España 2023 Day 4

Madrid and Granada 8 March

Today, I would leave Madrid for a while, and visit Granada, in Andalucía, for three nights. I had not been there since my high school trip, and was excited to experience it with older and wiser eyes. I would also get a much better sense of the city, since that previous time had simply been a day trip from Benalmádena, and while we were able to spend quite a bit of time at the Alhambra, we didn’t have the opportunity to visit the city itself.

I had decided to fly, rather than take the train, as I got an excellent deal on a flight, and when combined with some airline miles I had saved up, it was much less expensive than the train. I finished packing my carry on bag, which I would be checking in, and my backpack, which would be my cabin bag. I locked up the apartment, and walked down to Paseo del Prado, past the Jardín Vertical, to the train station, where I would catch the Aeropuerto Exprés bus to Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport.

The bus ride was quick and comfortable, and soon I was at T4. I checked in, passed through security, then found a spot to sit and relax for a bit with a café con leche before finding my gate. My flight, purchased through Iberia, was actually on Air Europa, and it was a pretty small aircraft. The gate for my flight actually led down an escalator to the tarmac, which we needed to walk across before climbing stairs onto the plane itself. This flight was sold out, so they were gate checking bags, but since all that I had was my camera bag, and a small backpack, I was confident that I would be fine. I was wrong. They insisted that I would need to check it, and stuck an orange tag on my bag. In an act of defiance, as I walked towards the plane, I ripped the tag off and stuck it in my jacket pocket. I knew that the plane would be at least one person short, as I was originally supposed to be on this trip with another person, and the seat next to mine had been bought and paid for. Sure enough, even though I was one of the last to board, there was plenty of room in the overhead bin for my backpack. I stowed my bag, and took my seat next to the window.

Although Barajas is one of the busiest airports in Europe, things usually run very smoothly, but today there was a backup on the runway, so we sat in the plane at the gate for nearly an hour before we began to move. Once we took off, the flight was smooth, and in no time at all, we had landed in Granada. The terminal here is very small, and again we walked across the tarmac to the terminal. In just a couple of minutes I had gathered my checked bag, and was outside, heading for the bus that would take me into the city itself. The bus is a comfortable coach type vehicle, with luggage storage underneath. The 3€ cost is a true bargain in my opinion for the nearly hour long journey from Federico García Lorca Airport into Granada, which takes about twice as long as by taxi, but at one tenth the price.

I got off the bus in front of Catedral de Granada on Calle Gran Vía de Colón, and made the five minute walk across Plaza Nueva and Plaza Santa Ana to my hotel on Carrera del Darro. Check in at Palacio Mariana Pineda, a lovely hotel situated in a building constructed in the seventeenth century, was quick and easy. I love the old world charm of the building, with a number of small staircases leading to the different rooms, and the heavy wooden doors. The ladies at reception were very helpful, and one even carried my small suitcase up the stairs to my room.

Calling it a room is a bit of an understatement. Directly to the left of the door was the spacious bathroom, complete with a large jetted tub. In the other direction was a fifteen foot hallway featuring a window that looked down onto the beautiful courtyard that I had passed through when first entering the hotel. Just before the door into the bedroom was a shorter hallway, with another window, and a good sized closet. Up two steps from the original hall was the bedroom. A king sized bed filled much of the spacious room, but there was also a desk, a comfortable chair, nightstands, and a mini fridge, My favorite part of the room though, were the floor to ceiling windows that opened out over the street below, and featured a view of the Alhambra, towering over the city from high up on the hill.

After taking some photos of my room, I unpacked my clothes, put them away, and then took a quick shower to get ready for exploring the city. As I prepared to get dressed, I came to the horrible realization that my socks were still at my apartment in Madrid. I went to reception and asked where the closest clothing store was, and they directed mt to Cortefiel, only a couple hundred meters from the hotel. Good fortune greeted me, as they were having a sale of buy two get one free. I picked out a couple of different blue pairs and one brown, which would go nicely with the clothes I had brought with me. I took them all back to my room, the set off on Carrera del Darro.

This street runs along the stream at the base of the hill where the Alhambra sits. It’s a narrow, flat, cobblestone lane shared by pedestrians, bikes, and motor vehicles. At times it is necessary for those who are walking to duck into a doorway, or a side street to let taxis or buses pass. I took a number of photos here, and the charm of the area is undeniable. Everything in this section of Granada seems so photogenic, perhaps more so than any other place I’ve visited in Spain. When I reached the far end, I made a left hand turn to make my way to Mirador de San Nicolás, an open area with astounding views of the Alhambra. As soon as I made the turn, the roadway went from flat to hilly; incredibly hilly. I joked with some friends back home that Granada is what San Francisco would be, if San Francisco had hills.

By the time I reached the mirador, my calves and thighs were burning from the climb, but it was well worth it. I immediately forgot the discomfort as I looked across the valley below to the gorgeous scene. You can see the Alhambra, from one end to the other, and the Sierra Nevada mountains beyond, still capped in winter’s snow. The viewing area is at just about the same elevation as the Alhambra, so you don’t have to look up to see it. It’s difficult to find words to describe it, but majestic would not be an overstatement. It took a little while to jockey for position to be able to photograph it, as the plaza was filled with people, all vying for the opportunity to be along the edge. Once I got a spot, I settled in and took may shots, with a variety of lenses. One of my favorites is a telephoto shot that captures one of the towers, Torre de Comares, as well as the exterior of the Jardines del Partal, with the distant mountains in the background.

When I left the mirador, I took a different route back, and found a smaller spot, a few streets below, free of crowds, which also gave an excellent view of the enormous palace. I stopped here, again taking photos, including some selfies, before continuing on the path downward. When I say that the streets are steep, I’m not simply being dramatic. May of then are terraced, or are outright stairs; some with beautiful mosaic designs. It took me quite a while to complete the walk back to the hotel, as I found two or three things to photograph around every corner.

When I finally reached Carrera del Darro again, the sun was sinking low in the sky, creating a sharp contrast between the shadows, and the nearly blinding reflections off of the smooth cobblestones. I took a photo here, and at first glance, because of that contrast, it appears to be black and white; only upon closer inspection can you see the fringes of color around the silhouettes of the people walking towards me.

Back at Palacio de Mariana Pineda, I took a few more photographs out my window, including one of the favorite techniques that I have when I’m above a pedestrianized area; holding the camera at arm’s length out the window, pointing straight down. It captures an interesting view of the scene on the street below, and I’ve never been disappointed when trying this.

Once I was able to put my camera down, I plugged my phone in to give it a little recharge, and lied down on the bed to do the same for myself. I rested here for a while, checking some of my social media, and messaging with my Spanish teacher from high school, who, I will remind you, created this love affair that I have with Spain.

When I was refreshed, I again left the hotel. As soon as I did, I could hear the noise of a large crowd coming from the far end of Plaza Nueva. I remembered the was International Women’s day, something that I had experienced in three other cities in Spain previously, and went to check it out. When I arrived, I was taken aback; the parade was huge, filling Calle Gran Vía de Colón, and stretching as far as I could see. I found a spot where the mass made the turn onto Reyes Católicos, and watched as the people, carrying flags and banners, while chanting various slogans made their way by. At some point the photojournalist in me took over, and I shot a number of photos, and captured a few videos of the impressive march from the monument at Plaza Isabel La Católica. I was mesmerized, until a clock in front of a nearby bank told me that I would need to hurry to get to my dinner reservation.

Tonight´s meal would be at Alarique on Cuesta de Gomerez, the same street that I would take the next morning to get to the Alhambra. The restaurant, in a historic building, was very modern on the inside, and brightly lit by many hanging fixtures. Light brown wood paneling was offset by large glass doors and windows. The chairs at the thick wooden tables, a mix of traditional and high top, were brightly colored and comfortable.

I ordered a vermut and looked over the menu. By the time my drink had arrived, with a tapa of olives, I had made my decision. I started with salmorejo, one of the traditional cold tomato soups from Andalucía. It was a large portion, and was amazing with its bit of jamón, croutons, and egg across the top, artfully decorated with olive oil.

My main course was presa ibérica, a cut of pork from the shoulder, just below the tenderloin. When it arrives, it too was beautifully presented, served with fries, and seasoned with large flakes of salt. The meal was good, although the pork was slightly overdone; but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Unfortunately, due to the generous portion of salmorejo, I didn’t have room for dessert on this evening.

After paying, I slowly meandered back to my hotel, taking a few night photographs along the way. When I reached my room, I couldn’t resist a few more out of my window before uploading the days captures to my laptop, putting the camera batteries on charge, and calling it a night at the relatively early hour of 22:00. I had good reason though; today had been a day filled with travel and walking, and tomorrow would be a long and busy day that I would begin very early.

To see all of the photos from this day, click here:


España 2023 Day 3

Madrid 7 March

I started my third day in Madrid, not at my usual spot, but at El Patio Vertical, a café next to CaixaForum, and the vertical garden. It was smaller than Plenti, but a lively place nonetheless. Here, you pay when you order, rather then at the end, as I’m used to at most places that I’ve chosen in the past. I still had my café con leche, and tostada con tomate, and enjoyed it while sitting at a small table by one of the windows.

Once I had finished, I took the Metro from Estación de Arte to Tribunal, and then made the short walk to Museo de Historia de Madrid, which is housed in a beautifully ornate salmon colored building. I entered, and picked up a pamphlet from the information booth before beginning my visit. Before I reached the main part of the exhibit, there was a large display of Instagram style photos documenting Filomena, a cyclone that struck the peninsula in January of 2021, dumping nearly two feet of snow in Madrid, the most in more than a century. It was interesting to see the captures of the event from people not used to winter weather like I am.

The museum is quite comprehensive, with models, artwork, artifacts, and maps. I think some of my favorite things were the period scale models of places like Palacio Real, the bullring Las Ventas, and El Retiro. I was fascinated by the replicas; especially that of Las Ventas. I meandered slowly from room to room, often pausing to allow a school group or other tourists to pass by. At one point I did so in a room with artwork depicting the events of dos and tres de mayo. While not nearly as moving as the works by Goya, it was still worth the time to see that snapshot in time from the point of view of another artist.

Some of the works by craftsmen were very interesting to see; from glassware, to fans, weapons, and porcelain, I enjoyed seeing bits of the city’s past. Finally, there were tools that really appealed to me, such as an 8X10 camera, sewing machines, and makeup kits. While they had purpose, the designs themselves were artistic and beautiful.

This museum, which is free, is very well laid out, and easy to understand. Museo de Historia de Madrid is well worth the time for a visitor to experience an excellent collection, and get a feel for how the city has changed over the last five hundred or so years.

I had planned on visiting Museo de Romanticismo, which is practically next door, but the day was so nice that I changed my mind, and instead wandered back towards Gran Vía. Once I reached the wide thoroughfare, I stopped quite often to photograph the crowds that filled the sidewalks.

Eventually I arrived at Plaza de España, photographed the monument to Cervantes that features Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, then sat on a bench in the plaza, enjoying the warm sunshine. As I sat there, I continued to find subjects to take photos of. Mostly it was people walking by, but I was completely fascinated by to older men, sitting on a bench about twenty meters from me, engrossed in their smartphones. I took a number of photos, but finally got the one I was hoping for; both men looking at their phones with quizzical looks on their faces.

After my short break, I continued towards Templo de Debod, a monument that looks quite out of place in Spain. Along the way, I stopped to photograph bit of Iglesia de Santa Teresa y San José, as well as the monument to Dos de Mayo that sits nearby.

I followed a set of stairs up a nearby hill, and as I crested it, the Egyptian temple came into view. On a large plaza, sit two tall stone arches surrounded by a shallow pool, and as your eye follows them, you are led to the temple itself. It´s a fairly short stone building, with four massive columns. The temple was a gift to Spain from Egypt for their help in saving the Temples of Nubia, which were in danger because of the construction of the Aswan Dam. There was quite a line to get in, as only a small number are allowed inside at any given time, but I was satisfied seeing it from the outside.

It was such a beautiful day, and not quite lunchtime yet, that I spent quite a bit of time here, walking around the plaza, and taking photos. from the rear of the plaza, the Palacio Real and Catedral de Almudena are visible, so I changed to my long lens, and photographed those as well.

When I was done enjoying the beautiful, sunny day, I headed to my chosen lunch location, Cuenllas, on Calle de Ferraz. I found a spot at the bar, and asked for a vermut. The restaurant has a classic old world feel, with a long bar, and dark wood throughout. The bartender brought me a tapa of tortilla español, as well, and I placed my order. Shortly, my ensalada rusa, a typre of potato salad, arrived, followed by croquetas. Both were excellent, and a savored them, as well as a second glass of vermut.

When I was done, I paid, then walked back to Plaza de España, where I took Metro Line 10 to Gregorio Marañón to continue my day of visiting lesser visited museums in Madrid. A few blocks from the Metro station, on Paseo de General Martínez Campos is Museo Sorolla, a museum dedicated to the painter from Valencia, situated in his former home.

