This wednesday we will be flying home from Barcelona after what has been a long 5 weeks of travelling around and living out of the suitcase. It has been an experirience to remember, Donna and I will come back with roughly around 1500 photos from the places we have been and people we have met. The photo below pretty much sums up how I felt about our holiday coming to an end.
While walking along the long Avenue des Champs-Elysees Donna and I came accross a Toyota FT-HS Hybrid Sports Concept Car on display. I’m not much of a car enthusiast but damn this car looked sexy. Here are a few photos:
Pairing a potent hybrid powertrain with essential sports-car fundamentals, the
FT-HS is a mid-priced sports car that integrates ecology and emotion in a concept that addresses the question, “What is a suitable sports car for the 21st century?”
Boasting a powerful V6 3.5L engine, the FT-HS is coupled with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive® to produce a target power output of approximately 400 horsepower and a projected zero-to-60 acceleration in the four-second range. At a mid-priced market position, the FT-HS would be a true “attainable exotic” with 21st-century performance.
A sculpted front and rear remove mass around key functional components, while the roof has a distinctive scooped-out section designed to reduce aerodynamic drag and provide head room at the key areas.
The FT-HS’s interior features create a dedicated driver’s cockpit that includes a cross-car instrument panel structure and delta-wing driver pod. An integrated instrument panel surrounds the driver, creating an enclosed pod effect. Armrests flow seamlessly into the door and surrounding interior. Seating is optimized for a lightweight appearance and function: The seating accommodates four and then converts to a two-seater when the roof retracts.
As we get closer to the wedding, there are butterflies currently present in my stomache. Yesterday we walked to the church where the wedding is to be held and I must say I’m both excited and privileged to be a part of something that is unique. So far all preparations are in order and most of the guests have arrived in the hotel where we have been staying for the last 5 days.
Before I go further with the wedding, I just wanted to write how wonderful this place is and I’ll be looking for other excuses to return here for a European summer holiday. Everything is reasonably priced and you can grab a cold beer for approximately $1.50AUD – how good is that!!! A few nights ago seven of us went out in to town where most tourists hang out and sat in a bar where we had about 50 drinks, a mixture of cocktails and shooters. The value is phenomenal, in Sydney this would have been a very expensive night but here it cost us about $130AUD between seven people that is fantastic. The food is also cheap, you can get a cab to the orhid city centre for 250 MKD which is about 6 bucks.
Last night we had our final drinks for Adam, we stayed out until about 5 am and spend about 12000MKD which is bugger all, it was the first time in many months that I can recall being that drunk. There was a big group of us and we danced the night away by ourselves because apparently Macedonians dont dance much. Adam has had his last drinks as a single man and I think he made the most of it.
The wedding tomorrow will be a long one, it will start early in the morning and last long into the night. We are looking forward to and I’m in the process of practicing my best man’s speech. We have taken hundreds of photos between us and I will enjoy looking back on these photos for many years to come. It’s hard to imagine that we are only seven days into our holiday and we have about 4 weeks to go, if every day is going to be like the days that I have had here in Orhid then I may not want to go back to work!
So we’ve finally made it to Ohrid and we have realised that this may be the first time most of us have stepped into a country where hardly anyone would understand us! Ron seems to be enjoying the novelty of being an asian in a country where there barely are any, Heidi keeps getting mistakened as someone who can speak German, French, Maco etc and I’ve just noticed that the keyboard has been changed to suit the Macedonian language – qwerty is qwertz and there are strange letters everywhere! (touch typing just became a great skill to have!).
Our first day was met by a 36 degree weather and a hotel with very limited ventilation. After 18 hours of travel and being fed every hour on the plane, I tihink it is fair to say that you can only push your body so far before it starts to shut down on you without your permission! Daniela came to breakfast this morning with a crazy story about her microsleeps whilst she was trying to unpack last night and for me, I don’t think I have ever experienced being so tired that as soon as my back hit the bed, I was in la la land.
It is now our second day in Macedonia. After a rejuvinating night’s sleep everyone is looking and feeling alot better. Weather has dropped to a cool 24-26 degrees (although it is only 10am) and the hotel’s air conditioning seems to be working a little better. We’re going to go hunting for the massage and spa facility then head out to drink the night away at the bar by the beach. We are definitely in holiday mode now!
After leaving Singapore at around midnight on Sunday we were on the Singapore Airlines flight for 12 hours and 45 minutes to Zurich where we then had to catch a connecting flight to Vienna and then from Vienna to Skopje Macedonia. I got off the plane feeling about worse for wear and wondering what the hell the time was or what day it was. I could'nt really sleep on the flight even though we were on the Singapore Airlines new addition to their Boeing fleet which is the Boeing 777-300ER. It was a 3-3-3 configuration which meant that there was more leg room and the inflight entertainment system was top notch. A great selection on movies, games and other stuff for kids. I tried to watch as many movies and then try to fall asleep but it felt like I was only taking 15 minute naps so by the time I got Zurich I was exhausted and I started to miss my bed at home.
