Tag Archives: travel

Back to Madrid

Back to Madrid

It was time to pack up our things and leave our newly acquired home… time to get back to reality, back to work, back home…

We bid adios to the neighborhood gato and the flowering sweet almond…

Cat and almond tree

“Hasta luego, gatito!”

We locked everything up and drove back to Madrid. We arrived in the evening and checked into the Hotel Clement Barajas.

View from our room at the Hotel Clement Barajas

Looking out the window from our room at the Hotel Clement Barajas

Hotel Clement Barajas view

Barajas

Barrio Barajas

Exploring to the west

Exploring to the west

Looking south from our house we could see that there were some old railway tracks, so we decided to spend the next day doing some exploring. We drove along and found the old Arboleas station. A ruin, now, but had some character. We parked the car across the street and had to climb up a little hill and battle some weeds and brambles to get to it. Of course just taking a picture from the road was not good enough for me! I had to go inside.

Arboleas train station

The old Arboleas station

Arboleas station

Do you see the prickly pear cactus growing on the roof??

Totally run down and falling apart, the station is only used as housing for the birds. They obviously eat the prickly pears and have “deposited the seeds” on the roof! The inside of the building was in bad shape. Originally it must have had some nice tiles on the floors, but now it is a mess!

Inside the station

Inside the old station

We liked the tiles with ARBOLEAS on them, though.

Arboleas

Since it was January, we thought it would be fun to drive about an hour to the west toward Baza and see some snow as we got further toward the mountains. So we took off for a little drive west and made a loop to the south and east to return back home.

Driving west

Driving west

Toward Baza

There’s some snow!

Sheep

Sheep!

It was a really nice drive. We were amazed at how different the terrain was just going about an hour west. Our casa is in a great location because about an hour east or south and we are at the beach; about an hour west or north and we are close to the mountains… we have so much to explore!

 

 

The Alcazaba

The Alcazaba

Spur of the moment sightseeing is awesome as far as I’m concerned, so I was excited to see what this Alcazaba was all about. We drove through Almeria, not really knowing where we were going. Luckily the Alcazaba is on a hill, so we knew which direction we should be heading in, and there were some signs here and there to guide us. We finally reached the Alcazaba and parked along a narrow road, thinking that we could just walk up the road to get to the fortress.

The Alcazaba

The Alcazaba

When Curt parked the car, and we got out, I notice a HUGE amount of dog/cat poop along the side of the road. Geez! It was crazy. Talk about landmines… this fortress didn’t need walls, the poo could keep people out!

The road was steep on the way up, and there were some crazy daredevils on motorized scooters zipping along; and a man walking two dogs, one of which was just skin and bones, but other than that we didn’t see any tourists coming to visit this huge fortress and we thought that was a little odd. No matter, we just kept hoofing it up the hill. All of a sudden, Curt thought he might have left the car unlocked, so we went back down and this time decided to drive the car up to the top. When we reached the top of the hill, there were some stairs to what seemed to be one of the towers.

Alcazaba stairs

 

Alcazaba tower

The views from up here were beautiful, and we hadn’t even gone up the stairs yet! We were really interested to find out what would be at the top. (**insert ominous foreshadowing music here… again**)

View of Almeria port

View of the port of Almeria

Okay, so we climbed up the stairs and found that they led to… nowhere. I mean, pretty much nowhere, because they just led to the backside of the fortress where it seems that young people probably hang out and drink or smoke. There were lots of cigarette butts and broken beer and wine bottles, but other than that it was not an entrance to the rest of the fortress. We head back down the stairs, and back down the narrow road…

Down the stairs at the Alcazaba

“Nothing to see here, folks…”

Alcazaba road

Along the road we met up with a one-eyed cat. He looked pretty hardscrabble.

One-eyed cat Almeria

“You’d be cranky too if you had to walk through all these stinky ‘land mines’ !”

When we got to the bottom of the hill, we realized that we had driven right past the main entrance. (oops) We parked the car along the side of the road again, and made our way to the ticket office.

