in her neck.  Well, it really kind of scared us because normally she is very resilient and she only cries like that when she is really hurt.  We both got her to move her head around and she definitely had some pain on one side and she yelped out in pain when we touched the side of her neck.  She has had a scare with her neck before so I was a little paranoid about this but she seemed to settle down quite quickly so we kept walking.  About ten minutes later she was talking to me and when I looked at her, her nose was bleeding.  Well, I just about fainted, it freaked me out, because she has never had a nosebleed before and I thought maybe she had done some serious damage.  I’m always the worrywart but even Steve was concerned and he said that we had better keep an eye on her and he wanted to head back to San Pedro just in case something else more serious happened.  Well, she was fine all the way home and so far she has not shown any other problems, no more nose bleeds, so we are hoping she just rattled something and it’s all fine now.  It really did scare us though and it made us feel, for the first time, how far from home we really are.  Hopefully we will all stay safe and healthy and we will not have to experience the hospital system in another country.



Ronda is certainly one of the prettiest and most historic towns in Andalucia and we are very glad we saw it before we head out.  Speaking of which, we are heading to Portugal tomorrow and are very excited to see a new country.  We will be back however, in Spain, in about a week as we head from Portugal to Madrid.  


The Costa del Sol

(Written by Steve April 24, 2005)


 We knew some friends some years back who came to the Costa del Sol for a vacation and they raved about how beautiful it was and how cheap this place was. The whole coast is really beautiful and we were told that tourists overload this place when summer rolls around. I am not sure where all these folks park, because we are here now (April 05) and the roads are jammed packed now. You can forget about parking your car if you have one, and fat chance on finding a parking lot. Unfortunately, we were shocked to see all the development and the concrete condo catastrophe that appears to be taking place, and the super high cost of living. No matter where you look, you will see dozens of cranes erecting new condo buildings and subdivisions with price tags that would only attract the super rich. I was told that only 3 years ago the prices here were half of what they are now, and they can’t build fast enough to keep up with the demand. We had lunch today (Puerto Banus) and it cost over $130 for a jug of Sangria, 2 orders of fries and 1 order of Paella. This place is also full of English tourists who come here to spend their pounds. We rented a villa near San Pedro which is within walking distance to Puerto Banus, so we are about an hours drive from Malaga. The homes here have all the same features, swimming pools, 8 to 12 foot high fences, gated entries, alarm signs all over the property and bars on all the lower windows. So I have to admit we were a little overwhelmed with how modern and how burglar-proof everything is. The weather here ranges between 20 degrees in the winter and 40 degrees in the summer. The beaches are nice now but I’ll just assume it is very hard to find a spot for tanning in summer. I, for some reason, thought there was going to be miles of beautiful sandy beaches with clusters of pastel-coloured villas lining the coast. Well, there are clusters all right; cluster after cluster of huge apartment blocks. It reminds me a bit of Oahu except spread over hundreds of kilometers all the way up the coast. I am not slamming the place, just telling you that in a couple of years you will not be able to breath in this place. If you like golf you will love this place (Costa del Sol), they have over 30 golf courses. We drove most of the coast and the ones we saw were beautiful, so don’t forget the clubs.




The Streets of Malaga


I do have some nice things to say about the Costa del Sol.  We really like the marvelous Malaga and Marbella.

Let’s start with Malaga.  You will feel like you are in a very old historic part of Europe. The café’s, and the narrow cobble stoned streets that wind their way up to the Moorish museum are wonderful. The Museum is now named Pablo Picasso Museum and contains artwork from Ribera, Murillo, Morales, Cano, Jordan and of course Picasso. Some other incredible sites include the Alcazaba fortress, the 16th century cathedral and the Plaza de Merced where Picasso was born back in 1881.  We walked for over an hour in the Alcazaba De Malaga.  It is an amazing 8th century fortress and palace and it is situated beside a Roman ampitheatre that was still being excavated.  We loved Malaga and if you are coming to the Costa del Sol on a budget, you might want to hang out there. A very nice place.

