A Travellerspoint blog

Madrid - Friday, 22 July 2016

Morning tour of Madrid, taking in Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, the "Austrian" quarter and the 18th century Royal Palace. Scenic Freechoice - Flamenco Workshop

sunny 33 °C

Hotel - Hotel Villareal, Plaza de las Cortes, 10 Madrid - Room 501

Breakfast was very nice this morning. There was avocado on the buffet for the first time since we have been away. It was very popular.

We started our morning city tour with our local guide Bibi. Bibi was also our guide for the Prado Museum yesterday. She is a very tall Dutch lady who has lived in Madrid for a long time and knows her stuff.

We started off in the Plaza Mayor, which is a central plaza in Madrid. Building commenced in 1617 during Philip III's reign and the plaza was opened in 1619. The buildings around here are stunning, as with everywhere we have been in Spain and Portugal. And the dates of all these buildings are just blowing us away - I mean Australia was only discovered in 1770! Some of these photos are a bit blue because they were taken through the bus windows which are tinted.

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Next we visited Puerta del Sol, which is another very famous and beautiful square. This square contains the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes at the beginning of the new year. Eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve is both a tradition and a superstition in Spain. One grape every second for the first 12 seconds of the new year, will guarantee you 12 lucky months.

The Puerta del Sol originated as one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid in the 15th century. The name of the gate came from the rising sun which decorated the entry.

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Some of the lovely buildings in the Austrian quarter.

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Then onto the 18th century Royal Palace of Madrid. It is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family but is only used for state ceremonies. Unfortunately, throughout most of our tour, we weren't allowed to take photographs which was such a shame. The rooms were stunning. The palace is on the site of a 9th century Alcazar. The palace burned down in 1734 and King Philip V ordered a new palace to be constructed on the same site. It was completed in 1755 and Charles III moved in in 1764. It contains masterpieces by Caravaggio, Velazquez and Goya.

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Here are some photos that we were allowed to take.

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We returned to the hotel with only a short time for a quick lunch before we went to our Scenic Freechoice activities for the afternoon.

We had a lovely light lunch in the bistro section of the hotel. Very nice and quite reasonable.

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Then off to our Scenic Freechoice.

Phil went to the Real Madrid Bernabeu Soccer Stadium for a guided tour. It was large, holds 84,000 people seated, but wasn't as big as the stadium in Barcelona.

Now, there were two choices for our Scenic Freechoice - visit the Real Madrid Soccer Stadium OR attend a Flamenco Dance Workshop. What do you think I chose to do? Yep, that's right - the Flamenco Dance Workshop.

There were about 10 ladies and two blokes!! Very brave.

Flamenco is a bit like elements of tap dancing as there is a lot of stamping of feet and clicking of heels and the arms and hands have a lot to do with it as well. We all watched this lovely young lady show us the movements and then we stood up and tried to emulate her - not very successfully, I might add but we had a lot of laughs and then she performed a dance for us. How stunning she was. But what fun we had.

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On our way back to the hotel, Isabel took us into an authentic Flamenco Restaurant, as opposed to the ones the tourists frequent. It was very atmospheric and would be more so filled with patrons and dancers.

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For our last night in Madrid, Isabel's home town, she invited anyone who wanted to, to go with her to dinner in the square, maybe tapas or maybe just a normal meal. Robi and Renata from Kambah in the ACT and Phil and I decided to go with her. We chose a tapas restaurant, outdoors, in the middle of the square and proceeded to order "willy nilly". Oh, if we only remembered William's words! William was our driver for our transfer from Barcelona Airport to our hotel and he warned us about tapas. He said that these days they had become very expensive as people get carried away and at the end, they have quite a large bill - well, yes, that's exactly what happened to us. We would have been much better just ordering separate meals. Anyway, it was an experience and lovely to have dinner with Isabel on our second last night in Madrid.

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Posted by gaddingabout 23:39 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Salamanca to Madrid - Thursday, 21 July 2016

See Segovia en route to Madrid. Visit the Prado Museum. Farewell dinner.

sunny 36 °C

Hotel - Hotel Villareal, Plaza de las Cortes, 10 Madrid - Room 501

Gazing out our window this morning we spied this stork on top of the monastery.

