Spain

Exploring Seville, Spain – Part 2

In my first post on Seville, we explored its amazing Gothic cathedral, located in the heart of the old quarter of Seville. In this post we’ll explore some other nearby sights.

Real Alcázar

The Real Alcázar is right across the plaza from the Cathedral, making it convenient to visit at the same time. The Alcázar was (and still is) the home of the rulers of Seville and Spain. It dates back to Moorish times (11th and 12th centuries) and then continued to be a home for subsequent Christian monarchs including Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen during the time of Columbus. Later, 16th century kings remodeled and added rooms. The royal family of Spain still uses some of the upper floor rooms today.

Looking down at the Real Alcázar (located inside the crenellated walls) from the Cathedral’s tower.

Since Seville was a gateway to the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries (being just 50 miles from the Atlantic via the Guadalquivir River), the palace holds a major place in history as the site where plans were drawn up to explore the western hemisphere. The Alcázar has a long and complicated history, with many changes over the centuries.

The Patio de las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens) with plasterwork by master craftsmen from Granada.
Ambassador’s Hall. It is believed that in this room Columbus was given his commission to explore the New World.
Admiral’s Hall, 16th century. Although this room may look plain, the course of world history changed here. Amerigo Vespucci and Magellan planned the first around-the-world travel here and the first map of the world was also drawn here.
The Alcázar‘s beautiful gardens are the last stop on your visit.

Santa Cruz

This is a neighborhood directly east of the Seville cathedral and was once a Jewish ghetto. It is worth walking through this area – restaurants, picturesque alleys, and beautiful architecture are the rewards for doing so.

One of the many beautiful little streets in Santa Cruz.
A little plaza (with orange trees!) in the Santa Cruz neighborhood.
The Hospital de los Venerables – a 17th century home for elderly priests, is located in Santa Cruz.

Torre del Oro

The “Tower of Gold” was one of two towers that stood beside the river to protect Seville from invaders. The 2nd tower across the river no longer stands. A chain could be raised across the river from the towers to stop ships from entering the harbor of Seville. The Torre del Oro is now the launch point for river cruises and “hop on – hop off” bus tours. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk along the Guadalquivir River from the Cathedral to the Torre del Oro.

Torre del Oro.
This scene of rowers in the Guadalquivir River reminded me of the Charles River in Cambridge (Boston) where you can see serious rowers almost any time of year.

Exploring Seville, Spain – Part 1 (Seville Cathedral)

From Mérida, we drove south to Seville. Seville is one of the great cities of Spain and for that matter, one of the great cities of Europe. Seville sits primarily on the eastern bank of the Guadalquivir River which is drains into the Atlantic, just 80 km (50 miles) to the south. It has been a port city for centuries. It is a large city, with about 1.5 million people living in the greater metropolitan area. In spite of its size, the main tourist sites can be visited comfortably over a couple days. We will divide our tour of Seville into three posts. This first one will cover the marvelous cathedral.

Map of our car tour route. Seville is 193 km (120 miles) south of Merida.
Another beautiful evening in Seville along the Guadalquivir River, with the cathedral tower (La Giralda) in the distance (on the left) and the Torre del Oro on the bank of the river (upper right). Our apartment was on the west bank of the river (to the right of this photo), just about a 10 minute walk from the river and the old quarter of Seville.

Seville Cathedral

The Seville Cathedral is one of the great Gothic cathedrals in Europe, and in fact the largest in Europe. It was built on the site of a great mosque, of which the tower (La Giralda) and a courtyard (Patio de los Naranjos) are remnants. This is the where the tomb of Columbus is located. It is difficult to get a great exterior photo of this cathedral due to its size and somewhat cramped location in the old Jewish quarter (Santa Cruz) of Seville.

La Giralda (Bell Tower) dates back to 1198 and was part of the original mosque located here.
Tomb of Columbus in the Seville Cathedral – his coffin is held by representatives of the kingdoms of Castile, León, Aragón and Navarra.
A view of the La Giralda and the northwestern entrance of the Seville Cathedral, from the shady and cool Patio de los Naranjos.

