A Travellerspoint blog

Snow

snow

In Todmorden we don't get a whole lot of the white stuff compared to places east and south of us! Even so this Christmas period has been unusual and the snow has been more than in the last twelve years. It has messed up a lot of Christmas arrangements but has not affected ours.

Posted by davidx 03.01.2010 10:21 Archived in England Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Peñalara

Day trip from Madrid

sunny 22 °C

I was ready to get out of the city. I found various alternatives for not too high a price but most would have involved more looking at buildings so I decided on the one that would be country only. My only reservation was that I found it hard to believe in the cost I had deduced from the Internet.

I was reassured on this final point by very clear notices at Atocha Renfe Ceranias station and confirmed it with enquiries. It was indeed only €10 return to travel on two trains each way, one of which was a special narrow gauge route through the mountains for about two hours (each way) including about a quarter of an hour between trains.

The first train was to Cercedilla, a small town on the edge of the Sierra de Guadarrama and on the line to Segovia. The scenery was increasingly attractive as we approached the mountains. For a short time it was possible to see the huge cross at the Valle de los Caidos, not an attraction from my point of view but we all have our own political reaction to such places. I had no breakfast before leaving Atocha and I was delighted to be able to get a coffee before the next train.

This was a real treat and even if it had been one of the days on which I feel unable to walk far, I would have regarded the train part of the day as a thoroughy worth while trip out. It was the only Madrid Cercanias line that goes nowhere near the city of Madrid, narrow gauge and for most of its route single track. A number of halts are shown on the timetable but stops at them are only by request. There was only one actual stop before the terminus where there were two lines to allow trains to meet. The views were excellent as the route snaked up into the mountains. The terminus was Los Cotos, a place of which I knew nothing except that there was a ski resort somewhere around.

Never having been a skier, I don't regard the signs of the activity left for the summer as an attraction but I quickly realised that it was easy to avoid being inconvenienced by them here. I had thought of going straight back but it was only an hour later to the next train and I was hungry. So I would eat on the station but I might have a quick look at the scenery first. I had only gone about three or four minutes when I came to the entrance to the Pe ñalara Natural Park. A map post made it look as though there was a viewpoint close by – and the park office was only a very few more minutes away – so I would go there and ask about it. Nature and habits are not so easily denied however. I did not ask about the viewpoint! What I actually asked was whether there were any easy walks and there was one. Hunger?? - acute but it would have to wait

The walk was supposed to be about an hour each way. I was right in guessing that for me it would be an extra 50 minutes going out and an extra 5 coming down but that would leave me time for the 15.45 train with luck and if not, definitely for the 17.45. The first part of the walk was qite rough and steep but that did not worry me much (the very helpful lady at the office had told me about it) as I was fresh from the train. After only about 150 feet the path became a contour route for all of two miles. The path left the trees and the open views across the valley were just what is needed for a break from a city. Then came what for me was the difficult part. The path going upwards to the Laguna Grande de Pe ñalara winds through one of the specially protected areas of the park and the park lady had told me that the laying of planks to preserve the environment had made it easy, Certainly it had obviated any roughness but it had not reduced the slope! If I had not been able to see clearly where the lake had to be, I think I might have chickened out!
Laguna Grande de Peñalara

Laguna Grande de Peñalara


As it was I persisted and reached rocks where I could sit and look at the wonderful lake below the peaks. By this time I was really concerned to get the 15.45 train if at all possible and this prevented me exploring further. I took the same route back and arrived at the station at 15.28. That left me time for a drink, after doing what a chap has to do, but hunger was becoming dreadful!! Fortunately in country areas the traditional tapas habit still lives. The free slice of tortilla was just small enough for me to enjoy it (ENJOY - I mean) before the train.
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All in all a great day out – and, incidentally I reached the Mirador del Gitano (viewpint of the Gypsy) only a very few minutes into my walk so if I had asked about viewpoints - - -

Posted by davidx 03.11.2009 02:44 Archived in Spain Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Madrid visits

Cathedral, Basilica, Ermita, Temple, Museum and CaixaForum

sunny 23 °C

The Royal Palace and Royal Theatre are omitted from the subtitle because I did not visit them, although I had planned to do so. The Royal Theatre only had guided visits in Spanish for about an hour, which I felt was a bit more than my Spanish would stand. The Palace had tours in English but it would mean waiting about two hours or returning. I meant to return after a look at the Cathedral and the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande (St Francis of Assisi). Howeevr, having walked to the cathedral and realised the sheer size of the Palace I changed my mind.

Initially I had not thought a visit to the Cathedral Museum was my cup of tea but, having missed out on the above two visits and having noticed that the Cathedral Museum ticket also gave access to the Cupola, I changed my mind. The views from the Cupola were terrific. One of the most stiking buildings was the above basilica with the fourth largest dome in Europe. Then the descent led to the cathedral itself. I have been to many cathedrals and my interest in ecclesiastical architecture is as great as my enthusiasm for religion is small - VERY in each case. This cathedral was only inaugurated (if that is what one does to cathedrals) in the 1990s and the mixture of traditional Baroque with very modern was unique and fascinating.

