Eurfirst Trip to Spain
Revised January 6, 2006
At a lower latitude than most other European nations, most tourists come to enjoy the country's warm temperatures, gorgeous beaches and unique architecture of Spain but it will be the unique culture of Spain that you will remember the most. For centuries, the country bridged Islamic and Christian cultures and had a large Jewish population. This past lives in ancient cities of Spain as those cultures blend in the building, food and music of the country. Spain is a country to be savored slowly, so give yourself enough time to acclimate.
Madrid and Environs
You are most likely to land in Madrid if you fly from the US, Canada or Mexico, though international flights are available to Barcelona and Malaga. Which location you choose should be based on what sights you would like to visit during your stay.
You could easily fill a few weeks just visiting the historical attractions in Madrid. As the capital, it is home to the royal family, the country's greatest museums and the opulent churches where both leaders and followers worshipped. The highlights of a tour of Madrid typically include the Prado Museum which houses one of the great art collections of the world, with special attention to the native born artists.
Not far from Madrid is the town of Aranjuez, with another royal palace famed for its gardens. This palace provided the royal family with a place to relax and recreate that commoners now enjoy as well. It is particularly beautiful when the gardens are in bloom or changing colors (spring and fall) but draw tourists year round. Most tourists take a 30-minute train ride to the palace; some get there by the "strawberry train," a steam-powered train that provides its passengers with fresh strawberries. You may also enjoy renting a canoe to paddle down the scenic Tarus River, a site the Spanish have chosen for the 2012 Olympic competition.
Less than 40 miles from Madrid, the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial beckons tourist to visit the center of the once powerful Spanish Empire. Phillip II built a fantastic monastery to celebrate his victory over France and to firmly express his dominion over an expanding empire. The size and opulence of the building that served as a palace, library and museum will awe you. Within its walls is the Royal Mausoleum, where almost all the kings of Spain in the last 400 years have been buried.
Continue on to the Valle de los Caidos for a chilling reminder of the turmoil the country suffered in the 20th Century. At this place, thousands of Republican prisoners were forced to build a monument to Franco and the Nationalists who had died in the civil war. Carved into a barren hillside and topped wth a cross that can be seen from more than 20 miles away, the structure took 2 decades to build and serves an a tribute to the man who ruled the country with a heavy hand. While some Spaniards come to honor the fallen soldiers, other see the memorial as a scar that retells the story of the bloody conflict that divided the country in the years preceding World War II. In an effort to heal those wounds, Republican leaders were laid to rest at Valle de los Caidos starting in the 1960s, but the wounds still linger and as
Like the spires of the Golden Gate Bridge symbolize San Francisco, the spires of the Temple of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia) in Barcelona, designed by the revolutionary architect Antonio Gaudi, are the icons for this city filled with great architecture. To be continued