Monthly Archives: July 2016

Visiting Santiago de Compostela [And My Must-Do’s for a More Meaningful Revisit (Hopefully)]

Just when I thought that Andalucia would be my last outside-Madrid trip and I would simply wait for the cooler months to arrive before I ever join any group tour again, here comes another irresistible invitation – a single-day visit of Santiago de Compostela. The trip was made to coincide with Feast day of the beloved saint – St. James.
imageTo be honest, it’s just now that I learned about the place and so I was wary about going. But after having been told that the spectacular sight of the cathedral alone is worth the long and arduous travel (and the summer heat woes), I was pretty much convinced eventually. I got curious, and so I checked it online. What I saw were all magestic images.

It did remind me of another great cathedral, or basilica — La Sagrada Familia, and strongly believed that both belong to the same league. Likewise, my interest in Santiago got piqued by the stories about the brave and amorous adventures of the peregrinos (pilgrims) and their quest to conquer the El Camino trail.

Off to the Feast of Saint James, Santiago de Compostela

Some 500 or so miles from the city of Madrid, in the Northwestern portion of the Iberian peninsula, is the third most popular and spiritual Christian site in the world (after Jerusalem and Rome) – Galicia’s Santiago de compostela.

To the determined pilgrim and serious devotee to the saint, the most revered cathedral in all of Galicia is the ultimate destination. To finally stand before it and appreciate its utter grandeur is the sweetest reward for any pilgrim’s immeasurable effort; a laborious trek of numerous roads, highway sides, and trails, all of which comprise the St. James Way, a seemingly endless journey that spans several hundreds of miles.

Such a journey is the supreme religious sacrifice known as the Camino de Santiago.

Let’s get it straight. While named after him, St. James didn’t do the camino himself. After his death, his body was transported to Spain and the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral became his remain’s resting place.

It took us more or less eight hours of bus travel (plus two stops along the way) to reach the site. After surrendering our bags at a designated warehouse for safekeeping, we immediately headed for the Praza Obradoiro. It is the main square, and the most popular in the area, being the location of the cathedral. It is presumably the center of the Old Town.

The following comprised my Santiago adventure:

Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela

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I joined this trip mainly for one thing – Galicia’s pride which is the Cathedral. So you can imagine my surprise when I laid my eyes on the holy edifice, and discovered much to my dismay that a significant portion of its facade is blocked by heavy scaffolding and boards.  I was so disappointed that I didn’t bother to inquire about how to gain entry to the roof top, where they say scenic images of the town can be shot.

The rest of our activities:

Witness the ceremonies at the Praza Obradoiro

imageA musical band marches towards the direction of Praza Obradoiro, as part of the feast day celebration

imageA glass enclosure with the statue of Saint James inside is carried by procession participants
imageA priest, obviously of high ranking because of the cap that he wears, carries a cane. I take this as a symbolism of the church recognizing the Compostela Pilgrimage as a highly-valued Christian tradition

imagePeople gather on both sides of the path that connects the church to the Palacio de Raxoi to watch the Feast Day ceremonies

Explore the main squares, edifices, and the surrounding streets

The portion within the perimeter of the main Santiago church is where most of the cultural, religious and scenic spots are found. We didn’t do much walking since most sites are in close proximity to each other. Although we had to walk the cobbled or stone-paved streets like Roa Nova and Roa Vilar when we finally had to look for a place to have our lunch. Many of the museums and lesser churches are free, while others you need to pay in order to enter. A few hours is enough to tour this part of the Town
imageThe building on tbe background is the Monastery of San Martiño Pinario, located at Praza de Inmaculada
imageBars Charra and O’Barazal, and Restaurante San Jaime are just three of the many options of would-be diners along Calle Raina
imageFronting the Praza das Praterias is the Torre da Berenguela, which dwarfs everyone below. People wait in line to enter the cathedral and attend the 12:30PM mass
imageRua Nova is one of the Old Town’s major streets. Connected to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, its length hosts a number of popular Galician cafes and restaurantes
imageConvento de San Francisco del Valle de Dios is a 13th century stone monastery built under the supervision and ownership of the Franciscans friars. It is declared as one of Santiago’s major historical monuments
imagePraza das Praterias, literally means Plaza of the Silversmiths, and is one of the major squares around the cathedral of Santiago

Attend the mass

imageGigantes walk in a single file. Their entry to the Cathedral is part of the ceremony that signals the start of the midday mass honoring Galicia’s Patron Saint

Savor Galician Food

1. Empanada Gallega – one of the typical foods this part of Spain. Also known as the Galician pie, I had this at Paradiso Cafeteria, Rua do Vilar, 29. Upon tasting, I knew my empanada had atun (tuna meat flakes) as the main filling.
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2. Torta de  Santiago (Tarta de Santiago in Spanish) - Galicia’s staple postre (dessert), it literally means cake of Saint James. It is a soft, spongy cake made of almonds the recipe of which originated way back in the Middle Ages. I had my delicious plate at Cafe Bar Pico Sacro, along Rua de San Francisco.

image3. Caldo Gallego – the popular hot and tasty broth soup of Galicia. It contains simple ingredients like cabbage, leafy greens, potatoes, and beans. I enjoyed it also at Paradiso Gallega, together with my empanada.

