Travel blog series on Spain.

Spain blog travel series

Travel blog series on Spain.

In case this is your first visit to my blog… this is a list of over twenty cities in Spain to see and each name links to the blog post with travel tips, suggestions of where to eat, what to see and more.

The intention of the series on Spain is to provide insider travel tips and showcase main cities as well as locations that might not be on everyone’s “to see list” but that should be.

Enjoy! and please remember to visit The Monica Store for photo prints of Spain that are available as canvas prints and framed photos  for decorating your home or office!

Alcala de Henares



Avila’s Medieval Festival

Barcelona – Part One –Park Guell, Cathedral…

Barcelona – Part Two – Casa Mila, Casta Batllo, Sagrada Familia



El Escorial

Extremadura Part One

Extremadura Part Two

Castle of Manzanares


La Granja

Madrid Part One

Madrid Part Two



Santiago de Compostela





Travel Tips for Siguenza, Spain

Siguenza, Spain castle

What to see in Siguenza, Spain

Siguenza is a small city in Spain that is probably not on everyones’ list of what to see while in Spain but it is a lovely city that can be seen on a day trip.

The city has an interesting history as its fortress was used during civil wars as far back as the 13th and 14th centuries and during the Spanish Civil War.


The Cathedral of Siguenza has the presence of a fortress as it is rather a massive block. Another main site is a castle that is now a Parador (a state-run hotel). You can see the lobby and the main courtyard of the hotel but, as with other Paradors, I also recommend that you eat lunch there. There is nothing like having lunch in a castle in Spain – put that on a postcard to send back home!

I also recommend that you walk outside of the city and along the hill to the back of the castle as it is an impressive fortress to see from all angles.

The city itself is rather quiet but it does have a few nice Spanish pottery shops. Overall it is a pleasant day trip!

For more information about the history of Siguenza 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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.

Travel Tips for Extremadura, Spain – Part Two

Caceres, SpainContinuing with travel tips for Extremadura

Trujillo is an interesting city. The old town has a Plaza Mayor with a unique shape, not quite circular or rectangular, and it has a statue of Francisco Pizarro who was born in Trujillo and went on to found Lima which is now the capital of Peru. The old town is full of cobble stone streets, old stone houses, and at the top of the hill you will find a castle that overlooks the town. It is worth the small hike up the hill to see the castle, which you can enter and walk through, including of course a few castle walls and towers. You can get great views from the castle walls of the city and the surrounding land. There are also numerous churches and cathedrals to see, but I think the main sights are the Plaza Mayor and the Castle.


My last stop in Extremadura was the city of Cáceres. When driving to Cáceres, as you approach the city you see the old city which is surrounded by the ancient city wall. The medieval town is very much un-touched by modern accoutrements. I saw the main sites of the city in one day, although I would recommend spending more time there and I hope to return one day with more time to explore.

Cáceres has many steep cobble stone streets that are lined with old stone houses and small mansions and palaces. When you first enter the old town you can actually climb up certain portions of the ancient wall (a section right off of the Plaza Mayor is a great spot), something I always recommend doing when you have the chance! There are many churches to see as well. The San Francisco Javier Church sits at the top of a small square (of which there are many) and it has two bell towers that are painted white and create a striking image against the stone walls and houses of the city. There is also the Gothic Cathedral, Santa Maria Pro which has impressive rib vaults. There are also many towers and palaces which all have different symbols and coats of arms above the doors such as the Casa del Sol which has a sun symbol right above the door.


Overall, with my one day visit I ran around the old town streets, peaked into the main churches, and visited a museum on the area. One day is certainly not enough time to see everything in Cáceres but it was a lovely day trip nonetheless.

The Extremadura region is certainly interesting and I highly recommend it. Seeing the land and the small towns, you get a feel for why so many conquistadores came out of this area. And for those that love to see castles, old fortresses, and medieval towns (as I do!) this is a great area! So hopefully you made it to the end of this blog post and it inspired you to see this remote area of Spain!


More Information and links on Extremadura:

1 – For the official tourist sight for Extremadura click here.

2 – Caceres is a UNESCO World Heritage City.

3- For more tourist information about Caceres click here.

4 – To read more about the history of Trujillo click here.

Travel Tips for Extremadura, Spain – Part One

Guadalupe, SpainTravel tips and photography of Spain continues with Extremadura, a region of Spain that is recognized as the source of the conquistadores (explorers and settlers of America). Extramadura literally means “harsh and extreme land.” The land in the area is difficult to live off of and is no doubt what pushed the conquistadores to travel and settle elsewhere.


I traveled to three of the main cities in Extremadura, all of which can be reached by car from Madrid.

But first a little history of the area… The main city in this region is Mérida. I do hope to visit Mérida at some point as there is a great Roman Amphitheatre to see and the wonderful National Museum of Roman Art.

