Iberian Peninsula Notes I

July 8, 2012           

Hi Mom,

Tom and I are back about ten days from our Iberian Peninsula Tour.  What an amazing trip!

The whole point was for us to see how Tom would do on a guided tour.

It was clear from the stated itinerary he would not be able to do everything but we both thought that with the long stretches in the motorcoach and him sitting in front of the first axle, he might just really enjoy himself. 

As he says, he can stay home and have pain or he can go somewhere and have pain.

This all came about because our friend Teri Allen has a brother Jay who took over their parents Travel Agency years ago.  Now that Jay and his wife Trish are older, he has developed a tour package to pull his college buddies together with their families, and other related folks. We fell into the “related folks” group.

There is absolutely no question that traveling with this extraordinarily warm group, made the trip 100% better.  They are mostly Iowans, down to earth, well educated, mostly retired from service related fields.  I can’t tell you the number of times someone stepped in to push Tom’s chair, or to grab him a diet coke, or offer some assistance.  In this group, his chair was never a barrier.  Everyone engaged him fully.  Not always the case in a new setting.

The fact that Mary Pat and May Duncan also went on the tour meant that every day was filled with  funny stories and gales of laughter.

I know you’ll find this positively unbelievable but I did absolutely no research for the trip!  No planning whatsoever.  In fact, I didn’t even read the Globus itinerary booklet.  Ok just the few pages that dealt with what documents we needed for Morocco.  My plan was to go with the flow.

We decided  to fly into Madrid a full 36 hours before the tour officially started.  This was to give Tom a day to recover.  It worked.  I of course did my anti-jet-lag diet which allowed me to walk off the plane, get Tom in a bed and head out to see Madrid’s treasures while he logged some hours.

(Note: Mom, I’m going to ID my photos by Day 1, 2, etc. so you can track while reading this.  I use “pix” to indicate you should look for the photos. I’m also counting our pre arrival day, as Day 1 because it’s just easier.  You’ll see I took way more photos than on previous trips. The reason being I wanted Tom to see all the things he could not see. So every time I got back to the hotel we’d flip through the photos and talk about everything.  It was one of the best parts of the experience. I’ve put 348 out of 725 photos on Shutterfly)

The Hotel Augmar is not particularly interesting but it is fabulously located.  It is walking distance from the central train station at Atocha (pix) which features two enormous sculptures of baby’s heads! I think they are called Night and Day (pix) as one is awake while the other is not. Naturally the metro is just outside the station. Regrettably I did not have time to take it as time on a tour is always too short.

I lucked out by catching a mid morning Mass at the Real Basilica Ntr Senora (pix) .  Turned out to be my last Mass for the next two weeks. Also went to the Pantheon of Illustrious Men (my translation- pix) which was a mausoleum for some of Madrid’s famous dignitaries.  Gorgeous, passionate statues and beautiful mosaic tiles.  Got Tom over there for a quick walk-through. There was a large, old Catholic school I wandered around, a brick and mortar 19th century complex (pix) that looked like an orphanage out of Dickens.  Turns out it is an active rug manufacturing plant that boasts their rugs are in the Palacio Real.

I spent several hours sitting in the Jardine del Buen Retiro, a huge garden park. Decided to crack open James Casper’s book, THE FAR END OF THE PARK.  Without my knowing, he sent it as a present  arriving the day before we left.  It’s good, very good.  It’s nice to have a published author in the family.

As I broke open James’ book, a twenty something trombonist practiced his scales, others walked, jogged, cycled and strolled.  The knolls were dotted with lazy lovers and young families.  It was so very relaxing.

Although I brought workout gear in hopes of using it I was also smart enough to invest in a pedometer.  I wanted to make sure I got some exercise everyday. In the end I averaged 10,000 a day which is apparently the goal for beginners. Now I have to talk myself into using it in my real life.

