Travel Tips for Salamanca, Spain

Salamanca, SpainTravel to The Golden City of Salamanca, Spain.

Salamanca is my favorite city in Spain! I have been there so many times and in all weather conditions and it is still top on my list.

Salamanca is said to have the most beautiful plaza is Spain, or even Europe – and I do believe it is one of the most beautiful. Most of the buildings in the city are made with sandstone that comes from the village of Villamayor. These stones have given Salamanca the nickname “The Golden City” or “La Ciudad Dorada.”

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As with most of the other cities I have covered in Spain, I got there by train from Madrid. Salamanca is a three hour train ride from Madrid and I have often done Salamanca in a day – so early train there and late train back to Madrid. So if you are short on time, it can be seen in a day.

Before I list what to see… why do I like Salamanca so much? Well it is a wonderful city in any weather which says a lot since weather can really affect you impression of a place. It does rain a lot in Salamanca but rain there still makes the city look amazing, perhaps it is the Villamayor stones. But aside from the beauty of the city there are the churches and the university which are interesting in a never ending sort of way.

Each time I go I visit the same sights and never tire of them. Plus there are gargoyles all over the place which are always intriguing. And one of the best features is that you can walk on the Cathedral roof! (You can also do this in Milan, Italy and I am sure in other places…. But this is about Spain so…). And how often do you get to walk on a roof, let alone a cathedral roof? And the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so!

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So… What to see in Salamanca, Spain:

1 – Plaza Mayor – As already stated this is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The Plaza was originally used for bull fights but now you can have a cup of coffee or dinner on the plaza and in the summer you can attend a concert here!

2 – Casa de las Conchas – This building was 15th century and was originally a palace but now it is a public library. There are over 300 shells on the facade, sea shells that are the symbol of the Order of Santiago. (There are often art exhibitions in the courtyard. And make sure to note the gargoyles!)

3 – The University of Salamanca is the oldest University in Spain, it was founded in 1218.  You can tour parts of the university and this is a must!

4 – Catedral Nueva – This is the Cathedral with the roof you can walk on. The Cathedral was built in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a marvel inside as well as outside. The views from the roof of the old city are stupendous! Oh! And you will see many storks up close from the roof as well.

5 – Convento e Iglesia de San Esteban – One of my favorite locations because of the convent and courtyard with all of the gargoyles and creatures carved into the columns. (See a photograph of one of the column capitals by clicking here). The whole complex was built in the 16th and 17th century.

6 – Convento de las Duenas – Another magnificent building with a courtyard lined with incredible gargoyles (these gargoyles are much different then the ones in the San Esteban convent as they have a more dramatic and eerie feel to them – click here to see a photo).

7 – Colegio del Arzobispo Fonseca – This is another attractive building with another splendid courtyard. The college was founded by the archbishop of Toledo, Alonso de Fonseca, and the building was constructed in the early 16th century.

These are the main highlights and the sites I see on every trip I take to Salamanca. I did stay two nights in the city once, instead of my usual one day trip and it is more leisurely, plus you get to see the city at sunset (for a photo of Salamanca at sunset click here).

So hopefully you find time to see Salamanca as it truly is one of the most beautiful cities to see!

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Helpful Info for traveling to Ronda, Spain:

1 – For train information visit Rail Europe for schedules and fares.

2 – For the Official Tourism Site for Salamanca click here.

Travel tips for Ronda, Spain

On to South of Spain to the city of Ronda!

Ronda is a great city to visit and as always there is a lot to see. I took the train from Madrid to Ronda, which took almost four hours but the train is worth it because you see the countryside change as you go south.

From the train station in Ronda I took a cab to my hotel. The cab driver asked if I had ever been to Ronda and when I said no he proudly acted as a tour guide and pointed out important buildings, historical cites, and gave little historical fact as we drove through the city. Local charm and city pride is strong and it was refreshing!

