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Spain

Alhambra - Updated

Worth the trip? Check the new note at the end of the entry.

sunny 100 °F
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The Alhambra is on most lists of things you must see in your lifetime, and I am sure if we hadn't already been to Seville and Cordoba I would have felt the same when I saw it. The fortress is massive, the views from the top are unparalleled, the palace architecture and ornamentation splendid, and the gardens are glorious. Altogether, the Alhambra lives up to its reputation.
But even so...
Having just traveled in Seville and Cordoba, I could not help compare it with the alcazars in those two cities. Neither Seville nor Cordoba has the magnificent setting of the Alhambra, which sits above Granada like a crown, watching over it and providing views across the entire valley out to the Sierra Nevada.
Cordoba's alcazar sits in the middle of town, with only modest views, and was used by the Spanish Inquisition and thus has been extensively modified. Gone is the palace architecture and rich decoration. Even the changes the Inquisition made have been modified as viewing dozens of small cells for prisoners probably would not be the best attraction.
Seville's alcazar, however, has been well preserved, probably because it was built by a Christian king. Plus, through luck or restoration, it has much more of the color that originally covered the now white plaster, and while the plaster work is worth every second you spend examining it, color adds the dimension needed to appreciate what it once must have looked like.
As for the gardens, many of the Alhambra's are modern simply because Napoleon's army destroyed much of the grounds and a fair amount of the palace, not wanting to leave a fortress behind them. Only the quick reactions of the people of Granada saved the Alhambra from being completely burned to the ground. Meanwhile, Cordoba's gardens are a water paradise and as for Seville's, they are Dorne- what else needs to be said. (If the reference makes no sense, check "Game of Thrones.")
All in all, if I had to pick one of the three to revisit, I would choose to return to Seville's alcazar.
UPDATE:
For a far more complete set of pictures of the Alhambra, and frankly better photos than I took, go to:
http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.it/2012/03/tales-of-alhambra.html
He founds some places we did not visit that show aspects of the Alhambra that had I seen, might have changed my mind about which was more beautiful, Seville's alcazar or the Alhambra.

Posted by randjb 00:33 Archived in Spain Tagged alcazar seville alhambra granada cordoba Comments (0)

Granada

Halfway point

sunny 105 °F
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Granada marked a special point in our trip: we reached the halfway point between when we left San Francisco on June 10 and when we will return to Boston, August 19. Originally, Granada was also to be our wedding reception/celebration, but as Wendy and Homer threw us a great party in March, we were delighted to simply be joined by them and Diana, along with Karen and Doug who were still traveling with us. Unfortunately, Mark and Mary had to cancel, though they might be glad they did (more of that in a moment.)
Wendy, Homer, and Diana arrived together from Madrid and got in about noon. We and the Perry’s drove from Costa del Sol through Ronda, then to Granada. Debbie was stuck doing the driving as I had no driver’s license (see Paris). We pulled in around 5 p.m. and worked our way through the last winding streets to the villa. Homer had warned us that a car could not fit through the final alley leading to the villa, and he was right. With some help, we unloaded – three large bags, each 50 lbs., backpacks, a camera case, and one overnight bag. You don’t get to travel light when you’re going away for three months and in temperatures that ranged from snow to 105 degrees. Did I say 105 degrees? Yes, Granada was in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave.
Debbie and I returned the car, took a taxi back, and got our first look at the villa. Not sure how old the house is but it was beautifully done with dark wood shutters, wood beams in most of the ceiling, and an amazing amount of books, knickknacks, figurines, and what-have-you’s covering almost every flat surface in the place. Surrounding it was a beautiful, though overgrown, garden, a large swimming pool to one side, and a guesthouse in the back. The villa looked just like the pictures and should have thrilled us all. But it didn’t.
Remember 105 degrees, and then add no air conditioning except in the master suite and the “tower” room on the third floor where no one went except Diana to sleep. Homer, Wendy, and Diana had already spent hours in the pool before we arrived as it provided the only relief. I joined them almost immediately. The first floor including living and dining rooms and the kitchen were all but unusable.
Still, good friends altogether cannot be kept down, and we headed through the winding streets on the side of the steep hill the villa was perched on to find dinner. Turns out, a lot of restaurants in Granada are simply closed in July – maybe the heat wasn’t so unusual after all. We poked our head into one of the few open restaurant doors, a not very promising looking place, and were delighted to find the actual restaurant was in a large courtyard inside. Good food, good drinks, the weather cooling around 11 p.m. and good conversation that night.
That night, only those of us in the air-conditioned spaces got much sleep, and because we accidently put Chesirae directly under the air conditioner, she was so cold, she couldn’t sleep either! Then, the next morning as reported by Karen and Doug, the beds had been rock hard. We had earlier gone out to the guesthouse to get two single mattresses out of those bedrooms to give Diana and Chesirae better bedding, but we had no help for Karen and Doug and Homer and Wendy. Had Mark and Mary made the trip, we would have had to try and put one couple in the guesthouse, so not only would we have had two more people on hard beds, the guesthouse was even hotter than the villa! Holy sleep deprivation, Batman! We did manage to cool things down a little with fans and windows open at 6 a.m.
But enough about the villa as we all adjusted and truly enjoyed our time together. We took a walking tour of Granada through the old part of the city, the shops, some of the walls and gates, and the cathedral. If you visit, I recommend going inside the church. Spain has a church on every corner, but most of them are Gothic. This was a very large, white, Baroque church. Diana tells me they too are common in Europe, but this was the first cathedral in that style I had seen. Very impressed.
Together with friends, we enjoyed the days immensely.
Next, the Alhambra.