(Day 1, Saturday June 16, 2012) Before our Welcome Dinner we met our Globus Tour Guide, Raymond Walsh.  Let me just say right now, there could be no other tour guide as charming, efficient, knowledgeable and witty.  Oh my he was a big plus on this adventure.

(Day 2, Sunday June 17, 2012) Our first day was handled by a local guide who got us around this capital of Spain. We mostly saw the city sites from our comfortable and spacious Globus bus, built by Volvo (pix).  Passing Puerta del Sol, a stop at the Plaza de Espana with its monument to Cervantes (pix), The massively impressive Parliament Building, Cibeles Fountain, the elegant Calle Alcala (their Rodeo Dr), and the Paseo de Castellano.  Finally a true and proper stop at their premier art museum, the Prado.

I’d been their before but remembered nothing from that experience.  We entered a modern wing and spent about 90 minutes going from one masterpiece to the next, crossing through Spanish, Italian and Flemish works, (holds over 7000 paintings) at a wicked pace.  And the place was mobbed.  Tom loved it although it left him exhausted. Oh my!

Most returned to the hotel to freshen up, or take a nap.  Tom hit the bed until I returned from an optional tour of El Escorial. An hour out of Madrid in the town of San Lorenzo, King Philip II had this Renaissance style quadrangle complex of slate and granite built in 1563. (Pix) Among its many treasures is an elaborate Mausoleum of the Spanish Monarchs. There were endless paintings and tapestries. It  is considered the eighth wonder of the world and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I took way to many photos (pix) so Tom could see it.

The Royal Library is in the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (A.K.A. El Escorial). We visited the Monastery of Lawrence (Augustinian) with its’ 60,000 books, including a wall of bibles and 5000 manuscripts, mostly in Latin but also in 14 other languages.  What was so interesting is that the stems of the books were facing the back of the shelf so as to not break them from repeated use.

Phillip became a religious fanatic and used to come here from Madrid to reside in a monastic cell “for his humble self” in this “palace for God.”  It really is a must see but bring a no flash camera.  I missed out on a lot of interiors because of that.

BTW, Phillip II married four times and they are all buried here.

Some stats: took 23 years to build, 2600 windows, 88 fountains, 15 gardens, 30,000 servants in 18th century, 12,000 doors. Hapsbergs came in the Fall for hunting, monks grew over 600 medicinal plants, royal bodies held in palace 30 years before being placed in the mausoleum.  Queen Christina came last year.  Two other bodies are still waiting.

(Day 3, Monday June 18, 2012) We covered a lot of ground today, traveling through beautiful Castile. We passed through the rugged Sierra de Guadarrama on our way to Segovia with its amazing 2000 y/o Roman aqueduct (pix). The town is perched on a ridge with the magnificent Acueducto Romano acting as an entrance into the old town which consists of winding, cobbled streets flanked by endless stores, bars, shops, terraces that ascend and descend, twist and turn (pix). There is a magnificent cathedral at the top of a winding hill, past a smaller church and a smaller square.   Got several photos of the Cathedral but my camera isn’t good for interiors. Did well on the exterior spires and ornamentals (pix).

I was the only one who decided to try to see the Alcazar (castle) as we’d been told it was a 30 minute walk from the cathedral, and this visit was only the first stop on our days itinerary. Well, it turned out to be a nine minute walk, tops. The entry was interesting and the castle itself imposing but the interior didn’t offer a lot with the exception of  an intriguing cellar and superb views. I zipped through it photographing what I could, then picked up the brochure to show Tom.  Turns out the Alcazar has been renovated, rebuilt, modified, over the centuries which I think is the reason it fell a bit flat, as castles go (pix).

We then drove on to Avila, birthplace of Sr Theresa.  I’m preaching to the choir when I say she founded the Carmelites.  How often I thought of you Mom. You lived her lesson on prayer as  being in conversation with someone we know who loves us. Just being in the enjoyment of the presence of God.

