3b. Summary: Ávila

Parador:

Room Number:

220

Cleanliness Room:

5s

Overall Appearance:

5s

“WOW” Factor:

 3s

Internet Access:

 5s

Breakfast:

 4s

City:

“WOW” Factor:

3s

Remarks: Even though the Parador’s overall appearance was top it was not able to WOW me.

Wireless Access to the Internet was impecable. I was able to upload 50 photos (4MB average size) to Amazon Drive in a very reasonable amount of time. Even streaming a movie on my smart phone on Amazon Prime was flawless.

The breakfast had a good selection of items – I did appreciate the presence of a Nespresso coffee maker. Drinking the filtered coffee in any Parador is taking its toll on your stomach after a while of travel. Huevos fritos were not made on order, but were available as part of the buffet.

The city despite the incredibly well preserved wall was not able to WOW me due to its layout and the lack of historic substance inside the city walls.

 

3a. And what about Dinner?

Trying to be good tour guides – sparing our „guests“ the trouble of having to find a decent place to have dinner – we had of course done some reconnaissance and had found a place with a significant amount of good reviews by Spaniards: Alcaravea.

We would usually refrain from going to places literally at the door step of a major city tourist attraction – in this case: the Cathedral, but the Alcaravea was not the tourist trap one would expect.

During the day, ee could tell that the season hadn’t started yet. The city was relatively empty and devoid of masses of tourists.

We were the only guests, well – there was a Spanish Gentlemen having a quiet dinner – which usually makes me feel uncomfortable but in this case all my worries were unnecessary.

The service as well as the food were enjoyable, tasty and of good quality. Spanish cuisine with a touch of Japanese.

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We spent a wonderful quiet evening, looking back at the day and planning the next – with good food. What else do you need?

Back at the hotel we sacrified one bottle of the red wine we had purchased that day to the Gods of Good Travel and went to bed.

3. Ávila – “Just Another Brick in the Wall…”

Next stop on our itinerary: Ávila. A small town in Castile-León, 58something thousand inhabitants. Under the Visigoths one of the most important cities in the kingdom – under moorish occupation between the 8th and 11th century.

Most significant landmark – and certainly the reason to pay Ávila a visit – the intact city wall surrounding the historic part of Ávila. 80% of the walls can be visited (EUR 5 per person – ticked valid 48 hours) and be walked on, giving you a perfect starting point to explore the city.

BUT… let’s not get ahead of ourselves… let’s start at the beginning, which as you all know for me is the breakfast.

We met M. and B. at 8:00 in the breakfast room of the Room Mate Laura and discussed the stages of our trip today. M. and Manfred would leave around 9:00 to pick up the cars, park them in the nearby parking lot – so that we could load the trunks without having to hurry and avoiding traffic jams in the small Travesía de Trujillos.

On our way to Ávila we had planned to make a stop at El Escorial and visit the Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Quite frankly – another must-see.

From the 16th to the 19th century, the residence of the Spanish kings and queens. Built from 1563 to 1584 – looking at the size of the complex 21 years appear to be a ridiculously short construction time.

Philip II. had the place built keeping a promise (to God) he had made, related to his victory over his nemesis Henry II – King of France. Well, Philip defeated the French in the battle of St. Quentin – on St. Laurence Day. Now, you connect the dots… 🙂 By the way… he left it to his astrologers to find the right site. They came up with El Escorial 45km north-west of Madrid.

The place is amazing and we were in luck. Usually swarming with hordes of tourists, El Escorial was quiet this day.

We had re-ordered the tickets, Manfred had volunteered to stay with the cars  packed with all our posessions for this trip (what a desaster if somebody ran off with that bag with my shoes in it…)

To control the flow of visitors – time slots are assigned to visitors; ours was from 13:30 onwards, but we had left Madrid early (the travel bug had infected my fellow travellers) and here we were, noon-ish, one hour to kill.