When we finally got to Vienna we bumped into Heidi and Drew who arrived a little earlier from their flight, they took a different flight from ours. I think they went from Singapore to London then London to Vienna where we were to board the same plane to Skopje. The flights were nothing compared to what was waiting for us when we got to Skopje.
We arrived in Skopje after 3 PM local time and it was stinking hot! Temperatures were in the low 40's and we had the pleasure of walking along the tarmac and into the terminal which was the size of a bus station. It was all part of the experience! Anyways did I mention the cat which was on the plane? That stupid cat that lady had with her meowed the entire flight and it was enough to drive anyone mad, lucky for me I was sitting about 10 rows back and not right next to her.
I think we may have under estimated the transport situation because when we got out of the Airport we had no idea of where to go and arrange a cab, bus or whatever that will take us to Ohrid. I soon found out that it was approximately 200 kilometres away and it was going to cost us around 200 euros for two cabs to take us there. I remembered that there was in Ohrid and I seriously considered mentioning something along the lines of "chartered flight" but it wasnt meant to be. So we all packed in our suitcases in these two cabs and off we went in an authentic European car with no working AIR CONDITIONING! I'm sure I lost a couple of kilos on that ride to Ohrid. But in the end we got to our destination which was a hell of a lot better that what Adam made it out to be, things where starting to look up.
Map of our 3 hour journey to Ohrid
After what seemed like a whirlwind tour of Singapore we have just arrived in Zurich about an hour ago. Feeling a bit jet lagged we still have two flights ahead of us, and then a two hour car ride to Orhid.
I only have a four minutes of internet time left so I will make this quick. We just wanted to let everyone know that we are ok and we are having heaps of fun even though we are only 3 days into our holiday.
Singapore was fantastic, it was humid but the people were nice and friendly, we took photos as much as we can and I had the most expensive double espresso, costing me thirteen dollars. Heidi and Drew joined us in singapore and should be in London as I type this.
Bye for now, I will check back shortly – here are few pics from the Airport. boring really!
I have only a few words that would sum up this place and they are:
- oh and did I mention humid?
We arrived in Singapore 5:50 PM local time and waited a few minutes for our transfers to arrive that will take us to our hotel. We're only staying overnight here but our flight for Zurich doesnt leave until midnight tomorrow night so I think we have enough time to see what we have to see. The flight from Sydney to Singapore wasnt too painful although I did experience some stiffness on my legs and had to get a few times and walk around in the aisles. Overall Singapore airlines is what I had expected given the numerous amounts of feedback I have read on the net. The stewards on the plane were always friendly, polite and most importantly served Adam and I, Jim Beam Black as well a cocktail called a Singapore Sling. I'm pretty sure I have heard of this cocktail before but I've never tried it until I boarded this flight. Anyways it's a very nice cocktail indeed, it leans towards the sweet side, more of a womans drink I think. I've listed the ingredients below in case any of you would like to try it at home. But first heres a little background info on this Singapore Sling
The Singapore Sling is both a cocktail that was invented by Ngiam Tong Boon (嚴崇文) for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore sometime between 1910 and 1915 and a movie directed and written by Nikos Nikolaidis. The recipes published in articles about the Raffles Hotel prior to the 1970s are significantly different from the current recipes. There were also different "Singapore Slings"–those drunk in Singapore at large, and the recipe used at the Raffles Hotel. While the recipes around the city varied significantly, the cocktail at the Raffles remained the same. The original recipe used gin, cherry brandy, and Benedictine (most often in equal parts).(1) The drink was shaken and strained into a glass, and then filled to individual taste with club soda. The recipe used by the hotel was the result of recreating the original recipe based on the memories of former bartenders and written notes that they were able to discover.
The current Raffles Hotel recipe is a much modified version of the original, most likely changed sometime in the 1970s by the Ngiam Tong Boon's nephew.
1 1/2 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering brandy
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce Benedictine
4 ounces pineapple juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/3 ounce grenadine
I’m sitting in front of the free internet access kiosk at Sydney airport waiting to board Singapore Airline flight 232.
After six months of waiting and planning, we are finally here.
Adam and Daniela are at Duty Free deciding which matching watch to buy. 🙂
Anyways I thought I’d just quickly log on and provide a brief update on what we are up to.
We dont have any photos at this stage except for that one above.
but we’re sure to take plenty when we land in Singapore.
