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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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More Information and links on Extremadura:

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

Travel Tips for El Escorial, Spain

El Escorial, SpainA summer of Spain continues with highlights on more then 20 cities and the next location to be covered is El Escorial.

El Escorial is definitely a spot you do not want to miss on your trip to Spain. El Escorial is an easy day trip from Madrid and can be reached by train.

I have been to El Escorial many times and would go again. It is a fascinating location.

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El Escorial is a historical residence of the king of Spain and serves as a royal palace, museum, school, and monastery that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.  When taking the train from Madrid you will see the massive towers and the long shape of the building as you approach the small town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

Travel Tip – It tends to be windy and very cold, especially when inside the Monastery, so be prepared with jackets and scarves!

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From the train station you can walk through a large park (slightly uphill climb) to get to the Monastery and Museums. You can spend all day inside the buildings since they are enormous and have many levels and tons to look at.

Interesting Side Note – The buildings are said to be in the shape of a grill to honor St. Lawrence who was martyred by being roasted to death on a grill in the 3rd Century AD.

There are many sections of the complex to see and you can tour so much of it. You will see the Architectural Museum portion that shows the history of the building with models and drawings. There is also the Royal Pantheon which is a burial site for most of the Spanish kings of the last five centuries, the Habsburgs, and the Bourbons. There are actually a few rooms with tombs and then a staircase that leads to a lower level with a circular room with twenty six marble tombs. The Pantheon of the Princes holds the tombs of princes, princesses, and queens.

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From the tombs you usually make your way through galleries and eventually up to the Hall of Battles. The hall has frescos paintings all along the length of both walls depicting important Spanish military battles in great detail. The ceiling in this room is also marvelously decorated. There is also a Chamber of the Infants, a circular construction with small tombs.

My favorite room is the Library. The library is on an upper level and you climb the stairs in one of the towers to reach it. The room is long and narrow with marble floors, wood shelves with delicate glass doors holding the books, frescoes on the ceilings, and large windows with views of the gardens. The room itself is gorgeous and the collections of over 40,000 books with delicate leather binding and elaborate covers are so impressive.

Also you shouldn’t miss the Basilica of San Lorenzo el Real or walking through the Gardens of the Friars which provides impressive views of the entire complex.

El Escorial should not be missed when traveling throughout Spain. Don’t miss it!

To see more photographs of El Escorial visit The Monica Store by clicking here.

Travel Tips for Cuenca, Spain

Cuenca, Spain

Travel tips and info on Cuenca, Spain.

Cuenca is a small city in Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain.

Cuenca is an easy train ride from Madrid and can be visited in a day. I went to Cuenca one cold winter day but with bright blue skies and sun it was pleasant and easy to spend most of the time outside.

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What to see and do in Cuenca, Spain

From the Cuenca train station you can walk into the old city center via a winding path that will lead you to a bridge over the gorge, Saint Paul Bridge. The city of Cuenca is situated right on the edge of deep gorges. Before crossing the bridge you will come face to face with a magnificent building, the Parador of Cuenca. The Parador is a hotel that occupies the former convent of San Pablo. To read more about Paradores in Spain see “more information below.”

The gorges and steep cliffs of Cuenca resulted in the construction of very unique houses called Hanging Houses or Las Casa Colgadas. You will see these houses as you cross the bridge. These hanging houses were at one time common in the city. The houses cling right over the edge of the Huecar River Gorge.

From the hanging houses you can walk right up to the main plaza. The main plaza is very charming and surrounded by brightly colored buildings with balconies covered with flower pots and small shuddered windows. And here you will find the main Cathedral, Our Lady of Grace Cathedral.

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The Cathedral in Cuenca is one of the most interesting Cathedral’s I have visited! The Cathedral was built from 1182 to 1270 but the façade was rebuilt in 1902 so the façade is in extremely good shape. The interior is a jumble of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural elements and the altar is surrounded by little chapels that are all different.