Next is Marbella, what a nice place to relax and have dinner or just a coffee. If you look for good deals, you will find prices to be half of what they are in Puerto Banus. The sea wall is most likely the nicest walk in the Costa del Sol. It also has an old part, but the closer you are to the Med the nicer the streets get. Just like any place here (Costa del Sol) the upper portion of the city has about 20 cranes working fast and furious. The city is quite large so you need a vehicle if you want to see any sights other than Marbella.




Puerto Marina, Costa del Sol



We did drive through Granada but are in no position to make a comment on it. You see, we were there in the dark and saw most of it at 120km/ hour. I can give you a wee bit of history if you like:


Granada, city in southern Spain, capital of Granada Province, in Andalucía, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at the confluence of the Genil and Darro rivers. Industries in the city, which is the trading center for the surrounding agricultural area, include sugar refining, brewing and distilling, and the manufacture of munitions, chemicals, leather products, and textiles. Tourism is important to the local economy.


The most important vestige of Granada's splendid Moorish civilization is the remaining section of the Alhambra, the fortress-palace of the Moorish rulers. Other important buildings include the university, chartered in 1531 by Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and the cathedral, built between 1523 and 1703. Adjoining the cathedral is the Royal Chapel, containing the tombs of Ferdinand V and Isabella I, joint sovereigns of Castile.


Granada was founded in the 8th century by the Moors near the site of an ancient Roman settlement. Between 1036 and 1234, it was a part of Moorish Spain. At the end of that period, when the Moors were deprived of most of their Spanish possessions, the city replaced Córdoba as the capital of the remaining Moorish territory, called the kingdom of Granada. The city of Granada then entered its most flourishing era, becoming a rich trading center and attaining a reputation as a center for art, literature, and science. The city continued to prosper for about a century after the Spanish conquest of the kingdom of Granada in 1492. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the Nationalists captured the city, but the Loyalists held the rest of Granada Province until the end of the conflict. Population (2001) 240,661.


Our next stop will be Cadiz and then into the Algarve, we’ll update on how that part went when we get to Portugal in the next week.


Before I go, I have to tell you what Nikolas did when we first arrived in our little villa here in Spain. We all came inside and Nikolas was bursting (You know, pee) and he ran upstairs and used the washroom, and to finish he washed his hands in the Bidet. (I am not sure if that is how you spell it, but you know what I am talking about). Anyways he came downstairs and told us that the washroom had a special little sink for washing your hands in. I had no idea what he was talking about, so the whole family marched on up to take a look. I took one look and said you can’t wash your hands in there, that’s a bidet (Spelling?). Nikolas said “what’s a Bidet”? Well, I said, Well, I was going to say, I had to kind of say. You know what; I really had no idea what that thing was or how to use it. I kind of think I knew, but at this point I was not sure. So I did what a man who knew everything would do. I turned to Helen and said, “Tell him what it is for Mom”. We have looked at this thing now for almost 2 weeks and I was dying to use it, if it was even made for men. I really wanted to ask someone, but how do you even start that conversation, plus no one speaks English here. So today I tried it out and I am not sure if I was doing it right, but Santa Maria, I want one! Santa if you’re listening, for Christmas next year I want a Bidet and that toilet (Binford 4000) one we saw in Osaka with the full control panel.


A sleeping Princess




Spain - Day 3  received April 18                                                              


(Written by Steve)                       


So we have been in Spain 3 days now and all I can tell you is that “I miss the QE II”, well kind of. I don’t so much miss the ship as much as I miss the people, and our kids are also having a bit of a tough time adjusting. We are all home sick right now and miss our families and friends, so the next few weeks will be some of mixed emotions. We are going to keep moving along until we get settled with this new type of travel and way of living. Yesterday (April 15) we took one of the longest road trips we will ever do on this adventure, we drove over 1150 km in 13 hours. Why you ask? Well, when Helen’s sister advised us that she would be flying in on the weekend, we needed to get a vehicle and pick them up.  Our friend’s mom (Jeanette) lives in a place called Alacante and she had agreed to rent us her van for a month, so we needed to go pick it up. We thought the best time to go get the van would be as soon as possible, so we did it yesterday. At first we thought we could get there and back in 8 hours, but we took the coastal drive and it was way longer. That day was a sure test for us because I have not been driving and the kids have not been kept in a vehicle for a long time, but we did it and are alive to tell you about it! We drove up the coast from San Pedro and Puorto Banus to Malaga and then through Almeria, Cartagena, Murcia and then to Alacante and met with Jeanette. We picked up her vehicle and headed back down through the motorway and to a place called Granada. 



