Monday, August 12: Ailsa’s Travel Theme (Where’s my backpack?) for this week is architecture. I’ve been having a bit of a hard time with this one because it’s such a broad theme. As a matter of fact, I would say my entire trip through Spain and Portugal this summer was about the architecture (and the food!), so you could look at my entire travelogue to see some amazing architecture. For this challenge, I’m going to limit myself to three places, four photos. These are some of my favorites, but are of course not all-inclusive!
Thursday, August 8: I didn’t get to many natural places during my trip to Spain and Portugal this summer, but in the few places I did go, I found some wildflowers that I thought were pretty crazy-looking. I also found a wild bird here and there, and some wild street art in Lisbon. So for Ailsa’s travel theme this week, just under the wire, here are some pictures. (Where’s my backpack? Travel Theme: Wild)
Sunday, July 14: This morning, I wake up before sunrise to get showered and ready to go to Torrox to catch the 7:20 a.m. ALSA bus to Seville. Poor Marianne and Michael, who have been the perfect hosts, also have to get up early, as they are driving me to the bus stop.
The bus stop is not in a terminal, but just a covered stop along the route. I feel bad about them having to get up so early to drive me nearly a half hour to the bus stop, so I encourage them to just drop me and head back home. They are too kind to leave me, and they insist on standing with me until I’m situated on the bus. It’s so funny how I’ve just let myself fall into their hands during my stay here. I’m used to traveling alone, and I normally function perfectly well when I have to, but when someone steps in and offers to take care of me, I can easily allow them to do that. It has been lovely for me to be in someone’s capable and caring hands for a few days. What a welcome respite from some of the logistical worries encountered in traveling. 🙂
The bus arrives right on time; we put my bag into the hold, give hugs all around and then I’m off. The bus is filled with teenagers all dressed up as if they’ve been out all night at a party. They’re quite boisterous at this hour of the morning. The first half of the bus trip involves lots of joking, laughter and general loudness until they start getting off the bus in twos and threes at various stops along the way. Finally, after we pass through Malaga and a few other larger towns, we’re on the highway to Seville.
I arrive in Seville at 11:45 and have to wait nearly two hours in the bus terminal for the 1:30 p.m. departure of the EVA Transportes bus to the Algarve, which is to arrive in Tavira at 2:50. Taking into account the one hour time difference between Spain and Portugal, the bus ride should be about 2 hours and 20 minutes.
On the bus ride, I listen, as I’ve taken to doing on this trip, to Brett Dennen’s “Lover Boy” on my iPod Nano. I come across a song, “I Want to Feel Free,” and the lyrics speak to where I am right now.
I want to feel free like I did when I was younger
When I was younger I was brave
Now I’m lost in another language
Some words I know but I’m mostly confused…
And I got home to Santa Monica
Below a blanket of clouds
My pockets filled with pretty Spanish coins
They have no value to me now.
I alternatively enjoy the scenery out the window and drift off to sleep.
I am meeting up with another blogger, Jo of restlessjo ~ Roaming, at home and abroad, who is British but has a vacation home in Tavira. It just so happens she is on vacation during my time here in Spain and Portugal, and she has kindly invited me to stay with her for two nights. I am touched by her offer, as she and her husband Mick only have a short time on their vacation, and they have invited me to be an interloper during their precious holiday time! I know Jo loses a couple of nights’ sleep worrying over having a stranger in her house before I arrive; I feel so bad about that!
I’m surprised when the bus pulls off the exit ramp at about 2:10 and I see the sign for Tavira! I’ve told Jo I’ll arrive at 2:50, so it will be a bit of a wait in the bus terminal. When I arrive, there is no sign of Jo, as I wouldn’t expect there to be at this early time. I don’t have any money left on my phone to text her, and there is no one manning the bus station whose phone I can use. It’s obviously siesta time. So I just wander around waiting and watching for Jo.
While waiting, I get my first glimpse of the Ponte Romana. This seven-arched bridge probably predates the Romans, but it was so named because it linked the Roman road from Castro Marim to Tavira. According to Lonely Planet Portugal, the current structure dates from a 17th-century reconstruction. The bridge was also touched up in 1989, after floods knocked down one of its pillars. The bridge spans the Gilão River.
