Spain! Toledo: City Of Three Cultures!

#sunsettoledospain

#toledospainOnce upon a time there was a place where Christians, Jews and Muslims all lived together in relative harmony… Known as the “City of Three Cultures” Toledo, a walled city located in central Spain, was once such a place. It was largely for this reason that it was declared a world heritage site in 1987. We spent three days exploring the narrow cobbled streets of this amazing medieval city and with over 2000 years of history there was no shortage of things to see.

Cathedral of Toledo

#cathedraloftoledo

Having learned my lesson about unpredictable visiting hours in other Spanish cities, I decided our first order of business would be to see the Cathedral. Whew! It’s a good thing we did, because after 6 pm on our first day the Cathedral was closed to tourists, the entirety of our visit, in observance of The Ascension of Mary.

Located in Ayuntamiento Plaza, according to our guide, The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo is the second largest cathedral in Spain and the most important. The tower of the Cathedral is 301 feet tall and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The inside spaces are incredibly beautiful, and this is definitely not a case of “you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.” Photos aren’t really allowed, but I did sneak a few, I  just couldn’t help it!

#ayuntamiento

The Jewish Quarter

#jewishquartertoledo

The Jewish Quarter in Toledo is a popular tourist destination. You can’t miss it because it is very clearly marked with signs and tiles inlaid into the walls and streets surrounding it. At night there are images in Spanish, English and Hebrew projected onto the streets letting you know you’ve arrived.

The Jewish Quarter Toledo-7994

Today, there are no operational synagogues within the walls of the old Medieval City. However there are two former synagogues and a mosque which are available to visit, all three of which are now designated as museums.

Synagogue of El Transito

El Transito a former synagogue dating back to the mid 14th century was built in the Mudejar style and is now the Museo Sefardi.

#synagoguetransito

Santa María la Blanca

Santa María la Blanca, also a museum and former synagogue, was built in 1180 some believe it to be the oldest synagogue building in Europe which is still standing. It is now owned and preserved by the Catholic Church.

SAMSUNG CSC

While in Toledo we stayed in the Jewish quarter at the Hotel Pintor El Greco. The hotel and  location were great, only steps from the El Greco Museum and within easy walking distance of both synagogues, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, one of El Greco’s most famous works and many other sights.

Other Major Sights

Mezquita Cristo de la Luz

#mosquetoledoBuilt in 999 on the site of a former church the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz is the only surviving Moorish mosque in the city of Toledo that remains virtually unchanged since its construction.

Puerto Del Sol

#puertodelsolOne of Toledo’s City gates the Puerto Del Sol is not far from Cristo de la Luz.

Monasterio de San Juan De Los Reyes

#sanjuandelosreyesThe Monasterio de San Juan De Los Reyes was founded by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Originally it was to be their final resting place, but they later changed their minds and chose to be buried in Granada instead.

Unfortunately we were unable to visit the inside due to a wedding taking place, but we were able to walk through the cloisters and other areas of the monastery. The exterior of the monastery, per the Queen’s order, is covered in manacles and shackles worn by christian prisoners from Granada who were released during the Reconquista.

Iglesia De Los Jesuitas

Cortes De Castilla-La Mancha

What Else is Toledo Famous For?

Toledo is not only known for its religious history, but also for its weapon and armor production, Damasquinado jewelry, marzipan and of course it’s amazing Spanish cuisine.

All of us were fascinated not only by the amazing craftsmanship and variety of different swords, weaponry, metalware and jewelry available, but also by the sheer number of stores selling it! They were everywhere and I personally spent a lot of time admiring the handmade jewelry and even picked up a few things. Of course I did!

Hiring A Guide

#toledospainWe were somewhat surprised to find that unlike other cities we’ve visited in Spain, there was almost no english translation available anywhere. We spent the first day wishing we knew more Spanish and soon realized we would need to join a tour or hire a guide. English tours didn’t seem to be available but after some persistence on our part we were able to find and hire a private guide. Yolanda, a native of Toledo, was a wealth of knowledge and we spent two very informative hours with her.