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4. Lasena Gallega - Santiago’s meatier version of the Italian lasagna. I had this for lunch at Cafe O Paris, Rua dos Bautizados.

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5. Polbo a Feira (Pulpo a la Gallega) - The octopus dish must be the most Galician of them all. I’d trade all the dishes above, except for this one. It’s quite a simple food fare, with the meat cooked by boiling just right. The pulpo, along with unpeeled boiled or roasted potatoes, is drenched in oil, and sprinkled with sea salt and paprika before it is served in a wooden plate. This dish at O Paris restaurant afforded me the most delectable Gallega lunch.  
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Must-do’s for a more meaningful Santiago de Compostela tour:

Don’t get me wrong. Sheer joy and exhilaration is what I found after my visit to Santiago de Compostela. But I admit to being less contented with the tour, after witnessing the current state of the cathedral and not having seen the place enough.

I felt there was so much to do that could have made the trip more meaningful. As a reaction, I drew out a list of things that I want to do next time  I visit Santiago again (God-permitting). As a pilgrim? Well, nothing is impossible — this saying I always believe in.

1. Return to the site with the cathedral devoid of scaffolding

Perhaps, in a few years’ time, they will have brought down the obstructions, which I thought should not be there in the first place. By then, with nary a hint of scaffolding, it will have been restored to its original state, and dripping in immense beauty and grandeur like what’s shown in the succeeding photo. Source of Image below: Carlos Miguel Solis Seco

(2007) (059)

2. Attend the pre-midday mass (10:30AM)

We attended the mass that was scheduled at past noon, which was much like any ordinary mass I hear in Madrid, except for several mention of the patron saint. I realized that I should have attended the much earlier mass since it was the one being wholly dedicated to the way of St. James. That mass, which lasted for almost two hours, was also dedicated to the peregrinos (pilgrims) who completed the Camino de Santiago. Ideally, my next visit will be on a Holy Year, the year when the Feast of St. James falls on a Sunday. This allows for rare rituals to be performed – like when the Botafumeiro (thurible) is swung while giving off an aromatic smoke. The 10:30AM mass is the best time to embrace the urn that contains St. James’ ashes image

3. Have my own pilgrim’s cane, scallop shell, and meja (witch) doll as souvenirs

Mejas are benevolent witches. They bring good luck when brought along during one’s pilgrimage. The bordon or cane is considered as a third leg of the pilgrim, and is supposed to provide safe guidance along the way. Scallop shells are worn on the chest to identity the wearer as a pilgrim; this gives him access to lodgings. Large shells are also used to hold food or water for drinking.  These three items are said to influence a pilgrim’s camino, turning it into a safe and successful one. image

4. Book a room at Parador de Santiago

Located within Praza Obradoiro is the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos (or Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos), rated as one of Europe’s most beautiful hotels. It is popularly known as the Parador de Santiago. Book here and you have the bragging right of having stayed at the world’s oldest operating hotel. If you’re a pilgrim, consider yourself lucky if you are picked to enjoy a free accommodation at the hotel — the hostal offers this privilege to a limited number of Way of Saint James peregrinos. It was once a refuge for pilgrims of ancient times, but today, it normally charges no less than 100euros for a single room. I thought it’s quite prohibitive considering I’m a self-confessed budget traveler. But I’d say I’ll go for it if I have the money — there’s no shame in aiming high. image

5. Own a pilgrim’s passport (complete with stamps) and certificate

The pilgrim’s passport, the certificate that you completed the camino, and the religious renewal that goes with the experience are good enough reasons to add the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in my bucket list. Still, much of me is hesitant knowing the difficulty of this goal. To think about 500 or so miles of camino de santiago trail that you must accomplish is exasperating already, to begin with. Although I read somewhere that walking a minimum of 100 miles is enough to merit the certificate. You must, however, make sure that your passport has the necessary number of stamps, which is at least three, to be issued the certificate. The pilgrim’s ultimate destination? The Old Town, specifically its main cathedral, where the bones of St. James are buried.  Hopefully, it too will serve as my final destination, even if I have to choose the easiest and shortest of the Camino de Santiago routes, once I decide to be a peregrino. Our pilgrim shell, passport and certificateImage source: Courtesy of Student Christian Movement

Bound for Madrid

image Going home. We left at 4PM, and arrived at Moncloa Metro area in Centro Madrid at 12 Midnight)

Do I really have plans of pursuing a second visit? Shall I find myself walking the camino as a pilgrim this time? To be frank, revisiting Santiago is extremely difficult due to the distance, time and financial constraints. But then, if given the chance, I’d be there in a heart beat. I would love to go back – whether as a peregrino or as an ordinary tourist. For now, I’ll cherish this visit of Santiago de Compostela. It’s definitely an experience that’s not only exhilarating but  spiritual as well.

Map:

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu of Real Madrid

In Madrid, Barcelona, and anywhere else in Spain, football is the game popularly played, which is understandable as it is the country’s national sport. Football is arguably this country’s biggest passion, and I dare say that the Spaniards live and breathe this sport. When it comes to football associations, La Liga, meaning The League, is the crème de la crème of them all, and recognized in all of Europe as the most prestigious.

Santiago Bernabeu Stadium – Home of Real Madrid

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
The fact is that football is of utmost importance in Spain. Nobody will dare miss an important match — people will either rush to the stadium in droves, or watch the game on TV. Discussions about the outcome among friends and family is commonplace. It seems like everyone loves to analyze and give a piece of his mind about a game. And while nights are still quiet when the favorite team loses, horns are honked and bars are filled post-game and long after just to celebrate a win.

