A Spanish Christmas. (December 2012/January 2013)

Over the holiday period we travelled to Madrid, Granada and Seville.

We spent Christmas in Granada with Hayden and Andrea, and the New Year in Seville.

It was all done on the Spanish Rail Network or RENFE.

Madrid, Wednesday December 19 to Saturday December 22.

The trip to Madrid was on the Alta Velocidad Española or AVE, high speed train. The trip took not quite 3 hours and at times we were traveling at over 300kph.

Having spent a lot of time in Barcelona I was struck by the difference between there and the Spanish capital.

While Barcelona bathes in the glory of its favorite artistic sons, Gaudí, Picasso and Miró, Madrid has the galleries where you can see much of their work and a lot more.

We spent 8 hours in the company of Goya, El Greco, Velázquez and Van Dyck, in the Prado and then 6 more hours with Picasso, Miró, Dalí and Tàpies in Reina Sofia.

There were many more artists featured, than just these famous names, with both the museums telling a narrative, that placed what you were seeing, in a very Spanish context.

We punctuated our two days of brain numbing art appreciation with a long walk around Madrid. The architecture and in fact the entire city is much more ‘Old Europe’ with gardens, palaces and arches, many of which were a mass of Christmas lights.

The Plaza Mayor was taken over by a Christmas market, selling nativity scene characters and all manner of other decorations, while a giant Christmas tree dominated the Puerta del Sol.

We also visited the Templo de Debod, a reminder of our earlier adventures. It’s a 2nd century BC Egyptian temple, originally located near Aswan and donated to Spain in 1968, in recognition of their help in saving the Temples of Abu Simbel.

Granada, Sunday December 23 to Friday December 28.

The train from Madrid to Granada was much slower and we even had to change locomotives from electric to diesel.

It was still a pleasant journey with the views of the Sierra Navada, covered with a dusting of snow, looming ever-larger as we approached the city.

Granada was in the midst of an Indian Summer and the temperatures were a balmy 20℃, with clear, deep blue skies.

We were there in August when the temperatures were in the 40s, so this was a pleasant change.

The warm weather didn’t last long and by Christmas day the temperature had dropped and the rain arrived.

Hayden had arranged for us to have Christmas lunch at Mirador de Morayma, an excellent Andalucian restaurant situated in an old Moorish house or Carmen.

As it turned out, a house with a very sad history.

Morayma was the daughter of wealthy spice merchant, and at 15 married Boabdil, the heir to the Alhambra throne. A few days after the wedding Boabdil is jailed by his father and Morayma is confined to the house.

So the poor girl was separated from her husband and then stuck in the carmen, overlooking the palace, where she would never be queen.

The next day the blue skies returned but the temperatures remained low, so we visited the Parque de las Ciencias. This is a high tech, hands-on, science museum, just a 15 minutes walk from the centre of Granada.

Outside there are lots of science experiments and large exhibits, including an observation tower, overlooking the city and the Sierra Nevada. While inside there are a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions, including one devoted to Etcétera, the world famous puppet theatre company started in Granada over 30 years ago.

We also visited the Museo Cuevas de Sacromonte, or the Caves of Sacromonte, which is situated on the hill opposite the Alhambra. There is a distinctly different climate on each side of the valley. The Alhambra side, facing south, is lush and humid while the Sacromonte side, with a northerly aspect, is dry and almost barren, dotted with patches of Prickly Pear.

The caves in this area were first dug by the Moors and then later occupied by the Romani or Gypsies who came to Europe from India 1,500 years ago.

Flamenco music was thought to have been developed in this area, with influences coming from the Moors, Gypsies and Iberians.

Over the next few days the skies remained blue but there was a haze hanging in the valley and at the base of the mountains.

On our last day we visited the Museo ‘Casa de los Tiros’ a very small museum located in an old 16th century tower house. The architectural features of the building were amazing with beautifully carved ceilings and doors.

From there we wandered up the hill to the park next to the Alhambra to visit the gardens of Carmen de los Martires.

It was just before 2pm and the gates were shutting, apparently even parks need a siesta in Granada.

We returned at 4pm and it was well worth trudging up and down the hill, as the light was magic and the park stunning, with surprising views of the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada.

Seville, Saturday December 29 to Tuesday January 1.

Another slow train trip took us south west to Seville, the ‘City of the Lost’

On every street corner you can see tourists, map in hand, scratching their heads and wondering where to turn next.

The old city streets are serpent like in the way they twist and bend. They are also very narrow and seem to have no real logic as to the direction they take.

Seville, apart from many other attractions, has three main tourist destinations, that are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

They are Alcázar, Seville Cathedral, and the Archivo General de Indias.

Alcázar or Reales Alcázares is a royal palace and originally a Moorish fort. Over the centuries many Spanish monarchs have left their mark, however it has essentially remained in the Moorish or Mudéjar style.

Richly decorated tiles, relief ceilings and decorative arches are everywhere. Even the expansive garden have an abundance of ceramics and terra-cotta tiling.

Built on the site of a Mosque, Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and the third largest church.

It is also the burial place of Christopher Columbus.

The Giralda or bell tower was built over the original minaret and still has the ramps where the imam would ride his horse to the top to call the faithful to prayer.

It was the New Year period and we found it hard to get accurate information as to what was open. As a result we missed out on getting the trifecta, as the Archivo General de Indias was closed for the holidays.

We did however get to see the monumental Plaza de España, the Spanish Pavilion for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.

This is built in a combination of Art Deco, Mock-Mudéjar and Neo-Mudéjar styles. It’s a massive complex of buildings, fountains, bridges and moats.

We arrived late in the afternoon, as the last of the winter sun illuminated the curved facade.

The influence of the Moors is everywhere in Seville, even our hotel was in an old Carmen or Moorish house.

There are even ads for sherry in ceramic tiles and all of the street signage within the city are also done in ceramics.

On New New Year’s Eve we went to El Palace Andaluz for their end of year celebration. We were entertained by Flamenco music and dance, all performed with fire, passion and sultry looks.

Near midnight a nightclub band took over the entertainment. They were obviously playing to the locals, as the audience knew all the lyrics and had all the moves.

New Year’s Day was very quiet and the only open attraction was the Bullring. It has a long and proud history of butchering live-stock, as it’s been in use for over 200 years. There’s also a museum that celebrates the bravest of the Matadores and the most stubborn of the bulls.

The morning fog lifted and we spent the remainder of our last afternoon wandering around María Luisa Park. It’s in need of some care and attention but there are still many worthwhile features. Opened in 1915, the park was styled on the gardens of Generalife in the Alhambra and the Alcázar of Seville.

Seville seems to have a predominance of white pigeons and they were everywhere in Parque de María Luisa. There were even some very large white swans and a white Peacock as well.

The next day we took the AVE to Barcelona – seven hours door-to-door.

We had given our Spain Pass a good workout and had enjoyed a very merry Spanish Christmas and happy New Year as well.

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