I finally see Jo, who I easily recognize from her blog, wandering down the street toward the bus terminal. She’s tall and thin, with beautiful skin and a lovely smile, and her manner is really adorable. She has an incredible warmth about her. She introduces me to her husband Mick and he kindly welcomes me. I feel really bad for him having to put up with this stranger for a couple of nights. At least Jo and I have read each other’s blogs and know something about each other, but poor Mick doesn’t have a clue who I am!
Jo describes herself as thus on her blog: Hi! I’m Jo! Johanna when I’m feeling posh, Jan to my Dad, and Joasiu to my Polish family. A bit of a mix-up, I guess. The one definite, however, is my restless nature. I can’t be still for too long, unless of course it’s sunny and I’ve got a good book. I love to travel and to explore our world. It doesn’t have to be the big wide world- I can be ridiculously happy not too far from home, so long as I’m out there, just embracing life. To read more about Jo, see Restless Jo: About. She’s definitely an energetic and restless lady who embraces life with gusto; I pick that up about her quickly. I can certainly identify with that restless nature as I have it myself. 🙂
We put my bags in the trunk of the car and then stroll through the town, stopping along the way at Cafe Anazu to have some chilled white wine (Jo and I) and beer (Mick). Jo and Mick harken from Hartlepool in northeast England, where Jo says it rains too incessantly for her taste. They love coming to the Algarve about four times each year to escape the dreary weather and to explore the Algarve’s sunny and warm beaches. Mick works as a landscape architect at his home and Jo is retired.
Then we go to Jo’s house, where she helps me settle in to her lovely guest room. Then Jo and I escape to her rooftop, where she has a swinging rope hammock-seat; we share glasses of wine and chat for a long time. She’s easy-going and companionable; we comfortably open up to each other and share all kinds of stories about our histories, our current lives, our children and our struggles.
I take a little rest, and then we take a long walk into the charming Old Town. The buildings are a little more scruffy than Spain’s pristine whitewashed buildings, but that only adds to their charm. Many of the buildings have ceramic-tiled facades, which are lovely.
The Moorish occupation of Tavira between the 8th and 13th centuries left its mark on the agriculture, architecture and culture of the area. That influence can still be seen in Tavira today with its whitewashed buildings, Moorish-style doors and rooftops. A castle, two mosques and palaces were built by the Moors. During this time, Tavira established itself as an important port for sailors and fishermen.
In 1242, the Christians took Tavira back from the Moors in a bloody conflict. The population of the town was decimated during this battle. Though most Muslims left the town, some remained in a Moorish quarter.
In the 17th century, the port on its river was of considerable importance, shipping produce such as salt, dried fish and wine. Like most of the Algarve, its buildings were virtually destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. This earthquake is thought to have reached a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale and caused extensive damage throughout the Algarve due to shock waves and tsunamis. The earthquake is referred to as the Lisbon Earthquake due to its terrible effects on the capital city, although the epicentre was some 200 km west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent in the Algarve (Wikipedia: Tavira Municipality).
We pass by the pretty Church of Carmo, or Igreja da Ordem Terceira de Nossa Senhora do Carmo, all decked out for some festival.
This solemn church was constructed to promote the Carmelite ideal of attaining Christian perfection, fostering the good of the Church and the salvation of souls, with special devotion and prayer to the Virgin of Carmen. Started in 1747, the church is one of the most sumptuous in the Algarve and took 43 years to complete. The church is renowned for its exceptional acoustics and is often the venue of classical concerts held here throughout the year. (Tavira-Today.com: Tavira Churches)
Many Portuguese houses and buildings have facades of pretty ceramic tiles. I love these!
We head for dinner at Restaurante Bica, where we share a carafe of red wine, hearty bread, cheese and olives; I order Salmão Grelhado, or Grilled Salmon. This is a small and bustling Portuguese family run business with delicious food. It’s a lovely place but since it’s so loud, I have a little trouble hearing Jo and Mick in order to have a proper conversation.