Bye for now!
While we were getting of the Singapore flight Adam and I had a brief chat to the flight steward and we mentioned that we were staying at York Hotel, he said that it was a nice hotel and that we were going to like it. York Hotel is located pretty much in the heart of the city. It is about a ten minute walk to Orchard Road maybe less, Orchard Road is Singapore's main shopping and entertainment belt. Expensive shops like Gucci, Chanel and Fendi are on this road which is open until late at night.
York hotel has a four star rating but looking at the high rise building at first glance it looks like that there are no windows which I thought was quite odd. That didn't matter to us much since we were given rooms in the Cabana which is next to the pool on the bottom floor. To get to these rooms we had to go through the basement level and then walk outside. These cabana's are quite expensive which I was very surprised to find out, one night stay can is between $480-$630 Singapore dollars or $400-$520 Aussie dollars a night. In comparison you could probably get a room at the Park-Hyatt Sydney for $650 a night and there you will hopefully get a softer bed. I'm probably comparing apples and oranges but damn those beds are hard.
The staff though were friendly enough and looked after us well. We were only there for short period but if I had to come back and stay there again I will probably ask if they have a softer mattresses available. One of the best things about this hotel is that it was close to the main shopping strip especially if you're a woman with very expensive taste.
• Coffee/Tea making facilities
• IDD telephone
• Doctor-on-call 24 hours a day
• Wireless Broadband Internet Access
• Bedside control panel for TV, radio, lights etc.
• 24-hour in-house movies
• CNN – News Channel
• NHK – Japanese Channel
• 24-hour room service
• Non-smoking rooms are available upon request
• Rooms with dual phone lines are available upon request
• Business centre with broadband Internet access
• Tour Desk
• Laundry & dry cleaning services
• In-Room Safe/Safe Deposit Boxes at Reception
• Vingcard electronic card-key lock system for added security
OTHER FACILITIES WITHIN THE HOTEL
• Fitness Centre
• Shopping Arcade
• One adult pool; a children's pool
and an outdoor Jacuzzi
• Hair Salon
• Coffee House
• Coffee Bar
• Bar with entertainment
Due to last minute changes to our itinerary, Donna and I are no longer joining Adam & Daniela at Amsterdam as well as Hawaii. Our journey together ends in Paris where Donna and I will be staying an extra two nights and then flying down to Spain for 5 days. Spain was an original choice for me, especially Barcelona. There is something about this destination that drew me to wanting to travel there and as fate would have it 7 days before our departure, things changed. So here’s a detailed look at Spain.
At a Glance
Once away from the holiday costas, you could only be in Spain. In the cities, narrow twisting old streets suddenly open out to views of daring modern architecture, while spit-and-sawdust bars serving wine from the barrel rub shoulders with blaring, glaring discos.
Travel is easy, accommodation plentiful, the climate benign, the people relaxed, the beaches long and sandy, the food and drink easy to come by and full of regional variety. More than 50 million foreigners a year visit Spain, yet you can also travel for days and hear nothing but Spanish.
When To Go
Spain can be enjoyable any time of year. The ideal months to visit are May, June and September (plus April and October in the south). At these times you can rely on good-to-excellent weather, yet avoid the extreme heat – and the main crush of Spanish and foreign tourists – of July and August. But there’s decent weather in some parts of Spain virtually year round. Winter along the southern and southeastern Mediterranean coasts is mild, while in the height of summer you can retreat to the northwest, to beaches or high mountains anywhere to escape excessive heat. The best festivals are mostly concentrated between Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) and September to October.
505,000 sq km
194,981 sq miles
Daylight Saving Start
last Sunday in March
Daylight Saving End
last Sunday in September
Also known as Castellano.
Also known as Galician and Gallego.
85% Roman Catholic; 2% Jewish; 2% Muslim
220V 50 HzHz
Electric Plug Details
European plug with two circular metal pins
Country Dialing Code
Spaniards have three names: a given name (nombre), and two surnames (apellidos). The first surname is the persons’ father’s first surname, the second is the mother’s first surname. So Picasso’s full name was Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
GMT/UTC +1 ()
Start: last Sunday in March
End: last Sunday in September
Weights Measures System
Spain and Portugal share the Iberian Peninsula, a vaguely square-shaped realm at the far southwestern edge of Europe. Spain occupies some 80% of this peninsula and spreads over nearly 505,000 sq km (194,982 sq mi), making it the biggest country in Western Europe after France. More than half of the country is made up of vast, elevated tablelands – the mesetas – and five major mountain ranges stretch across the country. In fact, with an average altitude of 650m (2133ft), it’s the highest European country after Switzerland. Landscapes range from the deserts of Andalucía to the green wetlands of Galicia, and from the sunbaked plains of Castilla-La Mancha to the rugged snowcapped Picos de Europa and Pyrenees.