In addition to rooms filled with this Spanish master’s paintings, the gardens around his home are also able to be visited. I left my camera bag in a locker and began my tour. There were two special exhibits, called ¡Sorolla ha muerto! ¡Viva Sorolla!, and Orígenes, celebrating the centennial of his death. It was interesting to see some of the studies he did of other artists’ work, especially those of Velázquez. After making my way through the house, I exited to the gardens where I sat in the sun for a while, then took some photos. I reentered the building, bought a few items in the gift shop, retrieved my bag, walked to the Iglesia Metro station, and headed back home.

At the apartment, I took the opportunity to enjoy more sunshine by visiting the rooftop terrace of my building. The views in three directions were quite good, and the warmth of the sun made it enjoyable to spend some time up here. I was also able to watch workers constructing a building between Calle de Fúcar, and Costanilla de los Desamparados, which had been a vacant lot since I begun visiting Madrid again in 2018.

When I finally decided it was time to go back down to m y apartment, it seemed like a good time for a nap after a very busy day, so I closed the shutters on the window, and drifted off to sleep for a while.

When I got up a couple of hours later, I got leaned up, grabbed my camera, and descended the stairs from the apartment, back into the Las Huertas area. I wandered the narrow streets, illuminated by street lamps, taking photos of the scenes that presented themselves to me. I would walk a little, stop to capture a picture, then continue until I saw something else that caught my eye. I repeated this process for about forty-five minutes, until it was time for my dinner reservation.

I had chosen El Caldero, a restaurant on the corner of Calle de Las Huertas and Calle del Principe, that specializes in rice dishes. The dining room is quite large, with windows along two walls. My table was in a window on the Calle de Las Huertas side, and I sat with my back to the glass, in order to be better able to see what was going on inside. While I looked over the menu, I asked for a vermut, then ordered some patatas bravas and arroz con pescado; the first being a traditional Spanish potato dish with a special sauce, and the latter rice with fish. In this case, the fish was mújol, mullet, which I had never had before.

The patatas bravas were excellent, and when they were gone, the waiter brought a cast iron pot to the dining room, and hung it from a tripod made of the same material that was located a few feet from my table. Inside the pot was the rice, which he then ladled onto a plate and brought to me. The fish were brought in a separate dish, and I took chunks of it and added it to the rice. Both the rice and mújol were excellent, although the one thing I didn’t like, which is true of many fish, were the small, sharp bones that I had to be extra careful of. I did a fairly good job of avoiding them, but did catch a few a little too late; but luckily I fared much better than I did the previous year in Mérida, where I nearly choked on a bone from a rabbit.

Once the food was gone, I ordered dessert. The frambuesas en crema de chocolate blanco, raspberries in a white chocolate cream, was just too tempting to pass up. It was a deceptively simple looking sweet, and the excellent presentation was only outdone only by the taste. The red against white was beautiful, and the tartness of the raspberries mixed perfectly with the sweetness of the chocolate.

When the last bite was finished, I asked for the check, paid the bill, and then, with a very full stomach, walked back to the apartment. The next day I would be leaving Madrid for three nights to visit Granada. I chose the clothes I would be bringing, and packed my carry on bag, which I would be using as checked luggage, and my backpack. Satisfied that I was ready for the next day, I got into bed, and set my alarm; it wasn’t long before I was asleep.

To see all the photos from this day, click here:

España 2023 Day 2

Madrid, 06 March

After a good night’s sleep I was ready for a fresh day in Madrid. Once I was cleaned up, I again walked to Plenti, took a seat at my favorite table, and ordered my café con leche, tostada con tomate, and zumo de naranja. As usual, it was excellent, and I sat there for a while observing the other people that would come and go. It was a fairly even mix of tourists and locals, which I like to see, as it insures consistent revenue, which means that it’ll be around in the future for me to return to.

After I had paid, I once again returned to El Retiro. I started at Palacio de Cristal, photographing it from the opposite angle than I had the fay before. There is quite an interesting path on that side, that goes beneath a natural stone arch. I love doorways and arches because of the opportunities that exist on the opposite side, and I try to capture that in my photographs whenever I can.

On this day I would be able to do something that I’ve never previously been able to; go into the structure itself. On my other trips I had been at the park at the wrong time of day, or the building had been closed for various reasons; whether because of flooding in the area 2018, or preparing a new exhibit in 2022.

There are two buildings in El Retiro that operate in conjunction with Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, El Palacio de Valázquez, and this one. Entrance is free to both, which is such a great opportunity for everyone to experience art. The exhibit at Palacio de Cristal was el cristal es my piel, a work combining music, structures and fog. The next performance was at 11:00, so once I was done marveling at the beauty of the structure from the inside, I went back out into the park with about an hour before I would return to become part of the experience.

While I waited, I took some more photos from the outside, as well as the birds that were along the edge of the pond in front of  Palacio de Cristal. There were quite a variety, including ducks, common moorhens, which I found quite fascinating, and what appeared to be a juvenile cormorant.

Shortly before 11:00 I walked back into the Palacio de Cristal and joined the growing crowd. As part of the exhibit, there are a number of structures at different points on the floor, which are covered in mirrors. Beneath the mirrors are fog machines, and there are small loudspeakers on stands around the perimeter.

The work looks at the role of the structure, which was originally built for the Exposition of the Philippines in 1887, in showcasing colonialism, and the issues that surround it. The iron and glass palacio functions as the skin, containing the ghost of those times. The statement on the piece by the artists is linked below, in both English and Spanish.

The show began slowly, with small bursts of fog, one at a time, from beneath each mirror. Over time, they began firing in faster succession, until the building was filled, and streams of sunlight shot through the glass ceiling. Once the fog was pressed against the skin of the building, a slow, haunting musical piece spilled from the speakers. It was fascinating to be within a work of art, I tried my best to capture it in photos, and also with a short video, but I couldn’t do justice to it. The smell of the artificial smoke, the way the music ebbed and swelled as it would get quiet in one speaker while increasing in volume from one somewhere else in the room, the ever changing light, refracted by the fog, and redirected by the mirrors; all things that have to be experienced, even describing it in words is, at best, a stick figure drawing of the Mona Lisa.

As I left, the music was fading to its completion, and I discovered that there was another layer to this work. From the outside of the Palacio de Cristal, the clear glass now opaque from the artificial fog, ,you truly could see the iron and glass skin holding the ghost within.

Down a short path, was my next stop in a morning of art, Palacio de Velázquez. This building was also constructed in the 1880s; in this case for an exhibition of metal arts, ceramics, and glassware. The name of the building does not, as I first assumed, refer to the Spanish artist, but instead to the architect that designed it.

The exhibit was a career retrospective of Spanish artist Manolo Quejido, including paintings, and mixed media. The works ranged from colorful, to muted, to monochrome, and from detailed, to representative. I enjoyed walking through this beautiful building, and admiring his work. My favorites, I think, were a trio of paintings from the 1980s. They were the first works that I saw, located just inside the entry way, including Espejo 8, and Partida de damas. Another work that I really enjoyed was Bombillas; a series of thirty paintings of light bulbs, each representing a different artist.

When I was finished taking in the gallery, I continued through El Retiro. I stopped for a while at El Estanque, the man-made lake in the park, and watched people row their boats. They seem to do much better here than those in the canal at Plaza de España in Sevilla.

I continued out though the gate at Puerta de Alcalá, then followed the street past Fuente de Cibeles before crossing over to Gran Vía. I was heading to Calle de Fuencarral to do a little shopping. I was really hoping to find a new vest, but I wasn’t able to find one that really spoke to me. I did find a pair of jeans on special at Pull&Bear that were in my size. I had a little trouble with the self-checkout, in particular the device to remove the security tag. A very kind woman helped me through the process. In hindsight, it should have been obvious that  you can’t remove the tag until after you pay, but my time in retail many years ago didn’t let me come up with that solution.

After I left the store, I was making may way back towards Gran Vía  when I heard the sound of strings. In 2018, on Calle de Preciados, not too far from where I was now, I came across a lady playing violin, and stopped to listen for a while before tipping her, and taking a few photographs. I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be funny if it was the same woman”. Sure enough, it was. I took some photos as I listened to her. When she finished, I tipped her again, then showed her the photo from five years previous. She lamented that she loved the hat in the picture, but had lost it. We chatted for a couple of minutes, then she warned me to be careful with my expensive camera because there are thieves around. I thanked her for her kindness, said goodbye, and walked away as she began playing again.

I continued across Gran Vía, stopped to help an older lady take a photo of the facade of the renovated Metro stop, then walked towards Puerta del Sol.

This famous plaza in Madrid is currently under construction; there’s a major renovation project happening that will transform the space, including the removal of a giant mirrored entry, commonly referred to as La Ballena, that leads to the Cercanías and Metro station below. I took a few photos of the work, and the structures that the digging had uncovered, before walking down Calle Mayor.

I stopped at El Riojano, a bakery that was started in 1855 to serve the royal family. In the back there is a  café, and after looking at the treats in the displays cases for a few minutes, I took a seat at an open table.and looked over the menu. I had just chosen what I wanted, when the waiter walked by with fresh torrija, and I quickly changed my mind. When he returned, I ordered that, and a café con leche and sat back to admire the ornately decorated, red painted room.

The torrija was delicious, and the coffee was strong and good. I took my time, savoring every bit of it in this lovely spot, before paying and heading back towards Puerta del Sol, where I would catch the Metro for the first time during this trip.

I took line 3 from Sol to Banco de España, which was the closest stop to where I would be having lunch. I hung around the area, enjoying hte sunshine and taking photographs until it was close to the time of my reservation. I then walked to Círculo de Bellas Artes, went to the information desk to get my ticket for the elevator, then went to the roof, where the restaurant Azotea is located. I was shown to the same table that I had sat at a year ago, ordered a vermut, and downloaded the menu to my phone. When the waitress returned with my drink, I asked for the solomillo de cerdo ibérico, iberian pork sirloin, and then sipped my drink while looking out the glass walls at the city stretching into the distance.

The meal was cooked perfectly to my taste, and when I was done, I stepped out onto the terraza to spend some time looking down at Madrid, and taking quite a few photos. Unfortunately, like the previous year, the front of Edificio Metroplis, was covered due to ongoing restoration work on the facade. Despite that minor disappointment, I was still able to capture a number of great photographs; both of the skyline, and the areas directly below. One of them included Fuente de Cibeles, which is normally ringed by Spanish flags. This year, however, the flagpoles alternated between the familiar red and yellow, and the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag; a sobering reminder of the good fortune that I have to be able to travel, and enjoy life without my homeland being torn apart by war.

When I left the restaurant, I took the Metro back to Sol, then continued towards Plaza Mayor. I stopped along the way to buy a rosary for a friend from a little shop on Calle de Esparteros that had been in operation since 1867. This store, El Angel Arte Sacro, had just about every religious item you could think of. After looking over the choices, I settled on one with bright blue beads.

Once I had paid, I continued around the exterior of Plaza Mayor to Calle de Toledo, to a beautiful shop with large windows filled with alpargatas, a Spanish shoe similar in style to espadrilles. You have to time your visit well, because Casa Hernanz Alpargatería, founded in 1845, still follows the Spanish tradition of siesta, and closes from 13:30 to 16:30 each day. I browsed the windows for a bit, before determining the style of alpargata that I wanted, then went inside, waited my turn, then asked for my size. A few minutes later, the man behind the counter returned, and I sat down to try them on. They fit as I expected, this wasn’t the first purchase I’d made here; I’d been on two previous trips. Back at the counter, I also picked out a couple of keychains that had miniature, and very detailed alpargatas to give as gifts.

I took a left out of the shop, and as the sound of the bell on the door faded in my ears, I was already heading towards Plaza Mayor. I made a quick stop at a souvenir shop where I got myself a couple of European style license plates to put above on of the doors in my house; one with a map of the Metro, and the other that simply said España. When I exited the store, I was only a few meters from Plaza Mayor, and I took a short video as I walked through the arch on Calle de Toledo into the vast plaza.

Once within the walls, I stopped to take a few photos, then to the one place here that I’d visited on each trip to the city. La Favorita, is a hat shop, and once again, a place that has history. They have been in this location for more than one hundred and twenty-five years. The most well known item they have sold is a hat so iconic that even if you know nothing of the man who wears it, you’ll still be able to picture it when the name Che Guevara is mentioned. My style is different than his, and I picked out a brown gorra clásica, a driving cap, and talked to the man and woman behind the counter for a bit. I asked if the story of Guevara buying his hat here was true, and they assured me it was, and pointed to a photo of him above the door behind me.

Satisfied that this was no myth, I left La Favorita for the bright sunshine of the plaza. About halfway across, I was stopped by a man, he told me that his name was John, and that he was from Uganda. He complimented me on my Spanish, then quickly placed a bracelet on my wrist, then began talking about his wife back home, and love, and sending money back so that she could join him here. I knew exactly what was happening. I said “gracias por esta, buena suerte” (thank you for this, good luck) then started to walk away. He quickly got in front of me, pulled out his wallet, and started pointing to a 20€ note. I told him, firmly “no tengo efectivo” (I don’t have cash), he continued to follow until I turned towards two police officers standing near a lamppost, at which point he hurriedly went in the other direction.