The most popular and the winningest team in the history of the sport is Real Madrid – with almost 80 local and international titles under its name. The last Championship that it won is the Champions League the year, beating another Madrid team, the Atletico Madrid. Both fought a contested game that ended at the score of 5 to 3 in a penalty shootout.

Real Madrid has as its home the popular arena known as the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, or simply the Bernabeu. The team club also owns and manages it.

One can imagine the scope of the sport facility in terms of area – it’s huge, and easily occupies a whole block. In fact, the Bernabeu Stadium is the third largest in Europe, and second in Spain. In terms of accommodation, it has a seating capacity of 80,000 spectators at any given time.

Bernabeu Tour

Side view of Santiago Bernabéu

If you’re visiting the city proper, it is a must that you see Estadio de Bernabeu. Consider it the icing on the cake of your dream Madrid vacation. It is true if you are a football aficionado, and more so if you’re a fan of the city’s famous Real Madrid team. While there is a guided tour, going their own your own and touring it at your own pace, a self-guided tour, in other words, is quite a thrilling experience as well.

The stadium imparts to visitors the rich and exciting history of Spanish football. You will learn and be amazed as you tour around; as a guest, you will be delighted to find out you given access to various areas in the stadium. Indeed, the money that you will pay for the Real Madrid stadium tour ticket is well worth it if only for the thrill of being within one of the capital’s most beloved sports edifices.

Needless to say, the massive size of the sports stadium is just amazing, its sheer size and the attendance that it enjoys every time a game is played there are a reflection of the great love that the Spaniards have for the sport.

Prices of Santiago Bernabeu tickets:

Bernabéu stadium fieldI was part of the big-sized crowd that enjoyed the December 2o15, Copa SM El Rey match between Real Madrid CF and UE Cornella, the first and only [so far] football game I’ve watched in Spain

Cost of Santiago Bernabeu stadium tour tickets are as follows:

1. Adults: 20 euros

2. Children: (up to 14): 14 euros

The tour comprises:

A. Entrance to the stadium

B. Self-guided (tour at your own pace)

C. Access and tour to stadium areas such as the locker rooms, presidential box, press room, the Best Club in History room, the pitch, the dugout, Real Madrid’s official store

D. Beautiful panoramic view of the field and the whole stadium

When to tour to stadium:

1. The Stadium can be visited any day of the week.

2. If you plan on going there on a weekday or Saturday, they entertain visitors starting 10AM up to 7.30PM.

3. If you want to tour on a Sunday or a holiday, time of tour of the site is between 10:30AM and 6.30Pm.

How to buy Real Madrid game tickets:

Stadium of Santiago BernabéuIntently watching the game between UE Cornella and Real Madrid, where the latter won. The win further strengthened their standing at the Copa S.M. El Rey

1. You may purchase Real Madrid tickets directly at the stadium’s ticket selling windows.

2. La Caixa Banks sell game tickets. Go to one nearest your area.

3. Purchase tickets online, via the Official Website of Real Madrid. Tickets bought on the Internet are priced higher. While more expensive, you are assured of an entrance to your choice match.

[Note: Avoid buying tickets sold outside the stadium during game days as these are fake ones.]

How to reach the Stadium:

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Autobus: Take Paseo de Castellano via car or autobus, and just before you reach Cuzco (if coming from Nuevos Ministerios), you will be treated to a magnificent sight of the stadium. Auto buses that pass through the estadio are 27, 5, 147, 40, and 150.

Madrid Metro: To reach the place via Metro system, take the Linea 10, and get off upon reaching its own station, Metro Santiago Bernabeu.

Map:

Exploring Plaza de Isabel II: Back in Madrid [Back to Reality]

Till now, brimming in me is this euphoric feeling created out of the experience I had from my trip to Southern Spain’s Andalucia. While I was still thinking (and gushing) about it, rereading the articles that I wrote about it, editing them, adding images – I thought it’s high time that I lift myself from this and switch to normal mode, and go about my usual, normal days in Madrid like I didn’t leave at all.

I must say, however, that I was glad I made that trip to Cordoba and Granada’s Alhambra because these are just awesome, historic sites that are must-sees, even if once in your lifetime. Frankly I came out from that trip racking my brain, trying to make an iota of it comprehend what I just witnessed and experienced. At the very least, the trip served to prove there’s so much more to see outside Madrid – ones that are as fascinating and beautiful.

But so far, Andalucia is the best, bar none.

imageAnd so, these days I constantly remind myself that my blog is all about Spain’s capital. After two consecutive outside-the-city articles, I need to post one that discusses anything Madrid (this is necessary in the quest for search engine optimization). This particular post is about a topic that I am really fond of, and have written about many times already – Madrid’s plazas. Let’s visit one that’s right in the city’s midst — Plaza de Isabel II.

Isabel II is small, much smaller than the larger ones like the square of Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Cibeles and even Plaza Major.

But certainly, it’s no less popular.

In fact, it never runs of crowds all throughout the day – maybe it’s because of the many seats scattered in the area, several in front of Teatro Real, as well as the long concrete bench that line the border between the square and Calle de Arenal, the street that immediately adjoins it.

