Spain – March 1999

Spain, Andalusia particularly, was everything I thought it would be. The images of warm sunny weather, bullfights, flamenco, are not just caricatures – they really exist.

We spent the first few days in Madrid, dealing with our jet lag, touring the museums, and savoring the local cuisine. We spent a day in Toledo visiting two of the remaining three pre-Inquisition synagogues, and walking thru the mediaeval city. Since we were there off-season, there were no crowds, just a few other small tour groups and a handful of independent travelers, mostly German and French.

Adjusting to the time change was odd – and very different from the usual simple time shift. Spain is +6 hours from Boston, but people eat dinner at 10pm and stay out until 2am – or later. The restaurants don’t open until 8 or 9pm. The workday begins at 9 or 10am, and the entire country with few exceptions, has a siesta from 1 to 4pm (very civilized!) . We had to adjust not only to a time shift but a “sleep habit” shift. Very odd. But we did succeed somewhat, and spent many nights bar hopping until midnight and later.

I just read The Spanish Doctor, a novel by Matt Cohen and (the history book from Laura), which gave us wonderful insights into Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was exciting to be in the synagogue that Judah HaLevi built, you could feel the history, especially since inner Toledo does not seem to have changed much since the time of the Inquisition.

After Madrid and Toledo, we took the high speed rail to Cordoba, then buses to Granada, Ubeda, and Seville. Each of these cities of Andalusia has a very different flavor. Cordoba, our first stop, was the seat of the Moslem Caliphate until the reconquest. At the very heart of the city is the Mezquita; the huge and extraordinary mosque built in the 900s. We visited the Mezquita in the early morning, before the tour groups arrived. It’s impossible to describe the intense beauty of the Mezquita, and photos don’t do it justice. The interior is comprised of hundreds of striped double arches, resembling date palms. The capitals of the columns are taken from Roman and Visigoth buildings, and every bit is in perfect harmony.

The Juderia still has a 14th century synagogue, and is still mediaeval is layout and feel. The old Arab souk (market) is still used as a market. We walked the same streets as Maimonides – and had our first night of Flamenco.

Ubeda is a relatively small city somewhat off the tourist circuit. …

Granada’s imposing Alhambra, an 11th century Moorish palace, has been restored except for furnishings and painting. It sits atop a hill overlooking the city, and is visible from just about everywhere.

Spain lived up to its reputation for near-absurd architecture, fantastic food and nightlife. However, Spain’s reputation for crime seems to be greatly exaggerated. We felt safe even late at night in the alleys of Seville. We never saw an incident of anything greater than littering or graffiti. Of course, we were cautious – but it was apparent that were significantly safer in Spain than most North American cities.

The food was very good, although I must admit that I did get tired of the constant diet of fried fish and pig parts. I probably ate more meat in these two weeks than I have in the past two years. I soon began to eat whole wheat rolls and one of the fine parmesan-like aged cheeses. The tapas (bar snacks) were truly a highlight, and the olives were beyond description.

We were also delighted that Spain’s reputation as being pricey was quite far from the truth. Food prices were usually lower than the US, and the bars were *much* cheaper. Hotels averaged out to about $35 a night, and transportation was about the same as USA prices.

Despite warnings from friends that Spain would be freezing cold, we had temperatures typically in the 50s and 60s, and a couple in the 80s. It rained (drizzled, actually) only one day, and we used that day to check our email (a nasty habit!), and explore Granada.

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