Below I will highlight the sights to see in Ronda but first just a little overview…the city of Ronda sits on a canyon and a deep gorge divides the city, the El Tajo canyon. There are three bridges; Puente Nuevo is the tallest of three bridges in Ronda, towering 120 metres (390 ft) above the canyon floor and the bridge from which you get the most spectacular views.

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What to see in Ronda, Spain:

1 – Puente Nuevo – the tallest bridge.

2 – Plaza de Toros which is the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain, built in 1784. You pay a small fee and you get to see the entire ring, the bull pens, and a small but interesting museum about the history of bullfighting in the area.

3 – The Arab Baths or the Banos arabes – these baths were built in the 13th and 14th centuries. You can visit the baths which are located below the city (a bit hard to find but it is noted on the tourist map so not impossible). And I highly recommend watching the video about the history of the baths –most interesting is how they got water into the baths to create steam which involved a large wheel pulled by a donkey!

4 – The Palace of the Arabian King or Casa del Rey Moro – While you cannot see the house you can visit the gardens which are lovely and provide great views of the city and the canyon.

5 – Palace of Mondragon or the Museo Municipal – This house has a small museum and again, wonderful gardens and patios!

6 – Arch of Philip V or Puerta de Felipe V – A gate built in 1742 that serves as one of the three entrances to the city. Make sure to walk all the way down to the gate to get the entire view of it.

These are the main sights but I would also suggest walking through the old town which has wide cobbled streets and charming buildings. Also do not miss seeing the sunset which tends to be quite spectacular here!

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And a few other tidbits about Ronda:

When to go to Ronda: well all I can advise is that if you go in the summer it is very hot and that the Spanish siesta is a must in order to survive the midday heat.

What to eat in Ronda…all Spanish food is very good but if you happen to be a vegetarian it can be a bit trying since Spaniards do love their meat dishes. Luckily I like tomatoes because this is what I ate for three days while in Ronda. In the summer in Spain you can get tomato salads and gazpacho which is nutritious and filling. Although I do think if I had gone another three days on that diet I would have turned the color red.

Try eating at one of the restaurants with balconies that hang right over the canyon, unless of course you are afraid of heights in which case you would probably loose your appetite and therefore ruin the whole concept of rooftop dining.

Overall Ronda is another interesting city to visit in Spain!

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Helpful Info for traveling to Ronda, Spain:

1 – For train information visit Rail Europe for schedules and fares.

2 – For more information about what to see in Ronda click here for the Ronda information and tourism site.

What to see in Madrid, Spain – Part Two

Sorolla Museum Gardens in Madrid, Spain

Travel tips for Madrid, Spain – part two

The blog post before this was about the main sites to see in Madrid. This post will cover two other interesting places to see that are off the beaten path.

My favorite location in Madrid is the Sorolla Museum and Gardens. If you are an art lover or a garden lover this is a must see!

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In case you are unfamiliar with Sorolla and his work…

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida was a Spanish painter known mainly for painting landscapes and portraits. Sorolla was born in Valencia and studied painting on his own until going to Rome, Italy after serving in the Spanish army and studying painting at the Spanish Academy. Sorolla went on to have exhibitions, portrait commissions, and received awards for his work.

Sorolla’s paintings are full of light and warm colors. His portraits are graceful and inviting, portraits of well known individuals from Spanish Royalty to friends and family. He also painted many beach scenes, countless paintings of his family and his wife, and landscapes.

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The Sorolla Museum in Madrid was his house and studio. The building is lovely with creaky wooden floors, high ceilings, and plenty of natural light. Paintings cover every inch the walls and the rooms have the original family furniture.

The largest room was Sorolla’s studio and in one corner there is an easel set up and a side table with old paint brushes and paint pallets – it feels as though Sorolla just stepped out of room. At the far right of the room there are small sketches framed and hanging on the wall that I always enjoy studying.

There is also a second floor with more portraits, some of them studies for larger murals. And then there is the dining room which is another favorite room of mine because of the painted border which Sorolla did himself. The dining room border consists of a garland with bunches of fruit being held by Sorolla’s wife and children.

