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A mention of Spain conjures up vivid colour, stirring music, passionate people, a history both glorious and tumultuous, and a fusion of ancient and new. About 500 years ago Spain was a world power and the home port of famed explorers such as Columbus and Cortes. Before that, for 800 years, Spain was ruled by the Muslim Moors. These events have left an indelible mark on Spain – glorious cathedrals and castles built on great wealth, and the stunning Islamic architecture left behind by the Moors in Andalucia.
For today’s travellers Spain offers the cosmopolitan delights of cities such as the capital Madrid, extroverted Barcelona; and the fabled trio of Andalucian cities – Cordoba, Seville and Granada – with their palaces, mosques and gardens. Regional pride is immensely strong – in the north immerse yourself in the distinctive cultures of the Basque, the Pyrenees and the Catalan regions.
It’s a vast land; slow down, choose a few destinations and follow the Spanish way – revel in the sunshine and relish their art treasures, then siesta to save your energy for evenings, cruise the tapas bars and be drawn into the flamenco.
Madrid, Spain’s already beautiful, feisty capital is being further invigorated, the aim being a cosmopolitan centre to rival the world’s best. The development is not all bricks and mortar – Madrid is now officially one of the “greenest” cities in Europe, with flowers, fountains and trees springing up everywhere. What is unchangeable however, is Madrid’s cultural heritage: the Prado Museum houses one of the world’s greatest art collections, including masterpieces by Velasquez and Goya. The medieval Plaza Mayor is the place to be seen in the evening, order sangria and watch the passing parade. Browse in El Rastro, a flea market bursting with intriguing bric-a-brac. Save up energy for the evening though, because this is when Madrid comes alive.
Prado Museum – For art lovers. Home to some of Spain’s most famous artists like Goya, Dali and Gaudi as well as some of the world’s best like Picasso.
The Royal Palace – The Royal Family spend very little time there so it’s almost always open for you to wander through many of the rooms and banquet halls which are extremely lavish.
Retiro Park – Used to be the Royal Gardens and definitely worth wandering through or stopping for a picnic. There are many street musicians and performers, sidewalk painters, fortune tellers and jugglers to entertain you.
Plaza Mayor – It’s a wonderful big square which looks its best at night. It is full of cafes; sit and watch the world pass you by.
Shopping – Try Gran Via and Calle de Serrano for great shopping. El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store chain, sell everything and the best sale time is May-July. Or stroll down Calle de Serrano for some excellent shoe shopping.
Paseo de Recoletos & Atocha – Wander down the Paseo de Recoletos to the Atocha train station and see some wonderful fountains, cafes and sculptures.
The Rastro Flea Market – It’s a popular visit on a Sunday morning. It is also open on Saturday, which is generally quieter, and you never know what you are going to find. Just keep an eye out for pickpockets.
Flamenco – For a truly memorable experience book the dinner and show at Torres Bermejas. The dancers are passionate and you can’t help but be swept up in their emotional performance.
Plaza de Santa Ana – A great place to start out the night. The bars and clubs in and around the Plaza are popular with tourists and locals and really warm up around 11pm on
Fridays and Saturdays.
Country Name: Spain
Population: 47.7 million
Time Zone: 11 hours behind New Zealand (except during daylight saving)
Electricity: Current is 220V Plug is a 2 point round-pin adaptor
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