Madrid, Spain – Anticipation & Surprises – Part 1

Little were we aware of the “surprise” awaiting us as we disembarked the bullet train from Cordoba and made our way to the streets of Madrid just outside the railroad station.

Madrid Atocha Train Station

Cars had abandoned the streets and were replaced by large groups of people briskly walking toward our hotel at the Plaza de las Cortes.

Our guide explained that the bus was not able to reach our hotel and we had a walk of several large blocks. The result was that the luggage could not be delivered until some time later (which turned out to be close to midnight). Anyone needing medications or other important supplies was asked to stay behind to retrieve a small quantity of items to carry with them. And thus the walk began!

The home team had just won a recent soccer championship. Celebration and merriment were the theme of the moment!

As we made our way through the ever more crowded streets, we passed a massive living green wall. This was perhaps the most exceptional example I had ever seen so kudos to those vertical gardeners of Madrid!

This was the scene just outside the hotel as we arrived.

We had some time before evening was upon us so we headed out to do a quick walkabout and gain some familiarity with the local sights. We continued to be impressed by the beautiful colors of the houses as well as the interesting contrasts in this urban district.

On the following day, it was an early breakfast and off to visit the The Palacio Real or Royal Palace, located at the Plaza de la Armeria.

“The structure itself is enormous and an awe-inspiring sight (both inside and out). It measures 135,00 square metres and is separated into 3,418 rooms. That’s almost double the size of England’s Buckingham Palace or France’s Versailles.**”

Once the home of the Kings of Spain, the palace today serves as the site for state ceremonies, official banquets and other government functions. Upon entering, visitors are soon rewarded with a magnificent staircase and and royal trappings of red velvet and golden accents.

“The Grand Staircase is composed of a single piece of San Agustin marble. Two lions grace the landing, one by Felipe de Castro and another by Robert Michel. The frescoes on the ceiling is by Corrado Giaquinto and depicts Religion Protected by Spain. On the ground floor is a statue of Charles III in Roman toga, with a similar statue on the first floor depicting Charles IV. The four cartouches at the corners depict the elements of water, earth, air and fire.**”


This area of the palace can be very crowded at times which makes it difficult to arrange for a good photographic composition without milling crowds.

On the ceiling above the grand staircase is a painting by the Italian artist Corrado Giaquinto which is titled Religion Protected by Spain.

Regal ornamentation was on exhibit throughout the rooms in the Royal Palace.

Tapestries and opulence on display

There were a few tell tale signs of modernity such as the painting of the family of Juan Carlos I by Antonio López.

Pictured are King Juan Carlos I, Queen Sophia and their 3 children – Elena, Cristina and the new King Felipe IV.

“The Manchegan painter Antonio López has devoted 20 years to the painting The Family of Juan Carlos I. The final version of this work, after numerous modifications, is the culmination of the exhibition The Portrait in the Royal Collections…**”


As we left the palace, we took a brief walk to one of the “balconies” accessible via the plaza to view an area that is now a park, but once served as the hunting grounds for the Spanish Royalty.

Located south of the Royal Palace (at the other end of the Plaza de la Armeria) is another architectural wonder, the Cathedral Santa Maria la Real de La Almudena. We did not have an opportunity to visit the Cathedral, but if we return to Madrid, it will be on the list of things to see.

As we were aboard the transport heading to another destination, we passed some of the beautiful gardens and parks surrounding the palace and cathedral.

There is plenty to see and admire in Madrid. A very popular tourist attraction is the Botín restaurant recognized as the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Tourists stop by to have their pictures taken in front of the wooden-paneled facade.

Read more about the history and current status of Botín

While strolling through the same neighborhood, we came across this whimsical modern art gallery.

There were numerous shops and floral displays to please the eyes and interests of passersby.

Closer to our hotel, we took another walk just about dinner time. Parking, as in most major cities, can be an issue in Madrid as this car parked along the side of the narrow street which appeared to be a walking only thoroughfare.

A visit to the Prado, Spain’s venerable art museum, was on our “things to do” the following day, but as we passed by on this day, there was a line going completely around the museum for blocks and blocks.