Alcazaba entrance

The actual entrance

At the ticket counter, the man asked where we were from. When we said “Los Estados Unidos” he said, “Oh, then it’s free.” Not ones to question ‘free,’ we went on in. I’m not sure what the fee is if you are not from the U.S.

We knew nothing about the Alcazaba before visiting it, but you can read all about it here. It was a beautiful fortress with a lot of history.

Alcazaba archway

Beautiful arches

Alcazaba gardens

Gardens

Alcazaba Looking out

“Who goes there??”

Alcazaba

Steep sides!

Alcazaba

Irrigation

Irrigation system

Archeological remains are still being excavated in one portion. In this area you can walk through what were once baths, pools, and palace rooms.

Ongoing excavations at La Alcazaba

Ongoing excavations at La Alcazaba

It was in this part of the Alcazaba that we met up with Los Gatos de La Alcazaba! Okay, so I have no idea if they have such a name, but if not, they should. There were cats everywhere. Sunning themselves on the walls, sleeping in planters, napping on windowsills…

Alcazaba cats

Alcazaba cat

Sleeping Alcazaba cat

Fuzzy Alcazaba cat

sleepy Alcazaba cat

Alcazaba Cat

Many Alcazaba cats

How many can you spot in this picture?

After walking through this area, we got to the third enclosure which was the Christian castle. The backside of this was where we had been when we first went up the narrow road and up those stairs. Seeing things from inside was much more interesting!

Alcazaba

Alcazaba Christian Castle

Alcazaba Christian castle

Alcazaba

Alcazaba view

Alcazaba cannons

cannons

Cannon

The view was really pretty from the highest vantage point. You could see over the port of Almeria: all the houses, buildings, and ships.

view fromt he Alcazaba

The view from the Alcazaba

We left La Alcazaba. I was glad that we stopped here and had a look at this fortress. It was a good way to spend the last part of the day. We made our way back through Almeria and drove to Arboleas.

Almeria

Almeria

Almeria to Aroleas

On the road again…

 

 

On the road to Arboleas

On the road to Arboleas

It’s almost a five hour drive from Madrid to Arboleas. The highways are well taken care of, and the best thing of all is that people don’t hang out in the left hand lane driving under the speed limit. No road hogs here! Pass and shift back to the right hand lane, people. A lesson I wish more people here in the States would learn…

We decided to stop at a village to get something to eat, but unfortunately we weren’t thinking about the time and what might be open. I wish I could remember what the name of this town was, but I don’t recall now. This was a small village, and we honestly didn’t even see a bar or restaurant. What we did happen across was this: people walking along the main road…

Village

Wait! What’s that beyond that car on the right??

Is that a pony???

Pony

A pony??

Yes. It’s definitely a pony. How weird. Walking a dog? Sure. Walking a pony? Kind of strange. We continue on down the street and then we see THIS:

More ponies

More ponies??

Okay, are we seeing things or is there a grown man riding that pony straight ahead??

Man riding pony

YeeHaw!

The next thing that happened was the man fell off the pony and the other guy with the white horse laughed his head off. It was the funniest thing we’d seen yet. So odd. Maybe they were having some sort of equine festival or something, we had no idea; but I was glad we passed through that little village and got to see that bit of silliness!

We left the village and got back on the highway. We needed to find somewhere to eat because we were going to start getting cranky if we didn’t get some food and coffee soon!

Alternative energy is a big deal in Spain. So we passed fields of solar panels and traditional looking windmills and more modern wind turbines.

Solar panels

Fields of solar panels

Windmills

Don Quixote where are you??

Turbines

Wind turbines

Stomachs growling, we stopped at this gas station to get something to eat. Don’t judge, now, because in Spain a gas station is typically a great place to eat! It is not like stopping at the Quickie Mart for a microwave burrito here in the US. This place was run by an old Spanish guy who at first seemed a little peeved at us — he started impatiently rattling off all the bocadillo options and Curt interrupted him and said, “Dos bocadillos jamon y queso, y dos cafes con leche.” and then the man was quite friendly. I guess he was happy to hear our attempts at Spanish!

