¡Hola! Here's a sample of some sights and tastes of Spain and Italy we enjoyed in late September and October, 2011. Let's start with the first seafood paella at an outdoor restaurant on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
Despite being in the center of the Iberian peninsula, Madrid is one of the great seafood consuming capitols of Europe and we definitely took advantage of that and the many tapas bars as well. We soon got into the rhythm of a late lunch and dinner after 20:30 (8:30 PM) as the Madridleños do.
I was really impressed with classic and modern art and architecture side by side in Spain. Classic Spanish architecture often contrasted very favorably with cutting edge modern design.
Madrid is populated by a lively young population that stays up late in outdoor restaurants on the plazas. The scene above is outside Cafe Central where
we saw Mastretta, a seven-piece Spanish jazz group playing a rather tightly arranged kind of swing. We got acquainted with tenor player Miguel Malla because he threw in a few Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker licks.
This is the inspiring cathedral in Toledo, South of Madrid. In towns like this it seems all streets lead to the main cathedral, which is the focus of the town. Toledo's a very old city and has welcomed many cultures and religions - Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, and after 1085, Christians. Many Moors remained, and there was a thriving Sephardic Jewish community as well. Rick Steves says the expression "Holy Toledo" likely originated from the Sephardic Jews who regarded Toledo as the holiest Jewish city in Europe.
The Toledo Cathedral at night with the Alcazar behind and to the right as viewed from the rooftop of our hotel.
Many cities have elaborate lighting at night and Toledo is no exception. We also visited The Museo Santa Cruz which has a great collection of paintings by El Greco.
This is an old Roman bridge across the Guadalguivir River in Córdoba. The city was a regional capitol for the Romans and later the Moors. It's noted for its many beautiful gardens and patios and there's a big contest each year to honor the best of them.
The Mezquita in the old area of Córdoba. It's a former mosque dating from AD 784, with a 16th century church built into the middle.
A view of the interior containing elements of Moorish, Visigothic and early Christian influences.
This is one of the many street musicians we encountered in the cities we visited. He's playing a cimbalom behind the Seville Cathedral and was a real virtuoso. It's an Eastern European concert instrument, a hammered dulcimer with a beautiful sound - imagine playing inside a piano with felt tipped hammers. We also saw and heard Flamenco artists in Seville and Madrid, a glass harmonica player in the Plaza Mayor, a cellist playing Bach & Fauré in Toledo, and a jazz concert in Barcelona by singer Carme Canela, the Lluis Vidal jazz trio and horn section playing elaborate arrangements of traditional Catalan music billed as "els nostres estàndars."
Córdoba and Seville have many beautiful public parks which provide welcome respite from the mid-day heat of the plazas. It seems you're never far from one of these lush oases. One night with moonlight filtering through the trees I listened to Alicia de Larrocha playing Albeniz' "Nights in The Gardens of Spain" on my iPod. Perfect!
The beautiful Giralda tower of the Seville Cathedral. You can go up to where the bells are to enjoy the view.
No elevator, you walk a long series of ramps circling to the top.
A view from the top of the Giralda Tower of the cathedral, right under the bells, where you can enjoy spectacular views in all directions. And when the bells ring a few feet overhead it's even more memorable, to say the least.
Here's my reward for all that climbing, a great lunch with prawns atop scallops with roasted vegetables, near the Plaza de España. A lunch so good I wanted it to never end.
The beautiful Plaza de España with fountain and clip-clop of horses' hooves.
This is the Torre del Oro on the river which was the start and end point for shipping to the New World. It was named for the golden tiles that covered it and was part of Seville's fortifications. It's now a naval museum.
One of the first of many striking sights on arriving in Barcelona is this fantastic sculpture by Joan Miró, Dona i Ocel (Woman and Bird). There's a major museum of his work on Montjuïc, and a Pablo Picasso museum and the spirit of Salvador Dali and Pablo Casals live on here, too. There's a lot of monumental public art in Barcelona. Personally, I'm not so crazy about Gaudi's melting architecture, but I was impressed with this giant fish on the waterfront:
This is the work of Frank Gerhy, who really loves interesting shapes and seems to abhor square corners. He also designed the EMP building at the foot of the Space Needle in Seattle.
This striking building is the Torre AGBAR, 38 stories, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. Would you believe its shape has inspired all sorts of nicknames?
Wow... can't believe it. I'm in Barcelona!
This is a corner in the Barri Gotic in old Barcelona, near the waterfront. It's a very interesting place to stroll, with many tiny upscale shops and restaurants.
Sailboat races on the Mediterranean as seen from the beach in Barceloneta, the old fishing port of Barcelona that was down in the heels until refurbished for the 1992 Olympics. We had another great lunch here enjoying this view with friends Josep and Gaby and their daughter who live in Barcelona.
OK, you can see this is lunch in Italy, a caprese salad served with mussels and fresh tomatos and pasta. I think I had mussels about 4-5 times. This was on the South facing beach in Terracina, a great resort town between Roma and Napoli where we spent our last week relaxing in the off season ambiance.. We had a great apartment a half block from the beach, courtesy of our travelling companions Lan & Muriel who provided it through a home-share arrangement.
Looking from the beach, way up on top of the hill you can see the Roman Temple of Jupiter. It's an amazing place with a fantastic view over the whole area. We had to visit.
Here, I'm taking in the expansive view from the Temple of Jupiter above Terracina. You can clearly see the entire length of the beach and a section of the old Appian where it cut through the town below. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the old town below this temple. As it turned out we virtually had lunch with the mayor, who warmly welcomed us from his nearby table as he was leaving the tiny restaurant with his entourage.
Gotta love the feel of sand and surf between my toes, especially here! Those little low buildings are all beach side restaurants, many closed for the season now.
This was a spur-of-the-moment visit to the old hillside town of San Felice Circeo on the promontory at the far West end of the Terracina beachfront. With very few people at this time of year and with dusk settling in we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
The view looking East from San Felice Cerceo toward Terracina in the center of the picture on our last night there.
One last night in Rome before the loooong flight back to Seattle. It was a chance to revisit some of our favorite Roman fountains, like this one in Piazza Navona. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) is an amazing work by Bernini from 1651. I marvel at the drape of cloth carved from stone shown in this detail. We also stopped to throw some coins in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee our return.
I've never taken a three-week vacation before. Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible, Judy especially, and Lan and Muriel who did a lot of the planning, Sheila for taking care of the cat and Barrett for updating the website. Me, I just went where I was told and boldly drove the little Lancia Musa through thunder and lightning between Vesuvius and Napoli in heavy traffic, definitely not for the timid driver. They were very complimentary on my driving, but confidentially, I just shut my eyes and floored it. Still, we turned it in with no scrapes and both side view mirrors intact!
Hope you enjoyed the trip, let me know if you have any questions I might answer.
Buenos dias, buenas noches and ciao!