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Along the way we had a photo stop for the village of Humilladero. We didn't go into the town - just a panoramic photo stop. Humilladero is in the province of Malaga and is situated on the border with Seville and Malaga. It has a population of approximately 3,300 residents. It is a very pretty town.

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Next stop Segovia for lunch. We were blown away by the stunning aqueduct. It was amazing. It is a Roman aqueduct and one of the most significant and best preserved ancient monuments left on the Iberian Peninsula. The date of its construction is not known though it was thought to have been during the 1st century AD, during the reigns of the Emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. It once transported water from the Rio Frio River, 17 kms from the city. One of the amazing facts about the aqueduct is that it contains no mortar. It is constructed of brick like granite blocks. It provided water to Segovia until the mid 19th century.

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Segovia is a lovely city and well worth a visit. It was very hot and most of the group decided to do their own thing but Isabel was offering a guided walk to the castle, so Sandra, Phil and I decided to accompany. Now normally we would have had plenty of time, but Isabel gets very excited about lots of things to see along the way, hence we arrived at the castle with just a short time for photos and then we realised we were running out of time to get back to the square and on to the bus.

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We suggested she phone for a taxi, which she did, but it took ages to come. Eventually she called them again and said that we needed it urgently as one of her group was feeling unwell in the heat. That seemed to do the trick and the taxi arrived for the short trip back down to the main square. Then we rushed around trying to find somewhere where we could buy a sandwich to eat on the bus. No luck! We ended up buying a couple of absolutely delicious pastries (which was really naughty, but nice) and ate them as we headed off for Madrid.

We are now in suckling pig country and we came across a "ceremony" of cutting the pig. Apparently suckling pig is very tender, so tender in fact that you can cut it with a plate. Hence this demonstration. At the end of the cutting, the guy smashed the plate on the ground which is very Greek and not at all the Spanish thing to do, says Isabel.

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Some of the lovely shop windows in Segovia.

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When we arrived at our hotel in Madrid, we had a very sad farewell with Javier. He had driven the maximum amount of time and had to leave us on arrival in Madrid. We had secretly taken up a collection for Javier and Phil made a speech and everyone was crying, especially Javier and Isabel. It was sad because he had been a great driver and even though he couldn't speak English and we couldn't speak Spanish, we all communicated very well with him. He was such a lovable little guy.

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We have a lovely suite of rooms in this hotel. We have a sitting room, plus a bedroom and two balconies. Very nice.

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We freshened up and then walked to the Prado Museum and were divided into two groups and then guided through the gallery. It was excellent. No photos allowed - sorry.

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On our way out, I took a photo of the queue. The Prado Museum has free entry later in the afternoon, and lots and lots of people line up for that.

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We dressed for our farewell dinner, met in the foyer and all walked to the Los Galayos restaurant together. We sat with Curvetta and Grant; Coral and Ed; and Sandra and Allan. We were entertained by some singers and Isabel made a speech and gave us all some Spanish fridge magnets. We took up a collection for her too and Robert Scanlan made a speech and thanked her for all of us. She is a good tour guide. Very thoughtful.

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Phil has lost his voice (yeah!)

Posted by gaddingabout 20:39 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Porto to Salamanca - Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Orientation tour of Porto, including port wine tasting. Back in Spain for a guided tour of Salamanca.

sunny 28 °C

Hotel - Hotel Hospes Palacio De San Estaban, Arroyo de Santo Domingo, 3, Salamanca - Room 403

We experienced a Port tasting at Sandeman in Porto before we left for Salamanca. The House of Sandeman was founded in London in 1790 by George Sandeman, a young Scotsman. He acquired the cellars in 1811 and have been used for more than 200 years to age Sandeman's best Porto Wines.

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We stopped for lunch at a truck stop and it was all closed up. We continued on until we found another one which was manned by one girl - serving and taking payment. She did very well trying to keep up with all our requests for food and drink.

Just as we crossed the Spanish border we hit a big bump in the road and a door beneath the bus flew open. Javier tried to fix it with the help of Robert and Alastair, and Lindsay walked up the road and tried to stop the big trucks from speeding around the corner and killing Javier working on the bus. It was quite incredible how fast they came roaring around the bend. Finally we got it closed after about half an hour and we were on our way.

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Our hotel is an old monestary. It is just lovely. We have a great view from our bedroom window. The walls are feet thick. It is located in the heart of Salamanca and was originally the Convent of San Esteban, from the Black Friar's order.