I was lucky to have passed by the place last Sunday as I got the chance to watch a group of dancers that did a couple of traditional-type dances to the delight of everyone around. They were doing the Chotis, a popular, age-long Spanish dance usually performed during important occasions such as the Fiesta de San Isidro.

imageGoing to Isabel square was not intentional really, I was there to while away time as I waited for the 6PM mass at San Gines Church. Fortunately, I chanced on these three lovely dancers in their finest chulapa attires and performing the lusty dance called Chotis in front of the Teatro Real. Lucky day indeed for me, having been treated to a chotis show

No ordinary square

Plaza de Isabel II is not like those ordinary squares. It is special mainly because it’s dedicated to one of the historic queens of the country – Reina Isabel. It is a quaint and beautiful square, connected to Plaza del Sol via a partly pedestrianized street – Calle Arenal. Also within walking distance is the another square, the Plaza del Oriente, the Royal Palace, and the Jardines de Sabatini.

At times, you would think you had enough and must have some time away from Madrid’s bars and similar places that are all about busy, noisy, and sometimes (this can’t be denied) nauseating goings-on. A great alternative are those plaza – they offer open spaces with plenty of fresh air and warm sunshine, benches to sit in and have some great chats, and sometimes, entertaining outdoor performances. Of course, one of them is the Isabel II Square.

Here’s what to see at Plaza de Isabel II

imageTeatro Real or Teatro Opera is a unique edifice in that its front and back facade face two squares – Plaza de Isabel and Plaza del Oriente
imageStatue of Isabel II, standing in the middle of the plaza, dedicated to the Queen Isabel II
imageReal cinema, also known as Cine Real Opera, is a theater fronting the Plaza de Isabel II. At the time it was inaugurated in 1920, the cinema was considered the largest theater not only in the city, but in the whole of Spain,. It boasted of a seating capacity of 1000. By the looks of it, the theater is now non-operational, although it is said that theater shows and acts are being held here from time to time

imageA man takes a rest on a concrete seat in front of the Opera Theater

imageTaberna Real Restaurante is found at the corner of the plaza and Calle Arenal. It is the restaurant of choice by many locals and tourist if only because of its special location – within a plaza that’s historical in its own right. One can enjoy the nice views and interesting happenings at one of the city’s important squares by getting a table at Taberna’s outside dining area. Tapas and vinos are priced quite high, but if only for its location and ambiance, it’s all worth it

imageThis is Calle Arenal, the street that connects Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Oriente, and the Palacio Real to the Isabel II square

imageThe Opera is one of the Stations of Metro Line 2. Next nearest station is the Vodafone Sol

Map:

More Andalucian Adventures: Alhambra Palace and Fortress Complex of Granada

imageSpain must thank the ancient Muslim conquerors if only for what the latter’s occupation of the country a long, long time ago had left behind — their precious Moorish architecture. Such a legacy is largely evident in that little kingdom set in the south of the country known as the Alhambra, in Granada.

Alhambra, which means red castle in Arabic, is actually a complex of palaces, and their courtyards and gardens, as well as a fortress — all rest on top of the famous Sabika Hill.

And so, after our trip to Cordoba, which was so enchanting that most wanted to stay longer and were practically hauled off to the bus, we continued our trek en route to the next destination - Granada.

Our Granada tour focused on the complex and didn’t venture into the adjoining districts such as the famous Albaycin, which is fine as I thought Alhambra alone is what Granada’s all about. I’m sure this is everyone’s opinion as well. Alhambra is perhaps the single reason why the Andalucian city attracts numerous tourists throughout the year.

We arrived at the site at 11.30AM, with the bus stopping near the station where the entrance tickets are collected. Being a large group, we were divided into two; one would enter the palaces at 1.30PM, while the other, which included me, was scheduled at 5:30. The complex is a World Heritage Site, and as a precaution, it has to limit the number of visitors at a given time.

This presented us with a long six-hour lull, to our exasperation as we didn’t know where else to go. Our leader (who got to join the 1.30PM group) advised us to take an early lunch and then use our remaining time exploring the area, giving the assurance that there is so much to see aside from the palaces.

This is exactly we did.

imageWe had our lunch at Restaurante Alberto, with me going for some “healthy” options – mushroom and bacon omelet and fish with spinach. At 17 euros, the menu del dia choices at Alberto are delectable enough, I have to say.

After having our lunch, we deemed it best to wander around the area, realizing there’s still a couple of hours till 5.30. I went alone, apart from the group, and took the pathway between the palaces and Generalife gardens.

Just stunning is what I saw when I walked to the direction of the Alhambra Palace Granada, Palacios Nazaries.

imageArcheological ruins of the Palacio de los Abencerrajes

imageBack area of the Puerta del Siete suelos

imageParador de San Francisco

imageTall hedges line the path to the Nazaries Palaces. All are beautiful, but more importantly, they provide refreshing shade, protecting everyone from the sun’s rays

I went further, passing by Santa Maria de la Alhambra until I reached two important sites in this part of the complex – the Palace of Emperor Charles V and Alcazaba.

Palacio de Carlos V

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Palacio Carlos V differs from the rest in that it boasts of a western, Renaissance-style facade. The others, in contrast, were constructed while applying Moorish architecture.

