The Temple of Debod in Madrid, Spain
Spain

Don’t Make This Mistake When Visiting The Temple of Debod in Madrid!

The ancient Temple of Debod is the only piece of Egyptian architecture to be seen in Spain. Dedicated to the goddess Isis, it dates back to the 2nd century BC and originally stood in Egypt, 15km from Aswan. But in 1960, due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam, many monuments and sites of archaeological importance became under threat of being flooded and destroyed. UNESCO made an international appeal for help in saving these pieces of history and, in return for Spain helping to save the Abu Simbel temples, they were gifted the Temple of Debod by the Egyptian government. It was dismantled and rebuilt (in a different order than the original construction in Egypt) in Parque del Oeste and opened to the public in 1972.

Temple of Debod in daytime

Here’s the view in the daytime – Had I of only seen the temple during the daytime I would have been less than impressed and kicking myself for walking all that way and wasting my time when I could have been exploring a different part of the city. It would have been a place that I forgot about, not one of the highlights of Madrid.

But I got lucky and got to see it lit up at sunset and on into blue hour all thanks to travelling with a pro photographer who knows when to photograph places! Isn’t it stunning? Doesn’t it look so much more amazing at sunset than in the daytime?

There’s more though… the longer you wait, the better it becomes as the lights around the temple turn on…

Tada!

So, the mistake to avoid when visiting the Temple of Debod is only seeing it during the day time, and then not waiting long enough at sunset to see the scene changing before your eyes as the sky changes colour and the temple lights turn on!

Toledo Mirador de Valle
Spain

Visiting Toledo, Spain

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this Medieval UNESCO World Heritage city back in January – So much so that it made it into 2nd place for my favourite places in Spain (Ronda taking the top spot).

I stayed for 2 nights at the delightful Alfonso VI hotel and could have happily spent a 3rd night to allow me the time to explore the backstreets a little bit more. Toledo is a popular day trip destination from Madrid but I would not recommend seeing it on a day trip as there’s too much to explore, and you wouldn’t get the benefit of seeing the city lit up at night!

I was thrilled with the city walls, gates and bridges and really enjoyed admiring the city views both from the town and from the other side at the Mirador del Valle. I enjoyed exploring the edge of the city much more than I did the maze of old streets but I think this was because 1. I kept getting annoyed at myself for getting lost because I didn’t have the time to wander as I usually do and 2. getting a bit sick and tired of all the swords in the shops – Too gimmicky/touristy for my liking.

Must See Places in Toledo:

These are the sights and places that thrilled me the most… I’m sure you’ll love them too if you’re planning a trip to Toledo.

Mirador del Valle

Toledo Mirador del Valle

To be honest, this wasn’t originally on my radar because I knew it was a long walk but thankfully, because I was traveling with a pro photographer who wanted the iconic shot, I was persuaded to go along! It’s best to admire the view at sunset and into blue hour (or even sunrise if you can manage to roll out of bed early enough).

Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes

Toledo Monastery

Don’t miss out on going to this fantastic monastery if you love architecture and/or photography. I was so lucky because, despite visiting at midday, I had the upper level to myself and in the church there were less than 10 other people – The plus of traveling in the Winter! There’s not really so much to see and do, if you’re not taking a million photos and video’s, but it’s a must-see place and with an entry fee of just €3.50 (as of Jan 2018) there’s no reason not to!

Toledo City Walls / Gates / Bridges

Toledo City Walls and Bridges

The City Walls are magical and anyone who loves architecture and history is in for a treat! I set off down to Puerta Del Sol first and found myself experiencing a ‘through the keyhole’ moment with the walls blocking my view until I suddenly rounded a corner and found the gate and bridge ahead of me. In my opinion, there are 4 main walled/gate/bridge areas you need to see in order to get all the good photos and a great overview of the city as a whole: Puerta Del Sol, Puerta de Alfonso VI, Puerta De Alcantara, and San Martin’s Bridge, they’re all visible on Google maps so get saving! If you start at Alcantra Bridge you can use the beautiful ecological walkway, which I’ll blog about another time, to circumnavigate three-quarters of the city going past St Martin’s Bridge and finally ending up at Puerta de Alfonso VI where you can then walk up to Puerta De Alcantara. My feet couldn’t complete the route in 1 day so I split it up over 2 days, part of me wishes I’d managed to circle the entire city on foot though!!

