My first glimpse of La Sagrada Familia was almost a letdown.
I had looked forward to seeing the basilica considered by some to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and I held my breath in anticipation as we walked up from the underground metro. But the first things I saw were cranes. Cranes, scaffolding, safety screens and other construction equipment.
I knew before I went that the Sagrada Familia is yet to be finished (construction was started in 1882 and it is not expected to be finished before 2026). But I wasn’t prepared for the near-chaos of what seemed to be an ongoing major construction site.
After visiting Sevilla and Granada, we only had three full days to explore Madrid. Madrid is the kind of city that is so huge and so rich in culture and history that, as first-time visitors, we decided that the best and easiest way for us to get a good introduction to it was to join a guided tour.
Some web surfing led us to Sandeman’s New Madrid Tours which offers a free half-day walking tour of the city. Yes, free. (Tips, though, are very much appreciated — and deserved — by the tour guides.)
On the day of the tour, we slathered ourselves with sunscreen and walked the short distance from our hotel to the Plaza de España.
When Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra, the Moorish compound was a place seen only by few people from outside Andalusia. It was even then surrounded in myth, despite its almost decrepit state. Irving had the very good fortune of being allowed to live within the fortress and he had the luxury of exploring the buildings and gardens at leisure.
Such privileged adventure is no longer possible. The Alhambra has become one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions, with thousands passing through its grand arches and gates everyday. Nowadays, instead of the rambling but romantic expedition taken by Irving, one is more likely to get to Alhambra via a generic tour bus and be deposited outside the entrance where several buses will be disgorging even more tourists.