The massive 16th century royal edifice was a major work of Pedro Machuca and dedicated to Emperor Charles V. The sheer magnitude of its size is meant to compete with the already existing Islamic palaces at the time. Unfortunately, it was never completed.

The second photo above is the imposing courtyard within the palace’s interior, accented by impressive columns.

The palace also houses the Museum of Fine Arts, the entrance to which is free for European Union citizens and 1.50 euros for non-EU individuals. Entry to the Palace itself is free.

Alcazaba

imageThis is the strong fortress of the complex, standing proudly atop the Sabika hills. Built for sole military reasons, it was meant to protect and defend the complex against any enemy threat and invasion. The Alcazaba, the interior of which is filled with historical ruins, is said to have existed long after the palaces were constructed. From inside the fortress, one is afforded stunning views of the town from afar.

Palace and Gardens of Generalife

I still had a good two hours before we could enter the Palacios Nazaries, and so I decided to go back and head to the opposite direction, this time, to Generalife. A major part of the complex, it was touted as the summer palace during the times of the Nazrid reign.

imageThe Generalife palace grounds, the courtyard and pool

imageGeneralife Outdoor Theatre

imageLike other palaces in the complex, Generalife has the walls of its chambers and rooms covered by either plaster or stalactite materials. But what makes it a standout is its lush and colorful garden, which flourished under both Arabic and Christian powers for many centuries, and continues to this day. If only for its rich flora, Generalife deserves to be called the main summer gardens of the Nazaries dynasty.

Tres Palacios Nazaries

Finally, it was our turn to enter the Palacios Nazaries. “Vamos a la cola!” We joined the long line of visitors who were likewise excited to see the site.

1. Palacio del Mexuar

imageOne of the oldest structures within the complex, the palace had an enclosed room where the ruler then used to stay to listen to his surroundings. Within the premises is an area where great views of the Distrito de Albaycín can be enjoyed. The palace has its own courtyard, the Patio de Cuarto Dorado, with a small fountain in its midst.

2. Palacio de Comares

imageAnother old edifice in the Nazaries, it is one with a rather heavy Moorish decor, with the walls displaying Arab writings. Major decoration work were made during the reign of Yusuf I.

It is said that this courtyard, the Patio de los Arrayanes, or the Courtyard of Myrtles (so-named because of the two long hedges of myrtles alongside the pool) like many others, has not undergone any major changes in the design or structure, or even the way the vegetation are arranged.

3. Palacio de los Leones

imageThe particular palace is famous for its graceful courtyard surrounded by delicate stilts or columns. The structure possesses no window on which to look through and see the outside of the complex. In the midst of the patio are twelve stately marble lions that are sculpted to look fully alert. They seem to shelter and protect the fountain from anyone who threatens to go near it. The presence of the lion statues surprises everyone as it is an Arabic custom not to create representations of any life form.

More of the Nazrid Palaces – Features and Designs

Walls

imageThe plastered or ceramic covered walls of the Palaces are bold and rich in its linear and geometric designs. On many parts of the wall are carefully rendered Arabic inscriptions. Mysterious to most, some of these writings are portions  of popular poetic creations of palace poets, while the others are praises to Allah.

Ceilings

imageCeilings are as elaborately built as the walls. Note how the windows are positioned near the ceilings, which I presume is meant to allow more illumination to come in. The first image is a stalactite-decorated ceiling. Top left picture is the ceiling to the golden room.

Windows, arches, and columns

imageThe windows, columns, and arches separate the rooms to the courtyards. These are graceful features that reveal the combined Moorish-Renaissance origin of the Nazaries Palaces’ architecture.

Few Tips when visiting Alhambra Granada Spain

Are you a serious history lover, or someone who appreciates ancient Arabic architecture, or perhaps a traveler raring to fly to his next exotic destination? If so, then make Granada your next conquest.

Remember however that traveling is not all pleasure, but also involves a lot of planning, preparation and sorts. Just follow the usual common steps to easy and sensible traveling and you’re bound for the adventure of a lifetime.

From my part, I’d like to impart a few tips – hopefully they will be of help in any way. Most are the usual travel tips, they just serve to remind. In a way, I drew them from my own experience in Granada.

imageSpectacular view of the town from Palacios Nazaries

1. If you plan to visit during the summer season, remember to bring along two or three bottles of water, or what you can conveniently place inside your bag. I didn’t bring any, and so, I bought a number through the course of the day. Pretty expensive since I bought them within the complex.

2. Wear visors or sunglasses that protect the eyes from the glare of the sun. The complex has lots of wide and open spaces, which means the possibility of too much sun exposure. Use sun screen for skin protection.

3. Bring food if you can – you can eat them in the public gardens or at picnic grounds. There must be only two restaurantes within the complex (an estimate) as well as a few alimentaciones (small convenience stores). Believe me when I say these restaurants are expensive. Albeit meals for the day (Menu del dia) at Alberto Restaurant are available at 17 euros, which is friendlier to the budget than if you opt for the multi-course meals.

4. Since Alhambra tours tickets are in demand during summer, it’s best to buy them in advance. They’re available at La Caixa Banks, Corral del Carbon, or online. The time and day of access to the palace is indicated on the ticket. Be there on time, otherwise, you forfeit your chance of entering the palace.