Aside from the house and the studio there is the garden. The gardens at the Sorolla Museum are so tranquil and beautiful at any time of day and any time of year!

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Another interesting site is the Royal Tapestry Museum and Factory. The Royal Tapestry factory was established in the 18th century and is still functioning today and also restores old tapestries. You can tour the factory and see the craftsmen at work; the tour requires a guide.

I think any trip to Madrid should include these two places!

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More Information:
1 – Click here for more information about Sorolla.

2 – For a link to the official Sorolla Museum, Museo Sorolla, website click here.

3 – For hours and admission prices for the Royal Tapestry Museum click here.

What to see in Madrid, Spain – Part One

Madrid, Spain

Travel tips for Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain is a city that truly never sleeps. You can stroll along the Castellana to the Museo del Prado and the monumental Palacio de Comunicaciones. Walking through the downtown you stumble upon hidden streets with cafes and small plazas. From the Royal Palace one can see panoramic views of the city and mountains in the distance. There is so much to explore in Madrid!

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First I will start off with the main sights to see in Madrid.

A great place to start is downtown with Plaza de Oriente and the Royal Palace. The Plaza de Oriente is a gorgeous plaza with the Opera House at one end and the Royal Palace at the other. I recommend getting a coffee at one of the restaurants and simply admiring the scenery. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the King of Spain, however the Royal Family actually lives in a palace outside of the city. Portions of the Palace are open to the public and should not be missed! (If you are visiting Madrid around the holidays you will see many Nativities called Belens in Spanish, and you can see one at the Royal Palace that is very elaborate, just be prepared to wait in line).

Next to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The construction of the Catedral de la Almudena has been an extremely long process. The exterior of the Cathedral matches the white exterior of the Royal Palace, however the interior of the Cathedral is modern.

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From the Cathedral you can make your way through the old town streets and over to Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor in Madrid is a major point of interest and a good reference point too. The Plaza was constructed in the early 17th century and has been used for bullfights, markets, soccer games, and concerts.

From the Plaza Mayor I recommend walking down towards the Castellana. You can stop in the Puerta del Sol which is another main plaza. However this plaza is more crowded and not my favorite place but it has become more pedestrian now with many pedestrian only streets leading off of the plaza. This is also the site of the bear statue – a bear eating a madrone tree – the symbol of Madrid. And the marking of kilometer zero which symbolizes the center of Spain, the start/ end of the Spanish road system, and the site of protests.

You can reach the Gran Via from Sol and if you like a busy main street with lots of shopping, Gran Via is the street for you to walk down.

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Personally I recommend going from Plaza Mayor down either Calle de Atocha or wandering through the streets to get to Paseo del Prado. Visiting the Prado is a must! The museum is huge so you do need a good amount of time, most of the afternoon! The newest portion of the Prado is an incredible exhibition space and the classical building has the must see painting: Las Meninas by Velazquez.

Also on the Paseo del Prado is theThyssen-Bornemisza Museum which is one of my favorite museums in Madrid. The building itself is beautiful and they have an amazing permanent collection and excellent visiting collections. My advice is to also allow a good full afternoon for this museum as well. Also for any special exhibitions, it is wise to buy tickets in advance (you can buy them days and weeks in advance) because there can be very long lines for these. Don’t miss this museum if you are an art lover!

Then just walk down the Castellana (main street) and you will pass significant buildings such as the Palacio de Communicaciones, the National Library, and Plaza Colon.

Another main site is the Jardines del Buen Retiro, usually just referred to as El Retiro. The park has main statue lined paths, a popular fountain/pond with a Monument to Alfonso XII, and there a crystal palace! After walking through the park you can explore the neighborhood near by and walk down the Calle de Serrano for a look at ritzy stores, restaurants, and apartment buildings.

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These are some of the main sights to see in Madrid, Spain. In part two about Madrid I will list one of my favorite locations in the city along with information about a couple of festivities.