Cathedral Rooftop Tour & La Giralda Tower

We took a tour of the Seville Cathedral rooftop (“Cubiertas”). We planned this tour in advance since tickets and tour times are limited and crowds can make for long lines. The tour was offered only in Spanish, but our tour guide was kind enough to give us a short summary in English after each stop. It was fun getting a more intimate experience with the cathedral than offered by just visiting the main hall. The rooftop tour was 20 Euro/person and the Cathedral & Tower entrance fees were 11 Euro/person as of March 2022. If I had to choose, I would just do the Cathedral & Tower, since the views are a bit better from the tower than the rooftop. The best European cathedral rooftops I have visited are Milan (Italy) and Chartres (France).

Unique views of the cathedral and its construction are provided on the rooftop tour.

The rooftop tour also included a short interior walk high above the main floor, for a view of the cathedral few people see.

La Giralda Tower

We also climbed La Giralda tower, dating from the 12th century. Rather than steps, there is a sloping ramp all the way to the top of the tower, making the ascent a bit easier.

In my next post, we’ll explore the beautiful Real Alcázar, a 14th century Moorish palace-fortress located right next to the cathedral.

Mérida – Home to Some of the Finest Roman Ruins in Spain

Mérida is a bit of a well-kept secret from tourists and yet it has some amazing Roman and Moorish ruins. The town was founded by Augustus in 25 BC and was known as Augustus Emerita. Today, it’s a relatively small city (population of about 60,000) that feels smaller since much of the main town is walkable and most of the main sights are within the central part of the city. We were fortunate to find a lovely apartment just a block or so away from the main Roman ruins (we visited in March, and had most of the sights to ourselves). Check out this post for a map of Spain reference.

The Roman Theater in Mérida, still in use for classical drama.
Another view of the Roman Theater.
Detail of the Corinthian columns in the Roman Theater.
An entrance to the Amphitheater.
The Roman Amphitheater in Mérida, which sits next to the Theater.

Casa del Anfiteatro

Also next to the Roman Theater and Amphitheater is the Casa del Anfiteatro, which provides a glimpse into life of the Roman nobility. Baths, highly sophisticated plumbing systems, beautiful mosaics, and burial chambers are all on display at this excavated site.

The Temple of Diana (1st Century AD) was in the center of the Roman town of Augustus Emerita, about a ten-minute walk from the Theater and Amphitheater.

Other Roman Ruins Around Town

There are other Roman Ruins all over town just waiting to be explored.

Roman Bridge (Puente de Guadiana)

Alcazaba

One of the most fascinating sights in Mérida is the Alcazaba, one of Spain’s oldest Moorish buildings (AD 835), built over Roman ruins and right next to the Roman bridge (above). There are interpretive signs to help explain what life was like in the fortress.

This tunnel leads down to a still-functioning cistern in the Alcazaba.
Cistern in the Alcazaba – this cistern was part of a sophisticated plumbing system that brought water into the Alcazaba from the nearby river.

Los Milagros Aqueduct

Just outside central Mérida is Los Milagros Aqueduct, another reminder of Roman engineering skills and influence in this part of Spain. It dates from the 1st century AD and is part of a large park on the outskirts of Mérida.

This huge aqueduct is about a 20 minute walk from the Alcazaba.

Practical Matters

You can purchase a “Roman Ruins Circuit Ticket” for 16 Euro per person (as of March 2022) at the Theater which will get you into all the main sights. Well worth it. Our apartment, shown below, was fantastic – a very nice and accommodating owner, 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, well-equipped kitchen and right in the heart of town. However, as the owner says in his instructions, don’t follow Apple or Google Maps for the address – they took us to a dead-end street right below the apartment and we had to go up a different street to get to the apartment (we read his instructions afterwards!).

Our apartment was in a perfect location (3 floors with a garage (where the “AT” sign is) – “Casa Museo”) – right next to the Museum of Roman Art and the Roman Theater (all located to the right in this photo).

Cáceres, Spain – An Untouched Renaissance Town

From Trujillo we continued on our journey driving west a short distance to Cáceres (46 km or 28 miles) and then south to Mérida (62 km or 38 miles from Cáceres), for an overnight stay. In this post I will share a few images of Cáceres and in my next post we’ll cover Mérida, a treasure trove of Roman-era ruins.

