Final Observations

Well, if you’ve sat through the whole collection of vacation slides, you’ll be glad to know that’s the end of ’em!  And I didn’t post more than about a quarter of what I took!

So how did it all come out once we got home?

Fabulous trip.  Both parts.  Couple hiccups along the way, not all of which I’ve shared with you or will share with you!  But overall a wonderful experience.

Would I do it again?  Yes, but not the same way.

I don’t think either of us feels a need to return to Spain.  Sort of “been there done that”.  We definitely saw what we had thought before we left that we wanted to see.  We did not feel rushed anywhere we went.  We tried–and succeeded, I think, mostly–to space out museums, cathedrals, etc., so we didn’t overload on them too much.  Food was a challenge in Spain, as we both knew it would be.  We never did really get comfortable with waiting till 8 or 9 pm to go out for dinner.   We made it work but it was a challenge.  We enjoyed the tapas experience, but even that did not work as easily everywhere as we thought it would or that we wanted it to.  I would have liked more historical museums to give me more of the educational experience I had wanted but as I said in another post that was my bad not to have gotten it!

As for the solo trip: That was fabulous too.  Since I’m a train freak, I loved nearly every minute of that part!  I did a fairly good job of winging it, overcoming my lifelong anal obsession with over planning every step of the way.

I took 48 separate trains in 30 days!  My record was six in one  day.  And Judy and I together took 8 more in Spain!

I used 9 currencies.

I visited 17 countries, at least in passing: Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Spain.

I used keyboards in at least 11 countries and languages!  By the end, I was mostly used to the Z being where the Y is and vice versa!  I can’t remember how many times I failed to log into hotmail until I noticed I had typed my user name tomseelez@hotmail.com!  Without a doubt, figuring out how to do the @ sign in all those keyboards was one of the most interesting things I encountered!  In Poland, it’s ctrl-alt-V if you can believe that!  And that’s on a keyboard that has the @ sign where it is at home, too!

I managed languages pretty well, with my high school French and college tourist German.  I found both of those along the way in places I did not expect to encounter! When I was befuddled with a train change in Gorna Orjakovice, Bulgaria, a local citizen managed to help me in French!  And when I was lost trying to find my pension in Tatranska Lensa, Slovakia, a local citizen asked “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” and I almost cried I was so happy!  Other places, since I was a tourist, I found tourist English often enough that I could make myself understood most of the time.  Pointing helps a lot, too!  Especially on menus in the Cyrillic alphabet!

I did the hostel bit just enough to know how it all works.  I would not repeat that, unless I booked private rooms.  I only had one noisy room experience, but the entire experience of sharing a room with strangers is one I’m glad I know about but which I have no desire to repeat.

Managing my diabetes was never a challenge!  I never had trouble with highs or lows.  I never had trouble carrying supplies across borders, as I had worried I might; especially in Eastern Europe.

I had to manage laundry along the way, and that took some preplanning.  One time I scheduled a stop specifically where I had been told in a travel book I’d find a do it yourself laundry.  That aspect was manageable but as I said it took some thinking.

If I did it again, I would not spread myself so thin.  I was motivated a lot by a desire to “tick off” countries on my “been there done that” list.  And a big part of it also was my goal of ticking off countries Andrea has not ticked off her list!  But if I do it again, or anything like it, I won’t just rush from one city or country or train to another the whole time.  Several of the cities I visited–especially smaller ones like Veliko Tarnovo, Brasov, Bar, Zagreb; and certainly Istanbul–were definitely places I would have loved to spend a couple more days in at least.

I probably would not take as many overnight trains next time either.  That was not a bad experience; it wasn’t always comfortable but it was never really bad; just different.  I can sleep well on trains so that was never an issue.  I just found that I missed seeing Europe from a train window more than I thought I would!

But would I do it again, one way or another?  In a New York minute!

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Madrid

Our final stop was Madrid.  So we bookended the trip with the two big cities, Barcelona and Madrid.  Madrid is nice.  We walked around a couple of the main plazas often, since our hostal was very close to both of them.  And we only had to take one metro line 3 or 4 stops to get most of wherever we wanted to go, so it was easier to get around than Barcelona also.

By the time we were in Madrid, we had seen a lot of cathedrals.  But we had only been to one art museum–the Picasso Museum in Barcelona–so we saved art for Madrid.  The Prado is surely one of the world’s greatest art museums, and we spent several hours there admiring the Velasquez masterpiece–Las Meninas–and the fantastic and totally unexplainable works by Hieronymous Bosch among other masterpieces.  We also visited the modern art museum nearby, specifically to see Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica.  It has to be seen to be believed!

We also visited the Palacio Real.  It is considered one of the three great European royal palaces, along with Versailles and Schonbrun, both of which we have also seen.  You don’t get to see many of the rooms–only about 25 out of more than 2000 in the entire building.  And the setting, in downtown Madrid, isn’t very special in my opinion.  Certainly you do not see the huge expanse of fantastic gardens and fountains that surround Versailles or Schonbrun. But it’s still pretty good inside!

