MADRID: ADIOS AMIGOS!

Spain & Portugal Blog 10

June 2019

“No city on earth is more alive than Madrid,” claims Lonely Planet, “a beguiling place whose sheer energy carries a simple message: this city really knows how to live!” And any self-respecting Madrileño will tell you that (i) their city’s medieval mansions and royal palaces are up there with architecture’s best … (ii) art lovers keep coming back, again and again … and (iii) foodie-fans go nuts over Madrid’s gastronomic delights.

Little wonder we Kiwis were excited when we drove into Spain’s elegant capital late Saturday afternoon. And we weren’t the only ones! The city’s population of 3.3 million was boosted by planeloads of partying Brits who had arrived for that night’s soccer final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur!

Madrid was still waking up when our Sunday morning tour kicked off: a leisurely stroll through El Retiro Park, created as a royal retreat, now valued as the green lungs of the city, and littered with monuments and sculptures … followed by a highlight tour of the Museo del Prado: one of the world’s premier art galleries, overflowing with priceless paintings and sculptures by Spanish and European masters. (Cameras not allowed, unfortunately.)

That evening, we fought our way through the still celebrating/commiserating crowds (Liverpool had won) – enjoying a Food Lovers’ tapas-&-wine tour! Yum! At one tapas-stop, we found ourselves in the street where Miguel de Cervantes lived while penning his famous novel about Don Quixote: ‘Man of la Mancha’.

Come Monday, our last sightseeing day in these unforgettable countries, we hit the pavements one final time for a panoramic tour of Old Madrid – including the Cathedral area … the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) … and the Plaza Mayor (Madrid’s grand central square, one-time site of bloody bullfights, heresy hangings, and burnings-at-the-stake during the Spanish Inquisition).

That night we had a bonus Midlife Madness treat. Pulling on our tight-fitting muscle-shirts (men) … and hitching up our flared, truffled skirts (ladies) … we rendezvoused at the Corral de la Moreria restaurant for a very classy Flamenco Dinner & Show.

Yeehaa!

Panoramical aerial view of Madrid in a beautiful summer night, Spain

WRAPPING IT UP: All good things come to an end, of course. And our Spain & Portugal Adventure was over all-too-soon. A transfer to Madrid’s Barajas International Airport and a very grateful “Adios amigo!” to Sandra (our tour manager and friend), then we Kiwis were up-up-and-away on our 23-hour flight back to Godzone.

What to say in closing?

Well, allow me to tie up any leftover loose ends with 14 sweeping (and probably inaccurate) generalisations:

  1. If it wasn’t for Spanish and Portuguese explorers the world would still be largely undiscovered.
  2. People socialise on the streets and in the plazas – not at home – because their apartments are tiny and up several flights of stairs in buildings that are older than Columbus!
  3. Everyone smokes. Or that’s the impression you get.
  4. They kiss big-time – on both cheeks – from right-to-left (not left-to-right like the French).
  5. They talk loud – and often seem to be shouting at each other.
  6. Everyone’s Catholic. (Well, almost everyone.) And they love their gorgeous cathedrals, even if they never attend.
  7. The Spanish go gaga over tapas – the Portuguese over codfish. And both swish their food down with oodles of olive-oil.
  8. Given a choice of meat, they prefer eating pigs. And their pigs prefer eating acorns.
  9. Wine flows freer than water – but I can’t recall seeing anyone drunk. (Oh, except those soccer-crazy Brits!)
  10. Flamenco is quite scary. And the dancers look quite angry. Getting stomped on would be a horrible way to die.
  11. The siesta (midday nap) is their very best invention. We should make it compulsory here in NZ.
  12. They all play guitars – and when the music starts they get extremely romantic.
  13. Bulls don’t chase people down narrow streets. At least they didn’t in the cities we visited. What a shame.
  14. Nobody works. Okay, they must work at some point, but they weren’t when we were watching. They get up late, take all afternoon over lunch, and don’t start dinner until NZers have gone to bed. Way to go!

