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Sat 09/30/06 (day 1) – Setting Off
Had a pretty uneventful series of travel legs out of Houston. The flying time from Newark to Madrid (just under 7 hours) seems too short for an overnight flight now, after doing many Houston-Tokyo trips in the last couple of years, where flights tend to be 13-14 hours.
Sun 10/01/06 (day 2) – If it’s Sunday, this must be Madrid
Got caught up in customs in Madrid as several planes unloaded at the same time.
The taxi ride to the hotel in Madrid produced a little excitement as the downtown area was blocked up for a bicycle festival. Our taxi driver earned her fare by navigating a large number of backstreets to get to the hotel. We very much enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Preciados, recommended in the Lonely Planet Spain guidebook.
Foolishly, but necessarily, we took a nap after getting into the hotel from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. I think this was the root cause of my relative poor sleeping habits over the next two weeks.
After a refreshing shower, we enjoyed the views from the hotel room balcony and then set off on a little walk.
We walked from our hotel past the Puerto del Sol, the Teatro Real, the Plaza de Oriente, the Jardins de Sabatini and the Templeo de Debod and back to the hotel, stopping at many places to take photographs.
- a wedding party in the Jardins de Sabatini, the groom wearing a traditional tuxedo but with a blindingly bright orange tie and handkerchief
- lots of people out lounging around in the park enjoying the beautiful weather
- lots of construction and streets being ripped up
- lots of bars open and packed for the Real Madrid vs Athletico Madrid football match
We had dinner at the hotel in the couple’s table in the big glass window at the front of the restaurant. A great meal and nice after-dinner liquors.
Mon 10/02/06 (day 3) – Wandering the City
Up late again and missed breakfast. I needed a coffee bad so we Starbucks breakfast, starting a tradition we held throughout the trip. Been brushing up on our Spanish to be able to order food, etc, but completely failed to order muffins correctly.
Spent the day walking around the city, poking our noses into different places: the Plaza Mayor, the Real Jardin Botainico and the Parque del Retiro. Stopped into the Atocha train station to reserve our tickets to Valencia.
Had a very late lunch in the Plaza Santa Anna; good ham, cheese, bread and beer.
Robin spent a good time shopping in a vast linen store just off the Plaza Mayor before dinner. Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant; we were curious on how the Spanish did Mexican food; very good dinner. Because it did not open until 9:00 pm, we spent an hour outside at a sidewalk cafe enjoying a beer.
Tue 10/03/06 (day 4) – Tourists!
We got back on the tourist trail a bit today. We took in the Prado which every other tourist in Madrid seemed like they decided to do today. We had about 20 minute wait at noon before getting in. Pretty impressive collection; Robin and I were both extremely impressed with the Goya’s; he definitely had a heck of a career and was ahead of his time in many ways.
We wandered around some more before returning to the hotel in the late afternoon. I had a nap and Robin read; this is a vacation after all.
Dinner was some more tapas and dessert was the deadly churros and chocolate at the Chocolateria San Gines. Whoa baby, those things were rich…
Wed 10/04/06 (day 5) – Travel Day 1
Robin’s developed a bit of cold so we hung around the hotel before leaving by taxi to the train station. There we grabbed some breakfast and hopped on the train around 11:00 am.
We booked Preferentre seating which gave us a lot of room. We enjoyed watching La Mancha and Castille roll by outside our windows. Even lunch was good; a little vino tinto, a little meat (this is Spain you know), a little dessert.
We arrived in Valencia on time around 2:45 pm and walked up to our hotel. We checked in to our home for the next six days.
I called Dimitris and Delfina from the hotel and we agreed to try to meet in the evening for a quick drink, since they were only four days away from the wedding.
Robin and I then did what we do everywhere: grabbed the cameras and went for a walk.
We both liked Valencia immediately; nicely sized, lots of interesting things to see, beautiful weather.
We did meet up with D&D and ended up having dinner with them in a very traditional tapas restaurant. It was great to finally meet Delfina before the wedding.
Thu 10/05/06 (day 6) – Travel Chores
Dimitris and Delfina mentioned that there were several holidays coming up over the next week and they recommended that we book our remaining train trips today. Got to the train station and could tell immediately that this was going to take awhile: when we pulled ticket A424 for service, they were serving A283! We bunked down for a long wait and amused ourselves watching people’s reactions when they got their numbers and realized how long the wait was. Having the train schedules printed off at home and then just pointing to the train we wanted made the actual reservations go quickly when we finally got served.