When you order a coffee in Spain, even at a gas station, the beans are ground right then and they pull a fresh espresso for you. There is no drip coffee carafe hanging around for hours. This is the real thing, people, and I’m not talking Coca Cola!

While the owner of this fine establishment was making our coffee and sandwiches, Curt chit chatted with him, and I went to the ladies room. I knew we were in rural Spain when I heard chickens clucking outside the open bathroom window. Look at the cool old-timey toilet tank and flusher!

Toilet tank

A pull chain flusher!

We felt much better after our late lunch, and got back on the road after bidding adios to the owner of the gas station and his family who were eating their own meal at an adjacent table.

The closer we get to Arboleas, the more scenic the drive. There are more mountains, and it gets a bit greener.

Mountains

It’s interesting to see this road sign. Morocco is fairly close, and there is still a lot of Moorish influence in Spain, so that explains the Arabic. There are only a couple of signs in Arabic along the way, which is a good thing otherwise we would’ve been totally lost!

Arabic Road sign

Near Huercal-Overa

Near Huercal-Overa

The last picture was about half an hour from Arboleas. It was too dark to take a picture once we got in town. We checked in to the Hostal Meson which is only about a 5 minutes walk from our house. Although dark, the night was still young… we were going to have to get settled and then think about dinner.

 

Leaving Madrid

Leaving Madrid

We planned to leave Madrid early the next day. The Hotel Victoria provided breakfast, which was the continental type: fruits, yogurt, breads, cereal, and of course coffee, tea, juices, or milk. Definitely not an “American” breakfast, but you really don’t get a huge eggs and bacon and pancake breakfast in Spain. The cool thing was that they had this gigantic automated coffee machine that had a bunch of different choices as far as what type of coffee you wanted. You could select an espresso or cafe con leche or whatever. Put your cup under the dispenser, press your selection, and you hear the machine grinding your coffee beans and then dispensing your cup o’ joe. Surprisingly this was a really good cup of coffee!

We had parked in an underground parking near the hotel. (Much of the parking in Madrid is underneath plazas if it is not curbside or in a private garage.) So when we finished up breakfast, we headed over to Plaza Santa Ana to get the car. You can see by this next picture that the street cleaners were busy early in the morning; we did need to close the hotel room window in the wee hours of the morning because it was a little noisy, but it’s nice to get up and find the streets freshly washed.

Madrid in the morning

Near the Hotel Victoria

 

An evening out in Madrid

An evening out in Madrid

Madrid is such a beautiful city, and we had only explored a tiny portion of it, so we decided to take a walk east of the Hotel Victoria and see what we could see. We walked to the Museo del Prado, one of the most famous museums in all of Europe. It houses the largest collection of Spanish art, including some of the best works by El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya.

Museo del Prado

Museo del Prado

When we got to the Prado, there was a HUGE line that literally wrapped around the building! We thought that this was a line to see one of the temporary exhibits or something, but it was just a huge line of people waiting to get into the museum for FREE. (Yay for free stuff!) It turns out that the Prado museum is free to enter from 6 pm to 8 pm Monday through Saturday and from 5 pm to 8 pm on Sundays. We had no idea, but it saved us from spending the 10 euros per ticket!

After we browsed around all of the paintings and sculptures in the Prado, we walked over to the Cheuca neighborhood to check out El Tigre, which is a bar well known for generous servings of tapas provided with each round of drinks. El Tigre is located at Calle de las Infantas, 30. This is a fairly small street, and at first we weren’t sure if this was a “nice” neighborhood or not, but it actually seemed to be fine in the end. On our way over we did pass by a small plaza that looked like it was the hangout for neighborhood teenagers… and I mean ALL the neighborhood teenagers! There were a lot of people hanging out there!