It was dark at that time, but it looked fantastic. We were going to grab a hotel but decided to just keep moving along because I was still wide awake and traffic was light.  Our kids were also watching a DVD on the van’s DVD system and it was just getting to the good part.  On the way home I stopped to get fuel and they were selling DVD’s and they only had one English movie. The movie was “Titanic” and that ship and the QE II are very much alike, so both kids were glued to the screen.  When the ship hit the iceberg all heck broke loose and Danika started freaking out. She was bawling her eyes out and she kept saying “are they going to die, are they going die?” Well, I know I just proved to myself that I am far from the perfect parent and my choices in movies may not have been that great considering we had just spent 3 ½ months on a ship once owned by the same company. Yup, that’s the truth, the Titanic was owned by a company named White Star and then later named Cunard. Anyways, we had a whole bunch of sad people and still had a long way to drive, so even though I blew the movie selection, we just kept going.

 Let me tell you something about the traffic here in Spain. It is the same as anywhere at certain times, bumper to bumper. The only difference here is they use round-a -bout’s so it keeps the traffic moving, it’s CRAZY. So on my first day driving in many months, I had to be super aggressive and got blasted by angry drivers a few times, and found it very stressful. I have to admit these round-a-bouts make a lot more sense than your average stop light but it really is just organized chaos. We are going to be driving Spain in the quiet season so I think we can manage fine until we get to Lisbon, Seville, Madrid and then Back to Barcelona, I am sure those cities will break me.

So what is our first impression of Spain? As Nikolas would tell you, it’s kind of weird. Everyone has a nap between 1 and 4 and then everything opens up again around 7pm. I had asked many people whether or not it is safe to travel Spain with a small family, and everyone said it was no problem, Spain is very safe. I am not so sure that we are staying in the safest area, you only have to look at some of the homes to understand why I say this. It is a little unnerving to see all the bars on all the windows, Alarm signs everywhere and gated driveways. People have 6 and 7 foot high fences and then a few rows of barbed wire to highlight the top edge. I could be wrong but I just get the impression that there is a bit more crime than folks are telling us about. One of the most interesting things about Spain and many other places in Europe is the different way they live. Do you remember when we were kids and everything used to be closed on Sundays? Well, everything shuts down here on Saturdays and Sundays and it is next to impossible to buy groceries on Sunday. Hold on I am almost done, the coolest thing about where we are is that we can see the rock of Gibraltar right from the beach. What is that you ask?





(Written by Steve - April 14)                          


Hola, from San Pedro, Spain!


