Michael Smit

Joined May 2017Living in: Cabarita, Australia
  • Day9

    Madrid - Day 9

    July 8, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Our first day in Madrid began with a bus tour through the city, looking at the key buildings and monuments, such as the Cibeles Fountain, the Parliament, and the Puerto Del Sol.

    We stopped at the Plaza de Espana to see the statue dedicated to Cervantes and his fictional characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

    We finished the tour with a guided tour of the Prado Museum, with a highlight on the works of the Spanish artists El Greco, Velazquez, Murillo, and Goya.

    In the afternoon we headed out to Toledo, Spain’s equivalent of a downsized Rome. It was the former capital of Spain before the capital was relocated to Madrid. We were led through narrow meandering streets towards the beautiful Toledo cathedral.

    We concluded the day with an end of tour farewell dinner at a local Madrid restaurant, with great company from around the world with fellow travellers from Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the US, and our guide Enzo from Italy and our driver Antonio from Portugal.

    As it was Michael’s birthday on the previous day, they gave him a lovely surprise as they all wished him Feliz Cumpleanos and brought out cake and candles.
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  • Day8

    Seville, Cordoba, and Madrid - Day 8

    July 7, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    After Seville we headed towards Madrid with a stop in the perfectly preserved Moorish city of Córdoba.

    There we saw the 2,000 year old Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir River, called the Puente Romano, as Cordoba was once a part of the Roman empire.

    Entering the city, we visited its centrepiece, the gigantic Mezquita, also known as the mosque-cathedral. It is the only place in the world where you can worship mass in a mosque. The mosque that was built by the Moors in the 8th century was converted to a cathedral in the 13th century not by destroying and rebuilding it as a cathedral but rather by building a cathedral within it, thus preserving the beauty of the mosque.

    The key feature of the Mezquita is its most defining characteristic, the unique terracotta and white striped arches. Glimpsed through the dull light they are at once spooky and striking.

    Another highlight is the mihrab, the scallop shaped prayer niche that faces towards Mecca that was added in the 10th century.

    We continued our journey to Madrid and with little time to rest and freshen up, were off to a three course dinner accompanied by a performance by local opera singers. The waiters and waitresses were also to opera singers!
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  • Day7

    Seville - Day 7

    July 6, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 21 °C

    On our second day in Seville, we visited the Maria Luisa Park, seeing the pavilions built for the Ibero-American Fair in 1929 on the way to the Plaza of Spain, where the Spanish pavilion is located. This huge pavilion housed exhibits from all 17 regions of Spain for the Fair.

    Next we strolled through the Santa Cruz district, the medieval Jewish quarter, with its narrow winding streets and flower bedecked wrought-iron balconies, towards the Seville Cathedral.

    After Seville was reconquered by the Christians in 1248, its main mosque was used as a church until 1401, when it was knocked down to make way for what would become the world’s largest Gothic Cathedral. It was completed in 1507.

    Inside he cathedral stands the elaborate tomb of Christopher Columbus, dating from 1902. The remains within the tomb are the subject of debate, with some arguing that he is buried in the Dominican Republic, but he is revered in Seville due to his contribution to its history.

    Seville is the home of tapas and we had an exceptional lunch of grilled mushrooms; goat's cheese and honey; and grilled octopus.

    Finally we visited the sublime and romantic Real Alcazar, the royal castle/palace built by the Moors and residence to many generations of caliphs, with richly scented gardens, domed halls, horseshoe arches and courtyards. This palace and its gardens are the location for the kingdom of Dorne in Game of Thrones.

    That evening we visited a 350 year old restaurant in Seville called El Rinconcillo (literally meaning the inside of a little corner) for a tapas dinner with the tour group. This was followed by a horse carriage ride through the streets of Seville back to our hotel.
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  • Day6

    Granada and Seville - Day 6

    July 5, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    We had a morning tour of the Albayzin, the old Muslim quarter of Granada located on the hillside across from the Alhambra. This was where those who were not part of the palace or fortress used to live. It is characterised by narrow laneways and tightly integrated houses with walled gardens.

    The tour included a visit to Alcaicería, which was once the Great Bazaar of Granada, a series of streets bursting with stalls selling Arabic silks, spices and other precious goods. Nowadays only a section of it remains but it is an area rich with history and local culture, and while it is home to Granada's souvenir stalls it is still packed with interesting, exotic things to buy. For sale is a variety of Arabic craftwork, such as the fajalauza (traditional local painted ceramics), taracea (wooden inlay), granadino farolas (stained-glass lamps), ethnic clothing, knick-knacks, and souvenir memorabilia.

    At noon we headed off in the bus towards Seville, or Sevilla (pronounced Seviya) as it is called within Spain, passing fields of olive trees along the way that stretched as far as the eye could see.

    In Sevilla we went to a restaurant to see a flamenco show with dinner. This was our first experience of the passionate flamenco music and singing and the exotic dancing. A truly fantastic show with very talented dancers.
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  • Day5

    Valencia and Granada - Day 5

    July 4, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Our day was mostly spent travelling the 500+ kilometres along the Costa Blanca from Valencia to Granada, and on arrival in Granada we visited the fantastic Alhambra.

    This remarkable palace/fortress overlooks the town. It was built to be the home of the Sultans of the Nasrid dynasty in the 13th century. Its name is derived from the Arabic al-qalaát al-hamra meaning red castle.