Having said all of the that, the Valenica train station is a beautiful building done in wood and mosaics.
We grabbed some lunch at the pizzeria beside the hotel (very good). Exiting the restaurant, we ran into some friends who were also in town for the wedding.
We spent the afternoon walking through the old city and then around the park created from the old riverbed of the Turia river after they diverted west of the city in the 1960’s. A beautiful day with many pictures taken.
Fri 10/06/06 (day 7) – More of Valencia
Today’s travels took us to the Mercado Central, the Torres de Serranos, Museo de Bellas Artes San Pao V and the Jardan Bota¡nico. The weather was fantastic and we simply enjoyed being out and about.
Sat 10/07/06 (day 8) – Wedding Day
Today was Dimitris’ and Delfina’s wedding day. We basically took it easy all day, getting ready for the evening ahead. The wedding was around 6:00 pm in a beautiful church in the east end of the city. After the service, there was about two hour gap which Dimitris’ family filled for the guests by arranging a sightseeing tour of Valencia by bus. It was a nice way to fill the time and for Robin and I it filled some of the areas of the city we had not seen before. The bus stopped mid-trip for the groom’s brothers to pick up several boxes of plates to be smashed at the reception.
The reception was held in a lovely building, which I understood to be owned by the city of Valencia and rented out for occasions like this. The food, wine, music and friendship was great and we partied long into the night. I think we finally left about 3:00 am (this is Spain you know). We were hoping to find a cab but ended up walking back to our hotel with another couple who were friends of Dimitris.
Sun 10/08/06 (day 9) – Recovery Day
Sunday was a quiet day, recovering from our long night the day before. We did visit the Museo Nacional de Ceraimica Gonzalez Marta (ceramics) and walked through the streets in the evening, taking some photos on the city hall in the main plaza.
Mon 10/09/06 (day 10) – Moors and Christians
Unbeknown to us, Monday was a holiday in Valencia, so when we walked out of our hotel in the morning, we found a parade starting up with the various groups getting ready to march. There were musical groups and political parties and workers groups all lining up to depart from the city hall.
We decided to go the main beach, the Playa de la Malvarrosa, for the afternoon. We figured out how to buy tickets for the tram and made the half hour to the beach. We spent a good part of the afternoon walking up and down the beach just enjoying the sun. Off in the distance, the America’s Cup challengers were practicing. We stopped by the America’s Cup port and looked into several of the syndicates’ buildings and displays. Dinner was al fresco in a small seafood restaurant on the beach.
The sun going down, we returned back to the hotel, only to be stopped about 500 m from our hotel by another parade, this one much more lavish than the one earlier in the day. The costumes and floats were tremendous and they kept on coming. Turns out the holiday was to celebrate the Day of Valencian Community and the parade represented both the Christian and Moorish communities of the area. What a great way to finish our stay in Valencia.
Tue 10/10/06 (day 11) – Travel Day 2
We packed our suitcases once again and caught the 10:00 am train from Valencia to Barcelona. Again in first class, we had a good view of the Mediterranean Sea as the rail line hugged the coast most of the way. We took a cab from the train station to our hotel, the Hotel Jazz. This was a great find; we really enjoyed the design touches through the hotel. We strolled around the Rambles in the afternoon and evening.
Wed 10/11/06 (day 12) – La Sagrada Famalia
We took in the Museu Taxtil i da´Indumentaria (textile museum) in the morning but the highlights of the day were all Gaudi. La Sagrada Famalia was awesome in the true sense of the word. We spent almost 4 hours there, examining and photographing the beautiful structure. A dinner of tapas closed out a busy day in Barcelona.
Thu 10/12/06 (day 13) – Wet
Well, our last full day in Barcelona got washed out by a constant rain. We tried to see all the sites in Montjuic, but decided to turn around short of the castle because of the rain.
We also encountered two women who on reflection were trying to pick my pocket. Good for us that the Tilley jacket had everything under control.
Fri 10/13/06 (day 14)- Heading Home
Well, after a long but visually interesting train trip from Barcelona to Madrid, Robin and I are now at the High Tech Hotel at the Madrid Airport. Nice hotel with a PC in our room so we can check some email.
Waiting until 8:30 pm for the restaurant to open for some dinner.