This little gem is surrounded by an undulating wall (pix). It has eight imposing gates, 88 watchtowers and more than 2500 turrets. Tom was able to walk to see the majestic church at its heart. He’d brought his fancy camera and was able to capture some wonderful photos.  And I have a great one of him shooting (pix).

We were in Avila about 90 minutes before heading on to Salamanca.  The city is another UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its beautiful buildings.  It’s rare architectural splendors make it a dream destination for many.

Tom was tucked in for the evening at the Alameda Palace (a hotel-pix) when I headed out with the group for a stroll through town (pix) to Plaza Mayor (pix). It was built in the 1730s and is one of Spain’s largest plazas. On the northern side is the grandly elegant and somewhat pinkish town hall.  There are wildly expensive apartments overlooking the square from all sides.  Even the nightly noises does not lower the value of these prized domiciles. The arcades and cafes host the Salamancan society nightly.  Huge TV screens abound as the natives stay glued to their “football.” (Our soccer) Coffee, drinks, tapas, all night long. We finally made our way to a charming basement dining room of a popular restaurant where we enjoyed a fairly watered down version of local cuisine.  I learned when touring the included food is generally designed to please the greatest number of people.  That was a disappointment.  Remedy is to not do any of the optional dinners.  Strike out on your own and look for locals congregating.

(Day 4, Tuesday June 19, 2012) We’re off to Portugal.  We traveled through Portugal’s highest mountain range (6,540 ft–kinda puny) the Serra de Estrela (mountain range of the star).  As you know this is a small country but it does own some islands, Maderia and the Azores. Seems like every aggressive group in history conquered this country.  The upshot of all this and it’s geographically enviable position, eventually lead it to being a global influence having expanded its empire to Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America, thus becoming the world’s first economic, political & military power.  It actually became the world’s first super power and also the longest lasting empire as it spanned almost 600 years.

The four hour drive to Fatima was broken up by stunning Moorish castles, all that is left from their expulsion by the Knights Templar in the 8th century.  Still, it is a strong presence as many have been transformed into resorts, restaurants, party space, and  hotels.  Still, there are so many, that some stand in virtual ruin.

You remember my trip to Fatima in my 30s?  After the extraordinary experience of Lourdes I found Fatima a bit of a letdown.  Not this time.  Tom was with me, my faith has grown, and I as a 63 y/o have an immense appreciation for life, suffering and hope.  This shrine to Our Lady of the Rosary embodies all of it.

First thing I did is fill a large bottle of the ever flowing water in the center of the enormous shrine plaza.  I wasn’t thinking.  Of course I couldn’t just throw it in my carry all to take home.  I’ve brought back water from Lourdes, Fatima and the Jordan River but 9/11 put an end to that.  Have to go online now, and just believe it’s legit.

You know I thought of Bing and her Lourdes water.  Anyway, Tom wheeled over to the modern outdoor chapel while I made my way to the Tree where Mary appeared, then on to the magnificent church they’ve built at the far end of the square (pix).  The huge stations of the cross in the portico was inspiring.  I hadn’t remembered those.

When I got back to Tom, Mass was being said.  Almost made it through communion when one of the tour goers came to get us.  We were the last to return to the bus.  Or as Raymond refers to it, the coach.

Since returning home Tom has said he feels a “bubble” about him, a sort of shield, that started in Fatima.  Whatever it is, it’s good.

After another good drive we end the day in Lisbon, the capitol. Now I remembered Lisbon from my trip 39 years ago.  I recalled it being hilly, as it’s built on seven hills. We had great views from our room in the Praca Martim Moniz (pix) and happily enjoyed spending two nights there.

Tom was exhausted so I slapped on a Flector, sprayed on the liniment and in to bed he went.  He hadn’t eaten much on the trip, due to his pain, so when he asked me to find a sandwich and a Coke, that was my priority.

Luckily I found a great little eatery about 8 minutes away.  I was back in twenty and Tom was eating. Shortly thereafter he fell asleep as I was freshening up.

