Thursday, January 11, 2007

January 2007 in Spain: Barcelona, Bilbao, Toledo

Barcelona was great fun - the Ramblas were cool for people-watching and there are some locally-famous cafes, shops, and even museums for chocoholics. Olga's friend Ana guided us around to all of the architectural highlights, to the delight of Olga's mom and brother. We took a day trip to Figueres to see the museum Dali built for (and even more so - as) his greatest work. We had a night in the gothic quarter of Barcelona sampling the real best tapas ever and drinking strange cider that evokes the images of "mead" and something called leche de pantera (panther's milk?). Then the last night in Barcelona, we discovered the ultimate best tapas ever in a little cellar bar full of locals.
In Bilbao, we had a funny experience on our first night. We walked all around the city in circles for and hour trying to find a nice place for dinner. We gave up and were on our way to the subway to head to the ancient part of town when we found a bar with great good and surprisingly good asparagus. After dinner, we exited the restaurant and walked a few meters down the block while we argued how to uncircle the city back to the hotel -- when all of a sudden we found ourselves standing directly in front of the hotel -- it was two doors down from the restaurant!

We spent most of the day Wednesday at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao viewing its fascinating installations. Bilbao is a perfectly-sized, fun town as guided by Olga's friend Maria. We had the ultimate best tapas ever - the Basque country wins this contest hands-down. Note: it's not that these establishment claimed to have the best tapas - we just kept finding better and less touristy places. Also note that I have not conquered by fear of calamari, but I have put it on hold while in Spain because it's so fresh here.

Today we visited Toledo. It's a wonderful medievel city, preserved from the 16th century. It had been built, inhabited, and rules at various times by Jews, Moors, and Christians - with the last era being the best preserved. We toured the reconstructed synagogue (and a museum of Sephardic history) and roamed the labyrinth of alleys. Surprisingly, the streets feel more open and roomy than those in Venice or Gothic Barcelona, even through the design of Toledo is much older. Tomorrow is our last day in Madrid before heading back home.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

January 2007 in Spain: Madrid

We arrived in Spain without incident. Olga's family was on flights through Paris and we were on flights through Frankfurt. They had a 4 hours layover, which was just enough time because somebody left a bag in a cafe in the airport and security had to clear out the terminal and detonate the bag. Olga and I had only 1 hour layover in Frankfurt, which also was exactly perfect - we walked through security and straight onto the plane. We all arrived in Madrid at about the same time and traveled together to the hotel. Walked around Madrid a bit this evening and had the best tapas ever :)

Thursday is shaping up to be great - first a walk to the Prado museum and then a walk around the city - all of the major sites seem to be walking distance from our hotel. My high school Spanish is coming back to me and I am making sure everybody in our party knows how impressive it is :)