Take Me With You!

Would you like directions to all these fabulous places? Why not take me with you! you can download this and other fun hilarystyle articles using the GPSmyCity app!

#gpsmycityhilarystyle

 

Spain! The Alhambra!

SAMSUNG CSCHistory, architecture, beautiful gardens and craftsmanship beyond compare, the Alhambra has it all! Its also an immense fortress made up of many buildings including palaces, which made it high on my list of must see places. Located in Granada, Andalusia the Alhambra is one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent the better part of a day and evening exploring and still we weren’t able to see everything.

Alhambra Edits-6073.jpgThough the original fortress was built in 889, it wasn’t until the mid-13th century that the current buildings and walls were renovated and built by moorish kings in the Mudéjar style. Although I did my best to try and capture it in pictures the intricacy and beauty of the carvings on the walls and ceilings inside the Nasrid Palaces must be seen to be believed.

Alhambra Edits-7789

Planning Your Visit

SAMSUNG CSCDue to extreme popularity and its delicate nature the number of visitors to the Alhambra is very limited. In fact they only allow 6,600 visitors in timed increments per day, so purchase your tickets as soon as you know you’re going. I can’t stress this enough especially if your visit will take place during the summer months.

Our visit took place in late September and there was only one day and time on the reservation calendar with availability. Lucky for us it was the one day we would be in town!

*YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PURCHASE TICKETS THE DAY OF YOUR VISIT*

Okay, now that we’ve established that you’ll be planning ahead…

Tickets are purchased through the Ticketmaster website. There are many options to choose from for both day and night. We choose Alhambra General which includes all the highlights as well as the gardens and Alhambra at Night. The ticket buying process could be a bit smoother, but trust me its worth the hassle. For additional information on the ticket buying process check out this great post by WanderTooth!

Photo Frenzy!

A magical place, famous the world over, it’s no surprise that the Alhambra has been featured in literature, music, astronomy, and even video games!  I definitely fell under its spell and hoping to capture some of what I was feeling I spent the day taking endless photos. I did my best to pick and choose but in the end it was tough to decide and I’ve probably included too many. I hope you enjoy them!

Now That’s What I Call A Picture Window

The Generalife Gardens

SAMSUNG CSC

 

The Nasrid Palaces – Day & Night

SAMSUNG CSC

Charles V Palace

Alhambra Charles V Edits-7858

Granada

SAMSUNG CSCMost of our time in Granada was spent visiting the Alhambra, but the little we did see we liked very much! Our reservation wasn’t until 2 pm which gave us time to walk around town and have a leisurely lunch. We enjoyed our lunch so much we went back to the same restaurant for dinner!

An Afternoon in Seville!

 

SAMSUNG CSC

Seville is the capital of Andalusia and one of Spain’s largest cities. Famous for tapas, bullfighting and Flamenco dancing it’s a place worth spending time in. Unfortunately we didn’t have much and we had to choose between Seville and Granada, and because it was new for all of us, Granada won. It doesn’t hurt that its home to a really big castle! Sorry, Seville.

The good news is that we were on a road trip and we made sure that Seville was on the way! Not a bad place for a pitstop!

First Things First! Lunch!

SAMSUNG CSC

If you’ve ever been then you know the food in Spain is something extra special! The moment we crossed the border from Portugal our mouths started watering in anticipation!

Lucky for us Tim had been to Seville before and he had the name of a favorite tapas place in his contact list! If you’ve been reading my blog you might remember that we often spend long periods of time wandering aimlessly while looking for a place to eat. This time we only had a few hours, so no time to waste!

Finding food the boys will enjoy can at times be a challenge, but thankfuly this isn’t the case in Spain! We ordered all of our favorites: Sangria, Jamón Iberico, chorizo, Manchego cheese, and calamari! It was a feast!

A Bit Of This And That

After lunch we spent a little time wandering around the Santa Cruz neighborhood, once the Jewish quarter of the medieval city its now the main tourist area of Seville.