Some of the most famous Spanish conquistadores (conquerors) came from Extremadura. A few of the most notable are:
–    Hernan Cortés – who explored Mexico and is one of the main perpetrators who caused fall of the Aztec Empire.
–    Francisco Pizarro – who conquered the Incan Empire and founded Lima, Peru.
–    Pedro de Valdivia – who founded Santiago, Chile.
–    Vasco Núñez de Balboa – who crossed the Isthmus of Panama in 1513 and founded the settlement of Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien in Colombia.

To read more about each conquistador and the region of Extremadura click here.


The first stop on my trip to the region of Extremadura was Oropesa. The town is small and rather sparse but it has a lovely Parador, it is part of the town castle that was built in 1366 and was later restored in 1402. You can literally spend a night in a castle! The Parador is lovely and you can be the first one at the castle in the morning and climb the castle towers, walk along the castle walls, and explore the courtyards. For admission prices and visiting hours for the castle see travel tips below.


From Oropesa I drove towards Guadalupe with a few detours into small towns known for their ceramics. These small towns have stores filled with stacks of hand-painted plates and bowls, flower pots, jugs, and more. And in one town I was invited to tour a small studio and watched as the craftsman painted a bowl with delicate flowers.

Guadalupe is located in the low mountains of the region. Guadalupe is home to a 13th century monastery that houses the shrine to “Our Lady of Guadalupe” and is the main site to see. The Royal Monastery of Guadalupe is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains many small museums and rooms of liturgical robes, illuminated manuscripts, paintings, and more. All of the rooms are impressive and the courtyard in the cloisters is magnificent, and of course you must see the patron saint of Extremadura, Our Lady of Guadaloupe.  I saw the monastery and church in a few hours and then drove on to Trujillo.


Travel Tips:

1 – What to eat in Spain and tips for Vegetarians traveling in Spain: I recommend that in all these cities, when possible, have lunch and or dinner at the Paradores. The Paradores always serve excellent food! Plus they have a vegetarian option and it is hard for vegetarians to find a square meal in a restaurant in Spain but the Paradores are incorporating this into their menus and they are one of the few places you will find this option available. Go for the “menu del dia” option which includes an appetizer, an entrée, and desert and coffee for a flat price.

2 – For the official Paradores in Spain website click here.

3 – For more information about Oropesa castle with updated admission prices and hours click here.


More Information and links on Extremadura:

1 – For the official tourist sight for Extremadura click here.

Avila, Spain – travel tips and photography

The month of June and July are all about Spain on my blog and on my store site. The third city is Avila.
Avila, Spain
Every time I have visited Avila I have taken the train from Madrid. As the train approaches the city, from quite a distance you get a view of the fortified walls of the old city, which is an impressive site as it is one of the best-preserved medieval fortified cities in Europe. And for those going to Europe with visions of castles and fortresses, this city will not disappoint.

I have been to Avila many times and each time I am always surprised at how chilly it is. I once visited Avila in the middle of August, one of the hottest months in Spain, and while Madrid was sweltering I arrived in to goose-bump weather and ended up having to buy a sweater in Avila. (This is always a good trick to use if you want an excuse to buy a new sweater though).


What to See in Avila, Spain:

The city of Avila has a long history of battles, conquerors, and prosperity that reach as far back as pre-Roman times. The fortified city’s walls were built in 1090 and include nine gateways and over eighty towers. Today there are various sections of the wall that you can walk along and towers you can climb up (there is a small fee to do so). On every visit to Avila I make a point of walking along every accessible point on the wall and, to the joy of my family, I also go up every tower that you can – I insist that they all have different views. (In hindsight this is a great town for kids!).

Aside from the old city wall there is the Gothic Cathedral that should be visited. The cathedral is actually attached to the city wall and it was built between the 12th and 14th century. You can walk right up to the Cathedral from one of the wall walkways. Some of the best views of the newer sections of town can be seen from two towers right by the Cathedral. (Note that this is also one of the highest points of the wall and includes a very steep staircase, but I would encourage even those afraid of heights not to miss out on this)!

The city is a maze of cobbled stones streets, medieval and Renaissance architecture, and palaces. There are also numerous cathedrals and convents, most notably the Convent of Santa Teresa de Jesus.


Storks in Avila, Spain

And apart from the architecture, cathedrals, and history there are storks. While walking through Avila you will hear a faint clapping sound which is actually storks clapping their beaks together. Storks are a prominent sight in Avila and many other Spanish cities; their enormous nests sit on top of towers and roofs and you can also see them dotting the old city wall. You can get very close to some of the nests while climbing the old city wall. (The advantages of climbing the wall… just keep growing)!


There is a lot to see in Avila and I highly recommend it!

— For more information visit the official Avila tourist website by clicking here.

* And for photographs, books, and cards of Avila, Spain go to The Monica Store by clicking here.


How to get to Avila, Spain:
1 – Avila is an hour and a half train ride from Madrid. Take the train from Chamartin.
— For schedules and fares click here for the RailEurope site.

Travel tips and photos for Aranjuez, Spain

Over twenty cities in Spain in 2 months…. These summer months about Spain, continues with the city of Aranjuez.