Location of Cáceres and Mérida, southwest of Madrid.

Cáceres is a pretty large modern city (population of about 100,000) that has a well-preserved old Renaissance-era center (Ciudad Monumental), located just west of the Plaza Mayor. We found a parking garage about 10 minutes walking distance from the old town. It seemed that we were the only tourists visiting this interesting and quiet historical locale.

A view of the modern town of Cáceres from the tower of the Iglesia de Santa Maria
A view of the old town of Cáceres also taken from the tower of the Iglesia de Santa Maria.

Most of the old town’s structures date from the 15th and 16th centuries, and they, along with remnants of Moorish walls dating from the 12th century, are the heart of this Renaissance enclave that seems stuck in time.

The Iglesia de San Mateo, built between the 14th and 17th centuries, one of Cáceres’ oldest churches.
A view of the main nave in the Iglesia de Santa Maria. This Church also has an interesting Treasury that can be visited.
The amazing 16th century Retablo Mayor, a cedar wood altar depicting Biblical scenes in the Iglesia de Santa Maria.

A Few Other Sights Around Cáceres Old Town

Cáceres experienced an economic boom after Columbus’ discovery of the New World and lucky for us, the old town has held up well over the centuries. While there are not many major tourist sights (a few palaces, towers and churches), our main objective was to just wander the quaint streets a bit and enjoy the ambience.

The modern city of Cáceres has a growing reputation in the worlds of art and modern cuisine, making it worth a stop for many reasons.

Southern Spain – Guadalupe and Trujillo

The first two stops on our self-guided tour of southern Spain were Guadalupe, home of an important monastery and Trujillo, known as the home of Francisco Pizarro, conquistador of the Inca empire of Peru. Our interest in visiting Trujillo was not really about conquistadors, but more the well-preserved old town and castle.

The towns of Guadalupe and Trujillo are show in relation to Madrid. Guadalupe is 240 km (150) southwest of Madrid and Trujillo is 78 km (48 miles) west of Guadalupe.

Guadalupe

This little town is not really on the tourist map, but its glorious Monasterio de Guadalupe should be. The monastery was founded in 1340 and is right in the center of town (the town grew up around the monastery over the centuries). It was the most important monastery in Spain for four centuries. The monastery was a great center of learning, having one of the largest libraries in Spain, and home to schools of grammar and medicine. It was the site of the baptisms of some of the first native Caribbean people brought to Europe by Columbus. It has an amazing embroidery museum (I cannot fathom the hours spent in making these vestments), and an ancient texts museum, among other treasures. The only way to visit the monastery is with a guided tour (in Spanish only). It looks like a giant castle from the exterior and photos are difficult–from the outside due to its cramped location in town and the fact that photography is forbidden in much of the interior.

The Guadalupe town square and monastery. The circular font in front of the monastery is supposedly where the Caribbean natives were baptized.
There are over 90 large illustrated music and other books from the 15th and 16th centuries in one of the museum rooms in the monastery.
The beautiful Baroque style 17th century Sacristy in the Guadalupe Monastery. I had to take this photo quickly.
The cloisters at the Guadalupe Monastery.
Bronze baptismal font.

Trujillo

Trujillo is just 78 km (48 miles) west of Guadalupe, and we spent a night here in an old converted convent.

A view of Trujillo as we drove into town.
The courtyard of our 16th century Dominican Convent hotel, just below the center of the old town (Convento de Franciscanas Descalzas de San Antonio).

While the occasional tour bus makes its way into the main square, this is a pretty quiet town also. Trujillo has many historical structures, and as you wander the narrow little streets, signs on the buildings will give you some historical information.

Plaza Mayor de Trujillo, with a statue of Francisco Pizzaro in the center. The church is the 16th century Parish Church of San Martin de Tours.
Another view of the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo – historical municipal buildings and palaces line the Plaza.

We were able to wander into a few churches and climb their towers for great views and also visit the ramparts of the castle, which stands as a reminder of the battles for this land between the Moors and Christians during the 1200’s.