Met MP in the lobby to do some exploring.(pix) Our tour guide Raymond took us to his favorite hangout for dinner, a little unpretentious café just around the corner from the hotel. After a wonderful meal, MP and I walked and talked through squares and fountains and parks. It was a wonderfully relaxing time, almost surreal as we’ve been friends for more than 40 years but this was our first foreign trip together.  It really was lovely and we felt so blessed to share the experience.

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Iberian Peninsula Notes II

(Day 5, Wednesday June 20, 2012, contd.) We stopped in the town of  Estoril which was  neutral during WWII and therefore became the hangout for the likes of Ian Fleming and Graham Greene. Wallace Simpson & Edward lived here, and the town boasts the largest casino in Europe.

Finally we arrived at Sintra, another World Heritage site, and a gorgeous town built on mountains. We toured the town in a bus where we learned that it produces 59% of the worlds cork and was home to Lord Byron where he was inspired to write much of his poetry. We then had about an hour to  explore on our own (pix).

Once back in Lisbon, I freshened up and Tom and I headed up to the hotel rooftop for a wonderfully romantic dinner (pix). We had terrific views, food and conversation.  I also recall him beating me badly at gin rummy!

I noted in my journal that I walked 11,690 steps today. The pedometer did inspire me to walk more but walking can’t compare to my 1 hr and 45 min workouts and a controlled environment.  I still gained on this trip as I did little to fight the food.  So not much new in that area.

(Day 6, Thursday June 21, 2012) Today my home computer got a virus which ended up generating 9600 bad emails as well as prevent me from fixing it while on the road. At first I was deeply frustrated as it was the first time I could try my IPad on the road.  Then I figured I needed a real vacation, away from the computer. So it goes.

Did get a phone message from our Home Exchange house guests saying a pipe had burst in the kitchen.  Was able to get a 24 hour LA plumber to come the next morning by 8 AM to fix it.

After a great breakfast we’re off to the Andalusia region of Spain, and it’s capital, Seville, about 275 miles south of Lisbon. It’s our longest one day journey as it takes about 4 ½ hours plus our hospitality breaks.

Our British tour guide Raymond had a special way of saying “Andalusia” which was at once rhythmic, affected, comical and adorable.  I can never think of the area without recalling his whimsical pronunciation.

Tom was able to get several photos from the moving bus of the many forts in Elvas. They are Moorish and ancient and mostly in disarray.  A few have been restored as restaurants and inns.

Once in Seville we checked in to the wonderful Ayre Hotel Sevilla. I wish I’d thought to take photos of these hotels but the truth is, I was so happy to get there, get Tom to a bed, and our bags unpacked, I just didn’t think to take photos.  We did have some lovely accommodations and as I recall this was one of them.

It had a pool, which I was able to use, a gym, which I did not, a very large foyer, a great breakfast and super great beds.  In fact, all the beds on the trip were terrific.  Very, very important for Tom as you can imagine.

Our tour bus then headed out for the Maria Luisa Park which contains the Plaza de Espana (pix) with it’s stunning portico, ceramic tiled bridges and water park in the center.

(Day 7, Friday June 22, 2012) We started a city tour by driving by gorgeous pavilions built by Spain’s former colonies for the 1929 World’s Fair.  Many remain and are currently used as consulates, museums and cultural institutions.

The city also has 40,000 bitter orange trees that are harvested for marmalade.  They look so colorful as they line the big city streets.

Seville is the largest city in Spain and is enclosed by what is called the circle road. We passed the Murillo Gardens names for the famous painter and the 18th century cigar factory where Carmen worked.  It is now used as a university.

Mary Pat asked to push Tom through the Santa Cruz Quarter (pix) to the Alcazar (pix), an 11th century Moorish fortress now teaming with stunning architecture. There are various interior gardens, salones, patios and halls.  Pedro I ordered the construction of a royal residence within the palaces built by the city’s Almohad rulers. It now forms the heart of Seville’s Real Alcazar.

