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|Volume 12 |Issue 06| February 08, 2013 ||
"The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” warbled Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. She wasn't far wrong. For along the coast, up among the hills and in and about her cobbled cities, that 'blasted plain' wherever it might be, did neither hamper nor hinder us, as we wandered at will all across her sunny terrain.
Winging our way on a Schengan ‘visa ‘our first port of call was Madrid. And 'Hola! ‘what a lovely surprise it was! A free guided walking tour interspersed with hop on-hop off rides took us way back into Madrid's medieval past while showcasing its modernity. As we, intrigued by stories of the Inquisition and the grandeur of its despots’ negotiated the twists and twirls of ancient streets around the Casa Mayor Square- off the main street Gran Via- and rode along its well laid avenues near Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium and the huge Torres Da La Ventas (Bull-Ring) ‘we could not help but notice the seemingly seamless coming together of the old and the new with history coming truly alive at the fabulous Royal Palace and the Puerto Del a Sol -the heart of Madrid.
Beginning with the early Iberians and Phoenicians’ Spain has played host to not only the Carthigians, Greeks, the Romans and the Visigoths but also to her 8th century conquerors the Moors from North Africa. Until, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel in the 15th century, threw them out and unified Spain into one Christian kingdom during the Christian Reconquista (recovering kingdoms lost to Islam). And so like the musical notes in a symphony there is a lyrical quality about the country. But the notes most lingering are still those of her erstwhile Muslim rulers –the Moors.
The 'public' in Spain are important enough, we discovered, to rate entry into all holiest of holies. So every day, for a few hours, all museums, cathedrals and places of public and tourist interest are thrown open to those who may not be able to afford it. The Prado, one of the largest museums of art in the world was in the midst of a Rembrandt Exposition. And we entered free. Without Tk 1,600 per ticket the humongous colourful canvases of the Masters came even more 'freely' alive!
No guesses to where our next metro ride was. To what was advertised as 'The most famous Tablao Flamenco in the world- Corral De La Moreria' of course. On a pocket size stage in a quaint little tavern like restaurant near the Royal Palace, dancers Almudena Serrano and Jesus Fernandez swished swirled and tapped away half the night. And despite all the dire warnings about innovative pickpockets and smart thieves, walking back to our hotel even in the wee hours of the morning, there was no sign of one or the other.
An hour's air ride away and we dropped anchor next at Barcelona up north. Bang into the middle of a Catalonian National rally that was calling for a separate state! Enveloped by a milling crowd of about half a million or so we somehow managed to find our apartment at Tetuan Square. A cheerful three bed roomed affair for three couples who were eager to be out and about immediately.
So we sauntered along the main avenue of La Rambla dotted with shops, banks and restaurants, navigated our way through the medieval Barri Gothic (old city), communed with God at the exquisite Barcelona Cathedral, explored the bustling La Boqueria market and lunched at El Convent a quaint little restaurant behind it. We also dined in the precincts of the Spanish architect Gaudi's remarkable yet still unfinished Cathedral of Sagrada Familia (under construction since 1882), took in more of Gaudi's unconventional architecture at the Park Guell and enjoyed the musical fountains of the Espana Plaza before opting for a bird's eye view of the lovely sea blue harbour from the ramparts of Montjuvic ‘an 18th century Moorish fortress. An evening to remember was under the enormous multihued stained glass dome at the oldest theatre in the world- Palau De la Musica Catalana for the 'OperaY Flamenco –music from the operas- and we were done! But in between we also shopped just for fun at the El Corte Ingles’ a Spanish chain of large super markets-no different from ours- and off the market squares for Toledo gold and Spanish hats.
Our next stop-another plane ride away–was Seville of the famous oranges in Andalucía. Considered to be among the most beautiful regions of the world’ Andalucía boasts of the historic cities of Cordoba, Granada and Malaga as well, with the Rock of Gibraltar just across the straits and Morocco off it.
Wandering through the winding streets of old Seville’ after we took in the rather large semi circular Plaza de Espana with its colourful display of the maps and motifs of every Spanish region, we checked out its charming sidewalk cafes and yes the Royal Palace where Christopher Columbus's coat of arms still hangs. Though there was no sight of the famous Barber of Seville or the legendary lover Don Juan’ we did on our way to the Barrio Santa Cruz’ the heart of Seville's Jewish quarter. And as we tried to climb its great La Giralda Tower, the vastness of the Catedral de Sevilla - one of the largest cathedrals in the world with its exquisite dome- literally took our breath away. Built on a mosque- Christopher Columbus lies buried there- its courtyard today boasts of just a single tree of those oranges.
Eating and drinking is a national pastime. So after pausing for a moment to gaze at the 13th century military watch-tower (Gold-Tower) by the flowing River Guadalquivir and stopping to buy some of Seville's royal blue- green pottery from quaint market squares with even quainter souvenir shops, we made our way to the famous Tapas bars. Tapas are small eats that range from tasty olives and eggs on tiny bread cubes to little pieces of seafood or vegetables in brine. They are tasty and as interesting as the Gazpacho–a cold soup- or the Paella which is like a mixed sea food biryani and is no less popular than the Spanish omelette.
And while we were there it did rain in Spain but the streets rain-washed and so- clean- you –could- eat- off- it, were the only signs that it had.
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