The pick of the litter from nearly 1500 photos from my Spain trip. It took me much longer to cull, touch up, upload and write about these photos than I traveled. Hopefully it was worth it. You can click on any photo to see it full size (big!), which is nice with some of the panoramas and others. Comment and enjoy.
An overview: I landed in Madrid, spent four nights there and a day in Toledo. I bused to Granada, home of the Alhambra and Moorish influence. Then Alicante, a touristy Mediterranean beach town. Valencia, which is modern and sleek, to Barcelona, which was too huge to wrap my brain around. From Barcelona I went north to the jewel of Spain: San Sebastian. I spent six days in San Sebastian and probably would have been happy there for the whole three weeks.
I only rode the train from Barcelona to San Sebastian. The buses in Spain are more comfortable cheaper, and nearly as fast as the trains, in my experience.
I had a few serendipitous moments, stumbling upon a Halloween party on a sixth story apartment that belonged to a high school friend I hadn't seen in 10 years. I didn't even know he was in Barcelona.
I got mugged and with my phone went a few hundred pictures that I'll never see again. But it's not an authentic Barcelona experience without a robbery.
I swam in the Mediterranean and the Bay of Biscay, both were clean and magnificent.
I saw Real Madrid and Barcelona play tournament games. Sat in the Puyol rooting section - quite by accident but fitting.
The U.S. could learn a lot from Spain. They're far more advanced in many ways - especially public transportation. But they remain nationalistic about nearly everything and are on the verge of economic collapse. Other than headlines, you wouldn't know it. The cities feel vibrant, rich and bustling.
Let's go back.
Got off the plane in Madrid about 8 a.m. Bused into town, got lost and took a taxi to my hotel. Then I wandered the city. First stop Plaza Mayor, a few hundred meters from my room. Morning light greeted my first few moments in Madrid.
Pageantry. These caballeros were all clopping around the first morning I woke up in Madrid, right outside my hotel. Some foreign dignitary was visiting and got to ride around the city in this:
Parks surrounding the Olympic Park in Barcelona. Labyrinthian in nature, they are welcome respite from the city.
Jerome's dog. He was miserable in the rain. Didn't take many pictures in France but this gives an idea how lush the Bay of Biscay area is compared to central and southern Spain.
La playa en San Sebastian. It's totally packed during the summer but perfect at the end of October when I was there.
Bench, rollercoaster above San Sebastian.
Bubbles in Barcelona
Ride up the steep funicular in San Sebastian to an old hilltop carnival. It was closed when I was there, giving it an eerie, abandoned feeling. Luckily the bar was open and I was able to get a brandy and cafe solo. I saw maybe five other people up there.
Test your strength. Impress girls!
Casa del Terror. It was closed :(
My first time on the Mediterranean. Alicante is hyped, touristy and rich. This harbor is full of multi-million dollar yachts. October was perfect. The beach was populated, but not crowded. The sea is amazingly clean, considering it's warm, highly trafficked and built up.
Castillo de Santa Barbara, perched on a huge rock over Alicante.
Castillo de Santa Barbara at night. I had to walk up here again and get night photos.
Panorama of Alicante at night from el castillo. To the right of the wall the city felt more authentic and seedy. The only place I ever felt uncomfortable walking at night.
The graveyard in San Sebastian next to Carol's house. She said they make good neighbors.
Dahlias in the Retiro Park botanical gardens. They were about the only thing in bloom, though it was a nice grounds.
La concha, San Sebastian. That statue is an old fortress that overlooks the old part of the city. San Sebastian was fought over many times by the Spanish, French and English. It's worth fighting for.
I swam at this beach between the rain. First time in the Atlantic.
Fishing docks of San Sebastian, as seen through a telephoto lens from the carnival.
San Sebastian sunset, over the river Urumea. Some of the best clouds I've ever seen foreshadowed three straight days of dumping rain. The Urumea began flooding (not in San Sebastian, but upriver) after two days.
Reminded me of my hero.
Grave of the English soldiers. These blokes died helping the Spanish repel French invaders.
Euskal Herria - the Basque country. The rest pretty much speaks for itself. While I was in Spain the ETA announced an end to violent rebellion, saying it would adopt diplomatic means. It was front page news for weeks, with a lot of doubt in the Spanish press. Paisajes, out of San Sebastian, is a tiny but vehemently political Basque stronghold.
The Basque flag flies over a fisherman folding nets in San Sebastian. That estate across the bay was once the royal family's summer home. Maybe the best house in Spain. Apparently San Sebastian has some of the most expensive homes in Spain.