13th century castle walls built on the remains of an earlier Islamic fortress stand at the top of the hill overlooking Trujillo.
My wife and mother-in-law on the castle walls (foreground).
One of my favorite images from our trip.
Overlooking the old town of Trujillo and countryside from the castle.
A view of the castle from a church tower (I love to climb towers in Europe!).

There are also several 16th century palaces in Trujillo built with the wealth obtained from the conquering of the Americas. Many of the historical sites are open and charge a small entrance fee.

If you have the time, add a visit to Guadalupe and Trujillo to your Spain tourist experience! I love quiet, interesting, and almost undiscovered destinations like these.

I had to throw this image in. All along our route between Guadalupe and Trujillo we saw orange trees just loaded with fruit. We decided to try them. WOW – were these oranges BITTER! We found a few sweeter ones, but now we know why the oranges are just left to drop on the ground!

A Tour Through Southern Spain-Overview

Overview

This spring we decided to take our first international trip in over two years due to the pandemic. It felt so good to be out in the world again! The COVID situation is changing rapidly as I write this, but we found the actual travel to be very easy. We decided on southern Spain for several reasons: While we had toured northern Spain (and as far south as Toledo) a number of years ago, we had not previously visited some of the primary tourist destinations in southern Spain (such as Seville, Cordoba, and Granada). Also, Spain’s COVID travel restrictions as of this spring were a little less restrictive than other countries. Finally, we love Europe!

Our primary destinations were: Trujillo, Merida, Seville, Ronda, Gibraltar (U.K.), Granada, Córdoba, Conseugra, and Cuenca, with a number of other interesting stops along the way.

The Roman Temple of Diana in Merida.

Pandemic Travel

The biggest hassle was the paperwork required by the airlines (United and Lufthansa) prior to departure and return. We had to upload our vaccination cards and fill out questionnaires besides providing the typical passport information. All this information had to be approved by the airline prior to receiving boarding passes, but not more than 24 hours in advance. Frankly, it was easier just providing all the required documentation at the airport check-in counters. Spain required us to fill out a straightforward questionnaire and obtain a QR code ahead of time that we could show (upon arrival at the Madrid airport they just scanned the QR code and that was it, simple). Traveling back to the U.S. (at the time) required a negative COVID test which we were able to get at the Madrid airport prior to our departing return flight (test results were available in less than 30 minutes). Masks were required indoors in Spain, so we just kept our masks with us at all times, and also kept our vaccination cards with us in case anyone asked (which they didn’t).

We traveled in early March, a pretty good time to go. Tourist sites were not crowded, and the weather was generally pleasant (we had one rainy day and one stormy/windy day with Saharan sand covering our car with a fine layer of dust and turning the sky an orange hue).

Tourist Site Reservations

The only reservations we made ahead of time were for the Alhambra in Granada and the Cathedral/Rooftop Tour in Seville. There were no lines to speak of at either site, but we thought it would be smart to book ahead for these popular sites. Under normal travel conditions, reserving tickets for the Alhambra is a must.

A view of the Alhambra in Granada. In March, the mountains were covered in snow.

Logistics

As we typically do, we rented a car (through Avis this time) and are very glad we did. Having a car allows you to explore surprising little out-of-the-way villages or sights that would not be accessible otherwise. Examples include Alcalá la Real, Calatrava la Nueva and Alarcón – more to come on these little gems in later posts.

Alarcón castle – now a parador (hotel).

We covered about 1,600 miles during our two-week tour and didn’t need to drive more than about 3.5 hours in any given day. A map of our approximate route is shown below. We will break down the trip into segments for future posts.

Our approximate route through Southern Spain and Gibraltar. We covered a lot of ground over two weeks, but never felt rushed. We saw an amazing number of interesting sights and also enjoyed the varied landscape.

We stayed in lovely apartments in most destinations and found some great deals at the time – often not more than $100 US per night for 2+ bedrooms, kitchen, clothes washer and often 2 bathrooms (we had 4 people in our group). Our hosts were very prompt, friendly and welcoming.

Street entrance for our Granada apartment, in the old Albaicin quarter of the city.
Our bedroom in Granada, we loved the old architecture.

It felt GREAT to be “back on the road again”….keep a look out for more to come on this amazing adventure!