Free of John from Uganda, I began heading back to my apartment for a rest. I walked along Calle de la Bolsa towards Las Huertas. I stopped to take a few photos, including one through the window of a fabric shop, I love the bold colors and patterns, and my mother, being a quilter, enjoys seeing what is on offer in my favorite country to visit.

Back at the apartment, or as some might call it, the flat, I took care of my purchases, and put a load of laundry into the washer. I took a quick nap, soothed to sleep by the gentle sound of water sloshing in the washing machine.

When I woke, I got cleaned up, and made what is possibly the shortest walk to a restaurant that I’ve ever made. From the door of my building, to the door of La Malontina was less than thirty seconds; I timed it. The restaurant was fairly busy when I arrived at 21:30, but I had reserved a table, which is I think is smart to do with a lot of the places in Madrid, as they often tend to be small. I was shown to my table, and ordered a vermut while I looked at the menu. My drink, and a tapa of sopa de almejas (clam chowder), arrived, and I ordered a couple of dishes for my dinner. The chowder was very good, even by my standards as someone who lives in a city known for its seafood.

My primero was ensalada de tomate, which was absolutely delicious, arrived, and I ate it slowly, enjoying evry bite. The tomatoes were crisp and juicy, as though they had come straight from the farm. Next came the carrilleras de cerdo con fresas picante (pig cheeks with spicy strawberries). It was like nothing I’d had before. The meat was tender, and at first, the strawberries added a sweetness to the dish, but then a slight heat was warming my mouth. By the time I had finished, I was feeling a bit full, and at first, I declined the offer of dessert, but as I finished my drink, I told the friendly waitress that I had changed my mind. I picked the lingote de chocolate con crema (chocolate ingot with cream), and she returned with it in short order. It was small, but it was so rich and decadent, that I couldn’t imagine trying to eat it if it were any larger.

When I had finished, I made the short walk back a little longer by stopping to take a few photos in my little corner of Madrid, including the door to my building, the building itself, and the street. Back upstairs, I took the damp clothes from the dryer, hung them in various places around the apartment to dry, then went to bed, looking forward to another exciting day on Tuesday.

You can view all of the photos from this day here:

España 2023 Day 1

Travel and Madrid, 04 and 05 March

My trip to Spain in 2023 would again be based in Madrid, but I would be visiting a place I´d not been to in thirty-five years, as well as a city in Castilla y León where I’d never been. The logistics of this itinerary were more simple than the last trip, and involved a lot less moving from place to place. I thoroughly enjoyed my road trip of 2022, but was looking forward to a slower place, and a little more in-depth exploring.

A storm was forecast for the day I was to leave Portland to get to Boston for my flight to Madrid, and the bus company began canceling trips. Worried that getting to the airport could be disrupted, I was up half the night coming up with alternate plans to make sure that I would make my flight. In the end, the departure of my bus was not affected, and we left on time. The storm did increase the travel time from Maine to Massachusetts by about an hour, but I always give myself extra time when booking transport, so by the time we got to Logan Airport, I still had a couple of hours before departure.

I had a burger and a beer, as well as plenty of water, at Stephanie’s in the airport once I’d cleared security. It was a bit pricey, but that’s to be expected in an airport restaurant. The food was good, and the waitress was very friendly. The restaurant was fairly close to my gate, and when I was done, I walked over, waited for about half an hour, and then boarded my Iberia flight. I settled into my seat for the seven hour flight, hoping to watch a few movies on the way. Unfortunately, the seat back entertainment system was not working, and as hard as I tried, I was unable to fall asleep, so it was a very long flight. Iberia did send an email the following day, apologizing, and offering a 10% discount on my next booking, which I’m sure that I’ll take advantage of.

We landed about 20 minutes early at Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas, and I managed to get through passport control before the time that we were scheduled to land, then made my way from T4S to T4 using the automated train. I got to the baggage carousel just as my suitcase was coming out, which is always seems like a good omen. In the past I have used the Cercanías commuter train, as well as a taxi, to get to the city center, but this time I opted for the Aeropuerto Exprés bus. I like to try different things, so that I can give advice to others about what I’ve found to be the best ways to do things. The bus is only 5€, which you pay to the driver, either with cash or card, it and takes just a little longer than the train or taxi. The bus was comfortable. and easy to use. It’s something that I would use in the future, as a matter of fact, I used it on two more occasions during this trip.

Once we arrived at Puerta de Atocha, I walked up the hill on Calle de Atocha to Lock and Be Free, a luggage storage facility, where I had reserved lockers to leave my bags until I could check into my AirBnb at 14:00. The emailed instructions were very simple to understand, entering one code opened the outside door, while the other opened the two lockers that I had paid for. It was now 7:30, and I had an hour and a half to wander around before my favorite breakfast spot would open.

I made my way back down the hill as the sky began turning from deep blues and blacks to shades of yellow, pink, and orange. I stopped to capture the explosion of colors a few times as I went, and continued heading towards El Parque de Buen Retiro, where I usually begin every visit to this city. I took a roundabout route to get there, interrupting the walk often to take photos, then entered the park from Calle de Alfonso XII.

It was a beautiful morning, slightly overcast, with mild temperatures, and I meandered slowly through the park, knowing where I was heading. The park was very quiet at this time of day, there were only dog walkers, some runners, and a few people out for a stroll,. It was so peaceful, and relaxing, especially since I had the time to enjoy the solitude. After I few stops, I arrived at Palacio de Cristal, my favorite structure in the world. Built for the Exposition of the Philippines in 1887, this iron and glass building is a beauty to behold, and I never get tired of photographing it. I’ve done so during every visit to Madrid, dating back to 1988.

I spent a little more time in the park, then just before 9:00 I started my walk to Calle de Moreto, and the café that I mentioned earlier. They have changed locations since I first ate at their Las Huertas location back in 2018, but Plenti is still I spot that I am willing to walk a little extra for. There were one or two other people there when I walked in, I took my seat at a table near the window and ordered my usual; café con leche, tostada con tomate, and zumo de naranja. Everything was as good as I had expected, and I sat there enjoying it, and a second café, for about half an hour. By the time I was done, it was getting quite busy, and because the space is fairly small, and I didn’t want to take up space for other potential customers, I paid, and went on my way.

When I left, I followed the street along the back side of the Prado, and as I turned the corner, it was just a few minutes before opening time, and there were very few people in line. A trip to the Prado wasn’t in my plan for this visit, but the opportunity was too good to pass up, so I descended the stairs past the statue of Francisco de Goya, and joined the queue. About five minutes later I was able to buy my ticket, pass through the metal detector, and since you can’t take photographs inside the museum anyway, I stored my jacket and camera bag in a locker at the consigna. It felt good to be free of the extra weight, and it freed me up to be able to truly enjoy the art.

I began not far from the entrance, in a room off to the left, where the seminal work of Velázquez, Las Meninas. This large piece of art hangs alone at the far end of the room. This painting within a painting is one of my all time favorites. I am drawn into its scene unlike any other that I have experienced, from the artist’s included self-portrait, to the reflection of the king and queen in a mirror at the back of the room, to the detail of all of the subjects in the group no matter their status in the court; every brush stroke is magical. There are so many layers to this painting that I often find myself getting lost in it for half an hour or more.

When I did manage to pull myself away, I continued through the museum. Many of the works in the Prado, while masterpieces, are religious pieces that don’t hold much interest for me. I have contemplated them on previous visits, but this time, a largely passed them by rather quickly. One that does, however, is The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Bosco (Bosch). This detailed triptych is a cacophony of images, that beg for a closer look. The colorful painting examines all manners of sin, and the consequences of a hedonistic lifestyle in the afterlife. It;s one of the most popular works at the Prado.

The rooms where I usually spend the most time are those dedicated to Fransisco de Goya. I am drawn to his works Dos de Mayo and Tres de Mayo, which depict the failed Spanish uprising against Napoleon’s forces in 1808, and the subsequent consequences for those involved. The two works are brutally honest, and the anguish and fear on the faces of those on the wrong end of the firing squad in Tres is palpable,

From there, I moved to the dimly lit room that houses what are known as Goya’s Pinturas Negras, or Black Paintings. This collection of more than a dozen paintings created between 1819 and 1823. The images, done in mostly shades of black, yellow, and brown, are haunting, sometimes disturbing, and in one case , for me, enigmatic. The Witch’s Sabbath draws you in, making you part of this scene of the Occult, while Saturn Devouring His Son pushes you back; the most shocking thing is not, for me anyway, the decapitated body of the son of the god, but the wide-eyed, crazed look of fear and panic on the face of Saturn himself, terrified of losing his place among the gods to one of his offspring. This work also stands apart for the use of a color other than the ones I’ve mentioned previously. The blood red stands as an exclamation point in the savagery of the image.

Finally, the enigmatic El Perro, or The Dog; this is my favorite of Goya’s works. There is so much mystery, so much possibility in this visually simple painting. against a backdrop of yellow, the neck and head of a black dog gazes towards the upper right side of the painting, the rest of the animal obscured behind a brown slope that, more or less, follows the same angle as the dogs gaze. The work is striking in its simplicity, and therein lies the magic of El Perro. Most works try to draw you in, to examine the intent of the brush stokes, the meaning within the confines of the canvas, here however, what you can’t see is what is thought provoking. What is beyond the edge of the painting that the dog is looking at so intently? I have spent many hours, in front of the original here in Madrid, as well as looking at reproductions, contemplating the possibilities; from the mundane to the esoteric. As an aside, Goya never gave any of these works names, they were added later by historians.

While I was in this particular room, many people and groups came and went, some at a leisurely pace, while others rushed though in under a minute; literally doing a lap of the room, barely even glancing at the works hanging on the wall. I’ll never be able to comprehend the mindset of doing things as quickly as possible, simply to be able to say “been there, done that”.

When I left the Prado a couple of hours later, I decided to head to the Las Huertas/Las Letras area for lunch, I made my way down Paseo del Prado, a major road, where the two directions of travel are separated by a wide esplanade. On this Sunday, one direction of travel was closed to traffic, allowing people to enjoy a traditional Spanish custom, a paseo; the concept is bit difficult to explain, but in its most simple terms, it’s a stroll with no particular purpose, simply to walk.

I had a spot in mind for lunch, Cervecería Alemana, on Plaza Santa Ana. This was Hemingway’s favorite haunt in Madrid, and they still have his table by the window “reserved” for him. It was fairly busy already, even though I was slightly early for typical lunch in Spain, but there was a table available, and I took a seat. I ordered a vermut and a water, then looked over the menu. When the smartly dressed waiter returned, I ordered croquetas and a bocadillo de jamón ibérico, both of which were excellent. I ate them, then sat back to enjoy the vermut, and the atmosphere for a while.

It was just about 14:00 by now, and it was time to check in to my AirBnb. I walked back to the luggage storage facility to get my bags, and then made the short walk down Calle de Fúcar to my apartment. The process was very simple with a couple of four digit codes that revealed first the buzzer that opens the door to the building, and the second held the key to my door. The place was just as it was pictured, with a small kitchen that includes a washing machine, a fairly large combination living and bedroom featuring a floor to ceiling window, and a nice bathroom with a tub and shower.

After I had unpacked and put everything away, I took a short nap. I was quite tired after not really sleeping on the flight, or the night before the trip, so it felt good to lay down and close my eyes for a while.

I got up around 17:45, got cleaned up, then went out to wander the barrio. It was raining, heavily at times, so the streets were pretty quiet. I walked up Calle de Las Huertas, towards Plaza de Santa Ana, stopping to take a number of photos along the way. I love the reflections of the lights on the cobbled streets, it adds an otherworldly atmosphere to the scene. There are seemingly endless opportunities in Madrid for photographs like these, especially in my barrio.

After crisscrossing the area for a couple of hours, it was time for dinner. I had a reservation at Matute, which only takes phone reservations, which I couldn’t do from the U.S., so an acquaintance from TripAdvisor had been kind enough to make the reservation a week or so before I arrived.

The restaurant is tucked into one corner of Plaza de Matute, the front of it was black painted wood and glass, with gold lettering. The inside was just as nice; a mix of brick, steel and glass, with a couple of high top tables in the windows, a bar along the left wall, and the rest of the dining room had tables of varying sizes and styles. It was an eclectic look, but it worked well.

I took a seat at my table and ordered at vermut while I looked over the munue. I decided on carrilleras de ternera con patatas, veal cheeks with potatoes, and sat there enjoying being in Madrid. While I was waiting, the waiter, who had noticed my camera on the table, came over to talk to me about it. We discussed the lends that I had on it, as well as the ones that I had brought on the trip, but had left at the apartment because I didn’t want to be changing them in the rain. After a few minutes on conversation, my food was ready, he brought it over, and I went about having my dinner. It was delicious, and just the right size portion to have left room for dessert. I had seen torrija on the menu, and knew that’s what I wanted. I had first had it in Toledo the year before, and was looking forward to having it again.The best way to describe torrija is that is is basically french toast served with cream, or, in this case, cookie ice cream. It was amazing, and I know that I’ll make this back home as a treat.