El Tigre, Madrid

El Tigre for tapas!

When we walked in, the place was fairly crowded. It is a narrow space, with a small entry area and then a long bar directly on the right. We wanted to scope it out and then decide where to plant ourselves, so we squeezed through the crowd past the bar. Beyond that there was a sort of “hallway” with long, narrow, wooden bar tops attached to either side of this narrow room. No chairs here. Just sidle up to the tabletop and someone will come take your order. It used to be customary to get free tapas with any drink all over Spain, but this is more of a rarity now, so we were really interested to check out El Tigre and see what this was all about. We ordered a beer and a sangria (6 euros each for larges) and this is what we got:

Tapas

Yum! Tapas!

It got more and more crowded as time passed. People were really friendly and seemed to enjoy chit-chatting, especially when they found out we were Americans and from Texas. (yeehaww!) A lot of university students hang out a El Tigre because, as some of them told us, they are almost always broke and with free tapas you can get a decent meal. Some nice girls took a picture of us.

Us at El Tigre

On the way out we were baffled because someone had just come in with a BABY. Curt had to help hold the door open for them to get their stroller back down the steps and out the door. That was pretty weird because it wasn’t like they just popped round the corner and *poof* found themselves in the middle of a bar. They had to get that stroller in the door and up a few steps to end up in the entry area. Ah well… who knows what those people were thinking? At least I’m guessing they didn’t stay long…

All we knew was that we we had a great time at El Tigre. The people were friendly and the food was decent. It was a fun place to hang out, and we would definitely go back again!

Madrid at night was really pretty! The walk back to the Hotel Victoria was nice.

Madrid at night

Madrid at night

Madrid

Gran Via

Madrid after dark

Metropolis Building

Eating in Madrid

Eating in Madrid

Going straight to the Plaza Mayor after checking in to our hotel when we arrive in Madrid seems to have become a bit of a tradition (okay, okay, so we were only on our second trip, but maybe I should say we were starting a tradition), so we walked on over and had a seat at one of the tables outside the same restaurant where we ate at last time.

Cerveceria Plaza Mayor

We ordered two bocadillos jamon y queso and two coffees. This is a really “simple” meal, but so awesome! The ham is paper thin and slightly fatty. It’s hard to describe just how good the ham is, but trust me — it’s amazing! The bread is perfectly crispy on the outside and just soft enough in the middle and the Manchego cheese has this distinct “sheepy” flavor. It’s a mix of being creamy yet sharp at the same time. It makes me hungry just remembering about it!!

Bocadillo Plaza Mayor

Enjoying a bocadillo at the Plaza Mayor

Yum! Bocadillos and coffee!

You’ll notice that the Plaza Mayor was not anywhere near as crowded as it was when we were here in September. That is because it was a whole lot colder. As the sun was going down it was getting downright chilly!

We walked around a bit more and saw this interesting fella. This was at a tapas bar window, but we weren’t brave enough to try out this dish!

Madrid Octopus

Maybe next time…

Hotel Victoria, Madrid

Hotel Victoria, Madrid

Our room at the Hotel Victoria was on the top floor and was interesting because it was set into the roof line and had a different sort of layout than you would expect. It was modern and clean, and while the bed was not anywhere as comfortable as my dreamy cloud bed at home, it was just fine.

Hotel Victoria

Hotel Victoria room

To look out of those windows beyond the desk, we actually had to stand on a chair, but it was nice at night because we just left the window open and although it was a little loud (what with the happy, singing Madrid partiers) the January night air was cool and made sleeping quite comfy.

Hotel Victoria views

Views over the rooftop

 

View Hotel Victoria

Out the window and looking down a side street from our room.

 

We went for a walk down that side street and this next picture is a view looking back at our hotel room. It’s the one at the top left with the window that we (ooops) left open.

View to Hotel Victoria room

See the top left dormer? That’s our room!

Off to Spain again!

Off to Spain again!

