Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Madrid’s Top 3, and the big finale of my first (epic?) blog posts.

3) Toledo. Toledo is a magical little city, walled and narrow-streeted, where El Greco’s finest works abound. There, pre-Reconquista Spain is visible–Jewish architecture mingles with Moorish/mudejar ceilings and tiles and Christian iconography. There, nuns make giant marzipan replicas of the cathedral:

Unfortunately, most of the places we visited in Toledo do not allow photos, so I don’t have much to show you in that regard. It also just so happens that much of what there is to be seen there defies description. Suffice it to say that, if you ever get the chance, you should visit Toledo. No trip to Spain would be complete without wandering those tiny streets.

2) Segovia. Another small, beautiful city (just a short train ride away from Madrid) is Segovia. It has much of the charm of Toledo, but it hasn’t quite caught on with the tourists like Toledo has. Don’t get me wrong, there were tourists there, but not nearly as many. Entrance prices are still rather low, and employees in the local cafés have still not quite adapted to tourists. Which, in a way, had its charm. Our grumpy waitress at lunch did little to spoil our enjoyment. Phillip especially loved Segovia, and who could blame him? Aside from the cathedral,

(which seems to come standard with every Spanish town), there’s also the Alcázar, formerly a fortress, at one time a prison for the state, built upon foundations that are possibly Roman. The interior of the Alcázar is exquisite, and is filled with incredible mudéjar ceilings like this one:

And if you go up into the tower (which can only be reached by climbing 151 extremely tall, shallow, winding and otherwise treacherous stairs), you’re rewarded with beautiful panoramas of the city and the surrounding countryside.

But the greatest part of Segovia is its Roman (yes, actually Roman) aqueduct, which was built without mortar–just with perfectly cut stones–and which is still in use and in pristine condition. It’s a huge monument, around 100 feet tall at its highest point, and the word “ruin” doesn’t seem accurate, despite its age. Phillip, having just finished a Roman history class, was especially enamored of it, and took some really beautiful pictures of it (of course, the gorgeous blue sky doesn’t hurt either):

I say the same as I said about Toledo: you must go. If in Madrid, you must.

Aaaaand, drumroll please!! 1) Flamenco at Casa Patas. Speaking of things that no trip to Spain is complete without, flamenco is an absolute must. And of all the tablaos (flamenco theaters) in Madrid, Casa Patas is my favorite. It’s sort of a no-frills flamenco environment–your 32 euro ticket gets you one drink at a tiny table in a dark and crowded room. But that’s really on the plus side. It’s so intimate that, if you’re in the first few rows, you will probably actually have sweat flung on you from the flamenco dancers’ bodies. The strength and agility that it takes to dance flamenco well is unbelievable, and when you see a truly good performance, you don’t want to take your eyes off of the dancers. Casa Patas attracts that kind of dancer. And the musicians were superb. One of the singers looked remarkably like Josh Groban, but we weren’t fooled–his voice was superb. That’s the other thing about flamenco–even if you know Spanish, it’s a bit difficult to make out the words the singers are saying, but trust me, there is no mistaking the emotion. If you’re anything like me, good flamenco singers will bring a lump into your throat. The emotion, the passion that they emote is so raw; I’ve never experienced anything else quite like it. And their faces, and the faces of the dancers will twist and contort in the most exquisitely moving way (it’s called the duende, and if you want to hear more about it, Regan’s really the expert).

Aside from the feet and the faces and the voices, the night that Phillip and I went, there were two older Spanish ladies sitting directly behind us whose enthusiasm only made the whole thing more enjoyable. One of them, particularly, kept shouting “¡Olé!” when the feeling struck her, and when the male dancer performed, she added a little “¡Guapo!” to that Olé. He responded by using some strategically maneuvered arms and a wink and a nod in their direction which, of course, only fueled their flame. But their enjoyment was infectious, and I don’t think anyone there begrudged their little flirtation. When the female dancer began, I could make out one of the women saying to the other, “No. It’s too practiced, too studied.” But as the evening went on, and the music and the emotion climaxed, I heard her saying, “Now! There it is! NOW she’s dancing!” And dance she did.

They allow flash-less photos in Casa Patas, but once the show began, Phillip and I didn’t want to look down long enough to mess with the camera. So all we have is this pre-show picture taken by a very nice woman named June:

Well! Now that that’s out of my system, future posts will be duly craft-related, don’t you worry! Till soon…