Gosh. It's been a week since I last posted and how much has happened!
I'm currently in London, the expense of which is causing great swathes of pain to wrack my body, most particularly the part where I keep the cash. Greg and I try our very best to keep our costs minimal, but the simple fact is you can't avoid the expense. And we want to do things while we're here - just glad it's only 6 days!
Before I go on, let me give a brief recap of our time in Spain.
CADIZ: We dove through this gorgeous town on our way through to Sevilla. I would have liked to spend more time there - not least because it was so sunny and warm! And being on the coast (the Battle of Trafalgar was found just a few kilometres out to sea), it gave us our last glimpse of the Atlantic for a while. We wandered around taking a look at some historical buildings, including the 'Casa de Obispo', a former bishop's residence which had remains dating back to the Moorish and Roman times on display underneath!
SEVILLA: A gorgeous city, if not just a bit stressful to drive into! We eventually found a lovely pension in the old town area - although we had to pay for a night's parking in a lot because cars couldn't get down many of the streets, let alone park in them! We took the opportunity of seeing a local flamenco show - wow. I want to take up flamenco when I get home - it's such a passionately physical form of dance, with every emotion from frustration to elation there to see on the dancers' faces. We only saw a small show, with a guitarist, vocalist and a male and female dancer, but it gave us a great picture of the traditional music and dance of the region. We spent part of the next day (Thursday) wandering around the town, looking at its colossal cathedral, topped by the famous 'La Giralda' bell tower, which was once a minaret for a mosque! The influence of the Arab occupation is still very visible in Andalucia. Sevilla was also where we treated ourselves to 'Churros con chocolate' - strips of fried donut that you dip into thick hot chocolate. Scrumptious, but not something I'd have every day - even with my reknowned chocolate addiction!
CORDOBA: A very pleasant and historic city, Cordoba's big highlight was the ancient Roman Bridge - the only crossing across the river until the 1950s! It's currently being renovated - along with a Moorish tower at one end and Roman gate at the other - as part of a bid by Cordoba to become Europe's culture capital in 2016. They're preparing well in advance! We stayed in a sweet little hostal in Cordoba, the owner of which allowed us to park out front on the street - hurrah!
ANTEQUERA: A brief lunch stop on the way to Granada became a search for neolithic burial mounds! Antequera has three great megalithic monuments - similar to Maes Howe in the Orkneys, or Belas Knapp in England, or anyone of the dozens of burial sites that attract people like Greg and I!!! The 34 metre-long El Romeral monument was in exceptional condition, and the Menga was the best, with a huge internal chamber and mysterious 20m shaft!
GRANADA: Nervous at first about trying to get into such a spread-out city, we relaxed when we discovered how well the Alhambra was signposted (hooray for European highways!). We found cheap digs right near the palace, and had a fun night getting lost while walking down to the city. Saturday was spent taking in the Alhambra itself - 140 000 acres of buildings and gardens, and the remnants of a once grand Moorish ruling dynasty. The Moors were thrown out in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella, the same Catholic monarchs who later that year would OK some bloke called Christobal Colon to sail off to the 'New World'. The Arab architecture of the Nazrid Palace was by far the best in the place, although the unfinished palace of Charles V and the military HQ the 'Alkazba' were interesting too.
TOLEDO: A World Heritage city, Toleda is a sight to behold on the drive in - a true hilltop citadel bordered on three sides by a river, with fantastic medieval architecture. However we got there on a Sunday, and most things were closed. I was a little disappointed with the vibe of the town - apart from look at some shops selling famous Toledo steel in the forms of swords and kitchen knives - there wasn't much else to do. However we did manage to score a room for 20 euros (but there was no hot water!).
MADRID: We left Toledo early Monday morning to get to the capital's airport in order to drop off 'Shakira', our rental car (so named because her rear end shook a lot, much like the Latin songstress). After an adventurous drive, we found the Avis lot, then took the efficient and cheap tube direct to the Puerto del Sol, the 'heart' of Madrid. We didn't have anywhere booked, but found a sweet room for 30 euros per night just off the square within about 20 minutes. Very nice indeed.
I have to say I loved Madrid - even though we only saw a small part (spending most of Tuesday morning doing some much-needed washing!). It's a party town, with friendly people and a fabulous lifestyle (getting up late and staying out late!). It helped that we were staying right in the middle of the shopping district. Even though I couldn't afford anything (for money and space reasons) I enjoyed window shopping, and looking at the massive Christmas lights in the streets.
We ate simply in Madrid to save money - hooray for yummy kebabs - and were helped by a public holiday on the Wednesday, which meant we got in to see Picasso's 'Guernica' for free! A wonderful painting, and huge - about 8m by 4m.
A final note: 'CASINO ROYALE' IS ONE OF THE BEST GOD-DAMNED JAMES BOND MOVIES OF ALL TIME! We saw it in an English speaking cinema our first night in Madrid - we even went out with a couple of fellow fans we met after the screening! Daniel Craig was suberb. I intend to write more about it once I see it again!
More on London, the slide at the Tate Modern, 'Spamalot' and 'Avenue Q' soon....