Well, if I learnt one thing about the Spaniards – they are able to bend the rules. As there were not as many tourists as I had expected (feared) I suggested that we just march in there, present our tickets and pretend not to know anything about the time printed on the tickets.

Well, the woman scanning the bar codes on our tickets could not care less, as long as her scanner beeped and the indicator light showed green.

One rule though that was being observed mercilessly is the: NO PHOTOS taken rule. The moment you attempt to take a photo inside the building someone of the omnipresent staff would approach you and make it quite clear to you that you were not to take pictures.

I managed to take one – a snapshot of the „Halls of the Battles“, you – dear readers will understand that I shall not publish this photo here as I do not feel like being sued for copyright infringement (similar to posting pictures of the Eiffel Tower lit at night)

To me the whole photo prohibition – to a large extent – is all about business and not so much about protecting the delicate exhibition artifacts. On the other hand, people, I must admit – walking in there and using your actual eye and other senses had something de-stressing and almost liberating (plus it decreased the amount of photos that I had to work on in the evening).

The place is so big and impressive that a visitor appreciates the fact that the order of the visit is prescribed. No chance to wander off on your own. You may stay and admire the beauty as long as you want, but you follow the course that has been plotted for you.

Before you enter the former royal palace turn left and enter the basilica. You can spend hours in there. Pay attention to the fresco paintings – they tell you volumes of stories.

Another highlight – the tomb chambers in which the hundred infants of the various kings were put to rest – and more so the pantheon in which all 23 royals from Charles I through to Alphonse XII have been burried.

Interesting detail – the bodies are being held in a seperate chamber for 50 years until the bodies have fully decomposed before the remains are put to the final rest in the Patheon. If you opened one of the coffins you would only to find the bones of the deceased kings and queens.

Last but not least: the “Hall of the Battles” – the home entertainent at the time. A room of approximately 50 meters length and 10 meters height, covered with paintings of battles and fight scenes – on the right hand wall (when entering the hall) there are in particular scenes of the battle at St. Quentin, where Philip II. prevailed and won over Henry II of France.

Speaking of the French: While the „Château de Versailles“ is flamboyant, airy, frivolous, „El Escorial“ symbolizes political strength and power.

Compared to Versailles it has a more down-to-earth beauty despite the fact that its architect was one of Michelangelo’s students and despite the many gorgeous frescos, the frame of it all comes across as clumbsy and crude at times.

90 minutes later we rendez-vous-ed with the command module (Manfred) who had orbitted the El Escorial. We payed the Gardens a short visit – in my opinion, the actual attraction is the palace/monastry, the gardens – though vaste – appeared dull and somewhat boring. But again, this was not Château de Versailles.

Time to get some food in our systems. We indulged in various tapas in a bar nearby the palace, then headed back to the cars, safely parked in a public parking lot.

On our way out we stopped at a supermarket to buy the essentials: Wine, wine and water (sparkling of course).

45 minutes later we arrived in Ávila. Manfred and I had visited the Parador of Ávila during our very first Paradores tour many many moons ago.

I recall that weather was terrible on that first trip and that it had rained most of the time. This time we were greated with sunlight and an overcast sky – at least no rain.

The Parador itself is nice – its proximity to the ancient well-preserved city wall certainly is a plus.

We parked the car on the parking lot of the Parador and checked it. Here I noticed how long ago we must have been here: Back then I had made a note in my travel diary that the check-in procedure took ages and was conducted in a very burocratic and most inefficient way… today this was a pretty straight-forward industry-standard check-in. We were greeted friendly, room keys were already available, just taking the ID data, sign and we were done.

Like the first time, Ávila’s Parador did not WOW me… it is a nice place to stay, it has a beautiful garden and offers more light than for instance the one in Cácares.

What followed was the usual drill: Settle in, freshen up, meet in the Lobby for the first inspection of the Parador, then the city.

