Final Thoughts on Spain (2021)

We had final thoughts on Spain back in 2019 when we first visited. But you just know that, after spending over two months there in 2021, we had more thoughts. So, away we go.

A wild parakeet in Seville.
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Sightseeing in Spain

Although we spent over two months in Spain, much of what we did wasn’t blog worthy. (And, as you well know, my standards for what is blog worthy don’t even come close to Elaine’s standards for what is sponge worthy . . . . .) For the most part, we just hung out. We saw friends, we ate, we walked, and we almost forgot about covid for a little while. But, we did see quite a few things that are worth a brief mention, even if they aren’t individually worth entire blog posts. So, here goes.

The Alhambra in Granada seen from the gardens.
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The Art of Madrid

Madrid is a city absolutely chock full of amazing art. Art is everywhere.

Some of the art is just plain fun. Like the 80 “Las Meninas” (Ladies in Waiting). The Meninas are apparently based on the ladies in waiting to the Infanta Margarita in a painting by Valazquez. (Nope, we didn’t go see the painting.) An artist named Antonio Azzato designed the underlying Menina sculpture and then recruited various artists, singers, chefs, designers, and the like to decorate the Meninas, asking the artists to reflect on what Madrid meant to each of them. 2001 was the fourth year that the Meninas were scattered around Madrid. I think Cows on Parade in Chicago was better (because, come on, cows), but the Meninas were pretty cool too.

Compromiso at the Plaza de Santa Ana by Anna Maria Simon.
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Day Trip from Madrid to Segovia

So, we already told you about our day trip to Toledo. Now, let us tell you about our favorite day trip from Madrid. It was to a town called Segovia.

The building of the Junta de Castillo y Leon.

Segovia is a small town (about 50K people) about an hour (by high speed train) north and a little bit west of Madrid. The train station is quite a ways from town, but there are buses that run from the train station to the heart of town and, at least when we went, there were buses waiting when the train arrived. Just make sure you check the bus schedule (posted on the road across the street from where the bus drops you off) so you know what bus you need to get back to the train station.

A statue on the Segovia Cathedral.

Segovia is known for four things.

A statue at the Segovia Alcazar.

The first is the aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The aqueduct was built in the 1st or 2nd century — it seems historians can’t quite agree on the exact date.

The Segovia Aqueduct.

While I haven’t confirmed the veracity of this, on-line sources tell me the aqueduct is made of over 24,000 granite blocks (held together without mortar), spans 818 meters (that is roughly 2700 feet for our American readers), reaches 30 meters (nearly 100 feet) in height, and has over 170 arches that weigh something like 20,000 tons. Believe it or not, it was used to provide water to the city into the 20th century.

The Segovia Aqueduct.

The second is the cathedral. The cathedral was built in the mid-16th century and, at least from the outside, is one of the more impressive cathedrals we have seen. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to go inside. It is supposedly quite nice inside.

The Segovia Cathedral.

The third is the Alcazar, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Apparently, there has been a fortress of one sort or another on the site of the Alcazar since Roman times. The current building was largely constructed during the Middle Ages, but it sounds like there has been a ton of remodeling and rebuilding over the years.

The Segovia Alcazar.

The royal court resided at the Segovia Alcazar until the 17th century. After that, the Alcazar was used as a prison for a bit. It then became the Royal Artillary School in the 18th century. Today, it is a museum. At least some people think it was one of the inspirations for Cinderella’s castle.

One of the many impressive stained glass windows at the Segovia Alcazar.

And the fourth, and by far the best, is roast suckling pig. Sweet baby pig. Known as cochinillo asado in Spain. There are a ton of rules for a real cochinillo, although the internet doesn’t completely agree on the scope of those rules. The general consensus is that the baby pigs can’t weigh more than 4-6.5 kilograms, they can’t be older than three or four weeks, they can’t eat anything other than milk, and even the mommy pig has to eat a special diet while nursing (rye, oats, cabbage, and potatoes according to one source). The pigs are brined in salt water, dried, and cooked in a special oven. The resulting product is so tender that it can be cut with a plate. If you visit Segovia, make sure to make a restaurant reservation in advance so you are sure to get a chance to taste the cochinillo asado. It isn’t cheap, but it is worth every penny.

Not the best photo, but look at that crispy skin. Yum!

We would go back to Segovia in a heartbeat.

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Final thoughts on 2021

Well, we still have a few posts on Spain, but 2022 is here, so it must be time for our final thoughts on 2021.

A bird (maybe a little blue heron?) in Barataria Preserve outside of New Orleans.
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Day Trip from Madrid to Toledo

So, due to a variety of factors (stupid covid, Spanish holidays, etc.), we ended up spending something like twelve days in Madrid during our seven or so weeks in Spain. Which is a lot of time in Madrid. A lot.

Statue of Charles V inside the Puerta de Bisraga
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Hiking El Caminito Del Rey

Have you heard of El Caminito Del Rey? Well, if you are spending anytime in or near Malaga, El Caminito Del Rey is a must do.