PEOPLE-NEWS: The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain. And our last Quacky Yellow Duck decided to stay, too …

  • Sandra received our ‘Mother Duck Award’ with honours – for escorting her flock of happy fluffy ducklings safely around the Iberian Peninsula. She may have missed the train in Barcelona, leaving us to find our own way to Cordoba, but all 16 of us Kiwi birds were still waddling along behind her when we finally finished in Madrid. Sandra was simply wonderful, going above-&-beyond at every stage in our grand journey … and we’re all gonna miss her big-time!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

PS: If you want to receive future Mad Midlife TRAVEL BLOGS in your Inbox, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!

PPS: And if you’d like to join us on one of our UPCOMING CRUISES OR TOURS, go to www.midlifemadness.tours … phone Glen (our Bookings Manager) on 0800 323 333 … or email Glen info@midlifemadness.tours.

  • We’re cruising ALASKA & THE ROCKIES in September 2019 …
  • touring JAPAN in cherry-blossom season, March 2020 …
  • river-boating along the RHINE & DANUBE in May 2020 …
  • enjoying a WILD AFRICAN SAFARI in August 2020 …
  • and lots more!

 

 

SALAMANCA & SEGOVIA

Spain & Portugal Blog 09

May 2019

On the last Thursday in May you might’ve found us practising our Portuguese: “Adeus amigos!” (goodbye) … and then our Spanish: Hola España!” … as we re-crossed the border and took aim on another different-yet-again region, this time in northwest Spain.

Castilla y León is a high plateau ringed by mountains and known for its fabled medieval cities – like Salamanca, with its 12th-century university, its Roman bridge and its baroque Plaza Mayor, awash with golden sandstone … and Segovia, watched over, first, by its ancient Roman aqueduct (boasting more than 160 soaring, interlocking arches, still-standing after 2000 years, go figure!) … and, second, by its multi-turreted ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Alcázar (castle).

As we’ve been finding all over the Iberian Peninsula, food here is an obsession, with the region promising the country’s best jamón (cured ham), roast lamb and suckling pig. That’s right folks, a whole piglet, roasted to perfection and served up on your plate! (We didn’t try it, but we saw it! And you heard about it here!)

We covered a lot of kms on foot in both Salamanca and Segovia – beating the cobbled streets, puffing forever up hills, eyeballing the marvellous architecture, spotting storks and their babies nesting on the highest points in town, getting stiff-necked inside at least a 100 more cathedrals, then rewarding ourselves the way laid-back Portuguese and Spaniards have been doing for centuries. In the lovely, balmy late afternoons and evenings, we Kiwis joined the crowds in pavement cafés or around tables in town squares … ordering a creamy cappuccino or a glass of sparkling vino or a selection of tasty tapas … soaking up the ambience and watching the world go by!

Ahh, yes! This, more than anything else, is what travel’s all about …

COMING UP: “No city on earth is more alive than Madrid,” claims Lonely Planet, “a beguiling place whose sheer energy carries a simple message: this city really knows how to live!” Come with us to our final stopover, and we’ll see if that’s the truth …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Our internationally-feared Quacky Yellow Ducks are still being claimed by Kiwis who do silly, embarrassing, award-worthy things ……

  • Brian scored our ‘Caught With His Pants Up Award’ – for being seen coming out of the ladies loo en route to Segovia. Ask me and I’ll show you the photo of Brian standing next to a sign on the toilet door that couldn’t have been more obvious: a large-bosomed lady in a large red dress!
  • Kaye sneaked away with her second duck and our ‘Quack Up In The Church Award’ – for accidentally sitting on her first duck in the middle of our guide’s quiet talk about church history, causing her poor duck to shatter the unearthly silence of Segovia Cathedral with an outburst of loud quacking.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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PORTO, DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE

Spain & Portugal Blog 08

May 2019

On a lazy Monday morning in Portugal, we headed north to Porto, the country’s second-largest city (although its citizens claim it is second-to-none). We’d been warned that this old town with its golden rooftops is preferred for long seafood dinners, slow strolls through sleepy streets, plus white-port-and-tonic as the sun sets across the Douro River. And we promptly fell in love with the place: unpacking in the perfectly-located, beautifully restored Pestana Vintage Porto Hotel – then sitting down in a local eatery for another Portuguese feast.