When I was done, I paid the bill, then followed the shiny streets back home through the rain, which by now had subsided to a light mist. I took care of my clothes, posted a few things to social media, set my alarm, and settled in for a good night’s sleep.

You can see all the photos from this day here:

España 2022 Day 21

The Journey Home, and a Recap; 19 March

Unfortunately, I was not able to get much sleep before I needed to leave the hotel. I had a nearly disastrous experience in 2020 in Sevilla, when I set my alarm for p.m. rather than a.m., and had to rush to make my flight; I didn’t want to repeat that, so it was difficult to relax.

I got up around 3:00. took a quick shower, checked out, and stepped onto the sidewalk in Madrid for the last time on this trip. I went to the first taxi in line outside Hotel Mediodía, a Toyota Prius, the driver loaded my bag into the rear, and we set off towards T1 of Adolfo Sáurez Madrid-Barajas. It was an easy and quick ride in the early morning hours, there was practically no traffic at all, and we arrived in just about 20 minutes. I tapped my card to pay the 30€ flat rate, retrieved my bags, and gave the driver a couple of 1€ coins.

I entered the terminal, and the check in counter for TAP was practically right in front of me, with about twenty people already in line. Just as it had been in Boston, the desk opened very late in my opinion, especially when compared with other airlines that had flights at similar times. There were a number of delays once things did get moving, as people who had paid for the “basic” fare had tried to cram as much as possible into their cabin bags. The line was held up as these travelers tried to get under the weight limit by moving things from case to case among their group, or removing clothes from their bag and wearing extra layers.

When it was my turn, I handed my passport to the agent, showed her the COVID test results and the Portuguese travel form on my phone, then one at a time put my checked bags on the scale. They were, of course, within the limit, but then she looked at my carry on bag and told me it was too big. I assured her it was not, and took it to the measuring device and placed it inside; it was just barely within the maximum size, but it meet their requirements. She begrudgingly acknowledged that it was fine, but that I may have problems in Lisboa.

With that behind me, for the moment, I headed to security, which was a breeze; for once I didn’t forget to remove something like a hat or a belt, and I was through within minutes. I had plenty of time before my flight, so I found somewhere to get one more café con leche in Spain, then found a quiet spot to sit and relax for a bit.

About twenty minutes before departure, I headed to the gate and found a spot to sit. As usual, when they began boarding it became a zoo, so I just waited until my zone was called, then got up and got in line. They had switched the type of plane, so it was slightly smaller than I had expected, but I managed to get space in an overhead bin directly over my seat.

The flight was uneventful, and I slept most of the way, waking up as we were making our approach into Lisboa. Once we landed, I found a flight information board, checked for my gate number, then went to grab a drink and find a quiet spot. I decide to find one after passport control, which I breezed through in about a minute, and found an area not far from where I needed to be, took a seat, then opened my laptop to look through some of the photos from my adventure.

When I arrived at my gate, there was a long line, with staff handing out papers to each passenger. This was the USA version of the passenger locator forms that I had completed digitally for Portugal and Spain. The tremendous waste of paper bothered me; each packet was three pages; multiplied by the 200 or so passengers meant that more than a ream of paper was used for just this flight.

Once we are able to board, I made it most of the way down the air bridge before I, and other passengers were stopped by the flight crew, telling us that our bags were too big. The argument that I had flown from Boston to Lisboa on the same type of plane, and on a smaller plane from Madrid to Lisboa without an issue fell on deaf ears; and I was forced to remove my laptop and have the bag gate checked.

The flight itself was comfortable, the food was fairly good, and I spent my time watching a couple of movies, and occasionally using the monitor to check the progress of the flight. , We ended up arriving in Boston a few minutes early, and passport control was much smoother than on previous trips, it was so quick that I ended up having to wait for my baggage to arrive on the carousel.

Once I was out of the airport, I took the bus service Concord Coach back to Portland where I took an Uber back home. I unpacked a few things, put the dirty clothes in the washer, and then took the rest of the evening off; content to reflect on this amazing trip.

The Recap

Thanks to the pandemic, this trip was more than a year in the making. While I had to wait a while to go, the amount of time that I was able to dedicate to the planning stage made for an itinerary that was efficient in its use of time as possible.

The trip was inspired by a book that I first read in high school, Iberia by James Michener. While he had much more time to complete his journey than I would, I chose to focus much of my visit to the autonomous community of Extremadura.

Day 1

I flew from Boston to Madrid via Lisboa on TAP. The flight was comfortable, and there were no delays or issues. I had purchased a sim card from Amazon so that I’d be able to have service, and when I landed I inserted the sim card from Orange, a European service provider, into my phone, and it worked perfectly after a restart. Once in Madrid I took a taxi for 30€ to my hotel in central Madrid, across from the main train station, Puerta de Atocha. Hotel Mediodía was reasonably priced, and the room was of a good size, with excellent sound blocking windows.

I spent the rest of the day wandering the Las Huertas area, including lunch at Belisa, a cocktail bar with interesting takes on classic Spanish foods. The evening led to more wandering and taking photographs, followed by dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Madrid, Ocafú.

Full Day 1 review is here:


Hotel Mediodía

Belisa is temporarily closed while they look for a new location


Day 2

I began my second day early with a walk and photo expedition in El Parque del Buen Retiro before having breakfast at Plenti. That was followed by a visit to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. The 12€ admission is well worth it to see modern masters like Picasso and Dalí. After the museum I had lunch at Taberna el Sur de Huertas before visiting Palacio Real and Catedral de la Almundena on the west side of the city. I recommend buying tickets for Palacio Real ahead of time.

I followed that with some shopping for a new hat, and alpargatas in the area in and around Plaza Mayor. Dinner that evening was back in Las Huertas at La Malontina. I do a lot of walking in Madrid, but the Metro is an inexpensive, fast, and convenient way to get places as well. The 10 trip Tarjeta Multi is the best way to go.

Full Day 2 review is here:

Parque del Buen Retiro


Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Taberna del Sur de Huertas

Palacio Real

Catedral de la Almudena

Casa Hernanz

La Malontina

Metro de Madrid

Day 3

This day also began with breakfast at Plenti before I took the Metro back to Catedral de la Almudena, so that I could visit their museum, and enjoy the views from the rooftop. I then headed back to Puerta de Atocha to catch the Cercanías commuter train to nearby Alcalá de Henares. After looking around, I had lunch at Astures, just off of Plaza de Cervantes. That was followed by more photos and a visit to Museo Natal de Cervantes, the birthplace of the famous author of Don Quijote.

I took the Cercanías back towards Madrid, but stopped along the way to climb Cerro de Almodóvar, which has excellent distant views of the city. Once I was back in Madrid, I went to the Chueca area and had a small dinner at Taberna de Ángel Sierra before walking to Gran Vía and taking the Metro back to the hotel.

Full Day 3 review is here:


Astures no website. Calle Bustamante de la Cámara, 3

Museo Natal de Cervantes

Cerro de Almodóvar

Taberna de Ángel Sierra

Day 4

The road trip would begin on this day. I picked up my rental, a Puegeot 3008, from Enterprise at Puerta de Atocha. I drove first to San Lorenzo de El Escorial to visit the monastery there, which is immense. If you visit, give yourself a few hours here, at least. I had lunch at La Taberna del Viajero before continuing on to Ávila.

Once in Ávila, I checked into my hotel, Palacio de Los Velada, which is a beautiful property located in a palace.I spent time walking the walled city before heading to a location outside of the walls to capture the sunset. That night´s dinner was at Alvalacan, just outside the wall near my hotel.

Full Day 4 review is here:

Route from Madrid to San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Route from San Lorenzo de El Escorial to Ávila


El Escorial

Taberna del Viajero

Palacio de Los Velada

Alvalacan no website. Calle de San Segundo, 38

Day 5

I would have a whole day to explore Ávila, I got up very early to get some sunrise photos outside the walls, then re-entered the city. I found a good place to have breakfast at Café Fortaleza. It was a rainy day, and I started by visiting the Catedral de Ávila, then climbed the walls to explore the perimeter of the city. The experience is unlike anything I’ve had the opportunity to do before, and the views and history are incredible. The tickets for both are inexpensive, and very much worth it. I had lunch at El Viejo Marqués which was very good, then took the early evening off. When night arrived, so did the snow, which was a treat to witness.

I had dinner at Bococo, a very modern restaurant with incredible food, then walked back through the snow to my hotel.

Full Day 5 review is here:

Café Forataleza no website, Calle de los Reyes Católicos, 13

Catedral de Ávila

Murallas de Ávila

El Viejo Marqués


Day 6

The snow made for a beautiful scene in Ávila when I woke. I walked around taking photos, then had breakfast at Hostal Casa Felipe before checking out of the hotel. My trip continued to Talavera de La Reina, and by the time I arrived there, the temperature had risen quite a bit, since I was now out of the mountains. I had no specific plans here other than to wander around. I had lunch at Casco Viejo, which I enjoyed, then continued my drive to Jarandilla de la Vera.

Here I stayed at the Parador. Paradors are a string of state run hotels in historic buildings, and the one here was a castle, where Emperador Carlos V actually lived for a while. This town is an excellent spot for nature lovers. I took a walk to a spot down by the river that is spanned by a short Roman bridge, Later that evening, I’d have dinner at a place called Restaurante Al Norte, where they were very friendly and had excellent food.

Full Day 6 review is here:

Hostal Casa Felipe

Route from Ávila to Talavera de La Reina

Route from Talavera de La Reina to Jarandilla de La Vera

Casco Viejo

Parador de Jarandilla de la Vera

Reataurante Al Norte

Day 7

I started with a nice breakfast at a local spot, then walked around Jarandilla de la Vera for a while longer. I then drove some scenic roads to Plasencia, where I walked the streets and visited Plaza Mayor before having lunch at El Rinconcito. After lunch I explored more of the city, including the ancient city walls, and stopped to buy some olive oil at Vega Selección. I then continued on to Trujillo, along the way I stopped at Parque Nacional de Monfragüe where I was able to photograph griffon vultures, and enjoy some amazing scenery. In Trujillo I would be staying at Eurostars Palacio Santa Marta, which is a nice hotel overlooking the town. I had great views of Iglesia de San Martín from my room. I explored for a while before heading to Meseguera, on Plaza Mayor, for yet another great meal.

Full Day 7 review is here:

El Café de Lino no website, Avenida Doña Soledad Vega Ortiz 76

Route from Jarandilla de La Vera to Plasencia

El Rinconcito

Vega Selección

Route from Plasencia to Trujillo

Parque Nacional de Monfragüe

Eurostars Palacio Santa Marta


Day 8

Today would be devoted to exploring Trujillo. After breakfast I began with some local history at Casa Museo Pizarro and Museo de Coria; both dedicated to the conquistadors from Extremadura, the former being housed in the family home of Francisco Pizarro, and the latter featuring more art. I spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Trujillo, and taking photographs, as well as a doing little shopping, including some wonderful embroidered goods at Artesanía Bordado con Fieltro.

For lunch, I found Hostal Cuzco, off the beaten path, and ordered from their menú del día. The food was good, and I enjoyed the atmosphere. After lunch, I took a short rest, then went out to get early evening and night photographs. Dinner that night was at Alberca Asador, a Michelin rated restaurant, and the food and service were top notch; one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Full Day 8 review is here:

Casa Museo Pizarro

Museo de Coria

Artesanía Bordado con Fieltro

Hostal Cuzco no website, Plaza de San Miguel, 19

Alberca Asador

Day 9

I spent a little more time wandering around Trujillo, including the castle which sits even higher on the hill than my hotel, before getting back on the road towards Cáceres. It was an uneventful ride, with just one stop, and soon I was at Hotel Soho Boutique Casa Don Fernando, right on Plaza Mayor. The room was large and comfortable, with two small balconies that looked out onto the plaza.

I walked around the hilly city for a bit, then enjoyed a great lunch at the very busy, and very lively Restaurante La Cacharrería. I continued my wanderings in Cáceres, including to a viewpoint on a hill beyond the city, and to Casa Museo Árabe,a museum of Arab culture, which I found to be very interesting.

I did spend a lot of time taking photographs in the city; the narrow, winding streets were so full of opportunities that it was hard to stop. Dinner on this night was at Restaurante Tapería 8º Arte, a casual place with some really excellent food and beer.

Full Day 9 review is here:

Alcazaba de Trujillo

Route from Trujillo to Cáceres

Soho Boutique Casa Don Fernando

Restaurante La Cacharrería

Casa Museo Árabe

Restaurante Tapería 8º Arte

Day 10

I began this day with my usual breakfast, this time at Mayor 33, right outside my hotel. I then wandered the streets for a bit before visiting Museo de Cáceres, I wonderful museum featuring artifacts dating from the stone age to Roman times, in addition to a gallery of fine art. I followed that up with a good lunch at Restaurante Cácers, also on Plaza Mayor before beginning the drive to Badajoz.