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We went on a walking tour of the university and the old town and the square. Magnificent. Salamanca is one of the most important university cities in Spain. It attracts thousands of international students and all the courses are completed in Spanish. The University of Salamanca, which was founded in 1218, is the oldest university in Spain and the fourth oldest western university.

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La Plaza Mayor in the main square in the old town. It is surrounded on all sides by these fabulous buildings.

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I bought an icon.

We had dinner in the square with Robert and Pat from Tasmania, Renata and Robi from Canberra and Robert and Pam from New Zealand. It was very pleasant sitting outdoors on a lovely warm evening, sharing a meal with our new friends.

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I felt a lump in the bed and it was a lolly??? Isabel said it was a present from the house maid!

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Posted by gaddingabout 04:54 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Lisbon to Porto - Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Visit the seaside village of Nazare on the way to Porto. Dinner of local foods, followed by a cruise on the Douro River.

sunny 25 °C

Hotel - Sheraton Hotel Porto, Porto Room 1102

Today we were given a little sleep in and don't have to be on the bus until 9.30 am. Everyone was very happy about that! Most people from the French River cruise have recovered from their coughs and colds, though a few hacking coughs remain. A couple of us newbies have a minor cold. Mine has just about gone but Curvetta is still not feeling too flash.

We drove to the seaside resort of Nazare. It is quite a large town but very nice down by the ocean. Apparently some of the biggest waves for surfers have been recorded here, but there was no evidence of that today. It was calm and lovely. We had an hour and a half in Nazare so we found the vehicular and took a ride to the top of the hill. There are homes, a few shops and cafes up here and the view is absolutely stunning.

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Also, the locals have set up a few stalls in the square in front of the church and some of them are in their local dress.

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The earliest settlements in Nazare were in Pederneira and Sitio, above the beach. They provided the inhabitants with refuge against raids by the Vikings, the French, English and Dutch pirates, that lasted until the beginning of the 19th century.

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There is also a church in the square. It is the Church of Nossa Senhora da Nazare. The weather is warm and pleasant. There is even a coolish breeze blowing.

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We came back down the hill and quickly looked for somewhere to have a quick early lunch snack before getting back on thd bus for the trip to Porto. I had a green salad and Phil had a shrimp omelette. Our restaurant was called Lota.

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Back on the bus for the couple of hours drive to Porto. We checked in at about 4pm and quickly changed as we were meeting the local guide at 5pm for our city tour. This was conducted on the bus, but we got off in the main square for a photo stop.

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A bride having a photo shoot on our hotel's staircase.

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We thought we were caught up in a demonstration, but it was just teams of high school hockey players, marching happily through the streets.

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We walked down to the port and boarded a boat for a short cruise on the Douro River - the seven bridge cruise. it was very pleasant cruising the river in the late afternoon and sipping a sherry.

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We went ashore for dinner in a local restaurant. We were quite squashed in and the noise was incredible. However, there was a buffet dessert table and that was chaotic when everyone tried to get up to serve themselves. But it was a nice evening.

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Posted by gaddingabout 03:56 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Lisbon - Monday, 18 July 2016

Tour Lisbon; visit the Hieronymite Monastery; taste the famous Pasteis de Nata. Lunch at Visconde da Luz in Cascais; visit the 500 year old Palacio Nacional in Sintra, stopping at Guincho and Estoril en route.

sunny 27 °C

Hotel - Intercontinental Hotel Lisbon, Rua Castilho 149, Lisbon Room1014

This morning we did a city tour with our local guide Isabel. It is a very beautiful city. The pavements are stunning, especially this wavy one on the Rossio Square. It is really distracting to walk on it. You certainly have to keep your wits about you.

This is long arduous labour in extremely hot weather and with the low wages paid, this art is failing to attract apprentices. The pavements can be rather dangerous when they are wet as they become very slippery and people simple slip and fall over. Some of the stones are working their way loose and that is also dangerous.

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We walked down the street towards the Rua Augusta Arch and the harbour. The arch is stunning. It was built to commemorate the city's reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. It was orginally designed as a bell tower but was transformed into an elaborate arch after a century.

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This magnificent statue is of King Jose I. The King on his horse is symbolically crushing snakes on his path.

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The square is named Praca do Comercio, the Square of Commerce and is a beautiful place on the sea.