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Looking at its history, Ávila certainly is a historic hot spot (if you are into Spanish history that is). I have never seen an ancient city fortification / city wall as well preserved and almost prestine as Ávila’s. Dear reader – in my opinion – if you ever visit the city you must start your tour with a walk on the city wall. There are three entry points, tickets are valid 48 hours. EUR 5 per person, audio guides included.

Beside the fortification the many churches and foremostly the cathedral are a must-see (well hard to miss them).

Looking at the historic city center we found that it was lacking the density of historic structure that we had found for instances in Cáceres, Salamanca or even Ciudad Rodrigo.

In essence – the wall and the history engraved in it is Ávila’s historic potential.

All Ávila pictures can be found here.

2a. History makes hungry

We were scheduled to meet our friend, Luis at a quarter to nine in the evening to have some drinks before dinner.

He had asked us to meet him at Bodega La Ardosa in Calle de Colón 13 supposedly one of the best Tapas Bars in Madrid.

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To cut a long story short – I do not care how famous and how popular this place is. I did not like it. It was overcrowded and the noise in there was at a painful level; almost impossible to have a conversation without having to yell at each other – literally.

In less popular bars they serve some aceitunas or other Tapas (even though they sell them), en La Ardosa you get the plain drink and nothing with it. (Maybe I am just a cheap German)

Manfred had a vermut de griffo, M. and Luis beer – B. and I decided on wine, poor choice. My white wine was vinegar and B.’s red was luke warm.

My ears were still ringing when we finally left the place, hopefully Bosco de Lobos, the restaurant Luis had booked a table would offer consolation. Luis had never been here before but had followed recommendations of some of his colleagues. According to reviews the Bosco is “Madrid’s most instagrammable location with gorgeous decor…” and apparently a chain of francises in Madrid, Barcelona and Mexico City.

The decor was instagrammable all right… but as a restaurant owner I think you have to make a choice: Do you want to look pretty or do you want to stun your guests with a gastronomical concept and the food that goes with it? While we appreciated the decor – looking at the menue we were at loss as to find the concept. The menue looked like a hodgepodge of traditional Italian cooking (Pizza and Foccachia) and experimental cooking “Risotto con Plancton” and American casual dining (Hamburger)…

The starters were great, the main courses with the exception of Manfred’s hake mediocre at best.

The service staff was cute, young and trendy with a hint of professional. Our waiter reminded us of young Freddy Mercury – only that this had no positive effect on the food.

We ordered:

Starters:

  • Foccachia – real great, tasty and crisp
  • Fried pieces of artichoke – delicious
  • Zucchini rolls with cream cheese – nice but not spectacular

Main courses:

  • Risotto de plancton – Cooked all right but not really tasty. There was neither a WOW nor a Yum.
  • Burger with Pesto, dried tomatos, sweet mustard and french fries – The meat was tasty and cooked well. The burger roll was so dry that it crumbled apart when you tried to cut it.
  • Pizza (1 Capriciosa and 1 with mushrooms) – both Pizzas were floppy
  • Merluza (hake) with green asparagus and sugar pees – according to Manfred quite enjoyable

Drinks:

  • 1 bottle of Red wine from the Bierzo region – absolutely great
  • 1 glas of Rosé from Navarra – wonderful wine

Deserts:

We passed on the deserts

Overall rating:

  • Food – 2 of 5 stars
  • Beverages – 4 of 5 stars
  • Location –  4 of 5 stars
  • Service – 3 of 5 stars

Check:

EUR 145

2. Segovia – a Meeting with History

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LA 705 touched down 25 minutes late – there had been an “air traffic jam” in Frankfurt that prevented our flight from leaving on time.

Claiming our luggage – rather fast delivery, dispatched taxi at EUR 30 fixed price down town Madrid and we were at the Room Mate Laura at 23:45.

Night cups at Casa Perondo just around the corner and we were all tucked in bed by 1:30.