I stopped a couple times along the route to take photographs before arriving mid afternoon and checking into my AirBnb. The host was very friendly, and I´d run into them later that evening. I spent a lot of time around Plaza Alta, then got a brief historical tour from my host, before having dinner at La Casona Alta, which was very filling and satisfying.

Full Day 10 review is here:

Mayor 33 no website Plaza Mayor 33

Museo de Cáceres

Restaurante Cáceres no website Plaza Mayor 31

Route from Cáceres to Badajoz

La Casona Alta

Day 11

I started my day in Badajoz with breakfast at Cervecería Pepe Jerez in Plaza de España, then began exploring the city. I ended up at Museo de Bellas Artes which had a wide variety of art, and entrance was free, I then made my way back to the north end of the city where I walked the walls of the Alcazaba. There are some great views of the city from here, in addition to the historical significance of the fortress.

After completing the trip around the walls, I followed the street down to Río Guadiana and the Puente de Palmas. Lunch was at El Chirringuito del Parro, where I had a couple of beers, some tapas, and a wonderful dessert. After a busy morning and early afternoon, I went back to my AirBnb for a rest before heading out once again.

My second visit of the day to a museum was to Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo where the had a couple of amazing temporary exhibits. I then spent the rest of the evening wandering around before having dinner at Mesón El Nuevo Boche on Zubaron. The day concluded with some night photographs on my way back to my lodgings.

Full Day 11 review is here:

Cervecería Pepe Jerez

Museo de Bellas Artes

El Chirringuito del Parro no website Plaza de Portugal 6

Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo

Mesón El Nuevo Boche

Day 12

This day I took a drive into Portugal to the town of Elvas. I parked near its castle, and started my explorations there. It was an interesting look into the defenses on the Portugal and Spain borders. In addition to the castle, there are two large forts on hills outside the town. After the castle I headed to Praça da República, which is a beautiful plaza in the center of Elvas. I had a small lunch here, at O Grémio, before I continued my adventure.

I walked many of the hilly streets, and climbed the wall near the beautiful Ermita de Elvas. The views here were amazing, and I took a number of photos from this vantage point before descending back into town. Once I was back below, I did a little shopping along a pedestrianized street, then made my way back up to the castle and my car. On the way back to Spain, I stopped on the outskirts of Elvas to view the large aqueduct there.

I drove back to Badajoz where I took a short rest, then went back out into the city. I had another great meal, this time at the excellent Gastrobar El Tronco, which is not far from Plaza de España.

Full Day 12 review is here:

Route from Badajoz to Elvas

Castelo de Elvas

Restaurante O Grémio no website, Praça da República

Aqueduto da Amoreira

Gastrobar El Tronco

Day 13

After getting my things together to prepare for the next leg of my trip, I went out to get breakfast. I ended up at Casa Rosendo, where I sat at one of their outdoor tables. Thankfully it was under an awning, since it had begun to rain during the overnight hours. I did one last walk around the area, then packed up the car and headed off towards Mérida.

Along the way, I stopped off in the small town of Montijo, had coffee at Méson Las 3 Estrellas, a little local place filled with regulars, then took a few photos around the main square before continuing on.

About half an hour later I arrived at my hotel in Mérida, Hotel Ilunion Mérida Palace. It’s a beautiful property, right on Plaza de España, and my room was amazing; very large, with a view of the plaza from my window.

After settling in, I crossed the square to El Callejón to have lunch. I ordered from their menú del día, which as always, was a good value; even though the food wasn’t quite as good as I’d come to expect. After lunch, I wandered the city for a while before walking to the Puente Romano, a bridge built in the first century, to take photos. I waited here until sunset, and ended up with some incredible photos.

For dinner, I had chosen another place on Plaza de España, Mesón El Pastorejo, which was, by far, the busiest place I’d been in on the trip. The food was really good, and I enjoyed the bustling atmosphere. My little table gave me a really good seat to watch all the activity.

Full Day 13 review is here:

Casa Rosendo

Route from Badajoz to Mérida:

Méson Las 3 Estrellas

Hotel Ilunion Mérida Palace

El Callejón

Puente Romano

Mesón El Pastorejo

Day 14

The day started off cloudy, with some light rain, which would continue on and off for the duration. I began with a café con leche and tostada con tomate at La Catedral, a café on Plaza de España before beginning activities for the day. My first destination were two Roman sites that sit next to each other; the Anfiteatro and Teatro Romano. I purchased the Combinado ticket, which allows access to both places, as well as a number of other sites throughout the city; it’s a good bargain. I began at the amphitheater which was quite interesting. The majority of it is still intact, but there are places that have deteriorated significantly over the centuries. After exploring for around an hour or so, I walked through an archway to the theater. In all honesty, the theater is a marvel not to be missed. The giant columns that grace the stage are enormous, with intricate details. it was fun to walk in the backstage area, as well as climb to the top of the seats to view it all from high above.

Once I left there, I walked to the southern section of the city, past the Plaza de Toros to Casa del Mitreo, and excavated home also from the Roman era. This is another of the places that was included in the ticket that I had purchased. To see how well some of the things here, like mosaic floors, had been preserved was amazing. I really enjoyed learning about the reasons the house was laid out the way that it was.

After finishing my visit there, I began walking back in the direction of my hotel, and stopped for lunch at Bar Salas. The restaurant is a neighborhood type place, right on Plaza Santo Domingo. I sat outside, and enjoyed some people watching, as well as some great food.

After lunch I did a little shopping, specifically for some clothing, and after a successful stop on Calle Santa Eulalia, I went back to the hotel for a short rest.

When I went back out, the final thing on my list of things to do for the day was to visit the Alcazaba, also included in the pass that I had bought at the Anfiteatro. The fortress is immense, and I spent a couple of hours exploring every bit of it; from the top of the walls, to the underground aljibe, the cistern. I loved being able to see the construction techniques and history, as well as some of the displays that were laid out in different parts of the compound. I took a few more photos on the way back to the hotel for another rest before dinner.

When I went back out, the skies had opened up and the rain was steady. Luckily, my chosen restaurant was only a short walk, and I was was still fairly dry when I reached Méson El Lebrel, on Calle John Lennon. This was a small, family run restaurant, and it felt very homey. It was quiet, and I had a table near the window. I asked for a vermut while I decided what to have, and when the woman running the place returned I asked for the conejo, rabbit, which I had never had before. I enjoyed the meal, then had a coffee before leaving.

The steady rain from earlier had turned into a downpour, so I quickly made my way back to the hotel, packed my things, and went to bed in preparation for an extended drive the next day.

Full Day 14 review is here:

La Catedral

Anfiteatro/Teatro Romano/Casa del Mitreo/Alcazaba

Bar Salas no website Plaza de Santo Domingo

Méson El Lebrel

Day 15

When I got up, the rain had passed, and it was a beautiful day. I walked around the city for a while before getting my car and beginning the drive north to Guadalupe, which would be my last destination in Extremadura. I stopped along the road a few times to take photos, capturing a couple of epic shots. When I arrived in Guadalupe, the main plaza was packed with tourists, so I wandered the quieter streets, taking photos, and enjoying the sunshine. I had a late breakfast at a small restaurant called Café Bar La Morenita. I was the only customer, since it was at an odd time, and a bit off the beaten track. After I ate, I continued exploring, and did a little shopping at a local artisan called Artesanía en Cobre y Latón Hijo de Juan Tena Poderoso that specialized in copper goods. I stayed in town for another half hour or so before moving on towards Ciudad Real in Castilla La Mancha.

I again made a number of stops to take photos along the way, including the surprise of a couple of horses in a field near a bridge that I had stopped at. When I arrived in Ciudad Real, I missed a turn, but was able to correct the mistake fairly quickly, and got to the parking garage that was just a short walk to my hotel. In Ciudad Real I’d be staying at the Hotel Silken Alfonso X, a nice hotel just off of Plaza Mayor. I had splurged for the Junior Suite here, and it was a very nice room that included a terrace.

After settling in, I went out to hang out in Plaza Mayor for a while, taking photos, and people watching. Eventually, it was late enough to head to dinner, and I had chosen Ficcus, after discovering that my original choice was closed for the evening.

I had a couple of vermut while waiting for the kitchen to open. Ficcus is a fairly upscale place, with excellent food, and one of the most decadent desserts that I’d had on the trip. Completely full, I walked back to the hotel, looking forward to a good night’s rest.

Full Day 15 review is here:

Route from Mérida to Guadalupe:

Café Bar La Moranita

Artesanía en Cobre y Latón Hijo de Juan Tena Poderoso

Route from Guadalupe to Ciudad Real:

Hotel Silken Alfonso X


Day 16

My full day in Ciudad Real started with heavy downpours, but I was prepared with a raincoat, and waterproof covers for my camera and gear bag, so I set out into the storm. My first stop was breakfast on Plaza Mayor at El Portalón. It was a cozy place, and a good place to sit and watch the world go by. When I ventured back out, I headed to the Museo de Quijote, which as the name suggests, is dedicated to the famous literary character. It is a small museum, but I truly enjoyed myself, and not only because it was out of the rain.

When I left, the downpours had tapered to a drizzle, which made for a pleasant walk through Parque Gasset, which is just behind the museum. After wandering from end to end, I walked some of the streets aimlessly, then tried to do some shopping, but didn’t find anything I really liked. I was getting hungry, so I began looking for a spot for lunch, in Spain there are so many choices in most places that I’ve visited, that it can be a real task to decide. I chose Café El Quijote, and settled into a small table in the restaurant, that seemed to be frequented by a lot of locals. The food was, again, really good, and I finished my meal with a café before going back to the hotel for a quick nap.

When I got up, it was evening, and the rain had completely moved out. I walked the streets, taking photographs and enjoying the crowded plazas. At dinner time, I ended up at Bodegas Galiana where I had an incredible sample of Spanish meats and cheese, and delicious tirimisú. When I had finished, I went back to the hotel to pack in preparation for leaving the city in the morning.

Full Day 16 review is here:

El Portalón

Museo del Quijote

Café El Quijote no website Calle de la Paloma, 2

Bodegas Galiana

Day 17

I started the day early, with breakfast at El Ventero, having my usual at this classic bar, before beginning the drive through Castilla La Mancha that would eventually end in Toledo.

My first stop was just a quick one, in Puerto Lápice, to take some photos of their three windmills that sit on the hill overlooking the town. I pulled over a couple more times to get photos of windmills in other towns before I reached my first true destination of the day, Campo de Criptana.

This town also sits on a hill, and at the top are ten windmills. The tourist information center is in one of them, and I began there. I then walked around taking quite a few photos of the windmills, the town, and the streets. The effects of a weather phenomenon known as La Calima were starting to become apparent. It’s caused by dust from sandstorms in the Sahara being brought by prevailing winds to the north, and basically looks like an orange fog. For lunch, I went to one of the places that are actually built into the side of the hill, Cueva La Martina. I had a good meal in the subterranean restaurant, where I ordered from the menú del día, which they were still creating when I sat down.

After lunch, I spent a little more time here before making my way to Almonacid de Toledo, a tiny town with a ruined castle overlooking it. I drove up a very narrow and winding dirt road to the castle, then explored the ruins for about an hour before starting the least leg of today’s drive to Toledo.

When I reached the city of three cultures, the orange haze was even more noticeable. I stopped outside of the city to take a few overview pictures, before driving to the parking garage, and making a short walk to the hotel, Hotel Domus Plaza Zocodover, my second Eurostar property of the trip. It was more basic than the other places that I had stayed, but it was still comfortable, and close to everything.

I took a short nap, then got cleaned up and went out wandering. Toledo is a great place just to walk with no agenda. There are surprises around every corner, and every street in unique. For dinner I had chosen Cervecería Artesana Abadía, my second restaurant of the day that had below ground seating. The meal was excellent, and it was topped off with an amazing dessert.

I ended the day with a few more photos before going back to the hotel for a well deserved night’s sleep.

Full Day 17 review is here:

El Ventero

Route from Ciudad Real to Campo de Criptana:

Molinos de Viento de Campo de Criptana—molinos-23064/descripcion/

Cueva La Martina

Route from Campo de Criptana to Toledo

Hotel Domus Plaza Zocodover

Cervecería Artesana Abadía

Day 18

I would have a full day to explore Toledo, and while I had created a map of places that I wanted to visit, the timing was fairly flexible. I didn’t plan to enter the major sites like the Catedral or Alcázar; I have done that on previous trips, and this time I just wanted to revel in being in this wonderful city. I started with breakfast at La Cuesta, a neighborhood bar not far from my hotel. The day was overcast, with La Calima still very evident, but I’d visited Toledo in the rain before, and still enjoyed myself. I began my long day of walking on the north side of the city, visiting some of the medieval gates, and taking a lot of photographs, then headed into the heart of the city.

I love the streets here, and I stopped many times to take photographs. I stopped for a while in Plaza del Ayuntamiento, and photographed the details of the famous cathedral as well as city hall. After some more wandering, I did a little shopping. I purchased a few souvenirs, new kitchen knives made of Toledo steel, some damasquinado, and some leather goods. I continued around the perimeter of the city, from Puente de San Martín, then down along the river before climbing back up to the walled area near Puerta del Cambrón. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, and I was happy that I´d soon be indoors.