5. If you’re going to the site itself to buy your ticket there, entry will be on the same day. You cannot buy for an advanced date. For groups, one individual can buy tickets for a maximum of ten people. So, if you’re 30, assign 3 persons to buy the necessary number of tickets. Lines are long if you’re buying in person, this is aside from the fact that tickets sold for the same day are limited. Hence, see to it that you will arrive early at the Alhambra ticketing office.

6. While traveling on your own or with buddies might possibly double the excitement, it’s also possible that you will miss seeing important sites and attractions. The complex covers a very wide area where sites are scattered, and so, it can be very confusing. If you insist on traveling alone, know more about your destination by researching beforehand — like which sites are a must-see, and what are the best routes to take for easy roaming around once you’re there.

Still, I thought the best way to see Alhambra is by joining a guided tour — it’s an assurance that you will visit all there is in your destination. Some tour packages cover only the Nazrid Palaces and the Generalife Gardens, others include a tour of the historic Granada districts of Albayzin and Sacromonte. Go for the one that offers the flamenco show, which is certainly an delightful treat.

Other interesting facts:

imageViewing deck and pool at Palacios Nazaries

1. Days open: Every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day

2. Is it a city or a town: Neither. It is a cluster of monuments [palaces and fortress]

3. Distance between Madrid and the Alhambra, Granada: Almost 430 Kilometers

4. Travel time from Madrid: From 4 to 5 hours, depending of the mode of transportation (bus or train).

5. Weather in the fortress: During summer, Alhambra is summery hot, has clear skies and little to no wind. During winter, the weather is cold, especially in the months of January and February.

6. It is declared, together with the Generalife Gardens, as a World Heritage Site in 1984.

My Great Andalucian Adventure: Cordoba

Many believe that Spain is all about Madrid – that the city is the best place to be if you’re in the country. The fact is that there must be hundreds more regions, cities, pueblos, and barrios to see and explore in this Iberian peninsula other than its capital – and one of them is Andalucia.

Where is Andalucia?

The region, which because of its exotic qualities has made it a favorite setting of popular movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and many more, is found in Spain’s southern point. It is undeniably world-class as a tourist destination, where every area must reek in countless amazing sites and attractions.

The region also boasts of the ideal climate all throughout the year – hot in summer and mildly cold in winter – perfect for those once-in-a-lifetime vacation adventures.

In other words, you need not be stuck with Madrid as Spain affords you at least another option. If you’re someone who rares to experience the most unique Spanish culture and tradition, Andalucia is the perfect choice.

andalucia maps
The 8 provinces of Andalucia are clumped together down the southern tip of Spain (Map courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps used with permission.)

Andalucia has eight provinces – these are Cadiz, Cordoba, Almeria, Jaen, Granada, Huelva, Malaga and Seville. Each one is beautiful and breathtaking – ready for any tourist to explore and appreciate.

My next two blog posts (including this) will be about Cordoba
Spain
and Granada, the first two Andalucian provinces that I had the pleasure to see and experience.

Off to my Andalucian Adventure

A city that was declared a World Heritage site, specifically the Historical Center of Cordoba, it was first ruled by the Romans until the Moors took over in the 8th Century. It was said to be the start of the blossoming of a city, the greatness of which easily rivaled other Moslem territories, like ancient Damascus and Constantinople.

And as Cordoba experienced being immersed in both Roman and Moorish cultures, what resulted is a place that exudes the strong characteristics of these two as evidenced by the massive edifice of worship that accommodates at least two religions; the Moorish-inspired whitewashed towns complete with Catholic cathedrals, basilicas, and parroquias; and the lively fiestas and celebrations that honor both Christian and Islamic traditions, among others.

First Stop: Cordoba Spain

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Thru the initiative of an adventurous bunch of Filipinos (their common denominator is that they attend masses at Iglesia de Nuestra Sra. del Espino, along C/ Conde de Serrallo near Plaza del Castilla), a Saturday trip to Andalucia’s Cordoba and Granada was organized.

Leaving the church premises at 1AM, the bus arrived at Cordoba before 6AM, stopping near the foot of the Puente Romano and the Gate of the Bridge. It was still early in the dawn, but a number of people are already around and checking the place. We just came in, yet it was easy to to tell that the place reeks of magnificent attractions — and the following are just some of them.

Cordoba Spain Attractions

1. La Mezquita

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Try to start a discussion about Cordoba, and surely, La Mezquita will be mentioned. It is to be expected as the edifice is of utmost importance to the Cordobans, it being a highly-revered Arab-Andalucian treasure.

Mesquita means Mosque, and its complete name is Mezquita Catedral de Cordoba. It is called as such because it was originally a mosque, but now serves as a Catholic place of worship. Mesquita is unique in that the Moslems also want to have it for their own, proving its immense significance to the Islam religion. In fact, it is recognized as the most important Islamic structure within the Western world.

One look at the façade and you see how it reflects Moslem and Baroque designs. It is a huge mosque, and touted as the third largest in the world. Judging from our walk around its perimeter, the building must cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks.  No doubt, it is one of the most fascinating landmarks that you can see in Cordoba.

2. The bell tower of Mezquita

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This is the present bell tower and is open to the public if you’re touring the Mesquita-Catedral. During the days of the Moor occupation, the tower was originally a minaret or a place where the call to prayer is made.

