Espectacular España: Madrid

Alas, our last stop on our whirlwind Spanish adventure. I’m not going to lie, we came to Madrid for the art, food and shopping!

The Prado Museum was a huge must on our list. But, instead of roaming around on our own, we hired a private guide (our tour group consisted of just four people). Hubs and I wanted to see all the important masterpieces of Velázquez and Goya, but not spend a huge chunk of time just running around or relying on time consuming audio guides. Instead, our guide focused on the history of 25 famous pieces in 1.5 hours. It was a perfect way to enjoy the highlights of the Prado and our guide was so passionate and knowledgable on everything about the artists and paintings we saw. His passion and enthusiasm definitely helped us enjoy and understand the pieces even more. After the art portion of the tour, we continued on to the second part: the food.  Our guide brought us over to the oldest (consistently running) restaurant in the world for lunch: Sobrino de Botín.  We had the privilege of entering the restaurant before it opened to get an all access tour of the place.   All of us had a delicious meal filled with laughter and very full bellies!

(**no pictures or video were permitted inside the Prado, so it didn’t even occur to me to take a picture of the outside.**)

If you’ve followed me on my blog or on Instagram, you know that I post a fair amount of food pictures. So it may come as a surprise that I’ve only mentioned one of our meals in my previous posts in Granada. There’s definitely a good food scene in Madrid. We went to a lot of markets and even tried Venezuelan food for the very first time! Even after 17 days in Spain, we still can’t get used to the fact that dinner time starts at 9pm! But, we did get the hang of having tapas sized portions every few hours to keep our energy up for all the walking (ahem, shopping) we did.

After all the shopping and the Prado there wasn’t much time for too many other things.  We explored Retiro Park and several neighborhoods. My favorites were La Latina and Cheuco/Malasaña areas. I’m a sucker for boutique-y, locally made, handmade, one of a kind type, independently-owned shops and there were plenty of them dotted all around the city! You could say that I helped the Spanish economy a bit with all my “Made in Spain” purchases. We will definitely be back to Madrid for a long weekend soon for more exploring, eating, and shopping!

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Espectacular España: Córdoba

Córdoba, a thousand years ago was considered a “metropolis” of the Islamic world.  It was on par with other Islamic cities, such as Baghdad in its time, with a population of around 500,000 – unheard of in those times.  It was a great cultural, political, financial, and literary center.  Under the Moorish rule, the three big monotheistic religions existed side-by-side:  Christian, Islam, and Judaism.  While Córdoba was under Moorish rule, Abd al-Rahman I, in 784, ordered the Mezquita to be built.  It was the grand mosque of its day, but as centuries went on it grew more grand through additional additions/renovations until the final update could accommodate up to 40,000 people for prayers.  In the 13th century, Spanish Christians in the north became more organized and overtook the Moorish city of Córdoba.  They forced the Moorish people, along with their cultural impact, to evacuate the city (many went further south to Granada as it would remain under Moorish rules for a few more centuries).  The Spanish Christians immediately decided the grand mosque should not be destroyed, but converted to a Catholic Cathedral.

We’re incredibly lucky the Spanish King, Ferdinand III, decided to convert part of the mosque into a Catholic Cathedral instead of razing it to the ground. It’s truly a feat of engineering, an architectural marvel, a masterpiece, a site that takes a minimum of a few hours to digest the wonder of it.  Upon entering the Mezquita you’re immediately floored by the 856+ columns supporting double-arches, in perfect horizontal and diagonal symmetric rows, which support the structure and roof.  The building is a large rectangle and in the center is where the Spanish Catholics decided to remove some columns and insert a more classic style cathedral featuring high arches, skylights, a choir area, an organ, and a pulpit.  You would never even realize the catholic cathedral was there if you stayed along the perimeter of the inside of the Mezquita.  The inside features Islamic artifacts and designs around the edges of the rectangular structure, including a still intact Mihrab as it was nearly 900 years ago.  The two religious building styles juxtaposed against each other is truly a wonder and a sight to behold.  Hubs and I spent two hours in the Mezquita trying as best we could to take it all in.  We took hundreds of photos, but you can’t sum up this place in a series of photos, or even a video.  You have to “feel” it to understand the brevity of its splendor.  I have to say it’s one of the most spiritual places Hubs and I have ever visited.  We were even lucky enough to have witnessed a wedding during our time inside.

If you do make your way to Spain to visit, go for the general admission ticket from one of the automated machines (avoid the evening sound and light private tour – no photos permitted). And, in order to get away from the crowds and tours, go around lunch (Spanish time) or after.

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After the visit to the Mezquita, we roamed over to the roman bridge to take some of the pictures of the city you see in guide books. Córdoba is a quiet town and after seeing the Mezquita all other discoveries were just the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

The detour that almost didn’t happen

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
― Elie Wiesel, Night

Even up until the day we were leaving, Hubs and I were going back in forth if we wanted to go see Auschwitz. We’ve been to Dachau and weren’t sure if we wanted to put ourselves in that emotional state again. We are so glad we decided to make a go for it. It was sort of on the way back to Vienna and we both said we would have regretted if we had not gone. It was very emotional going to both sites. Did you know Auschwitz was made of three main camps and 40 sub camps? I knew it was the largest, but didn’t realize just how big it was until we were there. Hubs and I managed to visit Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. Auschwitz I has the famous gate with “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work sets you free). It was really something to see first hand and really know that the psychological torture for the victims was utterly relentless. We only walked the grounds there briefly and decided not to take pictures of each other there, out of respect. We don’t believe it’s a place to come and get your “happy face” pictures. We toured a gas chamber and crematorium for only a few seconds. The emotions were too much.

Auschwitz II:  Birkenau is probably the most infamous of the Auschwitz cluster of concentration camps. The old rail line that leads in through the center gate is still there for the world to see. Hubs and I always knew Auschwitz II was big, but, really, it’s humongous. We learned about this place in history classes, but to see it in first person was overwhelming, humbling, atrocious, sad, etc…There are not enough words to describe the feelings and sensations standing on the same platform where Jewish people from several European countries, transported like cattle, disembarked packed rail cars in a unfamiliar, hostile, land. Separated into two lines – one to live, and one to die – only hours after arrival.  How could evil this horrid be permitted to exist in modern times?  One preserved railcar still remains on the tracks, displaying how people arrived and the deplorable travel conditions. On one side of the camp 15 prisoner barracks remain, restored, so the world cannot forget. Behind that row of 15 around 105 more existed, only the chimneys are left behind. Near the end of the war, when Germany was near defeat, the German soldiers tried to destroy and cover-up their atrocities. Like children who knew they were doing something wrong, but wanted to cover it up to avoid punishment.

Like I said before, I’m glad we did it. As we were leaving, we had to stand on the tracks leading into the camp one last time to ‘take it all in’. If you’re ever in that part of the world it really is worth the trip. Both sites are free to enter, and guided tours in several languages are available.

The pictures below are ordered by Auschwitz II, and then Auschwitz I:

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