Spain’s coast is as varied as its interior. The long Mediterranean coast alternates between rocky coves and inlets and flatter, straighter stretches with some long beaches. The Atlantic coast has colder seas and whiter, sandier beaches. The Costa de la Luz, from the Strait of Gibraltar and the Portuguese border, has many long sandy beaches backed by dunes. In the northwest, Galicia is deeply indented by long estuaries called rías, with plenty of sandy beaches. It also has Spain’s most awesome cliffs, at Cabo Ortegal and the Serra da Capelada. Along the Bay of Biscay, the Cordillera Cantábrica comes almost down to the coast, and the beaches are mostly coves and small bays, though still sandy.
Spain is one of 25 member countries of the Schengen Convention (10 new members admitted on 1 May 2004), an agreement whereby all EU (European Union) member countries (except the UK and Ireland) plus Iceland and Norway abolished checks at internal borders in 2000. The other EU countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.
EU, Norwegian and Icelandic nationals need no visa, regardless of the length or purpose of their visit to Spain. However, if they stay beyond 90 days they are required to register with the police.
Legal residents of one Schengen country (regardless of their nationality) do not require a visa for another Schengen country.
Nationals of many other countries, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the USA, do not need a visa for tourist visits of up to 90 days in Spain, although some of these nationalities (including Australians and Canadians) may be subject to restrictions in other Schengen countries and should check with consulates of all Schengen countries they plan to visit. Nationals of those countries wishing to work or study in Spain may need a specific visa, so should contact a Spanish consulate before travel.
The standard tourist visa issued by Spanish consulates is the Schengen visa, valid for up to 90 days. A Schengen visa issued by one Schengen country is generally valid for travel in all other Schengen countries.
Schengen visas cannot be extended. Nationals of EU countries, Norway and Iceland can enter and leave Spain at will. Those wanting to stay in Spain longer than 90 days are supposed to apply during their first month for a tarjeta de residencia (residence card). People of other nationalities who want to stay in Spain longer than 90 days are also supposed to get a residence card, and for them it’s a drawn-out process, starting with a residence visa issued by a Spanish consulate in your country of residence. Start the process well in advance. Non-EU spouses of EU citizens resident in Spain can apply for residency too. The process is lengthy and those needing to travel in and out of the country in the meantime who would normally require a visa could ask for an exención de visado – a visa exemption. In most cases, the spouse is obliged to make the formal application in their country of residence.
Those needing a visa must apply in person at the consulate in the country where they are resident. You may be required to provide proof of sufficient funds, an itinerary or hotel bookings, return tickets and a letter of recommendation from a host in Spain. Issue of the visa does not guarantee entry.
You can apply for no more than two visas in any 12-month period and they are not renewable once in Spain. Visas are free for spouses and children of EU nationals. Various transit visas also exist.
People entering Spain from outside the EU are allowed to bring in (duty-free) one bottle of spirits, one bottle of wine, 50mL of perfume and 200 cigarettes.
Duty-free allowances for travel between EU countries were abolished in 1999. For duty-paid items bought at normal shops in one EU country and taken into another, the allowances are 90L of wine, 10L of spirits, unlimited quantities of perfume and 800 cigarettes.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – President (head of government)
Juan Carlos I – King (head of state)
Dangers & Annoyances
Spain is generally a pretty safe country. The main thing to be wary of is petty theft (which may of course not seem so petty to you if your passport, cash, travellers cheques, credit card and camera all go missing). Most visitors to Spain never feel remotely threatened, but a sufficient number have unpleasant experiences to warrant an alert. Barcelona, Madrid and Seville have the worst reputations for theft and muggings.
The meseta and Ebro basin have a continental climate: scorching in summer, cold in winter and dry. Madrid regularly freezes in December, January and February and temperatures climb above 30°C (86F) in July and August (locals describe it as: nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno – nine months of winter and three of hell). Valladolid on the northern meseta and Zaragoza in the Ebro basin are even drier, with only a little more rainfall per year than Alice Springs in Australia. The Guadalquivir basin in Andalucía is only a little wetter and positively broils in high summer. This area doesn’t get as cold as the meseta in winter.
The Pyrenees and the Cordillera Cantábrica backing the Bay of Biscay coast bear the brunt of cold northern and northwestern airstreams, which bring moderate temperatures and heavy rainfall (three or four times as much as Madrid’s) to the northern and northwestern coasts, including cities like A Coruña. Even in high summer you never know when you might get a shower. The Mediterranean coast as a whole, and the Balearic Islands, get a little more rain than Madrid and the south can be even hotter in summer. Barcelona’s weather is typical of the coast, milder than in inland cities, but more humid.