Posted by randjb 12:58 Archived in Spain Tagged granada villa karen wendy diana heat doug homer Comments (0)

Ronda

A day trip

sunny 90 °F
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I wanted to give a special shout out to Ronda, a mountain town of 35,000, a 90 minute drive north of Costa Del Sol.
Ronda is not a typical town of 35,000. It has beautiful hotels, lots of restaurants, and terrific shopping. In fact, Chesirae finally found a few outfits she was willing to buy. It also has many, many tourists. I'm only guessing, but I wouldn't be surprised if the city had as many tourist as residents when we were there.
The reason for all this interest is the bridge, Puente Nuevo, that connects two parts of the town spanning a 300 foot chasm. The "new" bridge was constructed in 1751 and is quite a sight (see pictures as soon as my computer can connect to the internet again.) By the way, we drove to the bottom of the chasm because we didn't have time to hike down to the observation points. We suggest you take the time to hike down - you'll get a better view and avoid a drive you probably don't want to make.
We only knew about the bridge so didn't plan on more than a quick drive-in, get lunch, see bridge, and go. But if you go, plan an entire day there. Lots to see. The town is lovely as are the surrounding cliffs and mountains.
As seems to be the case with this vacation, we had an adventure - at least Karen and Doug did. Google maps sent them up a road that eventually was closed so they had to backtrack and drive up the way we did. Oddly, Google maps sent us the right way and we arrived well before them. We did not know where the bridge was, however, and wasted 40 minutes on the east side of the city. When visiting, go directly to the bridge and park close by. The bullring, shopping street, restaurants, and hotels are all close to the bridge.
Worth a day trip!

Posted by randjb 09:03 Archived in Spain Tagged puente ronda nuevo Comments (1)

Rock of Gibraltar and Costa del Sol

Southern most Spain and Africa

sunny 85 °F
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We had another small adventure leaving Seville as, without my driver's license (stolen in Paris) my reservation for a car could not be used. Luckily Debbie was also a Hertz Gold Card member and we finally got a car. Trying to get the car through the narrow street we were staying on was another adventure, but again we managed. Karen and Doug had joined us by this time, though they had already had their own set of adventures including the airlines losing Doug's suitcase for two days. Because Chesirae, Debbie, and I each have one large suitcase, we could not fit into one car, so we made our separately out of Seville intending to meet in Gibraltar for lunch.
The ride from Seville to Gibraltar went without incident, but upon arriving at Gibraltar we faced a long line of cars crossing the border from Spain into the English crown colony. The Spanish side of the border does not look inviting and the Spanish have made only a paltry attempt to help people get into and out of Gibraltar - I assume because Spain still wants England out of there and England won't go. (The irony is that Spain owns the second pillar of Hercules on the other side of the Straight of Gibraltar and it too won't leave even though that small bit of land is completely surrounded by Morocco.)
If you go to see the rock, here are a couple of pointers: park outside the border (there's a big parking lot there), walk through customs, and take a taxi to where you want to go. The wait to get our car through was not too bad, however once in Gibraltar, parking is at a premium. We got separated from Doug and Karen and took almost two hours to reunite because we couldn't park close to one another.
Second, Gibraltar has a very nice Main Street, which is a cross between a shopping street and a Caribbean street. If you want to browse, good place to do, though prices are in English Pounds, so not as cheap as in Spain.
If you want go to the top of the rock, you can take a cable car, but if you do, you'll still have quite a walk. The cable car takes you up but the top of the rock is much longer than most pictures show. You might want to consider one of the many taxis that will drive you to the top as well as show you the sites on the way. If you negotiate, your group can probably get your own taxi for the same cost as taking the cable car and without the hour long wait. In our case, we arrived late because of the parking problem and didn't have time to wait for the cable car. We also didn't figure out the taxis until too late. Still, seeing the Rock of Gibraltar, even from below, was worth the effort. Go, but you'll need an entire day there.
After leaving Gibraltar, our destination for the night was Pearl Bay on the Costa del Sol. Spain is working hard to create its own version of the Riviera, and this part of the Mediterranean coast is filled with places to stay, long beaches, golf courses, and beautiful scenery. We stayed in an Airbnb run by Beran, a lovely woman who made a great effort to find us accommodations in the same condo complex when the air conditioning in her unit went out. We loved the apartment she found for us,. The complex had a pool, which Doug and Karen used extensively, and beyond that the Mediterranean beach. We loved the setting so much, we took a day off just to enjoy being on the coast! On a trip this long, we need an occasional vacation from the vacation, as our friend Mark has said.
The next day we traveled to the tip of Spain and took a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Africa. Tangier is quite a change from Spain even though its only a dozen miles away. The city is definitely Muslim, though we were told by our guide that they are not very strict there. We explored the old city, sampled delicious food (I loved the dates!), and got a good taste of Morocco. Most of you will have seen some of Tangier watching movies as Hollywood likes to shoot on location there. If you saw the Bourne Ultimatum, for example, you saw the narrow roads, the buildings and roof tops of the old town. Tangier is friendly to Americans and yet definitely a part of the Muslim world, not European at all.
With Africa, Chesirae touched ground on her fourth continent and 18th country; not bad for 18 years old.
Returning from Africa, we had a late dinner at one of the beach restaurants; this one featuring a singer. She sang songs ranging from Aretha Franklin to Led Zeppelin, and pretty much carried ithem off. We enjoyed dinner, the music, and the beautiful night time coastline until midnight.
We left the next morning and all agreed we wished we had planned more time on the Costa del Sol.