From the Plaza Mayor explore the streets and you will find steep cobble stone paths lined with brightly painted houses, pathways along the gorge, small stone churches, and more. Cuenca has a small and charming historical center with dramatic vistas of the gorge and should be on your list of places to see in Spain!

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More Information:

1 – Cuenca is another city on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list!

2 – A Parador is a hotel that usually occupies an old castle, monastery, palace, or other historical building in Spain. Paradores can be found is almost all of the major cities in Spain. The hotels are state run and guarantee the preservation of historical buildings. For more information and a list of all of the Paradores in Spain click here.

3 – To read more about this history of Cuenca click here.

4 – To see the official tourist site for Cuenca with information of what to see, restaurants, and museums, click here.

Travel Tips for Cordoba, Spain

Cordoba, SpainA summer of Spain continues with Cordoba.

Cordoba is located in Andalusia, in southern Spain. The southern area of Spain has a Mediterranean climate but it does get very hot in the summers. When I visited Cordoba I did it in a day! I would certainly try to stay longer then that but in one day you can see the main sites. For travel information see “travel tips” below.

Cordoba is an impressive city. In the Middle Ages Cordoba was actually one of the largest cities in the world!

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On my trip to Cordoba I took the train from Madrid (2.5 hours) and from the train station you can take a taxi right to the Mezquita. You can also walk from the station but if you are short on time a taxi is the best option.

The Mezquita is the main attraction in Cordoba and I believe it is one of the items on the “must see before you die list” and I can vouch that it really is a “must see.” The Mezquita is also known as Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion. It was originally a Mosque and is now a Roman Catholic Cathedral and this is the precise reason that the building is so magnificent, intriguing and stunning. You can’t help but walk in and be stunned. Most of your visit will be spent wandering through the Mezquita and marveling at the structure.

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A little history about the Mezquita… In 600 AD the building was begun as a Christian Visigoth church but was then bought by Emir Ad bar-Rahman who restructured the building as a mosque, a process that took two centuries to complete! The mosque has an unusual position as it points south instead of east-southeast in the direction of Mecca. The mosque was also an adjunct to Abd ar-Rahman’s palace. (Abd ar-Rahman was the founder of Umayyad Emirate of Cordoba, a Muslim Dynasty that ruled most of Iberia for almost three centuries).

The Mezquita is recognized for its unique interior. There are 856 columns with large striped arches. There is also a large dome in the center, decorated with blue tiles. The mosque was completed, along with the orange tree courtyard, in 987. But in 1236 Cordoba was taken over by King Ferdinand III of Castile and that is when the mosque was converted into a cathedral. The main alteration to the building was the insertion of a cathedral nave in the middle. The mixture of architectural elements is what is so intriguing.

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After exploring the Mezquita you should see the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos which is right by the Mezquita. The palace has extensive gardens with fountains and statues. Admission is free on Wednesdays! For a link to more information and admission prices see travel tips below.

And then I suggest you walk through the old city center, as I did, and explore the narrow streets lined with white houses. As you pass the white houses you will notice an abundance of flowers and flower pots as well as patios and courtyards that you will get glimpses of through iron gates. One popular street is the Calleja de las flores which is very photogenic.

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Overall Cordoba is a wonderful Mediterranean city with charming streets and the magnificent Mezquita!

For photographs, photo books, and accordion cards of Cordoba visit The Monica Store.

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Travel Tips:

1 – You can see Cordoba in one day if that is all the time you have. From Madrid you take the train right to Cordoba and it is a two and a half hour ride. So if you get there in the early morning and leave late evening you will have plenty of time to see the main sites. For train times and prices click here for Rail Europe.

2 – Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos information, admission prices, and hours.

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More Information:

1 – To read more about the Mezquita click here.

2 – Cordoba’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3 – To read more about the history of Cordoba click here.

