Girona

I am up early this morning in Granada. I have a flight to Barcelona and then shortly after taking a train to the city of Girona. I planned to take the cheap airport bus that arrives outside my hotel just a little down the street but that plan fell through last minute. My hotel had an outdated bus schedule because when I arrive at the bus stop this morning I realize I must have missed the bus and another doesn’t come for two hours. Since I will not make my flight on time if I wait I head back to the hotel and have them call me a taxi.

When I arrive at the Barcelona airport I don’t quite understand the instructions I have written down. Last time I was here was ten years ago and even then I was flying home and recovering from some sort of a norovirus/food poisoning. I take the wrong train initially and end up wasting a fare since I basically go to another airport terminal and then back again. Eventually I discover I have to take a regional train into Barcelona Estació Sants and switch to take my train to Girona. Luckily there are many trains daily to Girona so I don’t have to stress about missing one. Barcelona is highly connected by trains and metro stations. It is complex for a new traveler to the city, at least in my opinion. I am used to traveling in cities so I eventually wrap my head around the system after a day or two.

The ride to Girona is quick at around 40 minutes. At Girona there are two train terminals. They are pretty close together but it is real important to know the appropriate one to be at.

My hotel is a 20 minute walk from the train station. There is a foot and bicycle path that follows under a regional train. It is shaded and has some interesting art work along the way.

I chose Girona as a location to visit because it is a smaller city and I like visiting cities that aren’t popular and crowded. There are not too many must see things in Girona but it is a nice relaxing way to spend a couple days.

I cross a foot bridge to enter Barri Vell, a gothic quarter. I have a view of colorful buildings reflected in a river as well as a large basilica greets me as I cross the bridge. My hotel is practically around the corner from here.

The hotel I chose, Hotel Museu Llegendes de Girona, is a nicer hotel. I didn’t have as much luck locating a decent discount hotel in Girona. The hotel is a strange art museum/hotel. My room is simply designed except the lighting system – there are so many buttons in the room and only in one place are marked what they are; but not clearly though. I have a nice but complicated room.

After check in I walk the medieval streets of Girona. It is not crowded in this town and that is why I like it.

I decide to go for the fancy avocado toast plus halloumi for a late lunch. It feels slightly healthier than what I’ve been eating lately.

Federal Cafe

After lunch there is more wandering around town.

I stop at the famous ice cream chain Rocambolesc and try one of their creations. Very interesting flavors.

I walk down to the shopping district and do some window shopping. I am not a big shopper in general and especially when I am traveling but I eye a brand of shoes I must have. I note to myself to look them up online later (Update I did and there are a little more than I want to pay).

I see that there are old city walls that circle the city. I climb them and get a view of the city in the late afternoon. I almost have the walls to myself.

I find small gardens after small gardens hiden down alleys surrounded by old churches. I spend some time in Jardins dels Alemanys. I try to identify the fruit tree there with some other visiters of the park.

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I arrive at another very large church. There are very loud and active birds around that I stop to admire. I turn the corner and realize this is the famed church that was used in the Game of Thrones, a show I never really watched.

I walk up to a garden that is supposed to have a John Lennon memorial but I can’t find any such thing in the garden. I want to do a tapas crawl but I am tired from waking up early. I stop by a café for a quick drink for the evening then I head back to my hotel. Tomorrow I take a day trip to Figueres to visit a Dali wonderland.

Segovia

Segovia Aqueduct

Today is a early start. I need to take the metro to the Madrid-Chamartín train station to catch my train to Segovia for today’s day trip. It is a new station to me so I give myself extra time to arrive. The ride to Segovia is around 30 minutes and we go through a long tunnel during the trip. The train arrives at the high speed rail station of Segovia-Guiomar that is about 4 km outside the city center. Luckily there is bus 11 to take you into the main tourist areas. Exact change needed for the bus, or at least smaller bill, because there is no where at the train station to make change (at least when I arrived the only restaurant was closed). I find a smaller bills hidden in my bag, others in line have a harder time collecting fare.

The bus drop off is right in front of the aqueduct for which the city is famous for.

View of aqueduct right past the bus stop

The exact date of the construction of this roman aqueduct are not know but it is still a marvel to view considering this had to be done prior to 200 AD.

