Saturday, 15 November 2008


In September, we left the chilly mountains of Australia for the sunny slopes of Spain, arriving in Madrid to our very pleasant hotel,Plaza Major, just off a corner of the beautiful old square of the same name. It's a fine old building, renovated sympathetically both inside and out.
We found old Madrid a lovely place to begin our trip. This is one of our signature "mirror shots", taken at the shiny new extension of the Reina Sofia museum where the architecture (by Jean Nouvel) outshone the art collection within: a sweeping wing of polished deep-red roof over glass walls framed in black. Square cut-outs in the roof frame small patches of blue and white sky

Outside the Prado (no pictures permitted inside), we saw this delightful warning:

From Madrid we took a bus to Granada, which I have always wanted to visit for the Alhambra and the adjoining Generalife gardens. We found a simple little hotel on a narrow street within easy walking distance of cafes and shops.
In spite of dire warnings that we would not be able to get into the Alhambra because we had not booked in advance, we arrived at 9:30 am to find no line-up at all, and were easily able to obtain tickets to the interior of the palace for 11:30, giving us a generous two hours to explore the gardens first.
They did not disappoint.
While Michael sat on a handy balustrade to sketch the vista below, I was able to wander at my leisure among the flowers and fountains.

The first thing I noticed was this curtain of morning glory, living up to its name for once, even in the shade.

All the plants were spectacular.

But some of the simple effects were among the best,like these boxwood balls on a staircase...

...and climbing roses espaliered on some of the old walls.

Even the hedges were remarkable, clipped to mimic the towers of the Alhambra beyond.

The Alhambra gardens were equally beautiful

Naturally, I had to get a shot of the giant rose climbing over the entrance to the palace. That's me underneath it, with a couple of the entrance guards in the background. It looked like one of the banksia roses, which grow so well in warm climates.

The old town of Granada also had some interesting plant features, such as these "Hershey kisses" of ivy on some of the lamp posts.

And a fine, fruiting prickly pear doing its best to obliterate a little local graffiti.

From Granada we took a bus to Malaga, mainly because from there we could get a cheap flight with Vueling all the way north to Bilbao. As we expected, Malaga was full of British tourists, and the beach had little appeal compared to Sydney's beautiful sand and surf. However, we did enjoy walking up through an attractive park to the old fort above the city.

We flew north to Bilbao, took in the Guggenheim Museum, one of those iconic buildings which tends to overshadow the art within. In this case, however, the massive sculptures by Richard Serra that occupied a hangar-sized room were equal to the challenge.

Our last night in Spain was in San Sebastian on the Atlantic coast just south of the French border. The weather was cool and rainy, but we nevertheless found it an attractive town. Our room had a minuscule balcony overlooking cafes in the street below.

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