Spain was never on my list of places to travel. When looking for a new destination to explore, Chris and I settled on Portugal and somehow those plans morphed into an adventure in this small country that at one time dominated the known world.
As I write this, the bells of the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Coro Catholic Church (circa 1774) in San Sebastian are ringing. Many times a day they announce the time and call the faithful to Mass and prayer.
We began our trip in Madrid, the capital of Spain, where we stayed for four days. While we originally only considered Madrid as a central point to begin our stay, it turned out to be a memorable experience. In four days we explored the central city by bike, enjoyed tapas in the Mercado de San Miguel, made an excursion to the nearby city of Toledo and spent a day viewing some of the world’s finest art in the Prado Museum.
I found out before the trip that my old friend Rallis Papas would be in Madrid on business. Rallis introduced me to some of the city’s highlights, including its world-famous tapas, an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine. Spain is famous for its tapas bars, and Madrid has some of the best. That first night I got a terrific introduction to this unique and delicious tradition.
On our first full day in Madrid, we took a guided tour of the city on Ebikes and experienced a side of the city that we would probably have never seen. The excursion started in the Plaza de San Miguel with a ride in the Parque Madrid Rio, a 6-kilometer park along the Manzanares river that was once a busy motorway. That road was relocated underground and resulted in a delightful park with playgrounds, gardens and public walkways. After touring the riverside park, we headed high over the city to the Casa De Campo public park.
“The history of Casa de Campo began with the decision by Philip II to move the Capital (Court) to Madrid. It was declared a Bosque Real (Royal Forest) under Fernando VI. Carlos III gave it a new twist when he introduced livestock and agriculture as one of its purposes, which would be continued by Queen María Cristina. After the proclamation of the Second Republic, the State donated the Casa de Campo to the people of Madrid (May 1, 1931), and it has been open to the public ever since.”
We enjoyed spectacular views of the city from on high and reveled in the cool and dry weather that greeted us in Madrid. The park is accessible by cable car from the city but was closed on the day we visited due to high (and refreshing) winds.
On our second day in Spain, we took a tour from Madrid to Toledo, an ancient hilltop town an hour south of Madrid. Toledo was declared a World Heritage site in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.
Toledo is known as the Imperial City for having been the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews that are reflected in its history.
After touring the Old Town and the magnificent Cathedral De Toledo, we headed south to an authentic farmstead and estate where we were treated to lunch and a ride through the farm in an open-top 4WD truck. The farm is owned by a Spanish Count and encompasses over 16,000 hectares.
On our last day in Madrid, we took a tour of the world-famous Prado Museum with Jamie, an art historian, who presented a fascinating look at the paintings, the artists, culture and the history of Spain through its art. The tour included an introduction to the paintings of Francisco de Goya, Spain’s most famous artist.
The Prado houses the world’s largest collection of Goya’s work as well as of Flemish artists including Hieronymus Bosch and his “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Next week – Basque country and south to Sevilla.
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