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Helpful Links for Information about Madrid:

1 – For the Royal Palace hours and admissions prices click here.

2 – To read more about the Prado Museum’s history click here.

3 – For the official Prado website click here.

4 – For the hours and admission prices for the Prado click here.

What to See in La Granja, Spain

La Granja, Spain The series on Spain continues with La Granja, another easy day trip from Madrid!

I have been to La Granja many times; it is one of my favorite places to see.

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What is there to see in La Granja, Spain?

The Royal Palace and Gardens. You can tour the inside of the Palace and I do recommend doing that, but I have only seen the inside on my first visit and subsequent visits were just to the gardens and the small town.

I have visited La Granja in the winter, spring, and summer. I highly recommend going in the spring when the gardens are even more spectacular! The winter is very cold, and actually La Granja can be rather chilly in the summer as well. I went one summer and ended up having to buy a wool sweater once I got there! So be prepared for a mountain chill.

The Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso was originally used as a hunting lodge in the 18th century; it was also used for the monks of Segovia. The Royal Palace became an important meeting place for court, meetings, weddings, and burials under Philip V. As a result the town was built up for workers and a crystal factory was built to provide for the palace.

The gardens are rather extensive, with long pathways lined with statues, mazes, and elaborate fountains with classical mythology themes.

The town itself is quaint but nice to see and walk around. You can have a nice lunch in town as well.

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I also recommend seeing the glass factory as well which includes a museum. The factory was originally a royal glass factory built in the 18th century. It is a fascinating factory and museum with both historical and modern pieces. You will find the factory at the end of the town – if your back is to palace, turn right into the town and then left to the outskirts of the town and you will find the factory there.

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La Granja is a great day trip and it is actually not far from Segovia. It is possible to see both locations in one day; see below for travel info on getting there. All in all I highly recommend a visit to La Granja!

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Getting to La Granja:
– You can take a bus directly from Madrid to La Granja but if you are prone to motion-sickness I do not recommend doing this. The bus from Madrid to La Granja goes through the mountains and it becomes a very long and windy trip, both ways!

– You can take a bus from Segovia which is what I would suggest, unless you rent a car. Take the train from Madrid to Segovia and then take a bus from Segovia to La Granja which is about a 15-20 minute ride and it is much flatter and not on a windy road!

Helpful Links:

1 – For hours and admission prices for the Royal Palace and gardens click here.

2 – For information and admission prices for the glass factory click here.

Granada, Spain – travel tips and more!

Alhambra in Granada, SpainTwo months of Spain, with stories, travel tips, historical tidbits and more continues with Granada!

Granada is a must see! I went to Granada one summer for three days. You can take the train but I took a flight from Madrid to Granada, a little over an hour flight time. My advice is to stay within the old city since there is a lot to see and everything can then be reached by walking.

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Of course the main site to see is The Alhambra. You need a full day to see the entire complex of the Alhambra. I bought tickets on-line before my trip so I was able to by pass long lines and enter right away, see travel tips below for more info on how to do this.

I am an avid walker so the steep climb up to The Alhambra did not faze me, but there is a bus that takes visitors up the hill as well. The walk up to the Alhambra does allow you to see the lay of the land, appreciate the location, and to see a few details like fountains and old gate entrances to the Alhambra along the way. It is also the way the palace was approached before modern conveniences so you really get the full impact of what it was like to slowly reach the palace.

The Alhambra was built in the 14th century for the Muslim Emirs and the court of the Nasrid dynasty. After 1492 portions of the buildings were used by Christian rulers and in 1572, Charles V built the Palace of Charles V. The combination of the Islamic and 16th century architecture as well as the gardens and fountains makes this a unique location and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Palace of Charles V is the section I came upon first. The building façade has an Italian feel. The most interesting feature of the Palace is a circular patio in the center of the building.