Toledo Train Station

Toledo Train Station

The train station isn’t somewhere you’ll find mentioned in the Top 10 things to see and do in Toledo but it’s well worth a look if you’re nearby, have the time, and haven’t visited the Alcazar (whether Toledo Alcazar or any others in Spain). The tiles are Instagram worthy as are the old wooden ticket booths with stained glass… Take a moment to admire all the ornate details.

What Not To Do In Toledo

One of the three designs to look out for in the walls and pavements around Toledo

Despite discovering that cathedrals really aren’t my cup of tea (seen one, seen them all – Blasphemy I know!) there was one thing I was really disappointed with doing and felt I actually wasted a lot of valuable time by doing. What was it?

    • Toledo Free Walking Tour – This was the most boring and pointless walking tour that I’ve ever been on – It was the guide’s first time leading the tour in English so perhaps she was shy or nervous but I still wish I could get those 2 hours back! The only interesting thing I learned was that there are 3 miniature tile designs to look out for around the city. Otherwise, there was very little interesting information – Her stopping and saying “that’s the smallest window in Toledo” and “that’s the statue of Samual Levi” left us none the wiser to why they were important! We did get to see some ruins through a glass floor in a fashion shop that I would otherwise not have seen, but apart from that, there was really nothing unique, interesting or engaging. To make it worse, when one girl walked away at the end without tipping, she called her back in front of everyone and demanded to know if she had liked the tour (I guess the girl was too mortified to say no) and demanded money explaining that it wasn’t a ‘free’ walking tour…. despite what it says on the umbrellas! Thankfully I’d ‘donated’ €5 so didn’t face the same humiliated.

Still Left To Explore

I always plan to do too much and then run out of time… Here are some of the things that got missed out but that I’d recommend you look into doing!

  • Synagogue of El Transito
  • Ruins of convent de San Pablo
  • The Alcazar
  • Iglesia del Salvador (Climb to church tower)
  • Parque de La Vega
Spain

Traveling Spain by Train

On a 3 week journey around Spain, I traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Seville, Zaragoza, and Barcelona by train with a photographer friend.

Route of Spanish train travel

Tickets were booked approximately 1 month ahead of time on The Trainline EU website, all of the above tickets for 2 passengers coming in at approximately £500, this was a mix of standard class and first class.

Apart from various city metro’s and National Rail in the UK, my experiences of traveling by train in another country were nil so I was unsure what to expect and had some worries of getting on the wrong train, or getting off at the wrong station but I needn’t have worried – Traveling Spain by train was easy, and a dream compared with UK train travel!

Spanish train stations all have baggage screening in place, presumably to stop you packing a bomb, knife or gun in your bag, but strangely enough, the screening of people is very haphazard. There was no screening of people at Madrid, and only a few stations were scanning people with hand-held electromagnetic wands. This didn’t make sense to me as there was nothing stopping people concealing weapons under loose clothing. Coats were asked to be taken off but I never saw anyone having their bag searched so perhaps more of a deterrent than true security. The queues moved quickly and there was no need to go to the extremes of removing electronics nor any liquid restrictions as at airports so it was all relatively quick and painless!

The RENFE website says you are allowed a total of 3 bags weighing no more than 25kg total but at no point did anyone weigh the luggage or query how many bags people were taking through security or onboard.

We found the best way to find the correct platform was to match the train number on the ticket (i.e 9903) with the one on the screens as these would often only show the end destination and not list the stations in-between.

It’s almost impossible to get on to the wrong train in Spain due to tickets being scanned as you head down to the platform. The only conceivable way you would be able to get on the wrong train were if your train was on platform 1, on the left let’s say, and you got on to the train standing on the right at platform 2. The scanning of tickets also stops people getting on the train without a valid ticket, therefore cutting down on the need to have ticket inspectors onboard the train. The only time I came across a ticket inspector onboard the train was on our way to Ronda where some stops were request stops hence the inspector needing to know where people were getting off at.