We arrived at Madrid’s Barajas airport. The last time we flew into the older part of the airport, but this time we arrived in the newer part, which is beautiful. A bit of history: The airport was originally built in 1927 and of course has gone through numerous remodels since then. This newest terminal was built in 2004, so it is quite new. The architecture is very attractive!

Madrid Barajas airport

Barajas airport

This time while in Madrid we decided to try out a different hotel. We really liked our stay at the Hotel Plaza Mayor last time, but just wanted to stay somewhere different. We picked the Hotel Victoria because it was located in what seemed to be an interesting side street very close to Puerta del Sol.

Across from Hotel Victoria

See what a cool side street?

There were all these awesome tiles decorating the exterior walls of shops and restaurants.

Beautiful tilework

So pretty!

…and it was right down the street from the Museo del Jamon!

Museo del Jamon

Remember? We went there on our last trip.

There were quite a few photo opps just within the block outside the Hotel Victoria. Here is Curt being oh-so-serious in front of another set of tiles. (We did NOT go to another bullfight, by the way. Once was enough for us, I think!)

Toro tilework in Madrid

So serious!!

 

Packing 101

Packing 101

Is it possible to travel to Europe for a week especially during winter with only a carry-on? YES! Here is my suitcase packed for one week — in January — and it is only a carry-on. Proof that it can be done!

Pack for Europe with a carry-on!

Strategic packing is key!

I did carry a larger purse so I could hold random stuff on the plane at my seat (reading material, etc) and since it was winter I did bring boots, but wore them on the plane so I didn’t have to pack them. The key is to pack things you can layer and mix and match! I hate going somewhere and then when I unpack find a bunch of stuff I never wore, so I minimize as much as possible.

Back to Madrid!

Back to Madrid!

We left Casa Olivos the next day at around noon and got back on the road to Madrid. Our plane was leaving early the next morning, so we wanted to make the five hour drive back to Madrid with enough time to relax and walk around before calling it a night.

Outside of Casa Olivos

peaje

Back to Madrid

We booked a room at the Hotel Clement Barajas. It was located fairly close to the airport and we figured this might make for an easier drive in the morning before we had to catch our flight.

Hotel Clement Barajas

 

The Hotel Clement Barajas turned out to be a great place to stay because it was modern and clean, had underground parking, and had a gas station right across the street.

Room at Hotel Clement Barajas

Hotel Barajas underground parking

The hotel was located in the Barrio de Barajas which was not “touristy” at all. We went for a walk that night and really enjoyed seeing all the local spanish people out for the evening with their families: walking along the streets, having drinks in the bars, and sitting outside at the plaza.

Barrio de Barajas

Mojacar

Mojacar

Mojacar Playa is a popular tourist vacation spot. It was definitely more crowded than Garrucha or Vera. We zipped through the beach-side part of Mojaca to get to Mojaca Pueblo which is a whitewashed hilltop town. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was taken in the car through the windshield as we drove through the winding road on the way to Mojacar Pueblo.

Mojaca Pueblo

The buildings seemed to just hug the mountainside and the views from the top of the town were truly incredible!

 

View from Mojaca Pueblo

This was a cool little house built right along the road. “Casa Media Luna” (The half moon house)

Casa Media Luna

We were hungry and decided to get something to eat while in Mojacar. One thing that we were having to adjust to was the eating times in Spain. In the States anyone can eat anything at pretty much any time. Not so in Spain! It was late afternoon and I really wanted to try an authentic Andalucian gazpacho. We went into this restaurant which was at one of the highest points in the town and sat out on the terrace to soak up the views.

Unfortunately the waiter told us that gazpacho was only served in the summertime (and therefore out of season) and the kitchen was serving only either tapas or pizza. We chose the pizza and coffee. The views from the terrace of this restaurant were beautiful, but we were surrounded by a lot of smokers. We are definitely spoiled coming from the US that has banned smoking in dining establishments. We had heard that there was a similar ban in Spain, but it was not being strictly enforced.