This was a long day, especially for Tom but he did it all.  MP was a trooper and said she relished the time with him while I flitted about taking too many photos.

We opted out of the optional Flamenco show and dinner mainly because I’d seen Mexico’s National Flamenco dancers during my many visits to Mexico City.  Tom was too tired to go anyway. We ate in the cheerful bar/restaurant in the hotel and wound down playing gin rummy.  Perfection.

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Iberian Peninsula Notes III

(Day 8, Saturday June 23, 2012) Today we go to Africa!  THIS is why I wanted to take this tour.  Just setting foot on another continent is a thrill for me.

We were instructed to take one carry on bag with enough to get us through our 24 hour visit to Tangier, Morocco.

We drove south to the ferry port of Algeciras to cross the Straits of Gibraltar arriving at the
nondescript port of Tangier(pix)  and onto our hotel.

Tom was ready for bed and I was ready to see the city.  Originally it was planned to have a half day here to do our own thing but politics got in our way.

Apparently the owner of one of the two ferry lines was put in jail that day which meant half the trips back to Spain were canceled the next day.  Raymond arranged that we take half our city tour the day we arrived, and the other half the next morning before getting on an early afternoon ferry.  Everyone hated the truncated visit but there wasn’t a thing to be done about it. A return visit is in order, not just for Tangier but Fes, Casablanca, Marrakesh.  Lots to see there.

So while Tom went to sleep the group boarded the bus to the Grand Socco Square which leads to the Kasbah.

Our guide, who was marvelous, told us that the ancient apartments with little balconies were built for Jewish families who stayed inside during the Shabath.  This way they could look out without going out.

I took loads of photos of the colorful Kasbah (pix).  Almost found myself buying a gorgeous carpet (pix) until I realized all our living room furniture would cover it up.  I mean what’s the point?  And I’m not ready to shove all the furniture to the walls ala Morocco.

(Day 9, Sunday June 24, 2012) Tom and I luxuriated in a wonderful breakfast in the gorgeous dining room of the El Minzah Hotel (pix). We’d had a lovely dinner there the night before but needed the sun to get some good photos.

We then finished the other half of the city tour by driving through the hillsides looking at lavish estates.  I know Tangier has third world poverty but we did not see it.   Raymond said we would have had we had the proper amount of time for the stay.

Then Tom stayed on the bus while we headed back to the Grand Socco area and into the farmers market (pix).  We weren’t allowed to take photos as the citizens do not like it.  Something spiritually offensive about it.  But I wanted Tom to see something of the tour so I took photos blindly.  Just point and shoot and hope for the best (pix).

One of my favorite photos of the trip was taken by Susan Blunck. It is a long shot of Tom and me looking at the Tangier coast before returning to Spain (pix).  It was a perfect moment for us. 

The return ferry ride was smooth except for the boarding process for Tom.  A port handler offered to take him on the boat to avoid the stairs.  This worked well with the disembarkation but the return proved treacherous.  Seems like every point of entry someone wanted to search him, have him pay something or they simply said no entry.  The guy stayed with it though and Tom did not let the stress increase him pain.  He just rolled with it.

So driving to our hotel in Torremolinos, staying at the elegant Costa del Sol, smack dab on the Mediterranean beach, proved to be the perfect antidote to a difficult return.

Every room had a private balcony that faced the sea.  Tom hit the hay pronto and MP and I headed out to walk the coast taking photos of us at a giant statue of running girls (pix).

That night I brought in a sandwich for Tom and me and we just sat around and talked, watched the BBC, our life line to world news (and Spain’s economic crisis, 25% unemployment) and luxuriated in the cool, quiet room.

(Day 10, Monday, June 25, 2012) A day completely to ourselves.  Tom laid low and I chose the optional tour to the Rock of Gibraltar.  THIS was one of my favorite stops.  I knew nothing about it so everything was a surprise and so very interesting.

