Hola from Barcelona in (mostly) sunny Spain!
I have spent the last ten days travelling around Spain in trains, my favourite mode of travel in Europe :)
It's been a whirlwind trip, and now that I am on my own, I have had some time to breathe, enjoy a cava in the plaza, and take stock! So here are some first impressions from Spain, in photos.
AVE, Spain's high speed train network is operated by Renfe, the national rail company. It connects large parts of Central and Southern Spain, and it's a fairly easy and quick way to get around the country. Apart from individual tickets, you can also get a Renfe Spain Pass, which lets you travel on multiple AVE routes within one month.
We arrived in Madrid via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines (business class, baby!). Madrid's Atocha is a gorgeous station, and the fabulous Prado Museum as well as Reina Sofia Museum (which houses Picasso's 'Guernica') are walking distance from here.
Our first dinner was at Platea Madrid - an erstwhile theatre that has now been transformed into an food+entertainment venue. There's a deli, several pintxo (tapas) counters, a cool bar and couple of fancy restaurants.
The stage of the theatre hosts several performances, especially on Thursday nights. We caught a broadway-like performance, complete with showgirls, twenties music and dance, and a whole lot of fun!
Madrid's massive Plaza Mayor, or the main public square, was my favourite spot. It's surrounded on all sides by several centuries-old residential buildings, many of which have lovely painted facades. The square has been used for everything from markets to bull fights, as well as public executions, especially during the Spanish Inquisition.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest in Europe and is appropriately impressive, not to mention its Royal Gardens, lined with massive limestone statues of all the monarchs of Spain.
Segovia is only 30 minutes from Madrid (by AVE), but it's a different world altogether. The town has been inhabited since the Celtic times and later was under Roman control. The Romans left their mark in the form of the 2000-year old Aqueduct. This feat of engineering brought water to the town from a mountain river some 17km away.
Segovia is the quintessential hilltop town, with narrow alleys, pretty ochre-coloured houses and soaring church towers. Apart from the Aqueduct, Segovia's Alcazar (royal palace) is also worth a look, as is the Cathedral, the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain.
The land where paella was born! Locals eat it for lunch, rather than dinner, and it is usually cooked by the man of the house. The traditional paella contains chicken and rabbit meat, rather than the more popular seafood paella.
Apart from the paella, what I really loved was the profusion of orange trees everywhere! Oranges are a key produce of Valencia, and they are used to make OJ & marmalades, and the potent Agua de Valencia - a refreshing cocktail made with cava, vodka, gin (sometimes cointreau) and of course, OJ.
And speaking of drinking, the Valencia Cathedral houses what is supposed to be the original Holy Grail - the chalice from which Jesus Christ served wine at the Last Supper!
I left my heart behind in Córdoba...
This picture-perfect town in Andalusia in southern Spain has winding alleys, lined with whitewashed houses whose walls are adorned with flowerpots bursting with colourful blooms.
Even though it rained all morning during our walk around the town, it didn't dampen my spirits at all! How could it when there is so much beauty to behold.
The cathedral of Córdoba, which was earlier a mosque, is an architectural masterpiece. Its sheer scale is mind-boggling, and its ornate design - with both Islamic & Christian influences - is unique.
I was very taken in by Seville's architecture, a lot of which has very clear Moorish influences, which is especially evident in the Alcazar.
The monumental Plaza de España is another stunning piece of architecture.
Seville was also the place where I had some amazing tapas (till San Sebastian happened!), and just look at that sangria!
At the Flamenco Museum in Seville, we got a quick lesson in the complicated dance form - it was a lot of fun, even though my hands and feet didn't always move to the same beat as the teacher's ;) After the class, we watched how the pros did it. The sounds, colours and movements of the dance are so beautiful, and the energy so intense - it was easy to get lost in the performance. At the end of the performance, we got an opportunity to meet Cristina Hoyos, the founder of the museum and herself an acclaimed flamenco dancer.
This is just a glimpse of the first part of the trip - covering central and southern Spain. Detailed posts / features will follow, and I still have to regale you with San Sebastian's gems - culinary and historical!
I'm currently in Barcelona, and I will be heading to Girona tomorrow for a day trip. Follow along on Instagram & Twitter for latest updates.
Disclosure - This was a media trip, courtesy Tourism Office of Spain and Turkish Airlines