Friday, February 17, 2012

Cordoba, Toledo, Madrid, Lleida and home

Before we forget what the last week of our trip involved, I better write a quick rundown.
Cordoba, famous for the Mosquita, a mashup of Visigoth, Moorish and Christian Renaissance.  This large  'church' spans about two city blocks with the beautiful moorish arched naves surrounded by Christian chapels to various saints.  We've seen enough of these impressive structures though for one trip and instead enjoyed the attached knot gardens with fabulous fountains and sculpted trees.

The unique thing for us in Cordoba was trying to get the car out of the underground parking of the hotel.  The front desk came running to help and instead of our forward and backward maneuvers around the pillars, they quickly backed right up the steep exit ramp and with only two adjustments and someone to watch for oncoming traffic got us on the street and going in the correct direction.  And we only ran one red light on the way out of town, yikes!

On to Toledo, just an hour or so south of Madrid.  Found a great hotel, that looked like an Italian villa on the hill across from the famous view of Toledo.  Took the bus into the old town on the hill and visited one of the museums of art.  The El Greco of Mary's Immaculate Conception was worth the visit alone.  Did some window shopping and found a  high end chain of Spanish food for dinner that had great Paella, beans in gravy and chocolate cake for dessert.

The next morning we took the fast train into Madrid (half hour) to visit three art museums.  Especially the Prado, the largest art museum in the world.  We knew this would be a challenge but we didn't really want to take two days for this so we gutted it out, literally.  We could hardly walk after a day of visiting first the Joaquim Sorolla museum, then the full Prado including a special exhibit of the collection from the Hermitage of Moscow, and finally the Sofia Reina to see Geurnica by Picasso.  Too much of a good thing, definitely but I think we'd do it again.

From Toledo, we had to drive around Madrid to go East, which was challenging. We only went out of our way a few roundabouts to find our way.  But we ended up in the small city of Lleida for the night in an interesting spa hotel, Nastasi.  Run by a family of restauranterus; we met them when we went to dinner that evening. The restaurant, the Tram, was in an old railroad dining car and thanks to the fact that the waiter had gone to school in FL many years ago, his english was good and we had a great time learning about the Catalan food his father prepared. We sampled  various things.  We also discussed the temperament of the country and our experiences.  He felt that Spain is depressed as a whole and worried, thus withdrawn. The unemployment is over 20%, prices are high and employers and employees are stretched to the limit, according to him.  We were amazed at how clean everything was in Spain, and how well maintained the highways and public facilities were.  So on the other hand, it didn't look depressed, just acted depressed.

We only had a day left so we drove to Montserrat, a beautiful village in the serrated mountains (thus the name) just northwest of Barcelona.  We heard the boys choir in the cathedral and visited their decent art museum. I enjoyed a watercolor by John Singer Sargent, of a woman with an umbrella (all in white) and the paintings of Joaquim Mir.  The photographic views to and from the village were spectacular....another village multiple hairpin turns up into the mountains.  At the end of the day we drove to our hotel in Barcelona to try for an early night since we had an early flight.

We're home now and it's good to be home.   When we got to the Minneapolis airport we were even treated to a couple of free bowls of chili at the new restaurant that hasn't quite officially opened yet.  The Hotdish.  It is located where Houligans used to be, at the end of ticketing at the Main Terminal.  Nice folks and good chili!

More photos to come as well as a food blog summarizing the high points.

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