Built by Abderraman III, the leaders of the cathedral decided to convert it into a bell tower, with the last of the series of reconstruction happening in 1664. If you want great views of Cordoba and the grounds of the Mezquita-Cathedral itself, it is a must that you climb up the bell tower.

3. Puente Romano

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In English, it means the Roman Bridge – an impressive structure that crosses the equally great Rio Guadalquivir. This is known to be the sole bridge of the Ancient Cordoba region for a long time. A colossal work of architecture by the Romans way back in the 1st century A.D., the Spanish government reconstruct it into its original state to preserve its historical importance.

Watch the above video of the Puente Romano de Cordoba as it was featured in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Notice its appearance markedly altered thru the use of computer-generated effects. (Video is courtesy of Cordoba Film Office).

4. Torre de Calahorra

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After the Moslem took reigns of Cordoba, they added a tower to the Roman Bridge in order to protect it and the city itself from invaders coming from the south side of the banks. Inside you will find a museum that displays artifacts from the three great religions – Christian, Jewish, and Moslem. It is open to the public, starting at 10AM. Price of regular admission: 4.50 euros

5. Plaza de la Corredera

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This is one of the city’s famous squares, built right within its midst. The plaza presents a strong Castilian style and is said to be modeled after Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. The square is rich in ancient Roman history, evidenced by the pieces of mosaics found in the site at the time of its construction.

Today, especially now that is summer, the terrace becomes a place where great drinks are enjoyed such as a chilled Fino. On one side of the plaza is found the entrance to a popular Cordoba mercado – El Mercado de la Corredera.

6. Puerta del Puenta

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In English, it means Gate to the Bridge. Puerta del Puenta was constructed in 1570 with Hernan Ruiz II at the helm. Its imposing presence was meant to greet King Felipe II during his Royal visit of the city.

Located at the end of the Puente de Romano, the arch also served as the entrance to Cordoba; hence, the name. The one that stands today was a replacement to the Moslem Gate, which then also replaced the original gate created by the Romans of Julius Ceaser’s time.

7. Roman Water Wheel

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Walk to the right of that part of the bridge near the Gate, and you will see the giant (wooden?) water wheel constructed during the ancient Roman times. It was initially intended as a mill wheel, but the Moors later used it as a way of bringing water to the palace. It is said that the one standing today is a replica. The original wheel was dismantled as the noise it created was deemed a nuisance by Queen Isabella.

8. Triunfo de San Rafael

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This is an old Monument with a locked gate found near the Mezquita-Catedral. It is built to honor the protector of the city, Archangel San Rafael. It is near the Gates to the Roman bridge, a strategic position which I assume as a way for San Rafael to oversee and protect the city.

9. Cruz del Rastro

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Cruz del Rastro, or the Flea market Cross, is a reminder of that part of history when the Christians and Jews were pitted against each other. The end of the conflict between the two groups and in honor of Alonzo de Aguilar is remembered with the construction and installation of the cross in the Middle of the flea market.

10. Statue of San Rafael

imageAn addition to the Roman Bridge, way back in the 1600’s, is still another magnificent statue of San Rafael. Created by Bernabe Gomez del Rio, it stands right in the middle of the bridge. In front is a candle stand on which visitors and tourists may light a candle in honor of the Patron Saint of Cordova

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Cordoba is, needless to say, an Iberian city that’s unique because of the harmonious blend of Roman and Moorish cultures. Apart from the Roman and Moslem built structures, towns, and bridges, the place is above all proudly Spanish; it exhibits strong Iberian tradition that was handed down through numerous generations, like the famous flamenco dances and the celebration of Spanish fiestas.

Particularly awaited by many during the month of May is Cordoba’s Patio festival. It’s a major event in which the town residents open their patios or yards wide to entertain tourists and guests.

There’s always the next time, I can only say. If ever I get the chance to return, I must do it outside the hot summer months – as the less punishing weather will allow me to see more sites and really enjoy endless trekking with friends, hopping from one whitewashed Andalusian town to another. Here’s hoping to see more of Cordoba once again.

How to Go From Madrid to Cordoba:

imageThe blackness of predawn and the silhouette of the palm trees add to the somber depiction of the Torre de Calahorra

Bus: Mendez Alvaro is where public bus services to different cities and regions, including Cordova, are available. Basic bus tickets are worth 15 euros; however, be prepared for a long travel, which is approximately 5 hours. If you don’t mind the long journey, then go and book a bus seat now at Madrid’s premier bus station at the Intercambiador, where its own metro train stop, the Metro Mendez Alvaro, is also found.

Train: Want to reach Cordova faster? Take the fast train service of AVE, and you will arrive at your destination in under two hours. Tickets, of course, are much more expensive at 70 euros.

Join Informal Group Tours: I paid 40 euros for the whole trip, and this amount even includes the entrance fee to the Nazaries Palace of the Alhambra complex. And so, one clear advantage is that you are saved the trouble of getting the entrance tickets – the organizers do it for you. Information about these types of tours are usually posted at message boards of local churches.

The only downside of these tours is that time is very limited; we were allotted only 3 hours in Cordoba as we were also scheduled to go to Alhambra of Granada. Hence, we didn’t visit many other important sites like the Juderia and Medina Azahara. We weren’t even able to witness the magnificent interiors of Mezquita since it opens at 10AM and we had to leave at 9.30AM. (The entrance fee is 8 euros.)