View from Mojacar Pueblo

 

Adios, Madrid!

Adios, Madrid!

…But first a quick dash into the Museo del Jamon (which by the way, is not a museum of the history and importance of ham in Spain, as we thought, but a restaurant!!) for a couple of bocadillos mixtos!

Museo del Jamon

…then back into the bowels of the parking garage to retrieve the car…

Whaaat?!? Why is this police car now blocking the exit to the garage as we are trying to leave?? Oh well, “we are in Spain”… so we open the bag of bocadillos and have lunch while we wait for the police to get back from the traffic accident…

Police car blocking garage exit

And now we are on our way to Albox and our stay at Casa Olivos!

Leaving Madrid

 

Windmills! But otherwise pretty barren.

 

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros

Bullfighting is such a cultural tradition in Spain, and while I hate the thought of animal cruelty, we decided to go see a bullfight to experience this tradition first-hand. The Plaza de Toros in Ventas is a beautiful building! You can really see the Moorish influence in the architecture: amazing tile work and lots of arches throughout the entire arena.

Ventas is within Madrid and we were able to take the subway from Puerto del Sol to the Plaza de Toros. The day had been quite warm but as the sun went down and we sat outside waiting for the doors to open, it became very chilly. We sat on a bench and did more people watching. It was funny because we could spot the Americans instantly! We hoped that we weren’t so obvious!

The inside of the Plaza de Toros was pretty, but it was COLD and the seats were stone benches. I was only wearing a sundress and sweater, so I was freezing!

I have to say that we didn’t enjoy the actual bullfight because it really was brutal. The bull was just taunted and it was cruel. The highlight for me (I hate to say) was when one of the matadors got caught by the bull and was speared in the behind! I found myself rooting for the bull!

Note the hole in his pants!

 

Hola Madrid!

Hola Madrid!

After landing and gathering up our luggage (all carried on) we headed over to the rental car agency booth. In line in front of us was an interesting character: a muscle-bound American who was unhappy… cursing and dropping f-bombs… made me embarrassed to be thought of in the same cultural category. He was rude and annoying. The people behind the counter didn’t seem to notice too much, though. Maybe the Spanish really are as laid back as they say in all the guidebooks…

The drive from the Barajas airport to the center of Madrid was rather eventful. Actually we did not drive from the airport to the CENTER of Madrid exactly: we drove AROUND the entirety of Madrid proper and returned to the airport and THEN drove to the center. We laughed and said that when we later told people that we “drove all around Madrid” we REALLY drove AROUND Madrid.

Luckily we are easily amused.

The Flight

The Flight

Plane at Barajas airport

Our flight was about 8 hours long. The good thing was that we left in the evening, they served us dinner on the plane, we downed a couple of Benedryl, and tried to get a decent night’s sleep. The bad thing was that some people on the plane think that the middle of the night is a good time to chat loudly about their next business deal, golf scores, and football stats. I kept popping up over the back of my seat like a groggy meerkat giving them the old stink eye and eventually they piped down.

Lots of hacking and coughing on the plane… and it was freezing. Note to self: long pants + long sleeved shirt + two airline blankets do not = cozy and warm! Next time dress warmer!!

Case of the Missing Passport

Case of the Missing Passport

Passport

So, who misplaces their passport?? Apparently I do. I knew it needed to be renewed, but somehow in my move out of my apartment and into my house I must have lost my mind and tossed it out along with a bunch of random things that had been cluttering up my closet. Who does that??

Sigh. I do.

This was causing a glitch in our plans, because as opposed to making the trip to Spain during the summer when I am off of work, we now had to wait until I received my new passport. AND because I am a cheapskate, I refused to pay the extra $60 to expedite the process (this would have guaranteed my getting it in 2 weeks) and decided to gamble and see what happened.

Surprise! It arrived in 2 weeks anyway! (Way to go, Cheapskate!)

All systems GO! Now it was time to make the travel plans… I LOVE making travel plans!