Posted by randjb 08:30 Archived in Spain Tagged costa africa bay del sol pearl tangier Comments (0)

Seville

A different experience

sunny 89 °F
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Seville was an entirely different experience than Paris. We were there seven nights, six days, and Debbie and I were busy nearly the entire time. Unfortunately, Chesirae caught whatever illness I had in Paris and was stuck in the apartment almost the entire time.
If you haven't been to Seville, we highly recommend putting it on your list. The city has lots to do, lots to see, and great food, all at very reasonable prices. Here are our recommendations:
1. The Alcazar - this is a fortress palace built by the Catholic king that conquered Seville from the Muslims. He built it around the existing Alcazar that the Muslim caliphs had created and, though he was a Christian, he used a great deal of Muslim art and architecture. The inside of the building is roughly an 8 on a scale of 10, but the "not to be missed" portion is the gardens. Those of you who watch "Game of Thrones" know them as Doran, and they are as beautiful as gardens get.
2. Italica - Slightly northwest of Seville, Italica was the first Roman settlement in Spain originally inhabited 2,200 years ago. At its height it had roughly 25,000 residents and was the birthplace of the first two emperors not born in Italy, Trajan and Hadrian. The walls and ceilings of the buildings have all disappeared and only a small portion of the town has been excavated. Nevertheless, what has been excavated is impressive. A few roads have been revealed as well as the large villas that line them. These have one or two feet of wall to show where the rooms were. The best of the rooms still have their original mosaic tile floors. Some of these are amazing. You will also find the remains of what was once the third largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. The amphitheater is an impressive ruin and this last year was another of the sites "Game of Thrones" used for filming.
3. Plaza de Espana - In the 1920's Spain held an expo that featured a unique architecture that combined the many styles of Spanish history and the modern era. What remains of the expo are a number of buildings, canals, and bridges that form the cornerstone of the Parque de Maria Luisa. Both the park and the plaza are worth the visit. Like Central Park and Golden Gate Park, this is more about strolling around and experiencing the park than it is about doing something specific.
4. The area around Seville's cathedral - The cathedral itself is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and third largest Christian church in the world. It is not, however, a church we walked away from thinking we "had" to see it. It is big but Europe has many cathedrals I would recommend seeing before this one. That said, the area around the cathedral is definitely worth visiting. The shopping streets are there as well as the city hall (a story in itself) and some absolutely unique architecture. At night, you will also find entertainment including Flamenco, an experience not to be missed.
5. A controversial choice: the bullfights - We did not see a bullfight as they are held in April and May and are, even in Spain, subject to a lot of controversy. Seville, however, has one of the larger arenas and hosts the best matadors during the two month season. So if you want to see a bullfight, this would be the right place to see it. You'll need to get tickets in advance as they are popular despite the many people who object to the sport.
Altogether, this is a city worth spending some time in. We were delighted with what we saw and the people we met.

Posted by randjb 09:40 Archived in Spain Tagged seville Comments (0)

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