My gaze heads to the sky while I watch flocks of birds flying in and out of the arches in round patterns.

My train to Segovia was quite early this morning and I didn’t get a chance to eat a proper breakfast. I pass by a café that seems like a place the locals go and I order a café con leche and the bread-like thing that is sitting on the counter. The Torrijas de Leche ends up being a sort of French toast-style egg custard bread. I normally don’t choose sweet things in the morning but it is nice to try something different every once in a while.

I am now ready to begin my day.

The second most important thing that people visit in Segovia is the Alcázar de Segovia. This fairytale castle is said to have inspired Disney’s Cinderella’s castle. Not sure about that since I heard the same story about Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Anyway it is neat to tour and it has some great overlooks from the castle.

To get the the alcazar I take the long way and wander through the quiet streets of the Jewish quarter.

I eventually come to the city wall and I follow that to the alcazar. Soon the castle appears in the distance.

Muralla de Segovia and view of alcazar

Muralla de Segovia and view of the city

Again I spend a good amount of time looking at the ceiling. I am always fascinated about how much detail is given to ceilings.

I walk by a couple churches, including the Segovia cathedral. It is only day 3 of my travels and I’m already burned out on churches so I decide to not go inside. From the pictures I’ve seen online it has some pretty neat floors though.

I prefer instead to just wander the streets. This time of day there aren’t as many day trippers so it is nice and peaceful.

Again I walk through the Jewish quarter. I love the texture patterns on the walls of the buildings.

Jewish Quarter

I return to the busy areas. People are shopping and gathering. It is lunchtime.

I have planned in advance for lunch today. A stop to Segovia is not complete unless you try a local specialty the cochinillo (roasted suckling pig). Mesón de Cándido is recommended for suckling pig. I have made reservations in advance and have an outdoor table with a view of the aqueduct. I am very glad my temporary meat aversion is gone by the time I arrive in Spain so I am able to enjoy this very juicy pork. The skin of the pig snaps loudly when pierced with a fork. I apologize to all my vegetarian friends for the vivid description.

cochinillo

Still have some time before I needed to head to the train station so I walk down another busy street. I see more nice churches and there is a nice view of the cathedral off in the distance.

I stop for one last snack before I head back to Madrid. Its been another hot day but I’m slowly getting back into the groove of travel. I just need to slow down at times.

Spain: Toledo

Today I am taking the train from Madrid to explore the city of Toledo. Toledo is a city in Castilla-La Mancha known for its history of Arab, Jewish and Christian influences. Toledo is about a 30 minute train ride from Madrid from the Madrid Atocha station. It is easy to get a last minute ticket since there are about 15 trains a day that do this route. I have a little delay on finding where to buy the tickets initially but I eventually figure it out. I’ve decided to sign up online for a RENFE card. I earn points I’m not sure how to use but most tickets I buy from this day forward are in advance using my phone where I can log in and all my info automatically gets populated to save time.

I arrive in Toledo and follow the crowd towards town. There are a couple routes to get into the city, I choose the one with many stairs. Starting my day breaking a large sweat seems to be the theme of my traveling the next couple weeks. I like hitting the shoulder seasons when I travel but it seems I’ve hit Spain at the beginning of the hottest time of year.

On the walk into town

As I get closer to the old city I feel the need to take some photos with my fancier camera. I haven’t used it extensively for a while. It immediately starts acting up. The after market batteries I bought in Southeast Asia in 2019 are no longer holding a charge and the battery gets stuck in my camera. I can’t seem to get the stupid battery out. I eventually get it out with my room card but I vow to toss that battery later. I put the camera away for now and continue to the old town.

After I climb many stairs I end up in the main thoroughfare where there are shops and cafes. I am enjoying the shade cloth they have along the street. It is a very hot day and every little counts. I note this in another city days later. I think it is a fantastic idea.

I head first to the church Santo Tomé, a small church that is famous for its El Greco The Burial of Count Orgaz.

Toledo is all about El Greco and by the end of the day I am El Greco’d out but this is a nice start. It is a quick visit.

Toledo had a view large Jewish population in the 1400’s until they were expelled in 1492. The Tránsito Synagogue and Jewish Museum shows the history during that time. I enjoy looking at the wooden ceiling and Mudéjar architecture.