The view from El Caminito Del Rey.
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Day Trip from Seville to Jerez

So, last week my mom was all like “did you publish that last post by mistake?” I’m like “huh?” And she said something like, “well, you didn’t tell people you were going to Spain.” So, newsflash, after our Great American Road Trip ended and while our contractor continued to very slowly work on our house, we went to Spain for about seven weeks. (The plan was that the renovations to our house would be done when we got back but, as you can probably guess, that didn’t happen.) We started in Madrid, then went to La Herradura, Nerja, Seville, Malaga, Granada, Cordoba, and back to Madrid. After an oh so fun 20 seconds of having a swab stuck up our noses to ensure we didn’t have covid, we returned to New Orleans a few days ago. There won’t be a ton of posts about Spain (for example, there is really nothing to say about La Herradura other than please don’t go there because we don’t want it ruined by the next time we visit). But, there will be a few.

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An Off The Beaten Path Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid

One of our favorite things to do in a new city is to go on a walking tour. But, we don’t always just see the highlights. Nope, we like to see a few off-the-beaten-path things too, even if those things are actually on the beaten path and just ignored by most people. And, our trip to Madrid was no different.

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The Great American Road Trip — Final Thoughts

Now that we are done with our road trip, we have thoughts. Because, as you know, we always have thoughts. And, we rarely keep them to ourselves.

A bison in Minneopa State Park.

Our biggest concern when planning the road trip was how to travel safely in light of the covid epidemic. Well, it is definitely possible. But, it is difficult and not always fun. People in places like South Dakota and Montana and Wyoming act like covid doesn’t exist. Almost nobody wears masks. Outdoor dining was already closed for the season in many places (even though the weather was wonderful). We are so glad we booked AirBnB’s for the majority of our trip. It allowed us to cook at home and pack picnic lunches. But, we were desperate for a restaurant meal by the end of the trip.

A 50 foot tall horse sculpture in Porter Sculpture Park.

Our time in the parks really made us fear for humanity. People suck. We couldn’t believe how many people intentionally got too close to the wildlife. We’re talking just a few feet from bison. We couldn’t believe those same people just ignored rangers and tour guides who told them to back up. We couldn’t believe Yellowstone had to put up hundreds of signs reminding people not to throw anything into the hot springs and geysers. We couldn’t believe how many people refused to park properly (e.g., pulling in perpendicularly and taking up multiple spots). It was really depressing to realize how many people don’t care about anyone or anything other than themselves.

The Badlands.

We were last in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park about 11 years ago, over the Labor Day weekend. We were shocked at how much more crowded the parks were this year in mid-to-late September. The parks really need to start a reservation system to keep the crowds down. We can’t even imagine how horrible they must be in June, July and August when the kiddos are out of school.

A cute little Prairie Dog in the Badlands.

We were also shocked at how much Big Sky has changed over those 11 years. Places that were remote 11 years ago are now full of condos.

A begging burro in Custer State Park.

Coming across a traffic jam in the parks is just the worst. You know somebody somewhere is getting some sort of animal sighting. And, you know that by the time you get to the front of the line, the odds are good that the critter will be long gone.

Scenery in the Norris Geyser Basin area in Yellowstone.

We were shocked at the price and quality of the grocery stores in Big Sky. We paid $9 for a bag of dinner rolls. They weren’t even good. And, most of the meat in the grocery store was expired. It was crazy.

An elk outside Mammoth in Yellowstone.

We so don’t miss the cold. While the days were warm, a couple of mornings were freezing. We actually had to buy a frost scraper for our car in Big Sky. Not sure what we will do with that in New Orleans….

Scenery in the Biscuit Basin area of Yellowstone.

Wyoming cops were just waiting to pull over tourists. They were everywhere. And, one even followed us for a bit no doubt hoping we would do something wrong.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Google Maps can be wonderful. It can also send you on strange dirt roads in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason.

Scenery at the Black Sands Basin of Yellowstone.

They make some amazing craft seltzers out west. And, some horrible ones.

Mormon Row in Yellowstone.

We saw the biggest bald eagle sitting on a fence post in Montana. It was amazing. Sure wish we would have been able to get a photo.

Scenery at Lower Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park.

You know those memes going around about how Biden has caused gas prices to go up? Well, interesting trivia, the highest gas prices were all in red states –Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. Gas in Jackson was over $4 a gallon (when it was like $2.60 in Louisiana). Maybe it isn’t Biden’s fault after all . . . .

The Taggart Lake Trail in Grand Teton National Park.

Our middle fingers got a bit of a workout on this road trip. The number of Trump signs and anti-abortion signs is crazy.

A moose and her baby in Grand Teton National Park.

If we ever win the lottery, we are buying acres and acres of land and keeping the land wild. It is absolutely frightening to see the sprawl around Big Sky and Jackson. We can only imagine how the wildlife is being impacted. If we ever have the chance, we are going to do what we can to ensure there is space for the elk and the bears and the foxes and everything else.

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