We’re into the last leg of our travels. Having finished Portugal we’re now journeying our way back to where we started two months ago, to Madrid, from where we will travel home to Sydney.
But before we head to Madrid we are taking in two more cities in Spain, Barcelona and Toledo. Our first destination, Barcelona, is over 1000 km from Porto, so we had to make a decision on how to get there. Sanford wanted to get there via a 20-hour bus ride, I wanted to fly. Thankfully he relented and we flew.
Barcelona is located on the northeast coast of Spain facing the Mediterranean Sea. The best part about it’s location, between the sea and the mountains, is that it is basically flat, a welcome relief after our last few stops! Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million and is known for its art and architecture.
Number one on my “must see” list here was the Segrada Familia church designed by Antoni Gaudi. This church is considered the symbol of Barcelona even though it is yet to be finished. It was started in 1882 as a Neo-Gothic church and in 1883, architect Antoni Gaudi was given the task to completing it. Gaudi transformed it with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. It became his life’s work and he lived like a recluse on the site for the last few years of his life until his death at the age of 73 in 1926. At the time of his death, less than a quarter of the project was completed. Construction progressed slowly, more being done in recent years, following Gaudi’s original plans and in 2010 passed the midpoint. Despite some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining, there is an anticipated completion date of 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death. I loved this church!!! Most iconic churches are filled with artworks and lots of gold and tend to be dark. The Segrada Familia was full of light! Huge stained glass windows, yellow and oranges on one side and blues and greens on the other, large open areas, and impossibly tall tree-themed columns holding the ceiling arches. Truly magnificent! Unfortunately my pictures below do not do it justice.
Number two on my “must see” list was Park Guell, a park designed by Gaudi and designated a UNESCO world heritage site. We made it to the park but we didn’t get to go into the section created by Gaudi as there were “designated time” tickets to enter that section and the first available were about seven hours from the time we were there. Unfortunately that just didn’t work for us.
Instead, we did a couple of self-guided walking tours and enjoyed the ambience of the streets and the markets.
From Barcelona we set out to Toledo. There is no train direct to Toledo, so we had to travel first 625 km west to Madrid and then transfer to another train to take us 74 km southwest of Madrid to our destination. Toledo is situated on a hill above the Tagus River. We’re back to hills….sigh.
Toledo is another pleasant “holiday-type” place, reminiscent of Sintra or Chefchaouen, full of narrow lanes with long overhead awnings, shops, restaurants and Madrid day-trippers. I love places like that. The only problem was the weather. It was hot! We were here for three days and it was 37, 39 and 39 degrees! Thank goodness our hostel had air conditioning; that allowed us to wander around for awhile then come back to the room to cool down and then head out again. It made the heat quite tolerable.
Toledo is known for marzipan. Marzipan is a Spanish sweet made from sugar, honey and almond paste. There are many shops here dedicated to this confection that sell marzipan cookies, paste and liqueurs. Stories about the origins of marzipan abound. Some believe it came from Persia, some from Sicily, and some from Toledo. The Toledo legend credits the nuns of Convento de San Clemente with inventing marzipan in 1212. It was during a time of famine and battle. There was no wheat stored in the city, but because almonds grow here in abundance, the nuns made an almond paste with the only ingredients that were available – almond flour, sugar and water – which they fed to the undernourished people of the city. The nuns of this convent still make marzipan to this day.
The tourist attraction to see in Toledo is Alcazar, a fortress which also houses a National Army Museum. I have to admit that this attraction was not for me. It is huge and has an overwhelming amount of information about Spain’s military past, something that holds no interest to me. So I decided to leave Sanford there and opted to take the very touristy choo-choo train tour around the city (something which Sanford had no interest in). I totally enjoyed it, it was lots of fun!
Being a popular tourist area, buskers abound. Most often, people will make a wide sweep around the busker to avoid feeling guilty of not putting money in their hat. I did notice one busker that stood out amongst all the rest in that he always had a crowd around and people were dropping money in his hat, including me. He was a puppeteer. He had a wonderful concert piano piece playing in the background and moved his puppet to play the baby grand with lots of rapture and expression. Totally delightful!
That sums up our highlights for Barcelona and Toledo.
As I write this, we are back to where we started in Madrid. We are here for two nights and leave tomorrow for Sydney.