Alarm clock went off at 7:30 and we met M. and B. at 8:00 for the usual breakfast. Since we had toured Madrid quite extensively last year, our plan for today was to visit the city of Segovia, known and famous for its Roman aqueduct of more than 2,000 years of age! It is truely Segovia’s landmark and a must-see for all Spain visitors. Especially because getting there is

  • inexpensive and
  • very convenient.

Using one of the Spanish High-Speed trains that commute between Madrid Charmartín to Valladolid. The only stop is Segovia. Round trip per person as of May 2017 EUR 20.60.

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27 pleasant minutes with almost 250km/h, driving through a landscape that reminds of Tuscany, though also passing through the darkness of 28 kilometers of the Guadarrama tunnel!

The Guadarrama tunnel is the largest engineering project executed in Spain, which puts us at the head of infrastructures worldwide: it is the first and only tunnel for high-speed use constructed without intermediate stages, the fourth largest in Europe and the fifth in the world.

The construction process was developed based on criteria of meeting the completion deadline and having the minimum possible environmental impact.

The breaking through of the east tube was carried out on May 5th, 2005 in an inauguration ceremony presided over the Minister of Public Works, Magdalena Alvarez. One month later, work was completed with the breaking through of the west tube. Given that the construction began on September 28, 2002, the total time invested was approximately 32 months.

Source: Adif

 

Bus transfer from the AVE train station directly to the Aqueduct EUR 2 per person. Taxi ride EUR 8 – so if you are a group of four you might as well take a cab down-town Segovia.

The city is a gem and certainly one of the history highlights in the region.

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I leave it to you to read about Segovia in detail; suffice it to say it is a rather small town ladden with history: Celtic origin, ruler by the Romans, taken over by the Visigoths until the reconquista ruled by the Moors…

While the city and its sites show traces of all of the former occupants – to me Segovia looks and feels predominantly “Roman”.

Below the tour we took with M. and B.

We made our way through the city passing by on the backside of the Cathedral, heading towards the Alcazar, which quite frankly looks like as if it was taken from a Walt Disney Amusement Park.

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As we had visited the Alcázar on previous trips, we sent M. and B. on a tour waiting for them in the Cafeteria. As a tour guide you should never exert yourself 🙂 As most fortifications in Spain – it founded as a Roman fort, the present structure was given by the moorish occupying forces – became the favorite seat of the Spanish kings in the middle ages. One can clearly read all the various elements and traces of all the different eras.

The Cafeteria offers a wonderful scenic view over the Segovia… that alone is worth having a “café solo” there.

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On our way back we hit Plaza Mayor getting a good look at the impressive Cathedral to then head back sneaking through some of the smaller streets to avoid the tourist crowds.

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15:10 – boarding the bus to the train station and 15:57 the AVE back to Chamartín.

16:25 we arrived Madrid – on time.

On our last trip to Madrid, we had discovered a quite nice shop with a great cigar selection in Calle Magellanes 16. Since this was basically on our way back, we took Metro 1 to “Cuatros Caminos” changed in to line number 2 direction “Las Rosas” and got off at “Quevedo” – Calle Magellanes is just “around the corner”.

At metro station exit: “Calle Arapiles”. Turn left, then right into Calle Magellanes.

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EUR 90 later we took Metro line number 2 to “Opéra” to pay Café San Ginés a visit. Manfred and M. had their usual cana, while B. and I indulged in Churros y Chocolate (you only live once)

 

The complete picture set can be found here

1. On the Road Again…

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Almost one year has passed since Manfred and I had spent a great holiday in Spain with M. and B.

Believe it or not they liked so much that last year in autumn we started to plan yet another trip to the peninsula, yet leaving M. and B. in charge to plot a course.

Well, today, May 28th Manfred and I will embark on a new trip – the taxi is going to pick us up in about an hour or so and we will be flighing to Madrid with LAN 705 at the usual time.