Santa Cruz is also the location of the Cathedral of Seville, the Giralda Tower and the Real Alcázar.

The Cathedral Of Seville

I was disappointed to find that the Cathedral of Seville and Giralda Tower were closed during our visit, so we were unable to go inside. The Cathedral is so big it’s near impossible to get all of it in one photo. Just walking the perimeter was impressive, so I can only imagine how spectacular the inside must be.

 

SAMSUNG CSC

The Real Alcázar

SAMSUNG CSC

The  Real Alcázar of Seville  is a royal palace and it is still used by the royal family as their official Seville residence. It is open to visitors and if like me, you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you might be interested to know that the Real Alcázar is where they filmed the Water Garden scenes in season 5.

SAMSUNG CSC

I wish I could say we had time to see more, but sadly we did not. We walked around the Patio de Banderas which has a great view of the Giralda Tower, but the day was getting late and it was time to hit the road.

While we didn’t have the kind of time needed do a city like Seville justice, we got a feel for it and are definitely looking forward to a return trip.

Barcelona!

Having visited many amazing places It’s hard to choose an absolute favorite, but Barcelona is definitely near the top of the list! A few summers ago, we spent a month traveling through Europe and when I asked Simon we he liked most, he said, “Living the Barcelona lifestyle!” He loved the late nights, late mornings and naps or rest time in the middle of the day. Geez, who wouldn’t?!

Barcelona

RESTAURANTS

Eating in Barcelona is as much of an attraction as visiting markets and Gaudi buildings!  Many places offer tapas, which is purchased by the piece. Perfect if you’re in a hurry, or just looking for a quick snack. Drop in, grab a bite, and you’ll be on your way. Jamon Iberico, is a favorite with my boys, and if they could they’d eat it along with a few slices of manchego day and night.

Barcelona

Bar Mut is One of the coolest tapas places in town. It is hard to get in, but SOOOO worth it!  Don’t miss this place!  If you’re not sure what to order just ask them to decide for you.  Lunch is a good alternative if you find dinner too crowded. Reservations for dinner are a must.

Barcelona

Mercat Princesa is an upscale “food court” of sorts. We LOVED this place, and went almost everyday for lunch, the food was fantastic, the service was excellent and because each station specializes in something different there was something for everyone in our group!  There is a lovely atrium in the center where you  can sit and enjoy your meal. By the end of our trip Simon had made friends with the man working at the station he liked most even though they didn’t speak each others language.

Barcelona

Chocolate con Churros

Barcelona

No trip to Barcelona would be complete with Chocolate Con Churros! A tradition passed from generation, Tim’s friend took us to the spot he used to go to with his grandparents when he was a small boy. We all loved this and we had  chocolate con churros many times!

Barcelona

Tim’s local friend took us to Mundial Bar a tiny little restaurant with excellent food. The place was packed with locals, so we knew we were in the right place!

BarcelonaCava is the Spanish version of champagne and it’s very popular! We met up with some good friends from the States during our visit and I confess we popped open a few bottles.

Barcelona

While I did enjoy the Cava, my favorite beverage was white sangria. Remember that “Barcelona Lifestyle” I mentioned? Nothing like sitting in the square enjoying sangria, Jamon and manchego, while watching the people and performers go by.

BarcelonaGin bars were all the rage when we were last there, so of course we had to check one out!  We are lucky enough to know a few locals and one graciously offered to watch the boys so we could venture out for a night on the town!

Things To See Around Town

BarcelonaDefinitely wander and explore the city aimlessly!! Keep in mind that the shops and restaurants have no rhyme or reason for opening times, so each time you walk down the street it will be a completely different experience!  Allow yourself to get lost in the El Born, Barri Gotic and El Raval neighborhoods.