    This was our introduction to the art, architecture and history of the Moors, who ruled over most of Spain for 780 years from the 7th century, giving Spain a history unique to the rest of Europe.

    The Alhambra is an exceptional and breathtakingly beautiful place, a fantasy of stone-cut lace, arabesque gardens and fountains. It is the only medieval palace of its type and cultural significance to have survived anywhere in the world. In 1870 the Alhambra was declared a National Monument and in 1984 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee declared it a World Heritage Site.

    We took many photos during our tour and visit, but they do not really capture the beauty of this place, perched along the top of a hill with the magnificent backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
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  • Day4

    Barcelona to Valencia - Day 4

    July 3, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    On another beautiful summer day in Spain we left Barcelona for our journey to Valencia, capital city of the state of Valencia famous for producing oranges (naranjas in Spanish).

    On the way we had a stopover in a beautiful seaside town of Peniscola, a busy tourist location with a wide sweeping beachfront.

    The town had an old walled village with a castle (castillo) and a church (iglesia) on the coast overlooking the beach and the blue Mediterranean. We spent a pleasant hour walking through the village finishing up with a cold beer (cerveza) and a calamari tapas.

    This village, castle, and beachfront was where the historic movie El Cid (with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren) was filmed.

    Next stop was Valencia where we were taken to a restaurant to watch a paella cooking demonstration. The paella was not seafood based but rather was chicken and rabbit. We enjoyed it over a couple of glasses of Spanish wine.

    Afterwards we explored the old town area of Valencia, looking at the old churches and buildings. We tried a traditional Valencian drink called horchata, which tasted like a very sweet almond milk.

    Next stop was our hotel, Barcelo Valencia, which was located in the City of Arts and Sciences, a new modern precinct made up of a lot of museums housed in stunning modern architecture. With nearby shopping complexes and restaurants, this was a lively area well into the night.
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  • Day3

    Barcelona - Day 3

    July 2, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Started the day with a guided tour visit to Montserrat, a multi-peaked rocky range with strange eroded rock formations giving a serrated appearance located about 50km northwest of Barcelona.

    A Benedictine monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat, is located in the range and is a holy place of pilgrimage for many Catalonians. The abbey holds the Virgin of Montserrat, also known as the Black Madonna (La Moreneta), a 12th century Romanesque wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ.

    On return from Montserrat we went on a guided tour of the cathedral La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family), designed by Antoni Gaudi. Originally started in 1880 by another architect, Gaudi took this on and devoted 43 years of his life to the building, dying by accident in 1926 before it was completed.

    While the interior is completed, the exterior remains uncompleted today, although work continues and is targeted for completion in 2026, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his death. Even while incomplete, it is a beautiful piece of architecture exhibiting Gaudi's very different style.

    Lastly we were taken on a guide tour of the Old Town, which although we had visited the previous day was fascinating as we listened to our very knowledgeable local guide, Santiago.
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  • Day2

    Barcelona - Day 2

    July 1, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Today we embarked on another walking tour of Barcelona, but this time we headed to the old town area, or Barri Gotic.

    Again we took the Avenguda Diagonal, but this time we turned into Passeig de Gracia, which runs parallel to Rambla de Catalunya and ends at Placa de Catalunya.

    Along Passeig de Garcia we passed two buildings designed and built by the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.

    La Pedrera, built between 1905 and 1910 as a combined apartment and office block, is one of Gaudi’s undisputed masterpieces. It has an uneven grey-stone façade which ripples around the corner, and a roof with giant chimney pots looking like sci-fi versions of medieval knights.

    Casa Batllo, is a whimsical building which like many of his creations has an almost organic style with its façade of wave shaped window frames and balconies, such that it almost seems like a living being. We didn’t visit inside but there were many queued up to do so.

    We headed into the old town and visited the Catedral de Barcelona, one of the city’s most magnificent Gothic structures. We took a lift to the roof for access to excellent views of the city.

    Afterwards we strolled through the historic streets and headed back to our hotel.

    At night we joined our tour guide and tour group for a welcome dinner of tapas. The group was a mix of mostly Australians and Americans, and about 39 in total. The tour guide Enzo Bonnano was a lot of fun.
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  • Day1

    Barcelona - Day 1

    June 30, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Our visit to Spain started in Barcelona on beautiful warm sunny day. Coming from a wintry Sydney, it felt good to be in shorts and t-shirts.

    After breakfast in our hotel, we spent the day walking through the streets of Barcelona.
    We walked on three main streets. The first was Avinguda Diagonal, a street that, as its name suggests, diagonally cuts through the city of Barcelona.

    Then we walked down Rambla de Catalunya, a wide central pedestrian boulevard flanked by narrow one way streets for cars and motor scooters on each side.

    This eventually became La Rambla, a similar walkway, lined with cafes and restaurants, that connects the Placa de Catalunya with the Barcelona waterfront.

    The highlight was the Mercat de la Boqueria, a colourful produce market, where they sold all kinds of food from meat to seafood to fruit and vegetables to cheese and olives.

    We returned by retracing our steps, stopping for tapas and paella on the way.

    A key observation was that motor scooters are popular and well catered for in Barcelona. We saw more of them than we had in Rome or Paris. The streets seemed so well set up to provide ample parking for them.

    All in all a great day taking in this beautiful city, walking for 9 hours and around 20,000 steps according to Michael’s FitBit.
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