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From the Palace I explored portions of the gardens which then lead to Nazrid Palaces. The rooms in this section are probably the most recognized of the Alhambra. Each room is stunning and contains so many details, carvings, tiles, and intricate patterns. The Court of the Myrtles has a large reflecting pool, the source of many photographs, but don’t forget to notice the architectural details as well. (As a side note, if you are a cat lover you will notice cats all over the city of Granada and in the Alhambra. While in the Court of the Myrtles I saw a tabby kitten getting attention from another cat-lover-tourist who slid a set of keys along the stone floor and which the kitten chased).

There is also the Court of the Lions which is an impressive space with more intricate details and the Fountain of the Lions in the center of the courtyard. There are numerous theories as to the symbolism, means, and importance of the fountain. As an aside: while originally planned as a complex of six palaces, the Alhambra did become a palatine city with an irrigation system that is still functioning!

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From this area I followed hallways into other room and courtyards. Eventually I made my way back into the gardens where there is a large pool and a portico. If you go to the garden’s edge you will find the path that leads to the Palacio de Generalife.

The Palacio de Generalife, or the Generalife, was a summer palace for the Nasrid Emirs Kings built in the 14th century. The palace is rather large with gardens, patios, and fountains. The Court of the Water Channel is so picturesque and you get great view of the Alhambra and the city from this point as well. The Generalife is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.

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Aside from the Alhambra there is also the old town of Granada. The old section of Granada is rather large and there are many streets and plazas to see. The Granada Cathedral is interesting because the interior is completely white and very cavernous. The Cathedral took over 180 years to build! The Royal Chapel of Granada is a mausoleum that houses Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II and other Catholic Monarchs. And there are many smaller churches to see as well.

I suggest visiting the Archaeological Museum of Granada which is housed in a 16th century palace. The admission fee is less then two Euros and worth a visit!

Also if you venture up the hills across from the Alhambra you will find more churches and monasteries with charming courtyards. You will also see remains of the old city wall and walk through a maze of cobble stoned stairs and streets lined with white houses. I recommend finding a spot in this area at sunset to get a panoramic view of the Alhambra.

And lastly you can venture over to Sacromonte, a neighborhood further up in the hills with houses built into the hillside. The area is known for being a center of flamenco dancing and songs. There is little museum with cave-like houses you can enter.

So overall there is a lot to see in Granada! Hopefully this blog gave you some helpful information and pointers on what to see!

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Travel Tips:
1 – Get to Granada with EasyJet! Fast, cheap, and easy flights!

2 – Buy tickets on-line for the Alhambra before you get there, that way you avoid the long lines and you are guaranteed entry since they can sell out! Click here for the link to the official Alhambra on-line ticket website.

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For more information and helpful website about Granada:

1 – About Granada click here for a useful tourism site.

2 – For more about the Alhambra click here.

3 – For a useful map of the Alhambra that will help you get your bearings and see how large a complex it is, click here.

4 – To read more about the Court of the Lions click here.

Castle of Manzanares in Spain – travel tips

Manzanres CastleThe two months of Spain continues. In these two months I am covering both main cities and smaller towns.

Manzanares el Real is a small town not far from Madrid. I went to Mazanares one winter and reached it by car, so this is another easy day trip to make from Madrid.

Manzanares is home to the Castle of Manzanares el Real, which is a 15th century castle that is very well preserved. You can tour the entire castle which also includes a small museum.

The castle is set on a hill that over looks a lake. When you enter the castle you enter a small courtyard and then into smaller rooms. You can immediately go up one of the towers and walk along the castle wall to the other towers, which is quite fun! On one side of the castle there is a covered walkway between towers with dramatic archways that frame the views in interesting ways. There is a small museum that explains the history of the castle, a few artifacts, and a larger courtyard in the center. I suggest walking around the perimeter of the castle once you are done touring the inside; the castle is small so this doesn’t take long but it is a great way to see all of it and admire the views.

The castle at Manzanares is just like a fairytale castle!

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Travel tips:
1 – It takes less then an hour to get to Manzanares from Madrid by car.

2 – For entrance fees and hours for the castle click here.