An Insider's Spain

Way back in May, a week after I submitted a paper (which got in!) and a two days after Nathaniel gave his final oral presentation for his dissertation, we headed off to Spain!  It was a very different sort of vacation, as Nathaniel grew up in Madrid and has an insider's perspective and also lots of friends still living there.

The first day, Nathaniel was actually a little quiet—memories started flooding in as soon as we hit the Madrid airport, and included things as small as being on a particular ramp or hearing the recorded metro voice.  We spent the afternoon walking in the Retiro park, eating bocadillos, looking the book shops, street vendors and performers, and just generally people watching.  Dinner was at Casa Mingo, where Nathaniel's family used to go regularly.

This one is for my mom, the Iris junkie.
The following day, we saw the royal palace, walked through the downtown, saw the museo del Prado, and visited the botanical gardens in Retiro, which had an abundance of irises and other flowers in bloom.  In the evening , we had dinner with a bunch of Nathaniel's friends from school.  It was fun to meet them, joke around, and just have a relaxing evening. Sunday was more memories: we visited Nathaniel's old church congregation, walked by his old apartment and school, and met with another dear friend.

The following day, we left Madrid, which began a very different phase of the trip.  We did some hiking and drove down to Toledo.  There, we saw the El Greco museum, which has both art and living spaces restored to late 16th century style.  We also saw a cathedral, tapestry museum, Jewish museum, and an Alcazar which had been converted to the most elaborate military museum I've ever seen.  Toledo also has a marzipan factory, so I had to put some in my mouth.

Then, off to Córdoba!  After dinner, we had tea and sweets in cute little Moroccan tea shop.  The following dat we saw the Mezquita, which was thoroughly strange.  It was once a mosque, but a cathedral had since been built in the center, and services were going on while we were there.  The guide brochure had a strong catholic bias, with only one of six panels devoted to its Muslim history, most of which read a little bit like "it was a church, and then the Muslims tore that down and built a mosque, and so we feel totally justified in making it a cathedral, because it was once a church.  Do you hear that?  We were here first."  I exaggerate, of course, but it was very defensive.

Mosque-cathedral hybrid. Just a cute alley we found.

We also saw a roman water wheel, and another alcazar, which was a child's dream fort with lovely garden and a fun irrigation system.  I would let you guess who was dorking out about what, but the pictures give it away.

Nathaniel dorking aout about irrigation. Me dorking out about flowers.

Next up was Granada.  We arrived in the evening, caught a flamenco show, and watched the sun set over Alhambra.  We got up early the next day because Alhambra tickets sell out quickly, and that was the major reason we were there.  Thankfully, we got to see it, and it was both amazingly elaborate and extensive.  When I wasn't cooing over the gardens, I was on a mission to find all 17 wallpaper groups, which I'll post about later.  After we spent most of the day in Alhambra, we took a quick hike and then headed over to Huelva, where Nathaniel had another classmate (Charli) we were going to stay with.

Orange and cream colored pomegranate blossoms.

We used Huelva as a launching point to see Sevilla.  There we saw yet another cathedral and alcazar; the latter we recently recognized in a Game of Thrones episode (Dorne).  We also saw an amazing face-off between a duck and a peacock.  The duck was apathetically looking for food while the peacock was aggressively shaking its feathers at the duck.  It went on for about 10 minutes before we moved on.  Eventually we joined up with our hosts Charli and Laura who encouraged us to do silly touristy things.  That evening, it was Charli's goal to present me with food I would refuse.  We began with caracoles (snails), then proceeded to tiny clams, a large octopus tentacle, and finished with little squid.  I ate everything, but by the time I got to the squid, I was very full, so only had one.

Charli's idea.

After departing from Charli and Laura's place the next morning with bellies full of fresh churros dipped in hot chocolate, we made a quick stop at the replicas of Christopher Columbus's ships, and then headed to Segovia.  There, we marveled at the massive Roman aqueduct and had dinner at the famous (both within the Chaney family and without) Restaurante Jose María, which lived up to every expectation.  Jose María himself even came by our table to ask how things were.

For some reason, every statue of Christopher Columbus we
saw has him pointing.

Ordesa was up next—it was a bit of a drive to the park, as it is on the French border.  There we spent three nights up in the mountains.  We saw beautiful wildflowers, and families of chubby marmots and sprightly mountain goats.  The rock formations were simply stunning—the beauty of Ordesa cannot properly be put into words.  I'll just put up a bunch of pictures instead.

Roman bridge.
This waterfall fascinated Nathaniel.
It came out of the side of the rock.

Looking hardcore with my ice pick.
Despite the snow, it was hot.
And because of the snow it was bright.
So we build this shelter for lunch
after deciding an igloo would take too long.
The gap tooth in the background is a pass,
with France on the other side.
His turn to look hardcore.
But I needed the last word in hardcoreitude.

After hiking, we made our way down to Barcelona, which felt far more foreign than I expected, probably due to minor language barriers.  We had a lovely evening with Nathaniel's brother, who was there on business, then saw the old city and the Sagrada Familia the following day.  At first I was hesitant to go inside the basilica, as it reminded me of a drippy sand castle, but inside, the architectural mastery was shown to its fullest, as the colored glass windows cast fantastic shadows over smooth geometric shapes.  The day after, we saw Castell de Montjuïc and the area surrounding the Olympic grounds.

Like any long trip, I was ready for the routine of home at the end, but I was less exhausted than trips usually make me.  I think this was due to our slower-than-usual pace and much of it being already familiar to Nathaniel.  If we are blessed with the ability to do so, I would love to make Spain a regular vacation destination for us, returning every five or six years.  It has a piece of home.

Let's end with this awesome flower we saw in Barcelona.
Two petals are each half pink and half white.

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