The Canary Islands – Part 2 of 2 (Tenerife)

Let’s just call it what it is…Tenerife is beautiful and it’s easy to see why it’s the most visited spot in the Canary Islands, and one of the top destinations in Spain and Europe, for that matter. Tenerife is the largest (and most populated) of the Canary Islands, and the north/west and south coasts are especially beautiful. It’s only a short (20 minute) plane ride away from Gran Canaria. The 12,198 ft volcanic peak of El Teide dominates the island and is the highest point in Spain. Probably the second most popular sight is Los Gigantes, a stunning set of high cliffs jutting out of the ocean on the very southwest coast.

Puerto de la Cruz

This is a primary tourist hub on Tenerife and it’s where we stayed. Its location at the midpoint of the island on the northwest shore provides a good base for exploring the island and is quite a beautiful setting – with the waves crashing over the jagged volcanic rocks along on the shore.

Puerto de la Cruz (3)

The rugged and beautiful coastline of Puerto de la Cruz.

Puerto de la Cruz

An evening scene in Puerto de la Cruz – lots of diners fill the streets in the evenings.

Puerto de la Cruz (2)

A church in the main square of Puerto de la Cruz.

El Teide National Park

The soaring volcano mountain of El Teide is a national park and contains a lot of rugged terrain. Going from sea level to 12,000 feet in elevation within just a few miles (as the crow flies) means you are ascending at a very steep rate and negotiating a lot of switch backs.

El Teide National Park (2)

A volcanic outflow “flower” in the park.

The roads on Tenerife and ascending into El Teide National Park are narrow, steep and winding. Once you get into the park, there is a nice visitor’s center with good maps and signage.

El Teide National Park (35)

A view of the peak in the distance.

There is a (expensive) tram that takes you within 600 feet of the summit, but to climb the last 600 feet you have to plan ahead and make a reservation.

El Teide National Park (15)

The tram going up to the top of El Teide.

El Teide National Park (18)

Near the peak of El Teide, where the tram ends.

Otherwise, you can hike around the peak just below the summit for the views and scamper through the jagged volcanic rock, which looks other worldly. Unfortunately, on the day we had allowed for our visit to the park and peak the lower elevations were socked in with clouds for a period of time, but we were still able to get a few views.

El Teide National Park (9)

The moon-like landscape of El Teide National Park.

Los Gigantes

This is the postcard view of Tenerife. In fact, it was a post card I saw in a friend’s office that put Tenerife on my “must see” list. At the port, you can arrange a boat trip (of varying lengths of time) that will take you for a tour, including whale and dolphin watching, depending on the time of year.

Los Gigantes (6)

A view of the port of Los Gigantes with the cliffs in the background.

Los Gigantes Dolphin (2)

A dolphin comes near our boat.

Your boat tour will also stop at the beach for a short time, or you can arrange to disembark at the beach and take another boat back, which is what we did. While we were on the beach, a huge boulder came crashing down off the cliffs which could have easily killed someone. Luckily, it fell and rolled (at great speed) right between some very scared tourists who were running in every direction. It happened so quickly I could not get any video footage.

Tenerife Los Gigantes Masca Beach (2)

The black sand beach among the cliffs of Los Gigantes.

The best access to Los Gigantes is by taking a boat tour out of the nearby port town of the same name. You can also hike down from the town of Masca (discussed below).They aren’t joking when they say on the hike down from Masca and at the beach to be extremely careful of loose rock.

Tenerife Los Gigantes Masca Beach (4)

Enjoying a swim at Los Gigantes.

Masca

The main reason people come to the little village of Masca (in addition to seeing the beautiful setting), is as a starting point for hiking down through steep ravines to the cliffs and beach of Los Gigantes.

Masca (6)

The winding road going into Masca. On most of Tenerife you are either going up or down!

It’s about a 3-hour hike, and once you reach bottom you can catch a pre-arranged boat back to the port. Most people take a taxi to Masca to begin their hike, since it’s a one-way route (unless you’d like to spend a few more hours ascending straight back up the gorge).

Tenerife Los Gigantes Masca Canyon

Looking up into the narrow gorge of Los Gigantes. Hiking up through this gorge leads to the little village of Masca.

A couple other great beach areas are shown below.

