SPAIN - received May 22
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
- received May 18
with the castle in the background
(Written by Steve - May
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)
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
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
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,
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
The Bull Fight in Valencia
posted by Steve April 8
(written by Helen)
May 8, 2005
is about a bullfight and is quite graphic so it may not be suitable for
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
it took us about 4 hours and it took us awhile to find the hotel. The problem with driving in the big cities in
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Madrid’s population has
grown dramatically during the 20th century. According to official censuses, in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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)
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
River, surrounded by an
amphitheater of rugged mountains.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
The Streets of Malaga
I do have
some nice things to say about the Costa del Sol. We really like the marvelous Malaga
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
and contains artwork from Ribera, Murillo, Morales,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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)
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
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
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