Out of curiosity, I stopped to ask a gentleman waiting in line what was happening and he cheerfully explained that there was free admission between 6 and 8 pm from Monday to Saturday (and other days as well) – check this web page if interested –

That was enough for this day. It was time to rest a bit and prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.


Continue reading about our trip to Portugal and Spain.


Read more Hiking and Exploration posts HERE



All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 –

Cordoba, Spain and the Olive Country

Granada had a wonderful mixed ambiance of the old and the new which is very inviting, but after two days, it was time to move on to Cordoba for a very brief single-day stop. There would be no overnight stay, just a quick day of touring.

Olive orchards on the way to Cordoba
picture snapped through our speeding bus window

On the way, we traveled through Spain’s premier olive-growing region of Andalusia and of course we made a requisite stop at one of the local olive mills. There were plenty of products for sale and we acquired several tins of the famed olive oil as well as some decorative bottle stoppers.

The grounds had interesting artifacts. Whether they were originals or not, I had no way of knowing, but they were engaging just the same. The picture below is of a large urn for storing part of the season’s olive oil bounty. The metal wheels would most likely be parts of the grinding machinery used to crush the olives.


This is a view of the beautiful plantings. Notice the urn in the distance.


After our brief stop, we boarded the bus and arrived in Cordoba. We had a brief lunch and then enjoyed a walk through the historic part of the city which is a delight for anyone who enjoys the beautiful contrast of solid colored building facades (mostly white) generously punctuated with colorful flower-filled pots and planters.



We also spent time wandering through city’s historic Jewish Quarter. Casa Pepe de la Juderia is one of the well-known restaurants in this part of town.


Markers were embedded among the paving stones to differentiate the Jewish Quarter streets.


Towering over the center of Cordoba, and visible from many streets, are the towers of the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba (Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba) which is perhaps the main draw for many tourists and adventurers. The structure is referred to as both a mosque and a cathedral because of its complex history.

he Bell tower of the Mosque of Cordoba
The Bell tower of the Mosque of Cordoba

The Torre del Alminar (Minaret Tower) has been converted to the Bell Tower with steps leading to the top for impressive views of Cordoba.

Even before entering the building, an examination of the beautiful exterior details revealed the uniqueness and the age of this Mosque. The nine entrances are referred to as gates; each with a distinct name. I believe this is the Gate of Holy Spirit Espiritu Santuto.

Gate of Holy Spirit Espiritu Santuto

Our group began the tour by gathering in the main courtyard.


The Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba – Which has a unique combination of Christian and Moorish architecture and religious cultures. The original structure had, for a time, dual occupancy with different sections being used by the Visigoth Christians and the Muslims, but was later destroyed to make way for a grand Mosque (Mezquita) constructed over a period of more than 200 years.

In the 13th century, the building was taken over by the Christians and converted into a church. **

** Source

There is a huge columnar prayer hall that is astonishingly beautiful because of the colors and the manner in which the light plays off the surrounding walls, ceilings and floors.


There are reportedly an excess of 800 columns supporting the structure.


The picture below is particularly interesting because of the golden hue, the ornate carving and the hanging lights.


The focal point in the prayer hall is the unusual horse-shoe arched prayer niche or mihrab beautifully painted with exquisite detail. Gold-backed glass was used in the construction and provides some of the striking contrast.**


** Source

Wherever one looked, there was magnificence on display. The intricate arches were stunning.


When the Christian rulers gained control of the structure, they took to the task of constructing the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption inside the mosque. This is the High Altar of the main chapel.


Not to be outdone by all of the detailed artwork of the mosque, the chapel dome is also very ornate…


As is this nearby ceiling…


There is a Museum in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption where this gold and green artifact is on display.


After our visit to the Mosque/Cathedral, we returned to the quaint streets of Cordoba with the mosque peering through the narrow skyscapes.


Cordoba is also known for its courtyards and during May, there is a courtyard festival:

Every year in May, the city of Cordoba in Andalusia celebrates its famous Courtyards Festival, a tradition which was declared a part of our Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO in 2012 and during which many of the courtyards or “patios” in the historic quarter are open to visitors for a few days. The festival is a competition to discover the most beautiful courtyards in the city, and fills the streets with colour, the scent of jasmine and orange blossom and the strains of flamenco.**

** Source

While this was not part of the festival when we were in town, it was an interesting, colorful courtyard that we were able to admire.