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Belem Tower, Tower of Saint Vincent is on the bank of the Tagus River. Again, (as much of Spain and Portugal), it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, especially because of the significant role it played in the Portugeuse maritime discoveries of the era of the Age of Discoveries.. It was part of a defence system at the mouth of the Tagus River. It was built in the early 16th century.

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Next, what we have all been waiting for (but I had a sneak preview yesterday) - morning tea but specifically tasting the very famous Pasteis de Nata - custard tart. Yum, yum. They are lovely.

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The Belem military museum is next door to the cafe where we had morning tea with pastelle de nata. We didn't go in - just took a few photos.

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We all wandered back to the bus after our delicious morning tea of Lisbon's famous custard tarts and noticed that Javier our driver was in deep discussions with the local police. Lots of arm waving by the police, but Javier seemed pretty relaxed. We were held up for about an hour. Once we got on the bus, Isabel explained what had transpired. I still don't really understand what she said but basically the minute our Spanish bus arrived in this Portuguese town, they did a check (somehow) and said that he was over his driver's hours. Apparently his company didn't agree with this and Isbael said it had nothing to do with Scenic, but at the end of the day, Javier was fined 2,600 Euros. If the police were so worried about him being over his hours, then why did they let him continue to drive us??

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On the road again and passed Cape Roca, the most western point of the continent of Europe.

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Drove to Casca for a lovely fish lunch at Visconde da Luz Restaurant. It was really nice and then we had some free time to wander through this lovely village.

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After lunch we drove to Sintra to visit the Palace. On the way we stopped at Guincho and Estoril. Now I'm not sure in which town these photos were taken but I want to introduce you to Sandra Hill, a lady in our group. During your life, if you are lucky, you will meet your soul mate, and not necessarily one of the opposite sex whom you would be lucky to marry. I have met a couple in my life and Sandra is one. We both thought it and when I posted this photo on my Facebook, the comment came back "sisters"! We look similar, we dress similar, we think the same way AND we are "happy snappies".

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On the bus over a mountainous road to see the palace at Sintra of King Manuel. It is a very narrow road in places and how Javier manoeuvres that bus around the corners and weaves it in and out of cars, is beyond me!

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It is the best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal, being inhabited more or less continuously from at least the early 15th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Swan Room so named because of the swans painted on the ceiling.

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Okay, but the Magpie Room has a very different story. King John I was caught kissing one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting by his Queen, Philippa of Lancaster. To put a stop to all the gossip, he had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at the court. I'm not sure how this is going to stop the gossip!

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We drove to our hotel but before we went inside to get changed for dinner, we walked over the road to the big Portugese flag to see the view over the city to the coast.

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We met Robert and Pat Scanlon downstairs at 7.45 pm and the conceirge called us a taxi and we drove to a restaurant out near the airport called Tertulia do Paco that was recommended to Robert by one of his pharmaceutical mates. They were supposed to be specialists in suckling pig. We had a reservation and when we arrived at the restaurant, the door was locked. We had to knock on the door to be let in! That was funny. We were the only ones there and the waiters didn't speak English, we didn't speak Portuguese and the menu was only written in Portuguese. So the waiter tried to desribe to us some of the dishes.

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After a lot of arm waving, Robert chose steak, Pat chose pork, I chose cod and Phil chose the Chef's salad which basically was a prawn salad. Robert and Phil had a beer and a bottle of red wine and Pat and I had a fruit Sangria, which turned out to be a Sangria made on champagne, fruit and brandy and two other liqueurs. It was very nice. On the other hand, my cod was the most tasteless, toughest piece of fish I have ever tasted. It was chewy and awful - so opposite from the delicious fresh bream I had for lunch and dinner the night before.

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We had a very nice evening. We were the only people in the restaurant the entire night, with about six staff running around after us. How they make a living, I'll never know. We left just after 10 pm, after they called us a taxi and the taxi driver thought he was a racing car driver and I am sure was exceeding the speed limits and screeched around all the corners. I was very glad to arrive back at the hotel in one piece.

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It was a funny night and I kept thinking that Manuel from Faulty Towers comes from this area of the world (Barcelona really) but these waiters were just like him!

I apologise for the length of this blog, but we are just squeezing SO much into every day, and it is all so wonderful, that I can't leave anything out!

Posted by gaddingabout 06:48 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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