In general you can rely on pleasant or hot temperatures just about everywhere from April to early November (plus March in the south, but minus a month at either end on the northern and northwestern coasts). In Andalucía there are plenty of warm, sunny days right through winter. In July and August, temperatures can get unpleasant, even unbearable, anywhere inland (unless you’re high enough in the mountains). Snowfalls in the mountains start as early as October and some snow cover lasts all year on the highest peaks.
The Story of Spain
Mark Williams (history/politics)
For a readable and thorough – but not over-long – account of Spanish history, this text is hard to beat.
The New Spaniards
John Hooper (culture)
This is an engrossing account of Spanish society and culture.
Homage to Barcelona
Colm Tóibín (culture)
A fascinating study of Spanish culture, Barcelona-style.
Don Quijote de la Mancha
Miguel de Cervantes (fiction)
This 17th-century tale about an errant knight’s adventures along the blurry line between fantasy and reality is considered to be the first novel.
Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell (history/politics)
Orwell’s recounting of his first-hand experience fighting the fascists during the Spanish Civil War makes for riveting, revealing reading.
Castilians, Basques, Catalans, Galicians, Moroccans, South Americans
85% Roman Catholic; 2% Jewish; 2% Muslim
The Spanish invented the novel and the guitar, gave the world flamenco, Picasso and gazpacho and dreamed up some of the world’s most fabulously out-there architecture. Their influence on 20th-century art and design has been inestimable, and if all that’s not enough, they’re relentlessly well dressed, insouciant and have a contagious knack for enjoying life.
Pre 20th Century History
At the crossroads between Europe and Africa, the Iberian Peninsula has always been a target for invading races and civilisations. The Romans arrived in the 3rd century BC but took two centuries to subdue the peninsula. Gradually Roman laws, languages and customs were adopted. In 409 AD, Roman Hispania was invaded by a massive contingent of Germanic tribes and by 419 a Visigothic kingdom had been established. The Visigoths ruled until 711, when the Muslims crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated Roderick, the last Goth king.
By 714, the Muslim armies had occupied the entire peninsula, apart from the mountainous regions of northern Spain. The Muslim occupation of southern Spain (which the Spanish called Al-Andalus) was to last almost 800 years. During this period, the arts and sciences prospered, new crops and agricultural techniques were introduced and palaces, mosques, schools, gardens and public baths were built. In 722, at Covadonga in northern Spain, a small army under the Visigothic king Pelayo inflicted the first defeat on the Muslims. Symbolically, this battle marked the beginning of the Reconquista, the reconquest of Spain by the Christians.
By the end of the 13th century, Castilla and Aragón had emerged as Christian Spain’s two main powers, and in 1469 these two kingdoms were united by the marriage of Isabel, princess of Castilla, to Fernando, heir to the throne of Aragón. Known as the Catholic Monarchs, they united all of Spain and laid the foundations for the golden age. In 1478, they established the notoriously ruthless Spanish Inquisition, expelling and executing thousands of Jews and other non-Christians. In 1482, they besieged Granada, and 10 years later the last Muslim king surrendered to them, marking the long-awaited end of the Reconquista.
Spain developed an enormous empire in the New World, following Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. Gold and silver came flooding into Spanish coffers from Mexico and Peru as the conquistadors claimed land from Cuba to Bolivia. Spain monopolised trade with these new colonies and became one of the most powerful nations on earth. However, this protectionism hindered development of the colonies and led to a series of expensive wars with England, France and the Netherlands.
When Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793, Spain declared war on the new French republic, but was defeated. In 1808, Napoleon’s troops entered Spain and the Spanish Crown began to lose its hold on its colonies. Sparked by an uprising in Madrid, the Spanish people united against the French and fought a five-year war of independence. In 1813, the French forces were finally expelled, and in 1814 Fernando VII was restored to the Spanish throne. Fernando’s subsequent 20-year reign was a disastrous advertisement for the monarchy. During his time, the Inquisition was re-established, liberals and constitutionalists were persecuted, free speech was repressed, Spain entered a severe economic recession and the American colonies won their independence.
The calamitous Spanish-American War of 1898 marked the end of the Spanish Empire. Spain was defeated by the USA in a series of one-sided naval battles, resulting in the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines – all of Spain’s last overseas possessions, in fact. Spain’s troubles continued during the early 20th century. In 1923, with the country on the brink of civil war, Miguel Primo de Rivera declared himself military dictator and ruled until 1930. In 1931, Alfonso XIII fled the country, and the Second Republic was declared, but it soon fell victim to internal conflict. The 1936 elections saw the country split in two, with the Republican government and its supporters (an uneasy alliance of communists, socialists and anarchists, who favoured a more equitable civil society and a diminished role for the Church) on one side and the opposition Nationalists (a right-wing alliance of the army, the Church, the monarchy and the fascist-style Falange Party) on the other.
