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Travel - Spain, Mallorca, Madrid, And Seville

Travel - Spain, Mallorca, Madrid, And Seville

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Published by Barry Pollack

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Published by: Barry Pollack on Oct 10, 2010
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Barry Pollack’s “Going Places”A Sojourn through Spain - Mallorca, Madrid, and Seville
Spain is the home of Columbus and his patrons Ferdinand and Isabella, Cervantes andhis hero Don Quixote, Picasso and his lament to war, Guernica. The range of its past gloriesmirrors the variety of sights a tourist can pursue. I began my sojourn in there on itsMediterrean coast in Barcelona and the towns and villages of the Costa Brava
(The STAR, last week).
Today I move on to tell you about more of its fascinations.
is the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands - in the Mediterranean about a fortyminute flight from Barcelona. The island is a vacation mecca with most beachside townscrowded with foreign tourists. We chose the privacy of the most secluded part of the island.Past
 Port Pellenca,
on the peninsula jutting out at the northwestern part of the island, sits the
Hotel Formentor (34 971 89 91 00, double seaside rooms with breakfast, $280/nite).
Thehotel, an imposing white edifice overlooking Formentor Bay, is a prestigious 127 room hotelwith a palatial grandeur. The grounds, the gardens, the views are royal, although the decor isunfashionably old. The 1995 European Economic Summit was held here. And besides heads of state, the hotel has hosted celebrity guests from Charlie Chaplin to Michael Douglas to the DaliLama. Kidman and Cruise stayed here as well and just envisioning that couple once sharing our abode, gave the place an added romance. There are tennis courts, putting greens, a heated pool,and the softest of sandy beaches with shallow turquoise water reached along a garden path.Dinner at their restaurant "
 El Pi
" is al fresco, on a beautiful azalea draped patio overlooking thesea, with white coat and black tie service. Here we chatted with a British couple whohoneymooned at the Formentor and noted, in praise of the hotel, that they had been cominghere each year since for 35 years.Mallorca has a diversity of terrain from desert chaparral to seaside evergreen forests.Particularly unique are the many hillside towns with extensive stone wall terraces supportinggroves of olive trees. Surveying the island, there are miles of steep and windy roads. Drive toup to the lighthouse at
Cap Formentor 
for the most spectacular views of the mountains and thesea; into the hills to the
Monastery de Lluc
, with Gaudi designed statues marking a spiritualhillside path; down again to the sea and the
Caves de Arta
with its cathedral like cavern;
through the picturesque hillside towns of 
; and finally to the capital,
.From our room in the ultra-modern
Hotel Melia Victoria (43 971 73 25 42, doubleroom with breakfast, $140/nite)
, our view was of Palma dominated by the beauty of itscathedral set atop a hill before a shore sprinkled with palm trees and a harbor dotted withhundred of masted sails. Downtown Palma has its sights - its 13th century Gothic cathedralwith tombs of Mallorcan kings; the Almudaina Palace, the royal Moorish residence of theMiddle Ages; and Bellver castle, a 14th century moated castle with a circular courtyard andturreted towers. But aside from its history, Palma's charm lies in its nightlife along the beachfront strip of 
 Avinguda Maritim
. Here there are a myriad of outdoor cafes, restaurants,and clubs. The Hotel Melia Victoria sits on the Maritim and it was convenient to find a cafénearby to people watch. A young man stood on our corner handing out invitations to a privateclub. He was selective, choosing only the most attractive or "hip." So, downing pizza andsangria, we played our own game of guessing who he would accept and who he would reject.Late, we left to return to our hotel, too old, too weary looking, to get an invitation.Spain's capital,
, is a 75 minute flight from
. We stayed at the
HotelSuecia (34 91 531 69 00, double room with breakfast, $150/nite)
. There was no glamor or elegance to the 128-room Suecia but its rooms were comfortable and well appointed, and itslocation near the
 Paseo del Prado
was perfect for a walking tour to many of Madrid's bestattractions. Again, we surveyed the city by an hour long open air bus tour.For me Madrid's premier attractions are its museums. If you love art, there are threenot to be missed and you can buy a tryp-ticket to all of them for about $7.00. In timing your visits, be aware of when they're closed. The
Thyssen Bornemisza
are closed onMondays; the
 Reina Sofia
on Tuesdays.The
Thyssen Bornemisza
was my favorite with a well organized and displayedcollection showing off great masters from medieval to modern art. Their audio tour waswonderfully informative. Just a short walk down the Paseo del Prado is the
. Housed ina magnificent 18th century building, the Prado is often ranked with the Louvre in Paris as oneof the world's great museums. But in truth, while its collection is grand, it doesn't compare withthe grandeur of the Louvre and I enjoyed the Thyssen far more. In the Prado, there are noaudio tours for rent and at the height of the tourist season, they had no English language brochures. But there are English speaking guides at the entry and it would be prudent to hire
one to point out the highlights of the Prado's vast collection of Goya, Valesquez, El Greco, andMurrillo. A half mile further down the Paseo del Prado, across from the old central trainstation, is the
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
. The prize of this collection is Picasso's Guernica,which many regard as the most famous painting of the 20th century. Besides its hugecollection of Picassos, the Reina Sofia also displays extensive works by Miro and Dali.Most of Madrid's attractions can be easily reached by their extensive subway system.At the west end of downtown is the huge and lavish Royal Palace. Prepare for neck strain asyou scan each impressive room, gawking at ceiling frescos, monumental paintings, uniquemarble floors, exquisite furniture, and the most remarkable variety of huge, ornate brass andcrystal chandeliers. Built by Philip V, Napoleon rightly declared it to be the equal of Versaille.Just southeast of the palace is the
 Plaza Mayor 
. Walled in by 17th century buildings,the plaza, filled with outdoor cafes and souvenir stores, is not particularly attractive. But it isworth walking through just to see where the trials and executions of the Spanish Inquisitionwere held.The
district, in the area between
Calle de Serrano
Calle de Jose Ortega y Gasset,
was my wife's favorite tourist attraction. Margaret considered this Madrid's bestshopping area. Here you'll find everything from the department store
Cortes Ingles
to anassortment of upscale establishments like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Versace.You can't leave Spain without seeing flamenco. The flamenco restaurant
TorresBermetaj (34 91 531 69 00; Mesonero Romanos, 11)
is an intimate place with Moorish décor and tables so close that you make immediate friendships with nearby diners. And that was perhaps as much a joy as the show itself.Our last destination in Spain was
, an hour flight from Madrid. Here again westayed in an unremarkable but comfortable and well-located hotel,
the Hotel Becquer (95 42289 00, double room with breakfast, $135).
The Becquer, a 118 room hotel with exceedinglywarm and attentive service, sits in the heart of old Sevilla. It is just a block from the riverwalk and from several good outdoor riverfront restaurants on the
Calle Betis
, and a ten minute walk to the city's main attractions - the bullring, the cathedral, the royal palace.Seville, Spain's fourth largest city, is much smaller, more walkable than Barcelona or Madrid. The first area in Spain conquered by the Moors in 711 and last area recaptured by theChristians in the 13th century, Seville has more than 500 years of Moorish culture stillengrained in its character. Seville was the setting for the passions of Don Juan, Bizet's Carmen,

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