Los Cristianos

Near the southern most tip of Tenerife is Los Cristianos, another scenic beach spot and viewpoint, with the island of La Gomera in the distance. Ferries to other islands depart from here.

Los Cristianos

The beach at Los Cristianos.

Playa Americas

This resort area (near Los Cristianos) is a major tourist hub for southern Tenerife with a great beach and numerous hotels and restaurants. If you’re after nightlife, this is where you’ll find it.

Playa de Las Americas (5)

The beach at Playa Americas.

Playa de Las Americas (8)

There’s even a Hard Rock Cafe in Playa Americas.

Small Quaint Towns

Just like on Gran Canaria, there are some quaint small towns in the interior that are worth a little time exploring.

La Orotava

La Orotava (21)

La Orotava is known for its sand murals – in particular this square – see below.

La Orotava

The square in La Orotava is transformed by sand murals – I wish we could have seen this incredible artwork – I had to settle for a picture of a picture! I wonder how they deal with wind?

La Orotava (16)

A display showing how the sand murals are created.

La Laguna

La Laguna (11)

The town of La Laguna is near the airport at the northern end of Tenerife. It was the headquarters of the Spanish Army in the 1600’s. It has a very quaint old quarter.

Vilafora

Vilaflora Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol (5)

The Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol in Vilaflora, a hermitage from the 1500’s.

 

Vilaflora (2)

The beautiful golden altar in the Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol.

If you have to pick just one island to visit in the Canaries, make it Tenerife. You will find a little bit of everything here – stunning scenery, beaches, mountains, pretty villages, good restaurants and nightlife. Five million tourists a year can’t be wrong!

The Canary Islands – Part I

Overview

If you want to visit a part of Europe that most Americans aren’t familiar with, consider the Canary Islands, an archipelago of 7 islands belonging to Spain located off the west coast of Africa. We wisely decided to visit the Canary Islands following our two weeks in nearby Morocco. We visited two islands (Gran Canaria and Tenerife), which are two of the largest and most developed islands. There are direct flights from Casablanca to the Canaries.

Firgas (1)

A map of the Canary Islands. We visited Gran Canaria (the circular island in the lower center) and Tenerife, to the northwest of Gran Canaria.

Even though these two islands house most of the local population, you can find remote and quiet areas very quickly. We really enjoyed this part of our trip. The difference between Morocco and the Canaries was a bit of a culture shock (the pace of traffic, roads, lifestyle, etc.), and we felt we were stepping from one world to another after our 1.5 hour flight.

Gran Canary Scenery (5)

The landscape of Gran Canaria, near the caldera of the volcano that was the island’s origin. The elevation here is about 6,000 feet.

For a combination of rugged volcanic mountains, loads of hiking trails, beautiful beaches and small quaint European towns, the Canary Islands are hard to beat.

Gran Canaria Hiking Sign

A sign showing hiking trails in the mountains of Gran Canaria.

The Canaries are only about 100 miles (depending on the island) off the coast of Western Sahara, a region of Africa administered by Morocco. While Spanish is the primary language, the high number of tourists (and residents) from the UK make English more common than in mainland Spain. Even though these islands are close to the Sahara Desert, they have a mild climate and pleasant temperature all year long. The climate zones vary greatly within each island and from island to island due to changes in elevation and the prevailing winds. Some areas are a bit desert-like, other areas are forested and green, and you’ll find everything in between.

Gran Canaria Guanches (2)

The Guanches were the native people of the Canary Islands, who were essentially wiped out during the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands.

To get around each island we rented a car (the roads are good, although sometimes more narrow than mainland Europe). To get from island to island there are numerous flights as well as ferries (we flew to save time).

I’ll share a bit about Gran Canaria in this post and then share more about Tenerife in my next post.

Gran Canaria

This island (and its largest city, Las Palmas) is the capitol of this region of Spain and the main business hub for the Canaries. Although the island is not big (about 35 miles diameter), many of the roads are narrow, steep and winding, so it takes longer than you might think to get across the island. There is one major freeway on the eastern shore.

Las Palmas Playa de las Canteras (45)

One of the main beaches and boardwalks in Las Palmas, Playa de las Canteras.