The assassination of the opposition leader José Calvo Sotelo by Republican police officers in July 1936 gave the army an excuse to overthrow the government. During the subsequent Civil War (1936-39), the Nationalists received extensive military and financial support from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, while the elected Republican government received support only from Russia and, to a lesser degree, from the International Brigades, made up of foreign idealists. Despite the threat of fascism, England and France refused to support the Republicans.
By 1939, the Nationalists, led by Franco, had won the war. More than 350,000 Spaniards had died in the fighting, but more bloodletting ensued. An estimated 100,000 Republicans were executed or died in prison after the war. Franco’s 35-year dictatorship saw Spain isolated by economic blockades, excluded from NATO and the UN and crippled by economic recession. It wasn’t until the early 1950s, when the rise in tourism and a treaty with the USA combined to provide much-needed funds, that the country began to recover. By the 1970s, Spain had the fastest growing economy in Europe.
Franco died in 1975, having earlier named Juan Carlos, the grandson of Alfonso XIII, his successor. With Juan Carlos on the throne, Spain made the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The first elections were held in 1977, a new constitution was drafted in 1978, and a failed military coup in 1981 was seen as a futile attempt to turn back the clock. In 1982 Spain made a final break with the past by voting in a socialist government with a sizeable majority. The only major blemish on the domestic front since was the terrorist campaign waged by separatist militant group ETA in its bid for an independent Basque homeland. During 30 years of terrorist activity, ETA killed over 800 people.
In 1986 Spain joined the EC (now the EU) and in 1992 Spain returned to the world stage, with Barcelona hosting the Olympic Games, Seville hosting Expo 92 and Madrid being declared European Cultural Capital. In 1996 Spaniards voted in a conservative party under the leadership of the uncharismatic José María Aznar.
Accused of playing politics following a terrorist attack in Madrid in March 2004 in which 192 people were killed, and held accountable for the unpopular deployment of troops in the overthrow of the Hussein regime in Iraq, Aznar was defeated in the polls in 2004, returning the socialists to power.
The Socialist government has undertaken a raft of social reforms, legalising gay marriage, granting residency papers to almost a million illegal immigrants and seeking to break the stranglehold of the Catholic Church as the arbiter of Spain’s morals. The government’s popularity dipped only over the fraught issue of greater autonomy for Spain’s regions, especially Catalonia. In March 2006, ETA announced an indefinite ceasefire, raising hopes that a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Basque Country may be within sight.
Long a meeting point (and battleground) for myriad civilisations, the country brims over with remnants of a glorious, chaotic past. Fascinating pre-historical, Classical, Moorish and Christian sites rub shoulders with the marvellous legacies of 20th-century artists.
views ; castle
Rapunzel towers, turrets topped with slate witches’ hats and a deeeeep moat at its base make Alcázar a prototype fairytale castle, so much so that its design inspired Walt Disney’s vision of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Fortified since Roman days, the site takes its name from the Arabic al-qasr (castle) and was rebuilt and expanded in the 13th & 14th centuries.
What you see today is an evocative over-the-top reconstruction of the original which burnt down in 1862.
Highlights include the Sala de las Piñas, the ceiling of which drips with a crop of 392 pineapple-shaped ‘stalactites’, and the Sala de Reyes (Kings’ Room), featuring a three-dimensional frieze of 52 sculptures of kings who fought during the Reconquista. The views from the Torre de Juan II are exceptional, and put the old town’s hill-top location into full context.
Hours: Mar-Aug 10:00am-9:00pm; Sep-Feb 10:00am-8:00pm
must-see ; castle
Cuesta de Gomérez
From outside, Alhambra’s red fortress towers and imposing walls rise from woods of cypress and elm, with the Sierra Nevada forming a magnificent backdrop. Inside the marvellously decorated emirs’ palace, the Nasrid Palace and the Generalife gardens, you’re in for a treat. Water is an art form here and its sounds take you into another world. Book in advance.
The spell can be shattered by the average 6000 visitors who traipse through the site each day, so try to visit first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, or treat yourself to a magical night visit to the Palacio Nazaríes.
The Alhambra has two outstanding sets of buildings, the Palacio Nazaríes and the Alcazaba (Citadel). Also within its walls are the Palacio de Carlos V, the Iglesia de Santa María de la Alhambra, two hotels, several book and souvenir shops and lovely gardens, including the supreme Generalife.