I wander over to San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio built by catholic monarchs as a tribute to the victory at the battle of Toro. It is said to have been originally designated as the resting place for Isabel and Ferdinand (Note: They are in Granada). It is another great example of Mudéjar style. There are again some really impressive wood ceilings.

Nearby is Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca a Jewish synagogue built in Moorish style that was later converted to a Christian church. It is once more an example of the melting of three religious cultures in this city.

I stop for a couple minutes and eat my bocadilla I bought in the morning then head over to the Museo del Greco where I observe the unhinged looking personalities in his paintings and the paintings of people who studied under him.

I’m getting el sicko of el Greco but I have one more stop on the El Greco tour, the Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo or Toledo Cathedral.

I get burned out easily when I see tons of cathedrals but this one is definitely worth the stop. I’m glad I am here in the late afternoon since I’ve seemed to miss the crowds of all the day-trippers….yes I am a day-tripper too but I’m not in a group that crowds up the place.

The cathedral is Spanish Gothic style with a hint of Mudejar architecture inside. I especially like the main chapel with its over the top pictorial of new testament scenes.

Behind the main chapel is a pretty spectacular display that goes all the up to the ceiling where it appears heaven itself has so boldly provided the lighting.

I love this and can’t believe its the first time I’ve heard this story of the giant that carries people across the river.

A visit to the chapter house shows a display of portraits of its Archbishops as well as some nice frescos.

Soon I’ve hit the El Greco’s again. I admit they are nice but I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten my fill of El Greco for a lifetime at this point.

My favorite by far of the church is the choir. I am delighted when I notice the odd bottoms of the choir seats. The seats also contain wood carvings of various battles.

I am tired since this is my first full day of sightseeing, I am about to call it quits after the cathedral even though I still have some hours to go before it is time for my return train to Madrid. I walk by the Ermita “Mezquita” del Cristo de la Luz which is still open. Here I see a small Catholic church that was once a mosque.

With time to kill I wander a bit more. I am looking for a cafe to have a snack and a drink but I’ve hit the dreaded siesta time and there doesn’t seem to be much open that fits what I need.

I find an outdoor park with a limited menu cafe and order a beer and some mass produced patatas bravas. I am not really a big fan of potatoes in my every day life but they seem to be a staple here so I dive into a plate.

It is almost time to go so I head to the train station and catch the 7:20PM train back to Madrid. I leave town a different way than I’ve entered so I get a different perspective.

Its a short ride back to Madrid and somehow I still have energy stores. I clean up and try to check out Calle Cava Baja in Madrid, a place popular for tapas crawls. I’m still early but the place I have chosen, La Perejila, is already very busy. I insert myself into a small spot at the bar and order a vermut and a pintxo. I’ve been here before but I wanted to return since I found it charming last time. Eventually a table clears and I am offered the table. I much rather sit at the bar but I am in an awkward spot so I take the table. I mean to stop at another spot but I am exhausted and head back to the hotel. After all I have another busy day scheduled tomorrow.

Calle Cava Baja

Back to Medellín

M and I head to Medellín Colombia today. It is the second time for me and the first for her. A couple weeks ago I spent some days leisurely around the city. I hope to see more this time around.

The flight to Medellín from Cartagena is only around an hour and ten minutes so our travel journey is not long. The flight is in the morning and I order a cheese and ham toasted sandwich to hold me over before my journey.

When we arrive we check into the same hotel I stayed in prior, Diez Hotel Categoria in El Poblado. It is a good choice. Our room has two beds and a hammock that overlooks the neighborhood.

I wasn’t sure how we would feel when we arrived so we didn’t have much booked on our first day in Medellín. Luckily we are early enough to take a free walking day tour with Real City Tours (pay guide by tips).

Fortunately I already navigated the metro during my prior visit so we took the metro to meet our tour.

We are a little early for our tour so we stop for a beer in a old charming bar called Salón Málaga. Most were not drinking, in fact we thought we were getting a sneer from the table next to us but we ended up chatting with the girl and her mother instead. They were Spanish speaking but actually live in the USA and were tourists in Medellin as well. We made plans to share a taxi with them to Guatapé the next day but plans fell through when they had to leave town early.