Columbus visited Las Palmas to take on supplies on his first voyage to the New World.

Las Palmas (23)

Statue of Columbus in Las Palmas.

There is an excellent museum about his voyages and world exploration at the end of the 15th century. He also is believed to have lived in this building as well.

Las Palmas Casa de Colon (19)

The exterior of the Museo de Colon (Christopher Columbus Museum) in Las Palmas.

Las Palmas Museo de Colon (7)

A map showing the route of Columbus’ first voyage – 1492-1493. He stopped in Las Palmas on his way to the new world.

Las Palmas Museo de Colon (14)

One of the exhibits in the Museo de Colon, showing the interior of a sailing ship of Columbus’ era.

There are other sites to visit in Las Palmas as well, including a great cathedral.

Las Palmas Catedral de Santa Ana (14)

Las Palmas Cathedral – Catedral de Santa Ana. Located near the Museo de Colon.

 

Las Palmas Catedral de Santa Ana (12)

Interior of Catedral de Santa Ana.

Beyond Las Palmas, there is a whole island to explore, with small quaint towns and rugged mountains.

Arucas (7)

The town of Arucas on Gran Canaria

Arucas Iglesia de San Juan Bautista (4)

In the town of Arucas, there is a Gothic church (Iglesia de San Juan Bautista), which is not old, but quite beautiful and will remind visitors of the great cathedrals of Europe.

A couple other cute towns are Teror (don’t let its name frighten you away!) and Firgas.

Teror (3)

Street in the town of Teror.

Teror Basilica (6)

The Basilica of Teror, quite beautiful inside.

Firgas (3)

Many of these little towns have some sort of iconic site. Firgas, not far from Las Palmas, has a waterfall cascading down a street.

The southern shore of Gran Canaria has high cliffs that are an imposing sight and a lovely fishing village, Puerto de Mogan.

Puerto de Mogan (6)

Puerto de Mogan is an upscale little village on the southern shore of Gran Canaria.

The landscape at the higher elevations reminded us of our home state – Colorado.

Pozo de las Nieves (4)

This spot is known as Pozo de las Nieves, and is the highest spot on Gran Canaria. It offers views of the island of Tenerife, which can (barely) be seen above our heads. Also, just over Robyn’s head is Roque Nublo, a famous landmark and sacred spot to the Guanches (the native population).

Roque Nublo (11)

Another view of the rugged volcanic landscape found on Gran Canaria, near Pozo de las Nieves.

Grand Canaria is a gateway to the Canary Islands and definitely worth a few days of your time. In my next post, I will share some information on Tenerife, another “hot spot” in the Canaries.

 

 

 

Salamanca – Home of One of the Oldest Universities in Europe

Along with Toledo, Salamanca is one of my favorite cities in Spain. It has so much to offer in a compact area: an ancient university, two old cathedrals, a beautiful Plaza de Mayor, an old Roman bridge, and other remarkable sights. Salamanca is 132 miles (212 km) northwest of Madrid.

Salamanca is northwest of Madrid.

Salamanca is northwest of Madrid.

The founding of the city goes back to pre-Roman times. The stately architecture of the old town gives it an aura of distinction, which has been earned–Salamanca has been an important center of learning for a thousand years .

The narrow streets of Salamanca.

The narrow streets of Salamanca.

Plaza de Mayor

Although “Plazas de Mayor” are found throughout cities in Spain, one of the grandest is Salamanca’s. I had heard how great it was, but didn’t understand until I visited. This 18th century plaza is one of Spain’s largest, bordered by majestic architecture.

Salamanca's great Plaza de Mayor.

Salamanca’s great Plaza de Mayor.

The Plaza Mayor is a great place to rest and absorb the wonderful surroundings on a sunny afternoon.

Catedral Vieja and Catedral Nueva (Old and New Cathedrals)

These two cathedrals adjoin one another. The old Romanesque cathedral is from the 12th and 13th centuries and the “new” 16th century cathedral is more Gothic and Baroque in its design. Luckily the old cathedral was preserved, rather than being torn down to make room for the new cathedral.

Although hard to tell, the old cathedral is on the right and the new cathedral towers over the old.

Although hard to tell, the old cathedral is on the right and the new cathedral towers over the old.

