Friday, July 16, 2010

Heart of Spain - Madrid

We have really enjoyed our four days in Madrid. This city is just packed with so much culture. As much as we really enjoy the small towns we have visited along the way, the major cities just feel more like home. (Living in NYC has destroyed us forever!)

Each day we sleep in until ten or eleven, hit up a major attraction, eat lunch, siesta for a couple of hours, eat dinner, stroll through the lively streets and plazas, and go to bed around one or two. Really, who could ask for much more in life?

The museums in Madrid are amazing. We went to the Museo del Prado and sucked up all of the Spanish art we could get. The Goya section was by far our favorite. Sara hit up the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza to get her fill of impressionist art while John was getting his modern art fix at the Cento de Arts Reina Sofia. Later that evening Sara walked through the Parque del Buen Retiro - Madrid's version of Central Park. The park was alive with people strolling, running, boating, sleeping. It was wonderful! There is nothing better than relaxing in a beautiful park in the middle of a city.

We have loved spending time in the Plaza Mayor and Puerto del Sol. There is so much happening. The street performers are both freaky and amazing. We could watch some of the performers for hours! We are coming up with some good street performing ideas just in case we can't find jobs when we get back!

Our last day in Madrid was spent touring the Palacio Real and Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena. We toured fifty of the two thousand rooms in the palace. The royal family moved to a smaller palace outside of Madrid but still uses this lavish palace for entertaining guests. We are hoping our next visit to Madrid includes a dinner with the King and Queen. The Cathedral had amazing colorful and modern stained glass windows. It was a nice surprise to see so much light and color in a large cathedral like that. Spain, you really know how to spice things up!

PS - any country that eats churros and hot chocolate for breakfast is destined to be amazing!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back up, we forgot to cover Casablanca

Our blog wouldn't be complete without our Casablanca coverage. Sorry about messing up the order. There wasn't a lot to see in Casablanca but we did make it to the most important attraction - the Hassan II Mosque. This mosque is out of this world. It's located right along the water and has a retractable roof (please don't picture a sports stadium roof, this roof has intricate designs all over the inside of it). It's the third largest mosque in the world and can hold up to 25,000 people.

Here is a description from wikipedia (don't worry, they are the same facts our tour guide told us):

"Built on reclaimed land, almost half of the surface of the mosque lies over the Atlantic water. This was inspired by the verse of the Qur'an that states "the throne of God was built on water." Part of the floor of this facility is glass so worshippers can kneel directly over the sea; above, spotlights shine at night from the top of the minaret toward Mecca. These features were specifically requested by King Hassan II, who declared, "I want to build this mosque on the water, because God's throne is on the water. Therefore, the faithful who go there to pray, to praise the Creator on firm soil, can contemplate God's sky and ocean." It also includes a number of modern touches: it was built to withstand earthquakes and has a heated floor, electric doors, and a sliding roof."

Location:Calle de Arlabán,Madrid,Spain

It's all about the Alhambra - Granada

We took a three hour train ride to Granada to see the Alhambra, Spain's most visited monument. Our guide book says that it is perhaps the most refined and exquisite example of Islamic art in the world. The Alhambra was a fortress-palace constructed in the 13-14th century.

We toured the Palacio Nazaries and gardens. We were told over and over again that we needed to be at the entrance to the palace at the specified time on our ticket. If not, we wouldn't be allowed to enter. Well, we showed up a few minutes early just to make sure we were there on time. The specified time came and went and we were still standing there in the blazing sun (over 100 degrees). In fact, we stood there for a least a half hour until they let us in the palace. You could tell our patience was running thin when people started butting in line and Sara started complaining and then John said, "Don't worry, they will burn in Hell for that". Suddenly everything was ok.

Turn on the AC - Seville

After the craziness of Morocco it was nice to spend a few days in the charming town of Seville. We fully embraced the traditional siestas and wished America would adopt this wondering habit of napping during the day. Our favorite part might have been going to the cinema during the day to escape the sun. Maybe, just maybe we went and saw Eclipse one night. Let's just say that our ticket, popcorn, fountain soda, and candy bar cost less than a movie ticket in NYC. We were in heaven!!!

We did muster up enough strength to see the sights. We went to the cathedral and Giralda. It's an old cathedral where Christopher Columbus is supposedly buried (although some say he is buried in the Dominican Republic). There used to be a mosque here but the Christians eventually tore it all down, except for the Giralda. The Giralda is the minaret from the original mosque. We climbed the Giralda's 35 floors for a spectacular view of the city.

We also went to the Alcazar. The Alcazar was originally a fort but over time it was used for different things. The buildings were beautiful but the gardens were incredible. John spent most of his time on an audio guided tour of the buildings and Sara spent most of her time in the gardens. Sara could have spent all day there watching these cute little boys feed the peacocks, baby peacocks, and ducks. The only thing that could have been better is if she would have brought her own bread so she could have gotten in on the action.

Seville is splendid but we suggest coming when it isn't quite so hot!

PS - hotels in Spain don't seem to understand the concept of AC. They think a tiny stream of cold air cuts it. NO, it doesn't. We went out and bought our own fan so we could cool down enough to sleep.

Making World Cup History - Seville

We must be good luck charms because whenever the team of the country we are currently visiting plays a game in the World Cup, they win!!! We gathered with thousands of Spaniards in Seville to watch the championship game (Spain v Holland). The streets were packed with people covered in red and yellow. The flag was everywhere you looked and people were chanting everywhere you turned. We watched part of the game in a huge crowd surrounding a tiny tv outside a little restaurant. They hung a flat screen tv outside the restaurant window and threw an extended cable cord from an apartment above out the window in order to watch the game. It was hilarious. The second half of the game we sat at a little outdoor restaurant. They were having problems getting their tv up and running (hooked up the same way as the other place) so we were able to snag a seat. Luckily, they were able to get the tv working so we didn't miss out on too much of the exciting game. When Spain scored the crowd went wild! When Spain was finally declared the winner the crowd went wild again. Cheering, singing, crying, dancing, bottles breaking. It was an unbelievable night.