The fact that Gibraltar is small, rich in conquest history, and changed from regime to regime, makes for a doable and dense experience.

We had a marvelous tour guide who glided through the various wars & battles fought mainly over this strategically placed island consisting, at least originally, of two huge mountains.  It is only in recent history, say the last 100 years or so that it is surrounded by reclaimed land (pix). Please note, most of my photos are taken from the swiftly moving mini bus. Our guide whipped around those mountain curves with grace and elan.
The first recorded history was the dating of pre-historic relics found in the caves, including the first Neanderthal-type skull. The first visitors were the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians (950 BC) but they did not settle there. No town existed until 1160 when the Moors built a castle (pix) with fortifications.  When it was built, ships could come right to it. (See photos of all the now surrounding reclaimed land) From there grew a small walled city which today is the bustling and picturesque Grand Casemates Square (pix).

My travel notes say you enter Gibraltar under three flags: Gibraltar, Great Britain and Europe. The last contest for it was again with Spain who tried in vain to reclaim it in 1963. Spain pressed their case with the United Nations by restricting their border between the two countries. They actually closed the border in 1969. That same year Great Britain (who have “owned” the Rock since 1704) granted Gibraltar a new Constitution which allowed them to self-govern in all domestic matters. Sixteen years later, Spain opened their border and normal relations  were re-established.

Gibraltar has an ambitiously large airport but only 5 small planes fly in and out of it to date. They have plans to built a large rail system to bring the mainland to their doors. One hundred thousand companies are headquartered here because it is a tax free zone.  They rent on the Rock but live in Spain and commute everyday.

Gibraltar is four quare miles, with 30 miles of tunnels inside the Rock, 150 natural caves, 5 hospitals, 2 filtration systems, warehouses, factories, stores, and more.  The Rock goes 400 meters above ground and 500 meters below.  “It’s like Swiss cheese” says the guide. Thirty thousand live here, 70,000 vehicles, 68% of the land is reclaimed. Two hundred years ago it was conquered by the Brits in a 3 day war using 1800 Dutch soldiers. It is actually 200 million years old and weighs 550 million tons. There are 25 Roman Catholic churches, 3 synagogues, 2 mosques and 2 Indian temples and all of them are active.

Honestly, I’d like to go back there and stay a bit so I could explore inside the Rock.  They say you have to get on a waiting list to take the walking tour lead by senior citizen residents.  Apparently they notify you the day before to be there in the morning for your free tour. 

Once I was back in Torremolinos I took a nap with Tom before we headed out for dinner on the beach.  My only picture of the Mediterranean Sea is that of my feet in it (pix). At dinner Tom reminded me the Rock of Gibraltar is also known as the Pillars of Hercules.

I must say that this area of Spain known as Costa Del Sol is the place to be for sun worshipers, It’s warm 320 days of the year, the beaches and water are clean, there are kitschy and high end stores, eateries abound, beach front restaurants & nightclubs of every caliber, and hundreds of people daily.  This is a way of life for many and they enjoy it. And the prices are moderate.  Certainly a place to bring the whole family.

(Day 11, Tuesday, June 26, 2012) Today we go from sea level to 2300 feet as we head for Granada and its Alhambra Complex.

We picked up a local guide who took us through the extensive complex of gardens, fountains, palaces, summer residences and courts (pix). The Alhambra was first referenced in the year 900. When Muhammad I moved his court to Granada in 1237 he started the building of the complex which was then continued as various rulers succeeded him. The Palacio Nazaries started in 1333 is still considered the highpoint of Islamic culture in Europe (pix). In 1350 work begins on the Palcio de Camares, a Moorish masterpiece, followed in 1362 the construction of Patio de los Leones by Muhammad V.  No building for a couple of hundred years until 1527 when the Christians added the Palacio de Carlos V, a Renaissance palace.  The Alhambra falls into obscurity during the Christian rule until 1829 it is rediscovered by the American writer Washington Irving, after which began years of restoration, (pix)