Here is our itinerary – stay tuned for updates on the various stages:

Sunday, 28. May 2017 Frankfurt – Madrid
Monday, 29. May 2017 Day Trip to Segovia
Tuesday, 30. May 2017 Madrid – Avila. Visit of the Real Monasterio in El Escorial
Wednesday, 31. May 2017 Avila – Ciudad Rodrigo. Visit of the city of Salamanca
Thursday, 1. June 2017 Ciudad Rodrigo – Trujillo. Visit of the Parque Monfragüe
Friday, 2. June 2017 Trujillo – Rota
Saturday, 3. June 2017 Rota
Sunday, 4. June 2017 Rota
Monday, 5. June 2017 Rota
Tuesday, 6. June 2017 Rota. Day Trip to the city of Sevilla
Wednesday, 7. June 2017 Rota
Thursday, 8. June 2017 Rota. Day Trip through the Coto Doñana
Friday, 9. June 2017 Rota
Saturday, 10. June 2017 Rota
Sunday, 11. June 2017 Rota. Celebrating my Birthday 🙂
Monday, 12. June 2017 Rota – Almagro
Tuesday, 13. June 2017 Almagro – Toledo
Wednesday, 14. June 2017 Toledo – Madrid
Thursday, 15. June 2017 Madrid – Frankfurt

16. Home Again… The End of a Perfect Vacation

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I cannot believe how fast two and a half weeks had passed. Here we are – getting ready to go to the airport to take our flight back to Frankfurt.

But there was consolation: Our flight back to Germany was scheduled for 3 pm and we would not need to leave the hotel before 1 pm.

To round up the experience for M. and B., Manfred and I have planned yet another walk – even though a shorter one – in the morning, to a direction where we had only been by Metro on the second day.


After the usual breakfast in the Room Mate Laura and after having re-packed the suitcases, we left the hotel. M. and B. had become quite familiar with the surroundings of the hotel and M. guided us to “Puerta del Sol”.

It was early in the morning – the best time to start a walk in almost any city. You are only amongst the locals rushing to work, a styrofoam cup of to-go coffee or sitting in one of the many breakfast cafés with a café solo and a “bocadillo” in front of them, checking messages on their smart phones or chatting with the people around.

I just love this time of the day! As we stuck out with our short pants and T-shirts from the crowd of urban white collar workers in their suits or office dresses, people looked at us thinking: “What’s this… tourists in the streets at this time of the day… weird”

Only 8:30 am but the city had started to heat up, though it was still pleasant to walk and despite the fact that we had to go back today, we were all in a brilliant mood.

Our plan was to pay “Plaza de Cibeles” a visit – with the Palacio and the Fountain. As a special surprise we’d  visit the Palacio inside and climb up to the roof from where you have a breathtaking view across Madrid.

Plaza de Cibeles with its fountain greets all visitors arriving from the airport by taxi – we, as well, had passed by the place on the day of our arrival – however it looked even more beautiful in the morning light.

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Named after the goddess “Cybele” the place, its fountain and the palacio are viewed as the most important landmark in Madrid (probably after the Royal Palace).

While Manfred got the entrance at the ticket office (the early bird catches the worm) at the Palacio, M., B. and I strolled towards the “Prado”. Stopping at the Neptune Fountain, yet another gem – with all the prestigeous hotels, the “Ritz” or the “Westin Palace”

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Despite the early hour, the place in front of the “Museo del Prado” was swarming with tourists waiting for the ticket offices to open their counters. What a madness – well, the reason for the rush: a high-profile exhibition of the work of Hieronymus Bosch aka “El Bosco”.

If we had walked straight on, we would have arrived at “Atocha” train station – and you recall that B. and I had met M. and Manfred at the day we left Madrid to go on our “Tour de Spain”.

But we wanted the climb the roof of the Palacio de Cibeles (former Palacio de Comunicaciones) and that is why we turned left to pass by The Spanish Royal Academy, walking through streets with up-scale condos – certainly a part of the city where one would like to have a condo, if one could afford it.

