Travel Guide: Madrid, Cordoba, Sevilla, Barcelona

Warning: This posts is very long and contains lots of photos.

As I’ve mentioned, my sister lives in Madrid and my parents and brother live in Rochester, NY. We met up in Madrid on Christmas Day and traveled around Spain until January 3, at which point we departed for our various homes. Some of us (okay, me) cried more than others. I love my family more than anything else in the world and it was very hard to leave them. Times like that make me wonder what I’m doing trying to make a life for myself halfway (all the way?) around the world. In the back of my mind, I know I want to live back in Rochester. I honestly didn’t think I’d miss home as much as I do.

But, the point of this post is photos! I’ve divided each section by where we went and what we did, but the first bit for each is simply pictures I took as we walked up and down winding, twisting streets. Enjoy! Also, go to Spain.


Madrid

Our time in Madrid was spent wandering around (with purpose, guided by Rick Steves) and going to museums. We visited the Prado, Museo Municipal (not recommended), and Reina Sofia. It was very cool seeing Durer’s Self Portrait and Vazquez’s Las Meninas in person at the Prado because I taught about those in my Global 9 class. Reina Sofia’s main attraction is Picasso’s Guernica, another painting that I’ve always wanted to see. Wow. Obviously, I don’t have any photos from the museums but I do have loads from walking around Madrid.

Madrid’s cathedral is a stunning building. Until we visited a few other churches later on, it was the most unique church I’d ever seen.


Córdoba

After 3 nights in Madrid, we took the train to Córdoba, which gave us absolutely stunning views of the Spanish countryside. It actually looks the way it’s described in books. That is both rare and almost too good to be true. As Mitch said, “In every Napoleonic era book I’ve read, there’s always a convenient stone wall and a house nearby.” Apparently that’s true. The city of Córdoba fit quite well into that framework.

We were only in Córdoba for one night and made two major stops. The first was to a museum called Casa Sefard, a Jewish history museum. The museum was a bit of a sad story because the Inquisition got rid of Córdoba’s Jews, so all the artifacts were from other parts of the world.

We spent a great deal of time at La Mezquita, which, I am ashamed to admit, I didn’t know existed. For those kindred spirits who are out of the loop, La Mezquita is a cathedral built inside a mosque, which was built on top of a church. Equally interesting, it’s over 1,000 years old!

One of my favorite parts of Córdoba was standing on the bridge connecting the two sides of town and watching the sunset. It was so beautiful and serene. This was our only night in Córdoba, so I’m glad it was particularly lovely.


Sevilla

Sevilla is a very old city and traces its history directly back to the Romans. Much of Europe can claim the same, but it never ceases to amaze this “New World” born-and-raised girl.

Naturally, we had to visit Sevilla’s cathedral. Poor Mitch isn’t a fan of touring religious buildings, but he was a good sport and followed along. Interestingly, the Sevilla Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. (I wonder if any other churches claim the same . . .) I don’t have a good picture of Christopher Columbus’s tomb, but that was very cool. I didn’t know he was buried there! Actually, as I realized throughout our travels, I didn’t know much about Spain at all.

I absolutely loved walking up the ramp inside the bell tower, which used to be the muezzin’s tower from back when this cathedral was a mosque. (Are you sensing a theme in Spanish history?)

We also went to the city’s archives and examined some really neat early exploration maps. Unfortunately, nothing was translated into English so that was a quick stop. Mitch and I also visited the bullfighting museum and learned a lot. I had no idea that bullfighting started as a way of training horses to keep calm amidst battle chaos! Clearly, that is no longer the goal. There’s a chapel inside the bullring where most matadors pray before entering the ring.

Sevilla is known for its deep flamenco tradition, so we went to a wonderful flamenco show. The whole show consisted of a singer, a guitarist, and two dancers. Fantastic. One of the most compelling shows I’ve seen. Flamenco dance reminds me of a combination of Irish dance and tap but that’s not even a good description. There’s so much passion and emotion in the music, in the singing, and in the movement. Really wonderful experience.


Barcelona

After two nights in Sevilla, we flew to Barcelona as our final stop. This was definitely my favorite of the four cities. Barcelona feels smaller than Madrid and the people seemed more welcoming. It was also really fun to see and hear Catalan everywhere we went. There was more than one sign written in Catalan and English rather than Catalan and Spanish, which was quite interesting. On a walking tour that we took, I learned that the Catalan independence flag has a blue star on a white field, like on the Cuban flag. The independence movement adopted that star in 1898 when Cuba gained independence from Spain.

Our first day, we went to the market for lunch. I found an organic vegetarian Mexican stand, so of course I had to try it.

It was in Barcelona that I saw the most stunning church I’ve ever seen. La Sagrada Família Basilica is truly a marvel. One of my students last year asked me about “the church in Spain that they’ve been building for over 100 years” and I didn’t know what it was until I looked it up. Seeing it was nothing like anything I’ve ever visited. I didn’t know that churches could feel almost modern and ethereal and heavenly, but this one did. Mitch put it well: “If Alice in Wonderland had a church, this would be it.” Bri had told us about the importance of light inside the church, and that was truly incredible.

Even though they haven’t appeared in photos thus far, my family did go on this trip. Here’s the proof:

Last but not least, funny signs!

We didn't buy any.
We didn’t buy any.
I don't know if something was lost in translation or if a sign was torn down, but I do know that I am completely confused as to the name and purpose of this store.
I don’t know if something was lost in translation or if a sign was torn down, but I do know that I am completely confused as to the name and purpose of this store.
Ironically, "Brewed Coffee" on the menu was labeled "NOT AVAILABLE"
Ironically, plain ole brewed coffee on the menu was labeled “NOT AVAILABLE”
This was the dessert menu at a restaurant. We were completely lost and the Spanish menu was no help. But I can tell you that Ass Keeper coffee is quite nice.
This was the dessert menu at a restaurant. We were completely lost and the Spanish menu was no help. But I can tell you that Ass Keeper coffee is quite nice.

It was a wonderful trip. I learned a lot, ate a lot, drank lovely wine, and had an excellent time with my family. Happy 2015 to all!

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