We have been off the ship all off 30 hours and the QE II already feels like a life time ago. Oh man, I already know I took that part of the trip for granted. I drove today for the fist time in months, and in Spain for crying out loud. Talk about stress, if there is anything wrong with my ticker it should have blown today, or even yesterday when we were getting off the ship. What a start we had when we got all of our luggage off the ship, all 21 pieces of it. We ran into a minor problem when we disembarked because the front gate entrance to the dock was about ½ a mile away and the taxi that was coming to pick us up was not allowed in. So we somehow had to get all of bags to move ½ mile and have them dropped at the front gate. To make a long story short, the guy finally was allowed to come in, but it took a good hour and a half for the second guy to come. I had a really nice bottle of wine that we had brought all the way from New Zealand and I was in such a hurry packing that I just fired it in the shoe duffle bag. Do you want to guess what happened to it? It smashed when the bag was being moved on the dock when we were waiting to see how we were going to get out of the port. Our other problems started when the cab drove right out of the place we thought we were staying (Malaga) and kept driving for another hour. In the end we were in some place called San Pedro and we were being handed a 160 Euro taxi cab bill. The guy who booked our Villa told us it was in a place called Puorto Banus and we were right beside the beach. Well, we are a 20 minute drive from Puorto Banus (A very nice place) and an 8 block walk to the beach. So I shall move on because today is Helen’s Birthday and I wanted it to be fun because I know she is missing friends and family back home and we have to do something fun. We walked to the city of San Pedro and it took about 40 minutes to get there, it was quite far. We had a nice lunch and then decided to go see our friend from the ship who is working just outside Malaga. The gal we were going to see is named Maria and she is one of the most wonderful people you could ever meet, and the kids just love her. We did not tell them who we were going to see, as we wanted it to be a surprise. We headed to Puorto Marina where she started work at about 5:pm and found it about 7pm. We saw a shopping mart and wanted to get a hair dryer so we headed in and who did we see, Maria. The kids were absolutely shocked. We hugged and talked and said we would meet her in the restaurant for dinner. We walked around and then went to the pizza place where she was working. The only problem with this whole get together was that Maria had to work and could not relax and talk very much. She had a special cake with candles and we all sung happy birthday and it was real special. Maria used to work in the restaurant on the ship and we thought of her as a really special friend, so we just wished we had of come when she was not working. Anyways we stayed till 10pm and then hit the Spanish freeways for some more stress and some nighttime excitement. And yes, I feel really stressed driving here, maybe because I have not done it for a while, or maybe it’s just really stressful here. Anyways, we are going to try and drive to a place called Alecante tomorrow and it is a 550 km drive, so I am not sure if we can do it in one day. We are going up there to pick up a van from another friend (Jeanette) and then come back as soon as we can because Maryanne, Helen’s sister, is coming. We got an email today that she is coming over to spend a week with us so we will need a van. That’s why we are going to try and get the van as soon as we can, I am just not sure we can do it in one day. The one super cool thing about where we are right now is, you can see the rock of Gibraltar and Africa just from sitting on the beach, now that is neat.

I will get you some info and pictures as soon as we get back from Alicante which should be on Friday. Helen had a good day on her birthday, thanks to Wonderful Maria and Spain.


(Written by Helen)


Steve asked me to write a few words about my impressions of our new home.  Leaving the ship was so bittersweet.  In one way I was so excited to finally get off and in another way I was really sad.  It was really hard to say good-bye to all our friends and it was a very emotional day the day before we left.  The one saving grace for me was that everyone said that the trip up to Southampton is notorious for being very bumpy so for that I am glad we left.  It has been quite windy here as well so I am wondering how the trip is going for everyone.  We asked some people to e-mail us with the details about that trip and the one on the QM2 across the Atlantic to New York.


I think Steve was quite disappointed with this villa and I have to admit so was I but we are trying to make the best of it.  It is located sort of between two towns so that it’s a very long walk no matter where you want to go.  The beach is a bit of a walk too and the swimming pools are freezing cold.  We were also quite unhappy with the cleanliness of the place.  We had to clean the toilets because they were very dirty.  We can’t get a signal on the T.V. and there is a washing machine that doesn’t spin the clothes so they are soaking/dripping wet when they come out and there is no dryer.  They are going to take days to dry. The place is quite big, it has two floors and three bedrooms upstairs.  Downstairs has a full kitchen and a huge living room but it is finished in marble.  It is everywhere which makes the place very cold and not that comfortable.  It kind of reminds me of a mausoleum.  You have to wear shoes because the floors are freezing cold.  Do I sound like a complainer?  I don’t mean to, it’s just that we were really excited about this part and pictured it a little different.


My birthday was great.  I was depressed for about 5 seconds when I realized that I am one year closer to 40 (I turned 38) but I actually had a really fun day with some great food and delicious sangria, so I was very happy. The day was topped off with seeing Maria and that was fantastic! 


To mention something positive about this place, we went to a very cool restaurant on the beach the first night we arrived here.  You actually sit at tables that are in the sand and you can take off your shoes and bury your toes in the sand.  Steve and I polished off two big jugs of sangria and shared a huge, delicious seafood paella while the kids played on the beach.  It was a super hot, beautiful day and we stayed there for hours.  We tried to stay there long enough to see the QE2 sail by but we never did see it.  It either was late leaving or it went straight out to sea and it was too far for us to see it.


Anyways, that’s it for now.  Back to reality.  We have to make our beds and cook!  What a shock!  No, it’s actually a good thing.  We went grocery shopping yesterday and it was so much fun!   Unfortunately we tend to eat more junk food when we cook, the kids actually ate very healthy on board.  Lots of fruits and vegetables.  We miss the ship but are really enjoying ourselves.