Cathedrals

BarcelonaThe Cathedral of Barcelona was completed in 1448 and  is located in a large square where they sometimes have outdoor markets. It’s a nice place so stroll around and there are many restaurants near by. Keep in mind there are strict dress code policies and no shorts or sleeveless shirts are allowed inside.
BarcelonaThe Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar dates back to 1383 and is definitely worth going inside.  It’s one of the oldest cathedrals in the city, and it is very beautiful! The boys and I were fascinated by the many stones in the floor with skull and crossbones on them.  I did take a few photos of the inside, but honestly I couldn’t do it justice.  The outside is tricky too because it’s located in a  quaint little square and it’s hard to get far enough away to get a good photo.  I hope you’ll trust me on this one and go check it out!

Barcelona

Our room was down a little street about 1/2 a block away and all four of us loved sitting outside in the square. Some combination of the four of us could be found here almost every afternoon while the others took time for siestas in the room. There is just something about this place and part of town that is special to me.

Gaudi

BarcelonaWhen visiting Barcelona you don’t want to miss taking a look at some of the Gaudi buildings.  They are quite spectacular and some are even UNESCO World Heritage Sites. La PedreraCasa Batllo and Parc Guell are all worth seeing, however if you have limited time I would choose Casa Batllo or La Pedrera as both are located on the Passeig de Gràcia.

BarcelonaIf the other Gaudi buildings are impressive then La Sagrada familia is the pièce de résistance! It literally took my breath away. I highly recommend you get your tickets in advance online as the lines can be very long. We learned this the hard way, but there was as silver lining as Simon and I met some incredibly nice people from SoCal while we were waiting and we are still friends!

This place has been under construction since 1866 and still is!! We chose to do a self guided tour and also decided to go up to the top. I would definitely recommend going up as the views were amazing and you can actually see some of the construction taking place. Keep in mind that the stairways are quite narrow, and it is high so if you’re claustrophobic, afraid of heights or have very small children this might not be the place for you.

La Sagrada Familia

 

If not the most amazing church I’ve ever stepped into, it’s definitely the most unique. According to the official website it should be completed sometime this century. These photos were taken in 2013 during our second visit. Our first visit took place in 2007 when the inside had no windows and was completely unfinished. It was amazing to see how much progress was made in six years time. How special to witness the building of such an amazing place.

Las Ramblas

Barcelona

Although I do love the side streets, Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s main streets is definitely worth walking down. You’ll probably end up here a few times and  and there are definitely things to see.  There is even a Joan Miro in the middle of the sidewalk!

Markets

Barcelona

The La Boqueria located on Las Ramblas has existed in one form or another since 1200. While it is a bit more on the touristy side than some other markets, its definitely fun to wander through. There are stalls selling spices, fruits, vegetables and meats, also TONS of candy and many other items, some of which are unusual to us americans. The kids enjoyed these markets especially the candy!!

Barcelona

El Mercat de Santa Caterina is another market located not far the Cathedral of Barcelona.  It has an incredible mosaic tile roof and is more popular with the locals. Wandering through these markets is a nice way to get an idea of what it might be like for the locals.  We love this market and have been multiple times!

Tours and Other Attractions

Barcelona

A friend and I went on a Running tour of Barcelona and we loved this!  If you have any runners in your group this is a great way to see a lot of the city! A very unique way to see the city and our guide Robin was very knowledgable.

Tim and I enjoyed the Picasso Museum , but my little guy wasn’t a big fan. To avoid the long lines consider arriving right at opening.

Barcelona

Roman Ruins are everywhere in Barcelona and they are definitely worth seeing.  We went to quite a few.  It’s really quite incredible how they are just “right there” surrounded by everyday life.

Barcelona

This and That…

Barcelona
The boys really enjoyed the  Barcelona zoo.

Looks can be Deceiving

 I don’t recommend the beach in Barcelona. In fact it was by far the dirtiest beach I’ve ever seen. Absolutely disgusting!  It looks beautiful from a distance, but upon closer inspection it was more like a trash dump than a beach. I saw things I don’t even want to mention…  If you’re looking for a swimming beach Stiges is the place.