The End Of A Slow Spanish Summer

For previous posts on this trip, read 15 Ways To Love Alájar and A Slow Spanish Summer (Part 2).
After being on the road for 3 weeks at this point, our next destination was Madrid and as we were coming from Salamanca, on the way we visited the Valle de los Caídos where we thought we might need out passports such was the layout of the entrance and the area in general. As Franco’s burial place, this monument is inevitably controversial and there have been many blogs on the subject (including this excellent post by Caroline Angus Baker), but I wanted to see it for myself and regardless of its sinister history, the architecture was impressive and the interior was eerily fascinating. However, although I’d recommend visiting once, I couldn’t go again as there is something quite macabre about the place and I couldn’t escape the footsteps of the ghosts who had previously worked and died there.
Caidos

After this sombre but enlightening visit, we then headed to the capital for a few days. In my 20s, I thought  Barcelona was by far the best city to live in Spain, almost as if it were the younger, bohemian sister with a bit of attitude, whereas then Madrid always seemed like the older and more conservative sister. With my 20s a distant memory, I find myself preferring Madrid and of course I no longer agree with my 20 year old self – now whether I’ve changed, Madrid has or both isn’t the point, the thing now is that Madrid has so much going on and we had such a wonderful time just wandering around bumping into interesting bars, parks, buildings and simply drinking in the summer city atmosphere. We stayed in a fantastic AirBnB near Plaza Santo Domingo which was a perfectly central location to wander around this amazing city for a few days.

Highlights included:

– the best tortilla I have ever had in Spain (I’m usually not remotely bothered by tortilla, but this really was something else) in Bar Ardosa Calle de Colón

– really good Korean food in Mashita (C/Bola 12,

– wandering around aimlessly
– recording my first ever outdoor podcast in Parque del Oeste ‘How To Get Lost And Love It’ for my other blog Away From The Noise
Cibeles (1)
Palacio de Cibeles (formerly HQ for the Post Office)
Churros Gines (2)
Churros con chocolate ant Cafe San Ginés – got to be done in Madrid!

Given their proximity, we also took the chance to visit a couple of other places. A short drive and in Ávila you have a very small and pretty old town surrounded by a magnificent wall surrounding it and very little else, but again like in all this part of Spain, the countryside is stunning. Toledo is one of those places which has been quite symbolic of the ‘real Spain’ for me, whatever that may be. Like Salamanca and Zaragoza, I think it’s just the sound of the names that sound incredibly Spanish. Toledo is a lovely, old town with beautiful architecture, impressive views and a very relaxed feel and the only place I know where you can a huge variety of swords and marzipan – though not in the same shop admittedly.

Outside Avila
Because you never have enough crucifixes… outside Ávila
And then we went to Valencia, one of my favourite places in Spain and again, one of the joys of being in a city like this is being able to just walk around and pass such magnificent buildings such as the Mercado Central. This time we had another AirBnB in the Plaça de Saint Jaume in the conveniently-located Carmen district. I’ve only been to Valencia a handful of times and yet each time I go, it seems to draw me in a little bit closer.
Having been to the Bioparc, the City of Arts and Sciences and other more well-known spots previously, this time we had a wander and found ourselves in the Ruzafa district which we loved with its multicultural mix of restaurants, bars, street art and people. Although the some of the bars here seemed just a bit too cool for school in some cases, especially as I left my hipster beard at home that day. Of course, it’s a city, but it isn’t too big and with its established music scene, its own beaches and the beautifully weird Baroque Gothic architecture of the González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and the Decorative Arts, my wife and I will definitely be returning to Valencia in the future.
Valencia Post Office
What is it about Spanish cities and magnificent Post Office buildings? Incredible!
Valencia art house museum
González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts
Street scene Valencia
Morning coffee in Barrio Carmen

We then headed south to a tiny village called Aigües where we were staying in a small hotel for the last few days of our trip. Again, it was a really good base to see other places such as the chilled and Ibiza-like Javea, the more family-friendly and more traditional beach resort El Campello and another place which I really like, Alicante. I’ve only been there a few times, but like Valencia, I get to like that little bit more each time. The people I met here were incredibly friendly and because it’s another small city, you can easily wander around getting a feel for the place and bump into places such as the rather wonderful El Refugio cafe and of course, you have a traditional promenade which is perfect to while away the hours with a cortado or two, if you’re into that kind of thing.

El Refugio Alicante

And then, after 6 weeks travelling around this magnificent country, we headed back to Granada on the Alsa Supra bus, which if you haven’t tried it, is rather good. Comfortable, not too expensive, wifi and often faster and more convenient than the train.

We didn’t get round to visiting areas in the north such as Asturias and Galicia, but after enjoying this trip so much, we will definitely be going in the future for  yet another perspective on this lovely country that I’m lucky enough to call home.

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