I stopped for lunch at an old favorite of mine, Café del Kasco, where I was greeted warmly by the owner, then ordered a couple of different dishes, as well as a cerveza. I finished the meal with a great dessert made with mazapán, a sweet made using almonds and sugar.

I then headed back to the hotel, to drop of the things that I had bought, to clean the rain off of my jacket, which turned to mud because of La Calima, off of my jacket, and take a short rest. When I did get up, I walked to the other side of the city, where Puente de Alcantará crosses the Tajo, and walked quite a distance up the road to my favorite viewpoint of Toledo. I stayed here until the sky got dark, capturing photos of the city turning to gold as the street lights came on, then walked back into the city.

I stopped often to take more photos before arriving at Taberna Embrujo for dinner. I had a simple meal here, as well a a cerveza, both were very good, and I had a chance to chat with a lady from Valencia while I ate.

Toledo at night is a magical place, and I casually strolled the streets, now empty of the day trip tourists, taking photos of the timeless beauty of the city. I revisited a few places that I’d been on previous trips as well, capturing new photos to go along with daylight ones that I already had. Finally, it was time to call it a night, the end of the road trip would begin in the morning, and I wanted to be rested for the drive.

Full Day 18 review is here:

La Cuesta

Two maps of my planned walk around Toledo:

Café del Kasco

Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo

Alcázar de Toledo–alcazar-de-toledo.html

Taberna Embrujo

Day 19

I began the last day of the road trip at Cafetería Wamba on Calle Comercio with my café con leche and tostada con tomate, then went straight to Confitería Santo Tomé to buy mazapán to bring home. I checked out of the hotel, collected my car, and started driving towards Madrid. Along the way I stopped to photograph on of the Toros de Osborne. These giant bulls were once advertisements for a brand of brandy, they are now an iconic symbol of Spain.

Once I was back in Madrid, I checked into Hotel Mediodía for the second time on this trip, then went out to enjoy the city, and do a little shopping. Near Plaza de Chueca is Mercado de San Antón, my favorite market in Madrid. I bought a couple of bottles of Verde Esmeralda olive oil, which I consider the best tasting that I’ve had, at Octavio, then went back to the plaza to get something to eat.

I sat at a table on the plaza, and had a plate of jamón and a cerveza from Chueking Tapas, and sat for a while enjoying the atmosphere of the vibrant square. When I was done, I walked up Gran Vía to find the place that I´d need to go in the morning to get a COVID test. Along the way, I spotted a number of theaters having performances of popular musicals, including El Rey León, The Lion King, at Teatro Lope de Vega. I decided that it sounded like fun, so I went online and bought one of the few remaining tickets. A few hours later, I was seated in the balcony watching this incredibly well produced show, then went back to get some sleep before my last full day in Spain.

Full Day 19 review is here:

Cafetería Wamba no website, Calle Comercio, 2

Confitería Santo Tomé

Route from Toledo to Madrid

Hotel Mediodía

Mercado de San Antón



Teatro Lope de Vega

Day 20

The first order of business for the day was to get my COVID test, which at the time was rrequired to transit through Portugal. The process at Democratest, on Gran Vía, was quick and efficient, and I was done in fewer than five minutes. after the test, I walked to Plaza de España to visit the monumnet to Miguel Cervantes ans his famous characters Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. I followed that by taking the Metro to El Retiro, where I took some photos of Puerta de Alcalá before walking through the park to have one more breakfast at Plenti.

I returned briefly to the hotel to organize a few things for packing, then walked to Puerta del Sol, which is considered the center of the city. At Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, which was just a few meters from this main plaza, was a temporary exhibit of some Picasso works. I had time before lunch, so I took about an hour to view it, seeing some of his lesser known works was exciting.

After enjoying the art, it was time for lunch at the rooftop restaurant Azotea del C’irculo. This was definitely a fun experience. The food was really top notch, and the dessert was a treat, but the views were amazing. After eating I lingered for another half hour or so, taking it all in, and of course, capturing quite a few photos.

Back at street level, I went towards Puerta del Sol, and did some browsing at the large department store El Corte Inglés, which has been a tradition of mine since the first time I visited this city more than thirty years ago. When I finished there, I went back to the hotel to get changed in preparation for another musical.

When it was time, I walked up Calle de Atocha to the beautiful Teatro Calderón where I witnessed an incredible performance of A Chorus Line. When the show was over, I headed north in the city for dinner at La Fragua de Sebín, a wonderful restaurant about halfway between the Tribunal and Bilbao stops on line 1 of the Metro. The meal was excellent, and I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant; it was classy without being stuffy.

All that was left to do was to pack, and prepare for the trip home in the morning.

Full Day 20 review is here:


Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando

Azotea del Círculo

El Corte Inglés

Teatro Calderón

La Fragua de Sebín

Final Thoughts

This trip, nearly a year in planning, was an adventure that I’ll never forget. The attention to detail eliminated almost all of the stress. I prefer to fly Iberia because of the availability of a direct flight from Boston, but if I find another good deal on TAP, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them again.

Researching restaurants helped to make sure that I had good, and even excellent meals wherever I was. It also was helpful to know that I wouldn’t have to go out of my way to get to where I was going to eat.

If I had another day, I would’ve added it to Cáceres. The other change I would have made, in hindsight, would be to remove one night from Ciudad Real, and spend it in Guadalupe.

I’m looking forward to my next trip to Spain, and even after all the times I’ve been to Madrid, there are still things that I have on my list of things to do.

A few tips for taking a trip to Spain.

Start planning early.

Learn a few words in Spanish. It’s not completely necessary, especially in larger cities, there will usually be someone on staff who speaks English well, but even the smallest amount of effort will be appreciated by the locals.

Spain’s electricity is 220v and uses a two prong round connection. Get a good voltage converter, and additional adapters. Most cell phone chargers and computer power supplies will work with just an adapter if the input voltage rating on it says 110v-220v, but I still like to have the extra protection of the converter.

Research the places you want to go, and the things you want to do.

For the popular places, book entrance to attractions ahead of time. This saves you time waiting in line to purchase tickets. This is especially true for places in larger cities.

When creating your itinerary, avoid the temptation to pack as much into a day as possible, The quiet times in between visiting places are often the most rewarding. I’ll usually plan one major thing, and one minor thing per day, which in addition to a slower pace, helps to keep you from being overwhelmed, which can lead to fatigue. It also lets you focus on fewer things, and appreciate the individual experiences, without them all getting jumbled together.

Purchase and bring a portable luggage scale. This will ensure you aren’t surprised by an overweight bag at the airport. When packing for the trip, be sure to leave some space for some of the wonderful things that you buy while in Spain.

If you have difficulty using your credit card to purchase tickets from home, check to see if the option to use PayPal is available. That will often solve the issue.

When buying something with a card, you will be presented with the option to pay in Euros or Dollars. Always choose Euros.

I recommend having about 100€ in cash for every week that you plan to be there. Some places don’t accept cash, and smaller transactions, like a coffee or bottle of water, are just easier with paper money or coins. It could also help you out of a jam if there is a computer issue, like when my cards were declined when I was trying to buy fuel in Ávila.

In Madrid, the Tarjeta Multi is a great value for traveling by bus or Metro.

If you plan to rent a car, book it early on in your planning. If you are from outside of the EU, check to see if you need an International Driving Permit, which are available through AAA. Also, carefully plan where you will park. Four of my hotels had onsite parking, but two of those were difficult to access, and I ended up finding an easier option in a nearby garage.

Give yourself a quick tutorial on Spanish road signs, some of them don’t have a US equivalent, and could be confusing.

If you are going to be away from the car, don´t leave anything of value visible. Make sure your bags are safely stowed in the trunk. If I were making an extended stop in between places where I would be spending the night, the suitcases went into the rear of the car at the hotel that I was leaving, and I didn’t open the rear again until I got to the next hotel. For a potential thief, it’s a risk vs reward situation. If they can’t see something that could potentially be of value, they are less likely to take the chance of getting caught breaking in.

If the thought of driving in a foreign country gives you anxiety, don’t worry. Spanish cities are very well connected through high speed rail. The state run operator is Renfe. Their website can be a little tricky to navigate, but with patience, it’s pretty easy to book tickets. There are also intercity buses that can get you to all the cities served by rail, as well as many smaller places that aren’t.

Comfortable hotels are important. Beyond that, a central location is more important than the amenities that they offer. It´s no fun to have to travel a considerable distance every time you want to go from the hotel to the places of interest.

When checking in, have your passport ready. By law, hotels have to keep a photocopy of your identification.

Bring comfortable shoes. The best way to experience a place is by walking, and sore feet will take the joy out of your travels.

In Spain, dinner is much later than in the US. 20:30 is very early, and 22:00 is normal. Check to see if your chosen restaurants offer reservations, as the evening progresses, places will fill up fast.

Look online for menus from the restaurants you choose. Many have websites, but even those who don’t will often have them posted in their Google listing.

At lunch time, order from the menú del día. You’ll usually see it on a board outside the restaurant. This is an incredible value, and includes two courses, bread, a drink (usually water, beer, or wine), plus either coffee or dessert.

To find the best meals, at the best places, try to avoid eating in the most tourist-centric areas. For example, in Madrid, I’d advise against eating in Plaza Mayor, or right around Puerta del Sol.

Consider buying an International SIM card for your phone. My Verizon SIM will work in Europe, but the company charges $10 per day to use it. I saved considerable money by using one from a service provider based in Europe.

Stay safe. The biggest threat to tourists in Spain is pickpocketing. Be aware of your surroundings. If you are going to carry a bag, make sure it’s a cross body style. Don’t carry your phone in your back pocket, or leave it sitting on a table. Pickpockets are thieves of opportunity, the more you do to make it difficult for them, the less likely you are to be a victim.

Relax, enjoy your trip, try new foods, and look for shops with locally made goods. The artisans produce items which make much more memorable souvenirs than the standard trinkets.

España 2022 Day 20

Madrid; 20 March

My last real day in Spain, and while I was sad that it was here, it had been a great three weeks. I organized a few things for packing before getting ready and leaving the hotel. It was another gray day here in the capital, but there was no rain, so that was a plus. I again took the Metro from Estación del Arte to Gran Vía, then walked the rest of the way to Democratest where I would be tested for COVID. While their address is on Gran Vía, the entrance is at the back, on Calle de la Flor Baja, I walked to the door, and a woman gave me a form to fill out. As soon as I had arrived in Spain, I had gone online to book an appointment here, I ended up with a 10:00 slot, and I was about fifteen minutes early. As soon as I finished the paperwork, they brought be in, did the swab, and I was on my way. The process could not have been easier.

After I left the clinic, I walked to Plaza de España, which is close by, to visit my old friends Don Quijote, Sancho Panza, and Miguel Cervantes. There had been quite a large construction project here recently, and some of the evidence still exists; what should be grassy areas were still just dirt, and there were irrigation hoses laid out. I took a few photos here, then tried to get one with a small bird, but he was quite uncooperative.

I then entered the Metro at Noviciado, which is line 2 of the system, and took it to Retiro. My plan was to walk through the park, and then have breakfast one more time at Plenti. When I came back above ground, I stopped to take some photographs of Puerta de Alcalá, the eighteenth century triumphal arch that sits at the northwest corner of the park. This magnificent arch was the first thing I had ever photographed back in 1988, and I’ve visited it each time that I’ve returned.

While I was here, I also took a few photos of the gate that stands at this end of the park, before beginning the journey to the opposite end of El Retiro. As I began the walk, I got a message that my results of the COVID test were in. I checked my email, I had tested negative, and the documents that I’d need to transit through Portugal on my way home were attached, so that was one less thing that I’d need to worry about.

When I reached Plenti, it was packed, and there was a line out the door. There was a also a television camera crew inside doing an interview at the table I had been at the day before my road trip started. When one of the staff came out to bring a family inside, I asked if I could sit at one of their tables on the sidewalk, and she said “of course”. I took a seat at one of the empty tables, and it wasn’t long before other people in line thought that would be a good idea as well, and soon even the outside seating area was filled.

I ordered my usual, and despite how busy they were, my tostada, zumo de naranja, and café arrived quickly, and as always, they were amazing. I asked what the TV crew was here for, and she told me it was a feature on local coffee shops and cafés; sadly I’ve been unable to find the clip online. I was not in a hurry, and the temperature was comfortable, so I ordered a second cup, and sat for a while longer.

I finally decided that it was time to move on, and set off in the direction of my hotel. That’s one of the great things about having an easily accessible location, you never feel like you are going too far out of your way if you decide to make a stop at your lodgings. Once back, I spent a little more time organizing, including moving all the forms that I’d need for traveling into an easy to find folder on my phone.

I had lunch reservations at 14:00 at Azotea de Círculo, so had a little bit a gap to check out a temporary exhibition of some works by Picasso not far from the restaurant. Since I had plenty of time, I decided to walk. It was a very comfortable day, and the walk up Paseo del Prado to Cibeles where I turned down Calle de Alcalá towards Puerta del Sol was very nice. For the most part, I strolled along the tree lined median between the two sides of the street. Even here, along this busy thoroughfare, it felt peaceful; it’s nice that there’s a kilometer of nearly uninterrupted green space along this wide street that passes in front of one of the premier art museums in the world.