Hours: Mar-Oct 8:30am-8:00pm; Nov-Feb 8:30am-6:00pm
Castillo de Santa Bárbara
Spanish Castle Magic
art-related ; views
From this 16th-century castle there are sweeping views over the city. Inside is the Collección Capa, a permanent display of contemporary Spanish sculpture. A lift, reached by a footbridge opposite Playa del Postiguet, rises through the bowels of the mountain. It’s a pleasant walk down through Parque de la Ereta via Calle San Rafael to Plaza del Carmen.
Hours: Apr-Oct: 10:00am-7:30pm; Nov-Mar: 9:00am-6:30pm
religious/spiritual ; architectural highlight
Calle Cardenal Herrero
The Córdoba mosque is one of the great creations of Islamic architecture with its shimmering golden mosaics and rows and rows of red-and-white-striped arches disappearing into infinity. Even the large numbers of tourists passing through the place today cannot destroy the mesmerising effect of the Mezquita’s ever-changing perspectives and plays of light.
Architecturally revolutionary, the Mezquita recalls in a unique way the yards of desert homes that formed the original Islamic prayer spaces – in this case with a roof over the worshippers’ heads, supported by a forest of columns and arches suggestive of an oasis palm grove.
What we see today is the Mezquita’s final Islamic form with two big changes: a 16th-century cathedral plonked right in the middle (which explains the often-used description ‘Mezquita-Catedral’); and the closing of the 19 doors which communicated the Mezquita with the outside world and filled it with light. Also missing, of course, are the rows and rows of kneeling men, praying in unison, who would have filled the Mezquita.
Hours: Sun 9:00am-10:45am, 1:30pm-6:30pm; Apr-Oct: Mon-Sat 10:00am-7:00pm; Nov-Mar: Mon-Sat 10:00am-6:00pm
La Sagrada Família
must-see ; museum
Carrer de Mallorca 401
If you only have time for one sightseeing outing, this should be it. Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family) inspires awe with its sheer verticality and, in the true manner of the great medieval cathedrals it emulates, it’s still not finished after more than 100 years.
The church was the project to which Antoni Gaudí dedicated the latter part of his life. He stuck to a basic Gothic cross-shaped ground plan, but devised a temple 95m (312ft) long and 60m (197ft) wide able to seat 13,000 people. The completed sections and the museum can be explored at leisure.
Open the same times as the church, the Museu Gaudí, below ground level, includes interesting material on Gaudí’s life and other work, as well as models and photos of La Sagrada Família. You can see a good example of his plumb-line models, which showed him the stresses and strains he could get away with in construction. Gaudí is buried in the simple crypt at the far end.
Hours: Apr-Sep 9:00am-8:00pm; Oct-Mar 9:00am-6:00pm
Museo del Prado
art-related ; art gallery
Paseo del Prado 28014
Converted in 1819 from a natural history museum to a repository of Spanish art held in royal collections, the Museo del Prado hosts over 7000 works. The strongest collections are the 17th- and 18th-century Spanish paintings on the 1st floor, featuring the likes of Velázquez, Goya and da Ribera.
The building in which it is housed is itself a masterpiece. Completed in 1785, the neo-Classical Palacio de Villanueva served as a cavalry barracks for Napoleon’s troops during their occupation of Madrid between 1808 and 1813. In 1814, King Fernando VII decided to use the palace as a museum for the royal collections and five years later the Museo del Prado opened with 311 Spanish paintings on display.
Hours: Tue-Sun 9:00am-8:00pm
Email: [email protected]
Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici
Highs & Lows
Two million years of glacial action has created two east-west valleys lined by jagged peaks of granite and slate, forming a home for pine and fir forests, open bush and grassland. Bedecked with wildflowers in spring and with some 200 small estanys (lakes), streams and waterfalls, this is a wilderness of rare splendour.
The two main valleys are those of the Riu Escrita in the east and the Riu de Sant Nicolau in the west. The Escrita flows out of the park’s largest lake, Estany de Sant Maurici. The Sant Nicolau’s main source is Estany Llong, 4km (2.5mi) west of Estany de Sant Maurici across the 2423m (7949ft) Portarró d’Espot pass. Three kilometres (1.8mi) downstream from Estany Llong, the Sant Nicolau runs through a particularly beautiful stretch known as Aigüestortes (Twisted Waters).
Apart from the valley openings at the eastern and western ends, virtually the whole perimeter of the park is mountain crests, with numerous spurs of almost equal height reaching in towards the centre. One of these, from the south, ends in the twin peaks Els Encantats (2746m and 2733m, 9009ft and 8966ft), towering over Estany de Sant Maurici.
must-see ; monument
Toledo is known as La Ciudad Imperial (the Imperial City) for a reason; this is Iberia’s Rome with a cultural slug of mosques, synagogues, churches and museums. Toledo’s labyrinthine narrow streets, plazas and inner patios are reminiscent of the medinas of Damascus and Cairo. Stay until dusk, if you can, when the streets take on a moody, other-worldly air.