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We were at the gates of the Palacio de Cibeles right on time when they opened at 10 am. The visitors terrace on floor 7 was scheduled to open half an hour later, time for us to explore the impressive building that used to be the central post office of Madrid and now houses parts of the “Ayuntamiento de Madrid” – the Madrid town hall, but more importantly a variety of impressive art exhibitions.

When you are in Paris, you visit “La Fayette” to see “Le coupole” – in the “Palacio de Cibeles” you get to see something equally beautiful.

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Really worth a visit – but as I had menitoned earlier – the early bird certainly gets ahead of the masses of visitors and gets to see this without the fuss and the noise of other visitors around.

Still 20 minutes to kill – so why not look around. We found a great photo exhibition on the first floor on the topic of: Equal rights for men and women – quite some impressive artifacts to be seen there.

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“All the issues around the physical and psychological abuse of women have only one origen: “el machismo”

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In another room we found an exhibiton on 3-D printing and I was blown away by the possibilities you seem to have with this technology. WOW. In the old days chairs were made by a cabinet maker – today you “print” one.

Clock stroke 10:30 am so we took the elevator up to the roof top. The administration of the Palacio organizes the visits of the terraces strictly in timed group visits. You miss your slot, you lose. We were the first (of course) and hence had the terrace almost exclusively to ourselves.

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When you visit Madrid, this is a must-see/must-do.

Well, time flies when you are having fun, but our plane will not wait for us. Manfred and B. wanted to do some “ham shopping” before leaving – and you cannot go wrong doing that in one of the “Museo del Jamón”. Please, note – the shops, which are part of a food chain have nothing to do with a museum, other than they have great exhibits – with the advantage that you can buy them.

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The branches are spread around the city of Madrid, the one we did our shopping in was on our way back to “Puerta del Sol” in Carrera de S. Jerónimo.

The “Museo del Jamón” not only offers a variety of ham to buy and to take home, they also offer food and tapas around ham, and of course “caña” – the beer that our friends had grown fond of.

Getting closer to “Puerta del Sol” – I all of a sudden developed a graving for Churros con Chocolate, and there is no better place for that than at “San Ginés”. Manfred looked at me as if he wanted to say: “Are you serious, do you know what time it is…” – tough call that one.

We decided that Manfred headed back to the hotel to do the last fine tuning on the packing, while B., M. and I indulged in hot chocolate and some churros and a “caña”, to me a worthy end of our trip.

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Back in the hotel, everything went like a clock work. We got our suit cases down from the rooms and waited for the pre-ordered taxi to the airport.

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Smooth sailing to the airport, I had done the check-in online two days ago. All we needed to do was to drop off our luggage and to wait for boarding.

LATAM flighs from Termial 4 concourse S – which stands for “satellite” which can only be reached by an airport underground train. Depending on the queues at the security check, it can easily take up to half an hours to get from the departure hall of T4 to concourse S.

For all of you who got the impression that all was well planned and (almost) perfect – there was one glitch tough at the end:

I had checked M. and B. in row 17 seats A and C, and Manfred and myself in row 18 seats A and C.

When we boarded our seats were available, the seats in row 17 had already been taken by two elder women coming from Chile, hence the first to board the plane. Fatal knock on: M. and B. stood in the aisle, while I fought my way to the next available flight attendant through the paxes trying to get to they seats, traveller’s nightmare.

Long story short – the elder women would not budge, the flight attendance was helpless (minus point for LATAM here), M. and B. were asked to move to the end to the plane, row 29 would be completely free (false), but on the bright side, they ended up in row 25 which had bulk head seats – some consolation.

Rest of the flight eventless, smooth – ahead of schedule. We touched down on a finally sunny day in Frankfurt, it seemed as if we had imported some summer after all the cold and rain.