Mmmm – obrigado! (Thank you!)

Tuesday began with a two-hour guided meander through Porto – from the Praca de Liberade (Liberty Square) in the city-centre to the alluring Ribeira District, where colourful old houses overlook colourful old fishing boats, crumbling alleyways, the fabulous Sao Francisco Gothic church, port-wine houses and photogenic bridges. Come the afternoon, we found ourselves at a famous winery, Porto Calem, for a tour of the cellars plus a tasting of the famous local port (tawny and other tasty blends).

We enjoyed a break from busy sightseeing on Wednesday, taking instead to Portugal’s famous waterway for a full-day cruise along the Douro River Valley. They’ve been making wine here for 2000 years in what is now the UNESCO-recognised Alto Douro Region … and, I tell ya, sailing slowly past terraces, farmlets, bridges, dams and a scenic landscape that’s been shaped by human endeavour over the centuries was ooh-la-la lovely!

COMING UP: We wave a sad goodbye to Portugal, and cross the border back into España – disembarking for an on-foot romp around Salamanca, the country’s youngest oldest city. The show ain’t over yet folks, so stick with us …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (If the speech bubble isn’t there, click on ‘home’.) Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

SINTRA, THE SILVER COAST, & COIMBRA

Spain & Portugal Blog 07

May 2019

If you happened to be driving around Southern Portugal on Sunday May 26th you might have seen us, motoring happily along the highway through pine-covered hills (a stark contrast to the flat-as-a-pancake plains of Spain). We parked up for a while in picturesque, fairytale Sintra – an attractive UNESCO site known for its bustling town-centre, its pastel-hued manors, and its wacky, dreamy, multi-coloured Pena Palace – restored in the 1800s by good King Ferdinand II from the ruins of an old monastery.

Next stop for us was at Praia da Claridade, along Portugal’s Silver Coast: “an unbroken stretch of pristine shoreline,” according to one website, “white sandy beaches, and pounding Atlantic seas.” I’ve seen video-clips of terrifyingly huge waves (up to 30 metres high at famous surfing spots like Nazaré, a little further north) – but the ‘pounding seas’ were calm, flat and boring the night we stayed there.

 

Our third stop (next morning) was at Coimbra: a riverfront city in central Portugal, home to a well-looked-after medieval old town plus an elegant, historic university – oozing with charm and crawling with bright-eyed students.

COMING UP: We continue north to Porto, Portugal’s second city (although its citizens claim it is second-to-none). Don’t go away, because we’re about to fall in love with this old town, its golden rooftops, long seafood dinners, slow strolls along cobbled streets, and generous glasses of the local favourite – port wine – as the sun sets across the Douro River.

PEOPLE-NEWS: Two more lucky duckies have left home, quack-quack-quacking their yellow heads off…

  • JENNY scored big-time with our ‘All I Want For Xmas Is My One Front Tooth Award’ – when a fairly prominent front incisor fell out! Jenny was distraught, but I was able to comfort her: “Don’t be embarrassed about the big black hole in your face …” Congratulations, Jenny, for your cover-up efforts with chewing-gum!
  • JEANETTE ran off with her second duck and our ‘Dead To The World Award’ – for oversleeping the other day, waking five minutes before departure, rushing around like a blue-bottomed fly, and making it with seconds to spare for our morning walking tour. Phew!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (If the speech bubble isn’t there, click on ‘home’.) Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.