When I arrived at Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, I paid my entrance fee and went inside. “Rostros y Figuras” was an exhibit of about fifty examples of Picasso’s work with faces and figures. It was really interesting to see these lesser known works by the famous artist. Most of the pieces were paintings, and most of those were cubist, although there were also works from earlier in his life. There were very few people viewing the exhibition, which gave me time to closely examine each piece. Picasso isn’t my favorite artist, that spot belongs to Salvador Dalí, but I’ve always enjoyed his work, so it was an absolute pleasure to see this show.

When I left, it was nearly time for my lunch reservation, so I walked the few blocks up the street, and entered the building. Azotea del Círculo is a rooftop restaurant, which has limited access. A man in the lobby directed me to the information desk, where a woman looked at my reservation, and handed me a small slip of paper. I went to the elevator, where I was allowed on, and pressed the button for the roof. When the doors opened, I was greeted by a security guard who escorted me to the dining area of the restaurant.

You can enter without a reservation for drinks by paying a small fee, and then finding an available outdoor table, but I had wanted to have the full experience. The waitress seated me at a table near the middle of the glass walled dining room, and I asked for a vermut and a water. Even seated where I was, the view of the city was amazing, Madrid seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon.

When she returned with my drinks, I was ready to order. I decided to have only a single course because some of their desserts looked incredible, and I didn’t want to overeat. I had decided on the canelón de rabo de toro, an oxtail cannelloni, and every single bite was an absolute treat. Azotea is a little more expensive than most of the places that I have eaten at, but the quality of the food, and the view make it a bargain in my eyes.

When the waitress returned, I asked for a café con leche, as well as my dessert. They had many excellent options, but the tarta tibia de chocolate con helado de avellana, warm chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream, seemed too good to pass up. I was not disappointed, the cake was decadent, without being overly sweet, and the ice cream was delicious.

After I had paid for my meal, I went out to the rooftop terraza, and spent some time admiring the view, and taking photos. from out here, I could see that the city didn’t quite extend to the horizon, the mountains of Sierra de Guadarrama could be seen in the distance. Looking down towards the intersection of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía is one of the defining images of Madrid. Sadly for me, in the time since I had left for my adventure, and my return to the city, workers had erected scaffolding on the Edificio Metrópolis, one of the most iconic buildings in Madrid. Despite the minor disappointment, I was happy with my photos and completely enjoyed seeing the city from up here. The Art Deco flourishes along this relatively young street really stand out when looking down from above.

From Azotea, I would continue back down towards Puerta del Sol, and while I rarely spend much time here, I do like to capture a few images on each visit. The most striking thing I noticed was how empty Calle de Alcalá was compared to the overwhelmingly crowded Puerta del Sol, just a hundred meters away. While I was here, I also made a quick visit to El Corte Inglés, the large department store that sits just back from the plaza. I’ve stopped here on each trip that I’ve made, but other than a leather tie that I bought here when I was in high school, and a very nice belt on my first trip back, I’ve only browsed; saving my shopping for more local stores.

It was getting to be late afternoon, and I had tickets to another musical at 17:00, so I took the Metro back to my hotel. I used a different exit from Estación del Arte than I usually do, because I wanted a few more photos at Puerta de Atcocha. On my more recent trips, I’d been taking a selfie in front of the main facade, and I wanted to make sure I got one this time.

I crossed the street to my hotel, then quickly got changed in my room before walking up Calle de Atocha to Plaza de Jacinto Benavente. On one corner of the plaza is the one hundred year old Teatro Calderón, where I would be seeing the Antonio Banderas produced A Chorus Line. It’s a strikingly beautiful building, with all the rich details you’d expect from the early 20th century. I’ve photographed it on previous trips, but totally forgot to capture the exterior this time.

When the doors opened, I showed my ticket, and a man directed me to the stairs on the left hand side of the lobby. I climbed to the first balcony, and found my seat without a problem. I sat in awe for a few moments as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. The theater is possibly even more beautiful here in the auditorium than it is from the outside. The seating area has a fairly small footprint, but what it lacks in floor space, it more than makes up in height. In addition to the main floor seating, there are six balconies; the top one is so high up that it was actually blocked off for this performance, as the lighting grid would have blocked the view of the stage.

As I sat there, the auditorium slowly filled up with people, and by the time the lights went down, it appeared as though every seat was taken. Antonio’s voice filled the theater through a speaker, welcoming us to the show, and reminding everyone that photos and videos were not allowed. When the message concluded, the curtain went up, revealing the bare stage with a single line of white tape running from edge to edge.

Production wise, the two performances I saw during this trip are at opposite ends of the spectrum; El Rey León is lavish and filled with scenery and props, while A Chorus Line is so minimalist that all of your attention hangs on the words and actions of the cast.

The acting and singing were phenomenal, and I think my favorite character was Richie. His enthusiasm was infectious, and his number “Pásamela” (“Gimme the Ball”) was one of the highlights of the show. Of course I also loved “Espero Conseguirlo” (“I Hope I get It”), “Baile, Diez. Look, Tres” (“Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”), and of course “One”. To me, that final number was really interesting; the entire show had been in Spanish; but when they got to the finale, the song was was sung in English. I’m not sure why they made that choice, but it didn’t matter that much to me, the show was amazing, and the entire theater erupted into applause at its conclusion. I was glad that while planning my trip, I had shown a coworker a photo of the theater. She asked what was currently playing, then forcefully suggested that I buy myself a ticket as we were scrolling through the theater’s website.

After the show, I walked back down Calle de Atocha just as the street lamps were turning on, and the light was fading from the sky. I had reservations for dinner in a couple of hours, but I wanted to take advantage of the darkness for a few more photos.

Back at my room, I opened the windows to the balcony and set up my tripod. My room was in an ideal location for taking photos of Puerta de Atocha and the street below. I adjusted the camera settings to get the longest possible exposure, fired the shutter, and waited. The view of Atocha with cars, reduced to nothing more than streaks of light as they sped by, was gorgeous. I took a number of photos, anticipating the traffic lights in order to get the most movement in the shot that I could. When I was happy with the result, I changed my angle of view towards the south. With the approaching traffic, Paseo de las Delicias looked like a waterfall of light, I had to change to a shorter exposure to compensate for the headlights facing the lens, but it was still long enough, at fifteen seconds, to get the effect I was looking for.

Finally, I aimed the camera down at about a forty-five degree angle towards Plaza Emperador Carlos V. I framed the crosswalk below as a diagonal element in the composition, and waited for people to cross. I wasn’t happy with the first few attempts, but when I slowed the exposure even more, ended up with a result that I was pleasantly surprised with. As the pedestrians made their way from one side of the street to the other, their white sneakers reflected the lights of the waiting cars, creating an eerie vision of a disembodied march from sidewalk to sidewalk. Happy with the photos, I packed up my gear, and got ready to go to dinner.

I ultimately decided to take only my camera and one lens, just to give myself a break from the heavy camera bag. I again took the Metro from outside my hotel to Tribunal, five stops to the north, in the area known as Malasaña. I wandered around the area for a few minutes, then headed to Calle del Devino Pastor, where the restaurant I had chosen was located.

La Fragua de Sebín is a long narrow restaurant, and when I entered, I was shown to a table about halfway back. An interesting mix of people populated the restaurant; when I first came though the door, I passed a couple at the bar, she was wearing a short and very sparkly dress, while he was in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. Near to where I was seated, one table was celebrating a birthday, while behind me was a group toasting a newly engaged couple.

I ordered a vermut, and began to look over the menu. There were a lot of options, so I still wasn’t ready when my drink, a basket of bread and a bowl of olives arrived. Between olives, I made up my mind and one of the owners stopped at my table, took my order, nodded approvingly, then headed toward the kitchen. He returned a minute or two later with a tapa of potaje de garbanzos, a chickpea stew. It was really quite good, and something that I would not have thought to order; exploring new dishes is one of the great things about tapas.

Shortly after I had finished the delicious tapa, my first course arrived. I had ordered patatas canarias con salsa brava y mahonesa, which is a slightly different take on the usual patatas bravas. The dish originates from the Islas Canarias, and uses small potatoes which are traditionally boiled in seawater, but usually just in heavily salted tap water. They were served with a bravas sauce, which is a slightly spicy red sauce, and a mayonnaise sauce. The dish was very good, and it didn’t take long until the bowl was empty.

My second course followed shortly after my empty bowl was removed. Again, I had chosen rabo de toro, it was plated with rice, and it was delicious. There was more meat than what I had received at some other restaurants, and it was cooked to perfection. Each piece easily separated from the bone, and every bite was tender and juicy.

I was nearly full, but I could not resist having dessert on my last night in Spain. Looking at the menu again, I chose the tarta de zanahoria, carrot cake. When it arrived, it was almost too beautiful to eat. The small piece of cake was placed to one end of a long narrow dish, and was topped with nuts, a rolled wafer cookie, and dried orange. The plate was decorated with two thin strips of icing and a fruit mixture. As gorgeous as it looked, it tasted even better. I was glad that it was a small serving, as I probably could have eaten the whole cake; but would’ve regretted it. At Fragua de Sebín I experienced the rare occurrence of eating just the right amount; perfectly sated, no longer hungry, nor overfull.

Once I had paid, I took the metro from Tribunal back to my hotel, bought a cold drink from the machine in the lobby, and headed upstairs to pack.

I divided the things as equally as I could between the two bags that I’d be checking, while at the same time assuring that breakable items were well wrapped and separated from each other. When I thought that I had it about right, I used my portable luggage scale to check the weights, and both were under the limit. The larger one came in at twenty-one kilograms, and the smaller one at eighteen. Since I had some space to spare, I removed a couple of items from my carry-on and added them to the smaller checked bag. This would leave me with a fairly light cabin bag to move around with once my bags were checked in at the counter.

With that task completed, I needed to get to bed; my flight was scheduled to leave just before 7:00, so I’d have to be up extremely early. I turned out the lights, and hoped that I’d be able to get at least a little bit of sleep.

To see the rest of the photos from this day, click here:

España 2022 Day 19

Toledo/Madrid; 17 March

Today would be the last day of the road trip section of my trip, but I still had a little time before I left for Madrid. The first thing was to get some breakfast, and for that, I headed to Cafertería Wamba on Calle Comercio. I had eaten here on a previous trip, and knew that the coffee was good.

It was interesting to see Toledo in the early morning, Plaza Zocodover was filled with trucks making deliveries, and a small street sweeper was making its way around, cleaning the cobblestones. When I got there, it was fairly busy, but there was a table in the far corner, near the window. I asked the man at the bar for a café con leche and tostada con tomate, then sat down and waited. It took only a minute or two for my food to be ready, and I sat there enjoying it, and watching people walk by. I ordered a second cup and sat there a bit longer; I had decided this would be a day of mostly relaxing.

When I was done, I took the short walk back to Plaza Zocodover and Confitería Santo Tomé, to buy some mazapán to bring home. I´d been to their other location in the city back in 2019, but this location was much closer to the hotel; it was also much smaller. By the time I was done picking things out, I had spent more than 50€ on the sweet almond treats; mostly for myself, but also to give as gifts.

Back at the hotel, I packed everything into two suitcases for the last time; once back in Madrid I’d be able to spread it out between three. When it was all evenly distributed, I checked the room one last time, then headed down to check out. It was a simple process, then I took the short walk to the parking garage, paid for my time there, and took the elevator back down to my level. I’d become quite adept at hooking up the cameras, even in the dark of a garage, so I was on my way within minutes.

About twenty minutes from Toledo, I pulled off the highway in Cabañas de la Sagra. I needed to fill the tank of the rental to a level higher than what they had given it to me, and this particular station had the bonus of being close to another Toro de Osborne. Once I got gas, I noticed that they had a self-serve car wash as well, so I drove in, deposited a one euro coin, and rinsed all the dust from the previous days off the car.

I moved the car to the end of the parking lot, then crossed the road to photograph the bull. From here I could also the the village of Olías del Rey, about six kilometers to the south. I took a few photos, then went back to the car to finish the journey.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and when I reached Puerta de Atocha, the woman from Enterprise took the keys, then gave the car a quick glance before telling me that I was all set. She offered to call me a taxi, but I told her my hotel was just up the street. Looking at my two large suitcases, she offered again, but I assured her that I´d be fine.

I made the slow walk up the hill and across Plaza del Emperador Carlos V, and into Hotel Mediodía, where I’d be spending the rest of my stay. I had requested a room facing Puerta de Atocha for this part of my trip, and the room here was considerably smaller than the one on the other side of the building where I had stayed a few weeks ago. It also had a shower stall, rather than a full bath. The views were outstanding though. I started by emptying my luggage, and putting all the things I’d bought onto the bed that I wouldn’t be using, then hung my clothes before leaving the room for the city streets.