Aranjuez is another city that is very close to Madrid. I highly recommend taking the Strawberry Train and visiting Aranjuez for the day. (See below for travel info and useful links).


The main attraction in Aranjuez is the Royal Palace (Palacio Real). This 18th century palace is truly a grand structure with arcades, elegant towers, and of course expansive gardens – the Prince’s Gardens (Jardin del Principe). The palace gardens could take a whole day to walk through. There are fountains, long promenades, rose gardens, gazebos, statues, and elegant marble benches.

The town itself is charming and includes a large square surrounded by brick arcades – these make up the majority of my photographs of Aranjuez as the light creates dramatic shadows. You can see these photographs of Aranjuez on my store site.


During a day trip, one must of course stop for lunch and in Aranjuez you arrive by the Strawberry Train to a city that is known for growing strawberries and another Spanish delicacy, white asparagus! So you are guaranteed a scrumptious meal upon visiting Aranjuez.


** Eating in Spain, plus important tips for vegetarians

Spanish Cultural tidbit – White asparagus is served cold with mayonnaise – yum!

Also in case you are vegetarian, as am I, if you order a salad it will automatically come with a large mound of tuna right in the middle of your gorgeous greens and vine ripe tomatoes. Now if you are a vegetarian that eats seafood, no problem; but if you don’t eat seafood then you have to explicitly ask for a salad without tuna – “ensalada sin atun.” You will get a funny look of utter disbelief but if you smile nicely and kind of shrug in an apologetic way you might be lucky and get what you ask for. Vegetarian food is still a novelty in Spain (and more on that later on this month).


Aranjuez is worth the day trip. The summer months can be rather hot but the arcades provide shade. For any architecture lover it is worth a visit! And in case you like geese (I’m a big fan) – there is a pond of shallow water right inside the palace at the beginning of the gardens where you will find a gaggle of geese standing in the water and all facing one direction. At least that is what I found at that pond and it makes a rather humorous viewing. You can see the photograph on the store site – click here for photo of geese on The Monica Store.


Fun Facts about Aranjuez:
1 – The Aranjuez cultural landscape is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
2 – Aranjuez became the residence of the kings of Spain in the late 19th century, a residence they used for the spring season.
3 – Only relatives of the king were allowed to live in Aranjuez until 1808.


Information – how to get to Aranjuez:
1 – You can take the regular Cercanias train from the Atocha railway station in Madrid.
2 – You can also take a bus from the South Bus Station in Madrid.
3 – Or you can take the Strawberry Train (Tren de la Fresa), which I recommend! This is an old style railway service that runs Saturdays and Sunday from the 28th of April to July 1st, and from the 15th of September to October 14th.

For more travel info and specifics click here.

Travel Tips for Alcalá de Henares, Spain

Alcala de Henares, Spain

Summer is here and that means travel, and for many that includes a trip to Europe. Spain is a popular vacation spot attracting over half a million tourists a year. I have traveled to Spain multiple times and visited over twenty cities within Spain.

The summer of 2010 is going to be all about Spain starting in alphabetical order with the cities I have visited. I hope to give some background of each place, along with a few travel tips, and of course photos. Enjoy! and please remember to visit my store site where you will find more photographs and fun facts about each location.


Travel Tips for Alcalá de Henares.

Alcalá de Henares is just a short train ride from Madrid; see below for specific information about how to get there.

The city is mainly known for its university. The old Alcalá University has magnificent buildings and you can tour parts of them to see the magnificent courtyards, stairways, and architecture. The tour includes historical antidotes, many of which include hilarious old customs and student traditions.

The University was originally founded in 1496 by Cardinal Cisneros and named the Universidad Complutense. This University eventually moved to Madrid and the buildings in Alcalá became the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in 1977. The University is highly regarded for it’s Spanish language and literature programs.


Alcalá de Henares is also known as the birthplace of Cervantes and you can visit the original house today.

Other main sites include the main square, Cervantes Square that is a large open square that acts as a divider between the Medieval and University portions of the city.


Another site that I think should not be missed is the Laredo Palace. This palace was built in 1882 for Manuel Jose de Laredo. The building has interesting architecture with geometrical patterns on the façade and decorative motifs in the rooms that are similar to the Alhambra along with paintings by Laredo himself.

Alcalá de Henares historical center is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. With cobbled streets, medieval buildings and historical sites, Alcalá de Henares is a pleasant and easy day trip.

***To see more photos of Alcalá de Henares visit The Monica Store.


Links and Useful information about how to get to Alcalá de Henares:

1 – Alcalá de Henares can be reached by the Cercanías trains with several departures every hour from Atocha railway station.

2- For train times and fares visit the Renfe Cercanias Madrid site click here.

3 – For more information about the main sites and what to see visit a helpful tourist information website by clicking here.


Interesting Facts:

1 – Spain has thirty-six cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For the complete list click here.

2 – Alcalá de Henares is often just referred to as “Alcalá” which comes from the Arabic word al-qal’a, which means fortification.

3 – Christopher Columbus had his first meeting with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella at the “Casa de la Entrevista” in Alcalá de Henares.