We meet up with our tour guide who then takes us around the city and points out different landmarks.

Plaza Cisneros
Parque de la Luz (Plaza Cisneros)

At one point we sit by an old train station (Edificio Antigua Estación del Ferrocarril de Antioquia) where our guide gives us a “real talk” about the history of Medellin – tells us the history of all the factions that caused turmoil: the government, the military, drug lords, right wing militia, left wing militia. The losers are the ordinary people who had to live through the war and terror.

We are taken to a shopping district where there are lots of pop up stands you can get cheap goods (Carabobo pedestrian street).

National Palace Mall

Sex workers hang out in front of this church.

Parroquia de la Veracruz
We are told where to go to get some great empanadas

We end up at the Botero park where we can see lots of Botero statues.

Our tour group

Our guide talks about the metro and the pride the locals have for their train.

We are told the area under the train is where people go to exchange goods. We don’t have time to watch but we go back later to see it in action. Mostly men take items to exchange (belt buckle, watch, coins or whatnot) and engage with conversations with others to see if a deal can be made. It is interesting to watch and seems to be a sport of its own in the city.

We walk by some musicians playing outside at Parque Berrío. People are dancing to the music.

Parque Berrío
Fun Jesus taxi
Church across the street from Berrio Park

Our guide talks about some local fruits. I finally get to try that weird looking fruit (guama) from my first visit to Medellín.

guama

Finally he takes us to the Parque San Antonio where he tells us the story of the bombed statue.

Parque San Antonio

At the end there is a question and answer session about the city. Some was asking about seeing a futbol (soccer) game while in town. The guide tells us about the upcoming El Clásico Paisa game. I don’t listen too carefully because at this point going to a soccer game in Medellín seems too intimidating to me. Plus I am not sure we’ll have time. M pays attention though and is able to talk me into attending the game. More on that later.

Jardín: Hike to Christ

Another day in Jardín (Antioquia, Colombia) so I decide to take another short hike but this time to a Christ statue on a hill.

The town looks beautiful this morning as I head out for my hike.

Where I am going today is up the hill to see the large statue of Jesus (Seen as the little white thing in the photo below).

See the Jesus on the middle left.

The path is straight ahead and not clearly marked. I only know it is the correct path because of website that created a great guide to the area (fortunately I found the link to their website intentional travelers – they are so helpful).

The trail begins as a steep decline downhill on a rock trail. I am glad I am wearing my hiking boots again.

A kitten comes by to greet me before I start my hike.

I don’t really see many others around once again today. Traveling in Colombia is quiet compared to visiting other countries. Normally the isolation would have me worried about my safety but for some reason I feel safe here.

I come to a large moss covered tree. The tree is beautiful and reminds me of home.

I come to a little wooden bridge and cross a stream.

The area around the stream looks like a nice place to picnic during the day.

It is not clearly marked but I notice a rough path going uphill. I am thankful that it is both dry and that I am wearing my hiking boots. The steps are challenging for my shorter legs.

Looking down below. I see other hikers!
Town off in the distance

I arrive to a gate. There is no sign but it is not locked. I open the gate and walk through, hoping I am not tresspassing.

I am at some sort of summit. I stop and take in the views. There are large beautiful black birds flying to and fro.

I walk past banana trees. The path I am on is clearly used but very rough. I see another couple hiking around so I know I am in the right place.

Eventually I arrive to the area that contains the statue. There is a restaurant or café that appears to closed but a gate is ajar. A tour guide has entered into the viewing area with some tourists; I assume since he is there then it is ok to enter. I grab a seat and enjoy the view for a while.

At some point it looks like the owner shows up. I pack up my things in anticipation of getting asked to leave but he doesn’t seem angry we are there. I don’t stay long anyway.

restaurant up top
seating with view of town below
Finally the view, from below it looks like there used to be gondola system. It doesn’t seem to be operational.
A directional sign! Don’t see many of these.

I think there are other trails up here somewhere but I end up just heading back the way I arrived.

Trail goes on? Who knows?
The Moss tree again

It doesn’t take me long to arrive back in town. It is still early so I take the time to visit the inside of the beautiful town church.

I love the tiles and the ceiling colors.

I head back to my hotel to freshen up and rest. I’ll head out later to see some birds at dusk. More on that later.