The trains were clean and comfortable – Cleaners came onboard at every final destination and rubbish was also collected throughout the journey. On the UK trains the seats are often stained with goodness-knows-what and there’s usually chewing gum deeply embedded into the carpet with rubbish overflowing, the Spanish trains in comparison were absolutely spotless. I can’t speak from personal experience but am told that the toilets were of the same high standard of cleanliness.

We traveled first class (Preferente) twice but I felt there was no added benefit to this – Coaches were less crowded, the seats a fraction larger but not enough to notice. In fact, I was really pleasantly surprised at how much leg room standard class (Turista) had.

Attendants came round handing our free earphones so as to listen to a music channel or the Spanish movie/tv programme that was showing. I thought at first the headphones were just for 1st class passengers but then discovered they were for everyone… I now have a rather large supply of headphones courtesy of Renfe 😉

A coffee/snack cart was also brought round at least once during the journey, with a buffet car also attached for those wishing to stretch their legs in search of refreshments. I believe it was on the train to Ronda where there wasn’t a buffet car but there was an onboard vending machine.

Most of the trains had electrical outlets for charging phones etc. Seat layout was airline style, 2 seats next to each other or 4 around a table. In first class, seats were either 2 next to each other or individual seats, the aisle dividing them.

We did have one ‘oops moment’ where we found ourselves sitting in the wrong carriage, but that lesson was soon learned and not repeated – Look for the coach number at the front/rear of the coach either as a small cardboard number or on a digital display – The coach number is displayed on the outside of the train too but upon boarding it can be unclear if to turn left or right for your coach! Seat numbers are easily found above each seat but these don’t have the coach number so best to check and check again before sitting down.

Maps of the route and the speed the train is traveling at (250kmph was our top speed) showed up on the tv screens which was really great, especially when we were unsure where the train was stopping / which stop was ours. Announcements were made in Spanish and English about 5-10minutes before reaching a station to allow everyone time to gather their belongings and head to the doors but sometimes it was difficult to hear/understand the place names said in English.

The busiest train we experienced was an afternoon service into Seville, all the seats were taken in our carriage and it was a little noisy, baggage space on the overhead racks was pretty much full but it was still a pleasant journey – Clean, people willing to move up their luggage to get yours on. Actually, we never needed to use the luggage storage at the end of each coach because the overhead storage was much larger than on the British trains where you can only really fit a briefcase – On the Spanish trains you can fit cabin-sized suitcases and bags overhead, if you’re tall enough to get them up there!

The only downside to the trains was lack of wi-fi and lack of an overhead fan, this made some of the journeys on the warm side as you were forced to go with their chosen temperature with no way to get a bit of a breeze on your face, unless you started wafting your ticket around!

The only ‘problem’ we had on the entire 3-week trip was getting to/from Granada because of ongoing engineering works, I guess it should have been expected that there would be a snag somewhere along the line (pun fully intended!). We were initially peeved because The Trainline had not notified us of this, signs informing of this were all in Spanish, and no one at the information desk spoke English but it actually turned out more than ok as we were allowed to catch an earlier replacement coach service which got us into Granada when we should have only just been catching the train. Coming back from Granada was the same, we thought it was just weekend works and it would be cleared up by Tuesday but on entering Granada station we realized it was going to be another replacement coach service. We didn’t know what time the coach left or how it would affect ongoing travel but honestly, these Spaniards have it sorted and it was no problem, plenty of time to spare. I wish my experience in the UK had been the same when they closed down Reading station for a weekend!!

One thing I did find dangerous was the amount of space between the train and the track, and there was no warning of it – Not 1 single ‘Mind The Gap’ notice or announcement, even in Spanish! Had I been traveling with a heavy suitcase or a pushchair/buggy I would have found getting on and off the train very difficult and dangerous – 1 slip and a leg, if not more of you, would be stuck between the train and the platform.

At the end of the day I’d say to anyone who is wondering if they should travel Spain by train – Go for it. Do not hesitate, it’s an absolute pleasure and very easy to manage.