Thursday, January 21, 2010

España - muy bien !

I never understood why any trip to Spain was considered ''off-the-beaten-track'', given that it is as close, as colorful, as sunny, as tourist-friendly, as non-English-speaking as Italy is. But I also never understood how I never planned a vacation in Spain in all these years....I once planned a weekend trip to Barcelona that had to be cancelled due to work but besides that Spain was never on the Radar for a proper vacation and why - I cannot think of a single reason ! The feeblest excuse I have is that I was busy with other places.

We had booked our flights, hotels, online reservations for tourist spots, brushed up on our Spanish lessons (that we had taken a while ago, Ashok more recently than I and hence the pro), picked up suggestions from friends and were all set for our trip. Our itinerary comprised of 2 days in Granada, a day in Cordoba, a day in Barcelona and a week in Madrid, from where we had planned one-day trips to Toledo, Salamanca and El Escorial - quite ambitious considering that there are people who spend a week in almost each of these places ! But we had no plans of just seeing everything from the outside and coming back home with sore feet and tired minds....it was meant to be a true vacation, so we made a few picks in every place and stuck to them.

The top 6 highlights of the trip were
1. Alhambra, Granada: Remember the Amber fort in Jaipur ? It looks imposing perched atop a hill and as you go closer, you widen your eyes and once you are inside, your jaws drop at the exquisite carvings and rich architecture - I almost experienced that for the second time when we visited the Alhambra. Eerily enough, Al hambra (like amber) means the ''red one''. We spent nearly 6 hours there and I have so much to say that I decided to make that a separate post.

2. Mezquita, Cordoba: There is a Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, yeah that's right, two-in-one - a result of the end of the Islamic era by Christian invasion. The first photo shows the Mosque and the one below it the Cathedral.

I found the pamphlet circulated there very partial claiming that the Islamic Invasion borrowed ideas from the already existing Christian architecture but the pictures will tell you that this is quite a lame attempt to rob the Moorish people of their glory.

3. Salamanca: One of the most beautiful cities that I have seen, so much so that it made me dream of what I had not dreamt about in a long time - moving to a place (albeit temporarily) that is not India. I have already written about how I fell in love with the place. Toledo was beautiful too in its own way but Salamanca took the prize away !

4. Flamenco show: Tap dancing has always impressed me (although it is classified as geeky in many sitcoms in the US, no idea why) and when that combines with the passion and fervour that accompanies the flamenco guitar, music and beats, it just leaves one mesmerized. Photos and videos are here.

5. Segrada Familie (Church of the Holy Family), Barcelona: Although it did not appeal to me for its beauty, the sheer geometry of the Segrada Familie had overcome any qualms I had about it. The entrance to the Cathedral itself is eerie, reminded me of Dracula's Castle and while I was wondering why, the audio guide went on to explain that facade was devised to reflect the suffering of the Passion of Christ (and hence the representation of death) by Antoni Gaudi.

The inside of the Church gives one the feeling of walking into a thick forest where if you look up you will see the sunlight through small gaps between the trees and apparently this is exactly what Gaudi had in mind (shown in the photo below - while the one on the left is the real one, the right one is a miniature model used for design)


If one had a contest, it should to be to spot all the animals engraved in various parts of the Cathedral - I saw everything from snails to snakes, from squirrels to chameleons. The tour was well worth the 3 hours we spent and the ride to the top to get a view of the city and see the towers upclose, even more. Since the Church is still under construction (it began in 1882) one can see the engineering drawings, models etc. and all the nuances involved in such a huge project - that part was fascinating, the effort is quite unfathomable !

The picture shows a miniature model of how it will look when its complete - 18 towers in all representing the 12 Apostles, 4 Evangelists, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ (the tallest one, 170m high). Ashok and I have made a resolution that we should come back and see the grand opening 16 years from now (Lets see what the good God has in store for us!)

6. Cathedral, Granada: I do not know if I liked the cathedral for its magnificent ceilings or the huge pillars or the exquisite altar or because we were the first ones there and we got to enjoy the Cathedral with a good audio guide at peace but the Cathedral in Granada is certainly worth a visit and getting up early (coming from someone like me that is saying a lot) !

Things you must know before going to Spain
- No one and that means absolutely no one speaks English. Knowing basic Spanish will make your vacation a lot more easier, especially if you are not in Madrid or Barcelona. Otherwise, be ready for ''interesting'' experiences. Even then you might have a few in store for you, like we did :D !

- Spaniards are very friendly, hospitable and they love to TALK, TALK and TALK. You will find people going out of the way to help you. On the other hand, if you are in a hurry, don't stop and ask for directions. For a simple question like ''where is the train station?'', you will get a 2 minute reply...seriously, especially if the question is in Spanish ! In spite of your accent and the sort of ''retarded'' look you have, they somehow assume you know Spanish and they go on with a fervour and there is absolutely no pause when you can excuse yourself !

- If you are a vegetarian and not a model that lives on grapefruit, you are in big trouble. Forget hot vegetarian meals and learn to live on pastries and fruit juices especially if you are not in big cities. Tapas sin carne sin pescados (snacks/appetizers without meat, without fish) was the watchword rather phrase for us that was consistently followed by a surprised look and helpless shrug everywhere we went ! This is probably the one factor where Italy scored big in comparison to Spain

- Spaniards have a simple breakfast, a really heavy lunch (around 2pm or later) and a very light dinner. So don't be surprised if shops and places are closed between 1:30 and 4:30. Funnily enough, the only people you will see outside at this time in peak summer (when its around 45 deg C) are sweaty tourists and their cameras. Do not expect great service in a crowded restaurant, if you just order a sandwich for lunch. You would be better off if you switched your routine to theirs as well - have a 3 course lunch, take a 1 hr nap, a salad for dinner and party all night !

- Breakfast is usually just a croissant and Cafe con Leche (Coffee with milk) - very similar to what we have at home. Freshly brewed coffee fills one quarter of the cup and the rest is filled with milk (depending on if you like it) and finally sugar is added. This kind of preparation reminded me of our very own filter coffee. Another popular dish for breakfast is the Churros con Chocolate (dunking bread sticks in thick and rich chocolate)

In spite of seeing all these places, I still cannot say I have had enough of Spain - I still have Valencia, Seville, Avila, Alicante and others on my list....oh..well....some day :D !

Copyright only for the first Sagrada Familie Picture
dortmund-airport.de
Hit Counter
Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)