Once I was outside, I took the steps down into the Metro at Estación del Arte, changed trains at Gran Vía, and emerged at Chueca. My purpose here was to visit Mercado de San Antón, one of the many markets spread throughout the city. They typically have vendors selling meats, fruits, vegetables, and sweets, but typically there are also stalls where you can purchase prepared food. This particular one also has a full restaurant on the upper floor, and a supermarket on the lowest level. I wandered around, looking at everything before taking the elevator to the second floor where the food court area is. I looked around, but nothing was really tempting me, so I went down the other escalator and headed straight to La Charcutería de Ocatavia. In addition to the many meats and cheeses that they have here, the have my favorite aceite de oliva, olive oil. The brand is Verde Esmeralda, and their picual variety is amazing, the flavor is far and away the best I’ve ever had. I only saw one small bottle on the counter, so I asked the woman if the happened to have any of the larger bottles somewhere else. After a few minutes of looking, she was only able to find one large bottle of the picual, but also came back with their royal variety, so I ended up buying both.

When I was done at the market, I crossed back to Plaza de Chueca, a vibrant square surrounded by restaurants, shops, and bard. It was here that I had eaten at Taberna de Ángel Sierra before the road trip had begun and now found myself sitting at a table on the plaza in front of Chueking Tapas. I ordered an Ahambra Reserva 1925, and a plate of jamón ibérico. The ham was excellent, and the beer refreshing; I ate and drank slowly, just relaxing and watching the world pass buy.

Once I had paid my bill, I decided to take a walk down Gran Vía. I had a COVID test in the morning, and figured it would be good to see exactly where I would be going. I don´t spend much time on this busy thoroughfare, although it’s much better now that they’ve narrowed the traffic lanes and increased the sidewalk area. There are just too many large stores and chain restaurants here for my taste, but there are also a few gems here.

I stopped to take a few photos along the way, including the new entrance to the Metro Gran Vía station and Edificio Capitol. As I got closer to the clinic, I began to notice the marquees on the theaters. On one side of the street Fame was playing, and directly in front of me was Teatro Lope de Vega, where the bright sign proclaimed that El Rey León, The Lion King, was playing. I took photos of both, waiting for the one at Lope de Vega to run through its video and get to yellow title card.

As I continued towards the site where I would get my test in the morning, I started considering checking out the time, ticket prices and availability for the show tonight. I found the location of the clinic without a problem, then turned around, cutting through plaza de Callao and down Calle de Preciados to Sol, where I took the Metro back to the hotel.

Once in my room, I brought up the website for the theater, found that there were a few remaining seats, and that the prices were reasonable. A few clicks later, and I had a third row balcony ticket for the musical. I still had a couple hours before the show, so I figured a quick nap would be ideal.

When I got up, I got changed and took the Metro back to Gran Vía, it was just beginning to get dark, and the sidewalks were filling up with people. When I arrived at Teatro Lope de Vega, the line stretched quite far up the street. Entry was very organized, and it didn’t take long before I was inside. I followed the small signs to the balcony, then asked an usher to point out my seat for me.

The theater itself is gorgeous, with crimson seats, and an ornate ceiling. I purchased a program and a bottle of water, then sat back and waited for the curtain to open.

The production of El Rey León is amazing, as are the songs. There were a couple of times that I couldn’t understand exactly what was being said, but I know the story well enough that I didn’t get lost. There were quite a few songs that I wasn’t familiar with, the musical has added quite a few that were not in the film, so that the majority of the story could be told though song. The costumes blew me away, from the main characters to the giraffes, antelopes, and birds that were there to fill out the scenes; the detail was amazing. One thing that really stuck with me was the way that they illustrated the landscape withering after Scar becomes king. The scene is set at a watering hole, which is represented by a large blue cloth. As things dry out, the small pond begins to get smaller and smaller; if you watch carefully, you can see the cloth being pulled, inch by inch, through a small hole in the stage.

There were so many details like this during the show, including performers coming into the audience as intermission came to an end and the curtain opened. Scattered throughout the seats were actors with bird puppets at the end of long sticks, twirling them in imitation of flight, immersing us in the experience. During the entire performance, the music was incredible as well. The singing was powerful and clear, and the interactions between the cast members were spot on. The instrumentalists were simply amazing, These musicians are usually barely visible beneath the stage, but for this show, two of them feature prominently; percussionists, in full costume, in small balconies on each side of the auditorium.

When the show was over, I decided to walk the entire distance back to the hotel, rather than take the Metro. I wasn’t very hungry, so I just picked up a bocadillo para llevar, a sandwich to go, to eat back at the room. The walk back was quite nice, until I was only a couple hundred meters from the hotel. While waiting to cross Calle de Atocha, a man, who appeared to be drunk, nearly stumbled into traffic. I reached out my arm to stop him, and he immediately grabbed onto me. I could feel his hand moving around me, then there was a slight tug at the playbill, which I had slid into the back of my pants. I pushed him away with a forceful “¡basta, ladrón!”, “enough, thief!”, as he backed quickly away. I was glad that I take precautions whenever I’m in big cities; my wallet was zipped in the pocket on the inside of my jacket, my phone was in my front pocket, and the small carry-around camera that I had brought with me to the theater was strapped across my body under the jacket. In all the time that I’ve spent in Madrid, this is the closest I’ve come to becoming a victim of crime.

With that behind me, I went back to my room, ate my sandwich, then went straight to bed in anticipation of my last day in the city.

To see the rest of the pictures from this day, click here:

To see the video of the drive from Toledo to Madrid, click here:

España 2022 Day 18

Toledo; 16 March

I had set my alarm for an early time, in hopes of walking to the outskirts of the city to capture a sunrise photo. After the previous day, I wasn’t confident it would happen, and when I woke and looked out my window, my suspicions were confirmed, there would be no brilliant sunrise today. It was going to be a long day, so I decided to sleep for a few more hours before beginning my day.

When I got up, and had showered, I left the hotel to get breakfast. It was just a short walk to get to La Cuesta on Calle Toledo de Ohio, where I had my usual. It was a small place, filled with mostly locals, but I did manage to find a table by the window. I was so fascinated by the news on the television hanging on the wall at the end of the bar that I completely forgot to take a photo of my café con leche and tostada. They were showing images of the effects of La Calima; the phenomenon had spread to other parts of Europe. In one of the clips they showed a man skiing on brown snow in Switzerland, every turn he made brushed the dust aside, leaving a beautiful white pattern from the snow that his skis revealed.

When I was fished eating, and watching the news, I started off on my tour of Toledo. I had created a couple of basic walking maps for myself, one for morning and another for the afternoon, with lunch being the dividing point, both in time and geography.

I began on the north side of the city, where I had spent time the night before. I’m not sure why I hadn’t explored this section on my previous trips, but I’d be making amends for that today. I would be visiting a number of the gates to the city, and the first one that I came to was Puerta de Valmardón, very near the Ermita del Cristo de la Luz, which is a first century mosque, and was later converted into a catholic church.

There’s something about these large gates that fascinates me, perhaps it’s because of their age, but more likely it’s because we really have nothing comparable here in the US. This particular one has a single passage, with three arches along the length of the opening. Coming from the direction of the church, the first two are more or less the same height, but the third, which would have been the outward facing one during the time it was constructed, is a couple of meters taller. I took a number of photos here, one which included this arch, as well as Puerta del Sol, a gate that I’d be visiting a bit later.

My route then took me to the bottom of the hill to the multi-gated Puerta de Bisagra, the main entrance to the city beginning in the mid 1500s. This structure is certainly worthy of being the way into a city as wonderful and varied as Toledo. As you approach, the first massive gate is topped with a giant stone carving of the coat of arms of Carlos V. On either side of the arch, are two cylindrical towers, and to the right are the flags of Toledo, Castilla La Mancha, Spain, and the European Union.

Once you pass through the gate, you are in a courtyard, surrounded by high walls. Behind you is the arch you entered through, and ahead of you is a second gate, smaller than the first, and topped by two square towers with steeply pitched tiled roofs.

Inside the heavily fortified gate are a few stone benches, and a statue of Carlos V. I spent a while here, taking photographs, and examining the details of the construction. As I said, I’m fascinated by these monuments. I exited through the smaller gate which leads you into the old city. Traffic now flows around the gate rather than through it, and I crossed the roundabout to reach my next stop.

I climbed back up the hill to the spot that I had been before venturing down to Puerta de Bisagra, and continued past Puerta de Valmardón to Puerta del Sol. This gate is quite different from the others; the moorish influence is immediately evident by the keyhole shape of the arches. Here, they are actually arches within arches, created a deep layered look. The inner ones stand about six meters high, while the one of the face of the gate is more than ten. Above the smaller arch, framed by the larger one is a bas relief, featuring angels, a scholar, a priest what appears to be a knight, and images of the sun and moon. Finally, above the large arch, are design elements that used the other two types of moorish arches for inspiration.

It’s interesting that the towers the flank the gate are so different from each other. The one that is on the city side is a typical square tower, while the one that faces outward is half of a cylinder. Here, like the others, the outer side of the gate is much more ornate than the inside. I photographed it from both sides, then turned my attention to the view below. It was the same spot that I had photographed the city from the night before, but now that I had wandered around, I had more context to what I was seeing.

I then left the edge of the city, went back through Plaza Zocodover, and down Calle Comercio towards Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, the large main cathedral of Toledo. I took a number of photos along the way, including many of the cathedral itself from different points. When I arrived at the front of the cathedral, I took a number of pictures of details of it; the bells, statues looking down from high above, and the tower. I sat here in the square between the cathedral and city hall for a while, taking photos, and relaxing. Having visited the cathedral in 2019, I chose not to enter on this trip, although it is certainly worth it if you have never been.

When I continued, I made my way deeper into the maze of streets, not caring exactly where I ended up. As I went, I took photos of nearly every street; there is something so photogenic about them, and each has something unique to offer.

On Calle Santa Isabela, I took a photo that I would later use to illustrate the true effect of La Calima. Before I continue, a quick explanation of “white balance” as it pertains to photographs and video. White balance is measured in kelvin degrees; the lower the number, the warmer the color appears. Incandescent lighting is 3200 degrees, noon time sun is between 5000 and 5600, a cloudy day will reach into the 6000 range, and twilight can register as 10,000 or even more. If the balance that your camera has is too high for the conditions, the photo will appear orange, and if the number is took low, it will have a blue tint. Based on the time of day that I took this photo, and the cloudy skies, the value should have been somewhere between 5,000 and 6,500. My camera was set to a conservative 5,500, and this photo, taken outdoors, fairly close to noon, was very orange. Our eyes automatically adjust to compensate, but a camera can’t always do that. During the editing process, I slowly lowered that number until the scene appeared the way it looked to my eye at the time; it wasn’t until I reached 3600 that the image finally looked correct. I had to bring the balance all the way down into the incandescent range to overcome the effects of the brown dust in the air.

During my walk, I was also looking for places to do a little shopping, I wanted some more kitchen knives made of Toledo steel, and since my favorite place, Fabrica Mariano Zamorano had closed, I needed to find a new source. Eventually, I came across Artesenia Paniagua on Calle Santa Ursula, and went in. I did some browsing of the different items they sell, and a lady that worked there directed me to the section where the knives were displayed. There were a couple that I liked, but they weren’t exactly what I was looking for, so I continued looking at other things in the shop.

I did end up buying a couple of damasquinado rings; one for me, and one for my girlfriend. Damasquinado, in a simplified description, is a process of creating an etching into steel, then carefully hammering a precious metal, usually gold, into the marks left by the tool. Once the design is completed, the piece is heated, which further melts the gold into the design, and blackens the steel around it, which gives it that unique look.

Before I left the shop, I took a few photos of a young man who was demonstrating this art, a practice that I’ve seen in other parts of the city during previous trips. The delicate work is quite mesmerizing to watch, and the skill required to create these pieces of art is amazing.

When I left, I found another shop nearby; this one had a mix of items, from tourist trinkets, to higher end items. I found quite a few things to purchase here, including a beautiful set of knives. I chatted with the woman running the shop for ten minutes or so while she rang up my items and carefully wrapped them. She made sure to ask if I had come by train, since they have strict regulations about things that could be used as weapons, and would require extra packaging.

I continued through the streets of Toledo, and as I neared Puente de San Martín, a light rain began to fall. I took more street photos along the way, some in color, some in black and white, depending on the mood. When I reached the bridge, the younger of the two historic bridges, and is now pedestrianized, that cross the Tajo, the rain was slightly heavier. Despite the turn in the weather, I stayed, taking quite a few photographs, including some long exposure ones. The lagging shutter adds a dreamlike quality to the water flowing by, but without a tripod there’s a limit to how slow you can go while keeping the photo sharp. Through a little trial and error, I found the speed that would allow both. With that set, I took multiple photos here, many of the same scene, to ensure the image would be blur free. When I took out my cell phone to get a selfie here, I noticed spots on my jacket, but couldn’t figure out how they had gotten there. They wiped off fairly easily, so I didn’t give it much further thought.

It was still a little too early for lunch, so I decided to combine some of my afternoon destinations into this itinerary. From the bridge, I climbed down to a path that follows the river,