Travel Tips for Barcelona, Spain – Part 2

Casa Mila, La Pedrera, Barcelona, Spain

What to see in Barcelona, Spain  Part Two

To continue with Barcelona…always on the must see list, especially if you have a short trip… Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera). The building was designed by Antonio Gaudi and was built from 1905-1910. Casa Mila is on the Passeig de Gracia, another wide street that has many notable buildings, great cafes, and it is a great people watching area.

Casa Mila can be toured and there is an entrance fee. With the visit you get to see the apartments which are unique and worth seeing as the building is circular so the rooms are all curved and create the feeling that you are inside a snake. From the apartment viewing you go up to the roof which is the most recognizable. Before you enter onto the roof there is a museum section with information about the architecture. On the roof, you will find a fantastical scene of chimneys that are larger then life and resemble geometric shapes and some have what look like faces. To see my photos of the Casa Mila chimneys click here.

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Also on the Passeig de Gracia is another Antoni Gaudi masterpiece and well recognized building, Casa Batllo built in 1877 and remodeled in 1904-1906. Casa Batllo is referred to locally as Casa dels ossos, or House of Bones as you can see when you look closely at the façade. You can also tour this building for an entrance fee as well but it is worth it because again, the building is entirely unique. It is theorized that the roof (which you can also walk around) represents a dragon with the mosaic and curved roof and tiles while the small tower and cross represent the sword of Saint George.

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Right next to Casa Batllo is the Casa Amatller which should not be overlooked. The building was designed as a house for Antoni Amatller, a chocolatier, and features amazing architectural details including a magnificent little sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon on one of the columns in the front. Click here to see my photograph of Saint George slaying the dragon on The Monica Store.

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And of course there is the Sagrada Familia, also designed by Antonio Gaudi. The church has been under construction since 1882. It is certainly worth seeing. From afar the church looks like the castles you make as a child on the beach with the dripping wet sand, and yet from up close the façade looks like a sun baked sand castle and the interiors appear to be something akin to a Star Trek scene of alien cities. Each side of the church has a different theme: the East side is the Nativity, the South side is Glory, and the West side is Passion and the sculptures represent each theme. The whole building is breathtaking in astounding and unbelievable ways. I only hope to be around when it is finished to see what the grand plan turns out to be. For photography of the Sagrada Familia click here for The Monica Store.

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If you have time, it is worth seeing the Monastery of Pedralbes. The Monastery was built in the 14th century and has a beautiful courtyard. Click here for a direct link to The Monica Store photograph of the Monastery of Pedralbes.

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Another must see building is the Palau de la Musica Catalana (the Palace of Catalan Music). I actually was only able to see the outside of the building – they do have funny hours for tours and they can conflict with shows. Plus if you would like to see a performance, as I did but was unable to, book ahead of time as they seem to sell out fast! The outside is amazing and has so many details. Make sure to look up to see the enormous sculptures that represent Catalan music and for a glimpse of the mosaic columns on the balconies. There is a lot to see on the outside but even more inside – so on the next trip I will make sure to get inside!

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There so much to see in Barcelona. I am eager to go back and see more. I did manage to see all of the above as well as a few more things in three days, so it can be done.

Hopefully this provided some insight into what to see. See below for more information and travel tips. And as always you may visit my store site to buy a framed photograph of Barcelona, a wonderful travel photo book of Barcelona, and my signature accordion cards as well.

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More information:

1 – Casa Mila was designed for a wealthy couple. The building suffered some changes from its original design due to government regulations including standard building height regulations that prevented the installation of a sculpture atop the building.

2 – Casa Mila is also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

3 – The Sagrada Familia has eighteen towers which represent the twelve Apostles, four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ.

4 – To read more about Antoni Gaudi click here.

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Travel Tips:

1 – For directions and updated entrance fees for the Casa Mila click here.

2 – For directions and updated entrance fees for the Casa Batllo click here.

3 – For more information about the Monastery of Pedralbes click here.