There was time for one last stop before we headed for the train station and I wanted to see the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano) and the Roman Arch Gate which is within easy walking distance of the Mosque.



The afternoon shadows were growing long so we made our way to the train station in Cordoba to take the two-hour (+/-) ride to Madrid.

Members of our group served to create a Norman Rockwell moment.


The bullet train was very sleek and fast! Next Stop Madrid!



Continue reading about our trip to Portugal and Spain.


Read more Hiking and Exploration posts HERE



All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved. While reference links back to are appreciated and encouraged, please acquire approval for any reproduction of original content from this website.

©Jeffrey B. Ross 2014 – 2019 –

Tokyo (2015) Day 2 – Hakone, Lake Ashi and Mt. Fuji

After our lunch stop and being a bit refreshed, we once again boarded the bus heading for the Hakone area of Kanagawa Prefecture in Honshū and Lake Ashinoko (Ashi). The lake apparently lies in a crater of a volcano that hasn’t erupted since approximately 1170 CE. More than just a boat ride on a lake, little did we know of the surprises that were in store for our band of travelers.

In preparation for our trip, some research disclosed that Japan is the number one, per capita vending machine country in the world and our experience seemed to prove this fact. We found many, many different commodities for sale via vending machines. Here is one bank of machines at the lake and there were others!

Vending Machines at Lake Ashi

We boarded the ferry and began our cruise on the lake.

Boarding the Ferry on Lake Ashi

The mountain fingers jutted into the lake and were framed by the dramatic sky.

Dramatic Mountains and Clouds on Lake Ashi

In the distance we could see a building on top of one of the peaks. We couldn’t immediately tell what it was.

A building in the distance on top of one of the peaks

As we continued in that direction, we passed a pirate ship. Who would have anticipated pirate ships like this in Japan?

Blue/Green Pirate Ship on Lake Ashi

The mountain top with the structure was looming larger as we approached and the clouds continued rolling in adding to the drama.

Mountain top structure

It now became obvious that this was a ropeway and there would be a ride to the top of the mountain in our immediate future!

View of Ropeway from a distance

The view from the top was awesome!

View of Lake Ashi from top of ropeway

Behind the mechanical housing were two more traditional-looking structures

Pagoda-like building and Tori

This was more akin to the tori we saw in the Meiji Shrine.

Decorative Tori or Gate in top of the Mountain

And of course, the pay off was the promise of a view of Mt. Fuji which was poking out from behind the mountains and clouds.

Mt. Fuji peaking from behind the mountains and clouds

From time-to-time more of the clouds would give way to a glimpse of the majestic peak through the haze.

A closer view of Mt. Fuji between the clouds

Mount Fuji proved mystical from this vantage point and these vistas left us satisfied.*

On the boat ride back to the dock. we passed a different pirate ship on lake Ashi.

Red Pirate Ship on Lake Ashi

The next stop was the anticipated ride on the bullet train. Our wonderful guide, Marie, escorted us to the platform to patiently await the arrival of our train.

Docent Marie Waiting for Bullet Train

The train was sleek

Bullet Train in the Station

and interestingly enough, while seated inside did not feel as speedy as it actually was.

Lastly, we navigated the crowded commuter trains back to our hotel and we were proud of our companions who were able to figure out the correct route with little difficulty.

Crowded Train Station Escalator

This was one of the best ever travel days. We were tired, but content!


*For JBRish readers who would like to see a picture of Lake Ashi and Mt. Fuji during a different season, the picture below from might be of interest.

Mt. Fuji with snow on top

Read more about our trip to Japan in 2015:

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Meiji Shrine

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Imperial Palace East Gardens

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Sensoji (Asakusa Kannon) Buddhist Temple

Tokyo (2015) Day 1 – Wrapping Up

Tokyo (2015) Day 2 – Off To Mount Fuji And… originally published this post