Nov 27, 2009

Discover Spain

The author in front of hand painted Spanish fans

Spain … that is, the intense spirit of flamenco and the fiery collision of modern (Cataluña) and archaic (Andalucía) tradition. In this country that never sleeps, there is always a reason to party and stay up late. Not quite sure how they manage to be up and awake but  the secret might just be renewed energy after a good afternoon siesta! Each city that we visited – Madrid, Segovia, Avila, Sevilla, and Barcelona – had a charm uniquely its own.

We soaked in Madrid’s art, culture, and history walking through the Jardin Botanico, the Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the Catedral de San Isidro, the Palacio Real, the El Rastro flea market, and more.  We took an hour-long train ride to see the Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, which was once the Royal Palace and is now the burial site for the Royal Family; and then a 15-minute cab ride to the Valle de los Caidos, a memorial to lives lost in the Spanish Civil War and where General Franco is buried.

Segovia’s serpentine aqueduct is spectacular and resembles a ship’s helm – a grand entrance to the Old Town! Would you believe that its two tiers of 166 arches and 128 pillars were built without mortar? It’s amazing! Segovia’s romantic Alcazar, with its spiraling towers and pointed turrets, was reportedly the model for the castle in the Disney movie Cinderella.

Avila’s almost-perfect medieval walls, 10 feet thick and 40 feet high, are incredible! Even the cathedral was built as part of the walls. There is a walkway around the top where you can almost imagine an army of Moors approaching the city. It is also the hometown of Spain’s patron saint, Santa Teresa de Avila. We tried the “melts-in-your-mouth” yema that the city is famous for. Very rich and sinful!
Our hotel in Sevilla, Alfonso XIII, was another high point. It is, perhaps, the most exotic hotel I’ve ever experienced. Truly a work of art, its archways, inlaid columns, marble floors, tile and woodwork are astonishing. So this is how it feels to be royalty! Not far from the hotel is the Alcazar, still used as a private residence for the Spanish royals, and the Cathedral of Sevilla, where we took a carriage ride around the city to see the Plaza de España, Teatro dela Maestranza, and Toro del Oro.

Our final stop, Barcelona, cannot be dismissed. Once home to Miró and Picasso, it lives up to its reputation as the mecca for bold creativity. Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllό, and Parc Guëll definitely caught the attention of my girls, Katrina and Ashley, with its avant-garde style. Another favorite was Las Ramblas, the heart of Barcelona’s street life, filled with cafes, shops, street artists, and vendors selling souvenirs, flowers, and all kinds of pets (turtles, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks,parrots, love birds, fish, chicks, and more). I loved the La Boqueria, which reminded me of the markets in the Philippines, with stands selling meat, fish, wine, cheese, fruits, nuts, breads, and produce.

The saying “when you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do” cannot be as applicable to Spain when it comes to food. We always left room for something else as we walked through the streets. I recommend going tasca to tasca leading up to dinner at 11 p.m. or so! From the paella, cochinillo asado, Jabugo ham, spicy salami, tapas, and the manchego cheese … there are endless possibilities of what and where to eat.

About the author:

Anzelle David is my cousin who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her husband and two daughters, Kat and Ashley. She is a vice president for Fleishman-Hillard.

Kat and Ashley at Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia

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