The dominant Alcázar has been the scene of military battles from the Middle Ages right through to the 20th century. Other attractions include the city’s two synagogues, the Iglesia de Santo Tomé (which contains El Greco’s greatest masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz) and the Museo de Santa Cruz. Archaeologists working on Toledo’s Carranque recently uncovered a 4th-century Roman basilica, Spain’s oldest.
In 1986 Unesco declared the city a monument of world interest. In spite of this, people are abandoning the old city for the characterless but comfortable modern suburbs sprawled out beneath it, leaving behind public servants, tourists, the rent-protected elderly and a medieval city in urgent need of attention.
In true Spanish style, cultural events are almost inevitably celebrated with a wild party and a holiday. Among the festivals to look out for are La Tamborrada (Festividad de San Sebastián) in San Sebastián on 19 January, a short but rowdy event where the whole town dresses up and goes berserk. Carnaval takes place throughout the country in late February; the wildest are said to be in Sitges and Cádiz. In March, Valencia has a week-long party known as Las Fallas, which is marked by all-night dancing, drinking, first-class fireworks and colourful processions. Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week leading up to Easter Sunday, and is marked by parades of holy images through the streets; Seville is the place to be if you can get accommodation. In late April, Seville’s Feria de Abril is a week-long party counterbalancing the religious fervour of Semana Santa.
The last Wednesday in August sees the Valencian town of Buñol go bonkers with La Tomatina, in which the surplus from its tomato harvest is sploshed around in a friendly riot. The Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín) in Pamplona in July is perhaps Spain’s most famous festival. Along the north coast, staggered through the first half of August, is Semana Grande, another week of heavy drinking and hangovers.
Spain is dotted with international airports, and connections with the rest of Europe are good. If you’re coming from the UK or from Morocco, you could consider a ferry. Otherwise, bus is the cheapest option, unless you’re a whipper-snapper with an under-26 rail pass.
Getting around within Spain is best done by bus; the bus network gives you better coverage and more mile for your dollar than the rail system. If you’re swanning off to the Balearics, you can go the whole luxury hog and get a flight, or pleb it on a ferry.
Plastic will save you the most hassles. ATMs are abundant and accessible if you need cash, but so are the places that take major credit cards. Two or more cards is handy and a few travellers cheques as a backup are also not a bad idea.
Changing Your Money
Travellers cheques can be cashed at banks and exchange offices, and usually attract a slightly higher exchange rate than cash. These days, even small towns have a cajero automático (ATM) where you can withdraw euros from credit and debit accounts at what is usually the best rate for non-euro zone visitors.
In restaurants the law requires menu prices to include service charge, and tipping is a matter of personal choice – most people leave some small change if they’re satisfied and 5% is usually plenty. It’s common to leave small change at bar and café tables.
Spain is one of Europe’s more affordable countries. If you are particularly frugal it’s just about possible to scrape by for around ���20.00 a day. This would involve staying in the cheapest possible accommodation, avoiding eating in restaurants or going to museums or bars, and not moving around too much. A more comfortable budget would be ���40.00 a day, allowing for a basic hotel room, set meals, public transport and entry to museums. With ���120.00 a day you can stay in excellent accommodation, rent a car and eat some of the best food Spain has to offer.
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted at hotels and restaurants, especially from the mid-range up, and also for long-distance train tickets.
Be careful carrying your money, whether it’s jingling or plastic, as tourists are a major target of theft – hundreds of thousands of credit cards go missing in Spain every year.
Euro notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. It is often difficult to get change for a ���500.00 note.
One euro is divided into 100 cents or centimes. Coins of 1, 2 and 5 centimes are copper-coloured; coins of 10, 20 and 50 centimes are gold-coloured; 1 and 2 euro coins are gold-and-silver coloured. It’s a good idea to keep a supply of various coins for parking meters, laundrettes, tolls etc.
WorldGuide Index Prices
|litre of petrol||€0.85|
|litre of bottled water||€0.35|
|litre of milk||€0.70|
|small glass or Caña of Mahou beer||€1.00|
|city metro ride||€1.15|
|street snack (tapa)||€2.00|
|dance club admission||€15.00|
|seat at Real Madrid/FC Barcelona match||€40.00|
Average Room Prices
Average Meal Prices
Textiles & apparel, food & beverages, metals, chemicals, shipbuilding, tourism
EU (especially France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, UK, Benelux), US
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