I had already visited the Ermita de San Antonio de Florida, where the main interest for me was the painting by Goya - a total contrast with the 'Black Paintings' at the Prado. The fact that his remains lay there did not add to the appeal! I had also visited the Templo de Debod, a genuine Egyptian temple of the second century BCE donated by the Egyptian Government as a thankyou for Spanish help with the Aswan Dam. I found it rather more interesting than I had expected.
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I was disappointed to find that the Basilica de San Francisco had unusual visiting hours and that having missed the early session i could not get in until 17.30. I took the Metro to Serano to see the Archaeological Museum. This was being extended and will be excellent when the work is finished. meanwhile there is free entry to a single large exhibition hall. If the exhibits on show are typical of their collections, it will make a superb visit.
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My desire to see the Basilica de San Francisco was strengthened by the fact that I could walk back via the Cava Baja, a road with a million or so good restaurants - or so it seemed. I arrived to find that a talk was being given in Spanish by an official guide and to my surprise my Spanish was up t most of it so I joind the group and went all round the rooms behind the Basilica.
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I did not see the CaixaForum (sic) until my final morning. It is a free cultural centre without any permanent collection but with stunning exhibition halls. The exhibition on at the time was one about the works of Richard Rogers, the Architect and with any number of models and literally hundreds of photographs it was excellent - and I repeat free.
There is also a fine auditorium which is used frequently for concerts. I thought it a great asset for Madrid. Outside it there is a most fascinating vertical garden by Patrick Blanc with 15,000 plants of 250 different species.

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Posted by davidx 25.10.2009 09:21 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Madrid Art

Museum and sculptures

semi-overcast 21 °C

I went to two of the 'big 3' museums as I had seen the Museo de Reina Sofia previously.
Prada I had been warned not to attempt to see everything at the Prada. There is simply too much - far too much. In Madrid the Spanish artists have to call and I had seen a lot of El Greco's work in Toledo. Now was the turn of Velasquez and Goya.

Predictably I enthused in my mind over Las Meninas but I think The Drinkers and The Spinners impressed me even more. As for Goya's Black Paintings, I can't say I enjoyed them; I hope I am not mad! Eating children does not fill me with jubilation - but how powerful they are!

I was advised that I would find the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza more manageable. I am not sure I should not again have been advised on what to see and what to pass quickly. It's a brilliant museum but I felt as though I should have had a crash course in the history of art before going. Having said that, i should not want to leave any impression of not having enjoyed my visit - just that I could perhaps have got still more from it.

Perhaps my comments above may make it seem less surprising that in some ways I enjoyed the Museo Sorolla most of all. Sorolla's name was unknown to me until I was researching my trip and I have spoken to people with far more knowledge of art than I who had never heard of him. Shame on us all! A Sorolla exhibition at the Prada, which I missed by days, was their best attended in ten years, the attendance well surpassing that for many names better known outside Spain.

http://museosorolla.mcu.es/!Sorolla was an ardent collector as well as a painter and the lovely house in which he lived (the museum) has fine furniture and porcelain in almost every room. As far as his paintings go, he seems to have been a master of the use of white. I was massively impressed by Madre which came from the painter's early period.
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Lastly the sculptures: the Museo.De.Escultura.Al.Aire.Libre is nt a museum at all in the normal sense. One road crosses another at considerable height and there are several flights of stairs from one to the other. On both sides are fine sculptures - completely free and never closed. It's a good idea and it was worth hopping off the tourist bus but as a resident of Yorkshire I must say that in my mind this did not hold a candle to our fabulous Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
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Posted by davidx 17.10.2009 10:57 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Live break - September/ October 2009

4 days in Madrid

semi-overcast 23 °C

I had stayed the night in Madrid once and seen Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia museum and I had used the airport as a start to seeing points west. We had changed planes there en route to Lima. That was it though - and the desire to see more of Madrid was growing on me.

Add to that a flight from Liverpool return for under £50 and how could I have turned down the opportunity? I know that I am not a city animal and I took the trouble to discover how to have a day out in the country. Then I obtained advice from friends on what I should definitely see, what I should try to see and what to forget.

In short: the first day I spent largely getting an overall impression by hopping on and off the Madrid Vision tourist buses. It was pleasing to get half price as an ancient - I think they called it something a bit more polite. I wish they would change there name for the disadvantaged - I guess they don't know the impression non-Spanish people get from the term 'menos validos.'
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I found it difficult to relate Madrid to other European capitals I had seen. For some reason it seemed mor like London than do Paris, Rome, Brussels, Stockholm, Helsinki, Lisbon, Prague or Oslo. Possibly it is the squares that are more reminiscent of London squares - but in the end it is Madrid. I don't want to get into the rather arid debate of which is best of Barcelona and Madrid - I suspect it would always be the one I had seen most recently - but it would seem odd if the capital of Spain were a city in which Castillian Spanish was not the native language.

I'll have more to say about specific places on other pages but I make two general remarks here.
1. Let's get the bad one (from a visitor's perspective) out of the way first. Obviously roads have to be repaired and, equally obviously, that is bad for traffic. However the volume of obras in the centre of Madrid was far and away greater than anything I have seen anywhere else - ever! Do they avoid them in the blazing hot and freezing cold months or was it just a historical curiosity.
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2. Now for the unexpected good thing. I was amazed by the attitude towards myself that I found in bars crowded with young people. I ave more than once been made mightily unwelcome and felt the need to leave quickly in this country. There I was found a seat - nearly as rare as hens' teeth! - without ever asking - in more than one bar and real people in their 20s and 30s were more than ready to converse.

Posted by davidx 16.10.2009 07:57 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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