Tom remained on the bus while we took the two hour walking hour so I took loads of pictures to bring the Alhambra to him.  I even ran out of battery juice and switched to using my phone, something I’d never done.  Now I have the problem of not being able to figure out how to transfer it to my computer. Maybe at a later date or maybe not! (Had to buy a fone chip, Tom got the photos on the chip, and the chip onto a DVD, I’ve yet to get them on the computer.  So, the missing photos are on Day 11 between #21 and #22)

This was the hottest day of the tour but in all honesty it did not affect me. Others found it oppressive. So much so that a tour the next day was passed by many because they thought it would be too hot.  Boy did they miss something special. But I’ll get into Toledo shortly.

Once back on the waiting bus we headed to the lovely Hotel Satay where we laid low for the most part (pix). We both collapsed in bed for a bit before showering and heading down to our group meal in their lower dining room.  Tom returned to bed and I joined the group, lead by Teri to learn the card game Onze.  Now I can’t get enough of it!

(Day 12, Wednesday June 27, 2012) Every morning we got up at a predetermined time in order to dress, have breakfast and get our bags outside our door at an appointed time. The porters would get them on the bus while we ate and then we’d get to the bus in time to get Tom’s wheelchair on and in our seats for departure.  Raymond ran the tour like a well oiled machine and everyone was respectful of the schedule. Typical schedule is wake at 6:15, bags out by 7, go to breakfast before 7 and be on the bus by 7:30.

Today we headed north, through the rolling Andalusian hills and through the barren landscapes of Don Quixote’s LA MANCHA.  Our hospitality break was in a small town dedicated to all things La Mancha (pix).

We pressed on to Toledo, an Arab fortress spectacularly situated on a granite hill surrounded by a loop of the Tagus River.

This is the tour that a number of folks decided against due to the heat.  It was nice for Tom to have company on the bus but in all honesty, it was hotter the day before in the Alhambra, and Toledo is not to be missed.

We did a 90 minute tour with a local guide where we visited a 800 y/o synagogue, now a national monument used as an artist gallery, walked through ancient streets, visited the a 13th century gothic cathedral, the second largest in Spain (pix, no flash, no inside pix).  It has 755 windows all original except 10.  There are 5 levels in the sanctuary that graduate in scale. Mesmerizing. It took one artist and four pupils, 18 years to carve the Carrera marble 350 y/o scene behind the sanctuary. The Toledo Cathedral was built to provide natural light and doesn’t need heat or AC as the temperature is always perfect. We also went to the Church of Santa Tome which is spectacular because it houses El Greco’s most famous painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.

Take a moment to google this painting because the story behind it is quite wonderful.  Also it contains the only painting of El Greco’s son as a child looking out to the viewer, as is El Greco himself.

I was sorry our tour did not include El Greco’s home and studio which I understand is beautifully restored with original pieces.  That was my silent lament throughout the entire tour.  There just isn’t enough time to see everything.

But the trade off of having the entire trip laid out, everything handled up front, our only obligation is to follow the leader, makes any wistful thinking unimportant.  I’d do a tour with the group again, anytime.

One thing that stood out about Toledo is its historical diversity of Christians Jews and Muslims which yielded an amazing combination of churches, synagogues and mosques.

The ancient City of Toledo is on the granite hill but the larger Toledo is below and it is expansive. Raymond said the costs to rent are about the same as the charm of the old city is off set by the narrow streets and density of people.  The lower city lacks the charm but has more space and convenience.  I say stick me in the old part, I’ll work it out.

After Toledo it was about a 75 minute drive back to Madrid and the Agumar hotel, which looked a bit better the second time around.

People generally collapsed until our farewell dinner.

We’d had a lovely, lovely time with this group.  We both look forward to traveling with them again.  Although I spent no time talking about the wonderful people we met and the interesting stories they told, know that in truth, the people made the trip what it was. A fun, relaxing journey to another world.

Love and miss you,


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