Granada. Maybe my favorite city to walk around. Vibrant nightlife, and varied scenery from huge cathedrals to narrow twisting alleyways. One of my best meals - a Moroccan lamb stew - was in some off-beat alleyway. The black tea was intensely caffeinated and delicious.
Even more Granada.
Another shot from the castle wall above Alicante.
A well vegetated alley at the bottom of the wall in Alicante.
The Guggenheim Bilbao. A Frank Gehry building. The Richard Serra exhibit is breathtaking, and the building captivating.
Hotel Plaza Mayor.
Euskal graffiti on the road up to the carnival in San Sebastian.
La luna entre las hojas.
Barely able to snap this abuelo as he trudged around the hills of Toledo.
All Saints Day in Pasajes. I presume someone left these flowers as a blessing to fishermen and sailors who died at sea.
Perritos en Barcelona.
Una puerta en Madrid, near the main entrance to Retiro Park.
Conservatory in Retiro Park.
Retiro Park lake. To the right of the columns is where I took the next picture, looking back this way...
Retiro after dark.
Botanical gardens in Madrid.
This is the view from my German pension in Barcelona, a block away from Cataluna Square and La Rambla. Where the two people together in the center is where I was robbed. La Rob-la, more like.
La Sagrada Familia - Gaudi's most famous work. I didn't make it inside, due to a late start and a mugging hangover. But it defines the skyline of Barcelona and Gaudi's influence seems to seep into the city from this central point.
Construction began in 1882, but Gaudi died before it was completed. I believe it's expected to be finished sometime in the next 50 years.
Sagrada Familia, gorgeous in the sunset.
San Sebastian - holga-ized by me.
Rainbow over San Sebastian.
Teatro Principal. San Sebastian's yearly film festival rivals Cannes for its scale, prestige and popularity. But it's virtually unknown in the U.S. I missed the festival this year by a few weeks, but the horror and fantasy festival fell right when I was there (thus Hitch).
I went down one night a few hours early to try to get tickets for The Divide, because it was in English and it coincided with my schedule. The theater owner/manager told me it long ago sold out, but told me something I didn't quite catch and to return at 10 when the movie started. I came back, waited around as people filed in and became dejected. I was about to beg some leather-clad Basque horror fans to sneak me in when the theatre owner came out, recognizing me from earlier, and gave me a free ticket. It warmed my heart. The movie was good - not great - but the rowdy, cat-calling festival experience was beyond magical.
Spain is a great cinema country. I spent a few hours in the Museo San Telmo's Fellini exhibit. International, independent, art films get equal recognition with Hollywood powerhouse titles and Spanish blockbusters. Indeed, every multiplex was running "The Tree of Life" next door to "Johnny English Returns" - and Lars von Trier shared the cover of film magazines with Spielberg and Tintin.
One funny thing about the Spanish - they like their movies dubbed. It's just what they're used to, I was told, and subtitles - which are universally preferred on foreign language films in the States - are hard to find. This kept me from seeing "Tree of Life" and other more complicated films (my Spanish isn't quite that good).
I had some good conversations about film with Patxi, who I stayed with in San Sebastian. He said the Spanish still distinguish "Hollywood" or studio films from indie fare. But he agreed that as an audience, the Spanish are far more welcoming to a broad range of film. I watched Patxi's copy of "Vacas," from the Basque director of "Sex and Lucia."
Another Basque filmmaker (who had a week-long festival after I left): Alex de la Iglesia.
Holy Toledo. Spain is very churchy, but Toledo may have the highest square footage of cathedrals/town. There's lots of steel in all the windows but the real treat is the tongue-tingling marzipan.
Jerome, Maite, Marilyn and Ludivine, at Jerome's newly built house in Urrugne, France. It dumped rain non-stop for the 24 hours I was there, so we cooked and drank. Then drank some more. I felt awful because I slept through family breakfast like some American cad. It didn't seem to bother them, so we cooked and drank some more.
Valencia - This huge strip of modern buildings splits the town and stretches to the Mediterranean. Aquariums, museums, convention centers, playgrounds, bike paths and ponds. It's impressive and a bit gratuitous. It was sparsely populated when I visited.
Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia. Soft water.
One of my favorite pics of the trip. Plaza de la Virgen, the ground wet from the rain and fantasmas moving through the plaza by the sound of the fountain.
Old black vans, discarded and forgotten in the gutters of Barcelona. Pobrecitos.
Makes me miss my Westfalia. Next trip to Spain, I must get out of the cities and see some mountains and national parks. This is the way to go.
Supermegaguay self-shot to prove I didn't just steal these pics off someone else's blog. Thanks for looking!