Therefore, to make the most of your travel, my advice is to take the bus at Mendez Alvaro, and go online to buy a professional guided tour package that covers much of Cordoba Spain attractions.

My next post: Alhambra of Granada

Faces at MADO Madrid Orgullo 2016

This could’ve been a more thorough blog post, with additional great photos, had I attended the stiletto race for men (and women?), an awaited segment of Madrid Orgullo 2016.  MADO for short, Madrid Pride is undoubtedly the most popular gay pride event in Europe.

I always wanted to feature Madrid’s gay-friendly barrio Chueca, where the run will be held, but it was unfortunate that I didn’t learn about the event in time. In fact, I almost missed the whole MADO affair if hadn’t been for its advertisement on event details plastered inside an ad street panel at the corner of Bravo Murillo and Capitan Haya Street.

So last Saturday, I took the Metro Line 1 that passes through Atocha station one and a half hours before the parade’s supposed start at 6PM. While I didn’t witness the whole event since I left way before it was finished, I made sure that I collected fine photographs for my blog.

I took shots immediately upon reaching Calle Claudio Moyano in front of Plaza Emperador Carlos V, near Retiro Park. People were everywhere and in a perpetual motion, running around and waving their flags, securing the poles to the sides of their banners, and watching other people. Participants focused on their makeup and costumes, prepping like they never prepped before. It was obvious that everyone was excited for the parade to start.

What’s also apparent was that people appeared bold and unabashed, and brimming with confidence. An effect of Tinto de verano (a popular Spanish alcoholic beverage), I suppose. Some walked back and forth, and then back again, in the middle of the street like it is a catwalk, excited to show off their costumes and look. After one strutted down in the midst of an enthusiastic crowd, another would follow and try to outdo him by performing crazier antics.

And, just when you thought you had seen the craziest costumes, a naked pair arrived, each parading a prosthetic reproductive protrusion that dangled from his waist, to the amusement of the crowd.

I saw at least two groups with members in revealing outfits, one of them tripped to their underwear. The most popular materials for costumes at the event were mesh cloth and leather, and anything that carries the LGBT colors.

Many loved to use the rainbow flag as an accessory, draping it on their back like a cape. A few others wrapped the flag around the waist like a skirt. One wore a small-sized flag like a headband, which was the right thing to do considering that afternoon’s intensely hot temperature. It was indeed fun, even exhilarating, to get shots of the crowd.

Overall, many looked really fabulous, except for a few, which to be frank, didn’t look so fabulous at all.

One thing that quite surprised me is that people willingly posed for anyone who requested to take photos. People did have the right to refuse, but in my case, everyone was accommodating. Those with cameras must have had a field day since every other person in the event was a beautiful subject of photography. I myself had a hard time in choosing which one to shoot first since there are just too many. It was a prolific day for me, having gathered enough  blog-worthy pictures from the MADO event.

Hopefully, I have chosen well and posted the best, most colorful, and most fabulous photos in my Madrid blog.

imageThis Gothic beauty walked down the whole route of the parade to the enjoyment of the spectators.  Exuding confidence, she strutted with a fierce look on her face like she was a top model, stopping only whenever photographers requested to shoot her

imageThe water looked inviting, and it really was a hot afternoon, and so this lady decided to cool down by sitting at the water fountain along Paseo del Prado

imageThe girl on the left, with the alpha and omega tattoo on her belly, thought I wanted her to take my picture. They gamely posed when I told them I wanted theirs. An attractive pair with comely smiles, brought close together by a beautiful lei of rainbow colors

image Flags flashing the LGBT colors were everywhere and used as capes or what they’re intended to be – like in this picture

image I requested this gentleman to close his eyes for a better look at his eyelashes. It was a colorful work of art that’s meant for everyone to see

imageAlthough there are many other Pride parades happening in different regions in Spain, such as Barcelona and Ibiza, the Madrid Orgullo is recognized as the biggest and most colorful parade event in the country
image This pair wears the attire that suits the occasion – a pair of sunglasses, glitzy ties, and nothing else

imageThe Madrid Orgullo is recognized as the most celebrated and attended pride event of them all.  It is everyone’s observation that MADO has become more and more conventional throughout the years, in the sense that not only members of the LGBT community attend it but those with straight orientation as well

imageThe Plaza de Cibeles above, an hour before the event. The whole area was filled by onlookers by the time the parade passed through it. Notice the LGBT flag hanging at the facade of the Palacio de Cibeles

imageGirls just wanna have fun! Notice the girl on the left holding a glass filled with the wine-like beverage known as Tinto de verano, very popular in the country and often compared to sangria. La Casera, a top brand, was sold in many corners along the parade area

imageGroups position in the street upon the announcement that the parade is about to start

imageFour sailors and their muse

imageThis exquisite lady projects her stunning look for the camera. Apart from the stilleto race and the gay parade, activities were also held at Barrio Chueca, known as the gay district of the city and the biggest one in Europe

imageGiving their best smiles, they strike me as cool, strong, and independent young women ready to have some fun at the event.

imageThe winged man! Vive y deja vivir – Live and let live. Kindly use Google translate if you want to know what the second line means

imageRainbow flag flies high over participants as they march along Paseo del Prado. The parade passed through Plaza de Cibeles, with Plaza de Colon as the final stop, where parties, dancing, and fun activities happened through the remainder of the day