Here are a picture of the royal palace and also a pair of new modern buildings our travel book advised us to go see.

 

 

All things considered, Madrid was a reasonable way to end the trip, but it was not the hih point by any means, compared with the smaller cities and towns we visited before we got there.

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Birding in Segovia

Andrea, the birding in Segovia is fantastic!  They have a lot of those storks I told you about when we were birding in Istanbul.  The ones that look like wood storks!  Here’s a picture I took of them.

They have this really neat Roman aqueduct, too!

Oh, and mom was here with me, too, when I saw the storks.  That was pretty cool, too.

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Segovia Views

The aqueduct is not the only highlight of Segovia.

Its cathedral is much different on the exterior than the usual Gothic ones we had already seen.  Much more Baroque, I think.

And the alcazar (fortress) and the walls around the old city are definitely special too.  We didn’t get too many good views of that part, but we did walk a bit around the outside of the old stone walls with their towers and gates.

 

 

 

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Segovia Makes an Entrance!

We toured Toledo as a day trip from Madrid.  We did a day trip to Segovia also. Both are easy short train rides from Madrid.

The train ride to Segovia is not special.  The station is a ways out from the old city center.  You take a city bus for about 20 minutes across rolling hills before you get close to the city itself.  Then just before you know you’re there, the bus goes down a narrow cobblestone street and around a corner and you see this view!

We knew, of course, that the highlight of Segovia is this 2000 year old Roman aqueduct, which still works, but nothing prepared us for this first view of it!  Fantastic!

After we got off the city bus, we walked back up the hill a ways to try to get more of the aqueduct in a single picture.  But it’s so huge there’s no way I could do that.  This is all I could get, partly because about 1/3 of what you can see here is to the left behind the buildings in the foreground.

One of the aspects of the aqueduct that fascinated us–and indeed many of the huge old stone buildings we visited–was how in the world did they build them!?  The entire aqueduct uses no mortar at all, and according to the travel books, was still used to carry water to the city as recently as the last century!  So while we were walking around the plaza underneath it, we took this picture of what appears to us to be dents made in each stone so that some sort of tongs could be used to grab onto a stone, and then, presumably lift it on ropes and pulleys into position as they were building each part of each arch.

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Toledo

One of the parts of Spain I had always dreamed of visiting is Toledo.  It was one of the most significant Moorish cities while they were in control of southern Spain.  I know just a little about its historical and intellectual significance, and the significance of what the West found there in its libraries and mosques when they retook it.  So I was eager to explore it and perhaps learn more about that period in history.

Unfortunately, I did not do my homework.  I should have read more than just the travel book writeups on it. I tried to find museums, etc., that would give me more information about the Moorish period, but I never could find any.  So I left Toledo a bit disappointed, and it was my own fault.

Nonetheless, it’s a very pretty city, in a nice setting on a hill in between bends in a river.  The cathedral is huge and has some wonderful interior features we had not seen in any of the other cathedrals we visited.  We enjoyed it and we got a few good pics of places like the Moorish train station and a neat keyhole arch view looking out from the main plaza.

 

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Moroccan Cuisine

One of the neat parts of Granada that we walked through on our way down from the viewpoint of the Alhambra is a section of narrow passageways crowded with Moroccan and Arabian shops, tea rooms, and restaurants.  We stopped for tea at one of them, which served wine as well, so it was not entirely Arabian.  Later that evening, we went back and had a wonderful Moroccan dinner at an authentic Moroccan restaurant–no pork, no alcohol.  Just these neat covered pots that the food is cooked in, called a tagine.

 

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Fabulous Courtyard View

I can’t believe I took a picture as well as this one turned out!  A beautiful interior courtyard in the Nazarid Palaces at the Alhambra.

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Alhambra Views

One of the highlights everyone visiting Granada is told to visit is this particular viewpoint of the Alhambra.

Here are a couple pics we got while we were up there.

This viewpoint is probably half a mile or so from the Alhambra itself, so this view gives a bit of an idea of how large it all is.  This is just the fortress part on one end!  This is less than a quarter of what you can see when you’re standing where I was when I took this picture!

This one shows a bit more of the perspective of the whole place, but still not more than about half of the entire view.

 

The final one is from the same point.  It shows the “summer home” at the Generalife gardens.

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Generalife Gardens

Separate from the walled city portion of the Alhambra, but always considered part of it, is the Generalife “summer home” and its gardens.  It’s included in your visit, and it’s a beautiful walk from the first hill to the second one across the river.

If anything, the gardens at the Generalife are even more beautiful than the ones in the Alhambra itself.

Here are some of the better pictures we got.

Everywhere we went in Spain, it seemed it was the high point of rose season!

The keyhole arch is a typical feature of Moorish architecture.  Here is an attempt to photograph the Generalife gardens through one of them.

 

This is a picture of one of the staircases from one elevation to another.  They sculpted the bannister into a water trough!  There is water running down it at all times.

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