SPAIN'S CENTER, SOUTH, & NORTH
For three magnificent weeks my husband and I roamed through some of our favorite cities in Central, Southern, and Northeastern Spain.
We flew into Madrid then took a fast train into deep Andalusia, where we visited a new destination for us - Cadiz. It's always fun to explore a new destination on our frequent trips to Spain. Cadiz, founded around 1104 BC by Phoenicians, is regarded as the most ancient city still standing in Western Europe. Our Bay Area friends go there frequently and invited us to meet up. In Cadiz the Bakers showed us around their favorite sites, made sure we were extremely well-fed and entertained for close to a week, including a day-trip to Jerez.
We flew from Jerez to Barcelona and took a high-speed train (only 30 minutes) to Girona. After several days in our "sister city", another SF friend, Fred, came to visit, so we rented a car to drive north up the Costa Brava.
We wrapped up our travels in Madrid with several days of museums (some of the best in Europe), touring, and a visit with an old friend, Adin. Visiting so many friends in Spain takes up a big part of our time there (almost as much as eating and drinking), but also keeps Spain feeling like our second home.
andaluSia: HISTORIC PORT OF CADIZ
Our archeological tour guide's genetic history is telling. It reveals her ancient roots: Phoenician, Roman, Moorish, and Iberian. The blue tube in the photo is the original ancient plumbing (with strange lighting).
I love the walls, gates, and doors of Spain. Whether it's graffiti, layers of paint, or peeling posters, it all looks great and lends itself perfectly to become part of my collages.
FOOD & DRINK IN THE DEEP SOUTH
We had so many wonderful taste treats throughout the trip. Coffees are very good and very, very cheap. Wine is also quite good and inexpensive too - the best in my opinion is in Catalonia and I'm a huge fan of Catalan cava. People who enjoy sherry would be delighted by the varieties made in Jerez and Cadiz, but I don't care for it. Excellent cocktails have also taken hold. The meat, fish, and seafood are generally fresh and well prepared. There are more vegetables and salads each year we return. And the olives are still some of the best in the world. I enjoy the meal schedule too - breakfast late, a large main meal in the afternoon, tapas or a light meal at night, QUITE late.
Spanish food has evolved tremendously since my first visit in the 80s. There's greater variety and better efforts at fusion. There's not quite as much fried food - bathed in olive oil. We lived in Barcelona and Girona from 2004-06 and we could see a shift underway then - toward a more international and eclectic cuisine. Spain continues to emerge from the dark decades of Franco's reign and with so much tourism these days the demand for variety is high.
I loved seeing whole families in matching colors and patterns. The women, from toddlers to seniors, dressed in tight ruffled flamenco dresses, bold stripes and polka dots, fabric flowers in their hair, jangly jewelry and embroidered, fringed shawls...and great dance moves. The slick caballeros and their decorated horse and buggies were colorful and elegant. Everyone seemed to want to take a spin around the fair grounds to see and be seen.
Churches were built on top of mosques which were built on top of Roman ruins. Somewhere in there a buried synagogue may even exist. We saw so many layers of history and a wild mix of architecture, art, and design.
CATALONIA: Barcelona, Girona & costa brava
We had several lively, often emotional conversations around Catalan independence with Catalans, expats, mixed couples (Catalan and Spanish), and Spaniards. I came away with a slightly better understanding of the arguments for and against\. One thing is for sure - you can't ignore this powerful, popular desire for independence. These movements have solidarity - for example - Scotland is very supportive ( I hear) of the Catalan independence movement.
Just beyond girona
Girona is a great base for us. Only 20 minutes from the sea and 45 minutes from France, there's so much of the Costa Brava to see north and south of us. We've explored much of it by now, but there's always more to discover.
Because our favorite monastery Sant Pere de Rodes (12th-14th C) was already closed, we wandered into a nearby site where we'd never ventured. We found Verdera Castle (Sant Salvador de Verdera) ruins at the highest peak in Serra de Rodes. From here we watched sunset over l'Alt Empordà, the Golf of Roses, the Montgrí mountains, and the Medes islands.
Day Trip to BCN
Madrid is Underrated
The colors are spectacular. With intermittent rain we were treated to fabulous skies during our entire trip. Although the country was cooler than usual, it was very pleasant and not dissimilar to San Francisco weather.
The Prado is right near the smaller Botanical Garden, and was a refreshing break from urbanity. May is my favorite flower season On Day 1 we saw and smelled Lilacs around Madrid, then at the end of our trip we were treated to Peonies and Irises.
THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE OF ART
Madrid's three art museums are:
Prado Museum: pre-20th-century art
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: fills the historical gaps in its counterparts' collections
I loved these museums and need to return again and again...
A GRAND CITY
Big and beautiful, Madrid is a grand dame. Her museums rival Paris'. And if you haven't done a "hop on hop off" bus tour of a major city, this place is ideally suited. To get your bearings and to see things from a high perch - these are two great reasons to take the bus!
We'll return to Girona next year, and we only need to figure out where else we want to discover on our next trip to Spain.