They both have beautiful frescoes, altarpieces and other precious art. Be sure to go up to the roof for a great view of old Salamanca.

View of Salamanca from the roof top of the Cathedral.

View of Salamanca from the roof top of the Cathedral.

Salamanca University

Founded in 1218, Salamanca University is one of Europe’s oldest and still functions as a top university in Spain, attracting students from around the world. One of the lecture rooms still has its original furniture.

The 13th century student seating in this lecture hall is original.

The 13th century student seating in this lecture hall is original.

The elegant courtyard of Salamanca University.

The elegant courtyard of Salamanca University.

Columbus met with geographers here to make his case for his famous western voyage to the Indies (which of course turned out to be the Americas).

The Patio de las Escuelas of Salamanc University.

The Patio de las Escuelas of Salamanc University.

Other Sights

Venture south of the old town to take a look at the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), built in the 1st century AD. The Torre del Clavero (a 15th century tower), other old churches, convents and museums also beckon.

The 1st century AD Roman Bridge in Salamanca.

The 1st century AD Roman Bridge in Salamanca.

The intracately carved entrance to the Iglesia-Convento de San Esteban, a 16th century Dominican monastery.

The intracately carved entrance to the Iglesia-Convento de San Esteban, a 16th century Dominican monastery.

Huge ancient manuscript in the Iglesia-Convento de San Esteban.

Huge ancient manuscript in the Iglesia-Convento de San Esteban.

The Torre del Clavero (15th century) in old Salamanca.

The Torre del Clavero (15th century) in old Salamanca.

Just wandering through the old town is a joy. Be sure to visit Salamanca on your next trip to Spain!

Toledo – One of Spain’s Most Atmospheric Cities

View of the old town of Toledo. The Cathedral is on the left and the Alcazar is on the right.

View of the old town of Toledo. The Cathedral is on the left and the Alcazar is on the right.

Toledo is one of my favorite places in Spain, I think partially due to the setting. Toledo sits on a steep hill above the River Tagus (Tajo), which encircles about two thirds of the old city. The streets are narrow and the city’s walls, gates and bridges give it a real medieval feel.

The narrow streets of old Toledo.

The narrow streets of old Toledo.

The old walls of Toledo.

The old walls of Toledo.

Toledo is only about 72 km (45 miles) from Madrid, making it possible to visit as a day trip from Madrid. However, I would suggest staying at least overnight to enjoy the ambience of this town. A walk at sunset around the perimeter of the city is very romantic and peaceful.

One of the several bridges over the River Tagus in Toledo.

One of the several bridges over the River Tagus in Toledo.

There is plenty to see, including the 13th century Cathedral which has both Gothic and Baroque elements, the 15th century Franciscan Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes (one of the great monasteries of Europe), the rebuilt Alcazar (castle) and many other churches. We also enjoyed just wandering the hilly narrow streets and around the old town’s walls. For additional good views, consider the tram ride that goes around the far bank of the Tagus River.

The main entrance to the Toledo Cathedral. The building is so huge, it's hard to get a good picture from the narrow streets of the old city.

The main entrance to the Toledo Cathedral. The building is so huge, it’s hard to get a good picture from the narrow streets of the old city.

The Toledo Alcazar sits high on the hill, rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It's now an interesting museum.

The Toledo Alcazar sits high on the hill, rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It’s now an interesting museum.

The Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes is in the upper left, which was part of the old Jewish Quarter of the city.

The Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes is in the upper left, which was part of the old Jewish Quarter of the city.

Due to its history as home to Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures over the centuries, Toledo has a unique atmosphere – feeling a bit like Jerusalem as well as medieval Europe. Originally, the Romans settled here, followed by the Visigoths in the 6th century and then the Moors in the 8th century. Toledo was also home to the famous artist El Greco (“The Greek”) in the 16th century. We stayed in the heart of the old town at the Hotel Santa Isabel which has a great view from its rooftop.

A view of the Cathedral at night from our hotel rooftop.

A view of the Cathedral at night from our hotel rooftop.

Driving is a nightmare in the old city, so take advantage of the large parking lot outside the northern perimeter near the bus station, and just hike up into the old town.