It’s funny, Jo and Mick are British, so of course they have British accents. I have a little trouble understanding Mick’s soft-spoken accent in particular. It’s the same on their side as well; Jo mentions that the first time I called her, she was baffled by my American accent and thought: Who is this lady!?? It’s funny the assumptions we make about people when we read their writing in a blog as opposed to hearing them speak. I was equally surprised by Marianne’s and by Jo’s British accents!
After dinner, we take a long walk through the town, where we see the lights of Tavira reflected in the Gilão River.
We stroll through an outdoor market with booths selling all kinds of crafts and clothing. Mick takes a picture of Jo and me, which isn’t too great in the poor lighting.
Jo comments, as Marianne did in Spain, that she loves seeing entire Portuguese families out strolling, dining and laughing into the late hours of the night.
In one little square, we come across a crowd gathered around something or someone emanating a loud peeping sound. When we finally push our way to a vantage point, we see a grown woman dressed like a baby in a baby stroller, making loud peeping sounds like an angry bird. I’m totally baffled as to how these street performers think of these things. Later, as we walk across the Ponte Romana, we come across this trio of colorful be-wigged and polka-dot faced ladies in a box, making similar peeping noises. Wow! There are certainly some creative street performers in these parts!
We walk back through the streets toward Jo’s house, where we plan to make a stop for a glass of Port. However, the place where Jo and Mick usually go is closed tonight; once we discover this, we’ve left the center of town where we might find other options, so we give up and go home. Jo promises that tomorrow night we will have a glass of Port. She also gets my mouth watering over mention of a delicious fig and almond gelato, which we must sample tomorrow.
I’m exhausted by this time from my early start, my day of travel and all the walking, so I collapse in bed, dreaming of Port and fig and almond gelato, a literal feast of sweet dreams. 🙂
Saturday, July 13: This evening we head out to the town of Torre del Mar, a largish seaside town and busy summer beach resort on the Costa del Sol, boasting one of the longest and widest beaches along the coast. We meet Ross and Daniella, Marianne and Michael’s neighbors, and wander along the streets of the town, trying to decide where to eat. We come across some alien-looking plants along the way.
Marianne wants to go inside the bar section of El Yate, which means The Yacht, because it’s a lively place and has great ambiance. Tonight it’s so lively, we can’t even find a table or a place at the bar. Instead we opt to sit outdoors.
I’m wearing one of the new “Spanish skirts” I bought in Barcelona, which makes me feel like I fit right in.
El Yate is a marisqueria, which is an open-air seafood restaurant. We order some tinto de verano and some seafood tapas, including Rosada.
Rosada is a white fish, flaky and juicy like cod but of denser texture. The full name is Rosada del Cabo, which means “rosy thing of the cape.” The Cape refers to South Africa. Tonight it is cooked á la plancha (gently braised in a persillage of finely chopped parsley and garlic in olive oil). (Al-Andaloose: What is Rosada?)
I can’t remember the second type of fish we eat, but it’s slightly breaded and fried. However, my favorite is the Rosada.
A man walks by selling some aromatic jasmine, heady in the cool night air.
For dessert, we have chocolate cups filled with a sweet liquor. It’s delicious. 🙂
After dinner, we take a long stroll through the town, where we find whole Spanish families out having a grand time. Everyone from elderly grandparents to little children are out gallivanting into the late hour. We browse in the market stalls of the night market.
After stopping for a gelato, we drive back to the house. I have to get up early tomorrow morning, as I’m catching a 7:20 bus from Torrox to Seville, and then from Seville to Tavira in Portugal. It’s certainly been a lovely time visiting with Marianne and Michael in their whitewashed house perched on the mountainside in Andalucía. 🙂
Saturday, July 13: After leaving Frigiliana, we head to the town of Nerja, a tourist town with a large foreign population, including over 2,000 Brits. The white villages climbing the mountains around Nerja are relatively new and inhabited by hordes of foreigners. In the summer months, tourists swell the population even more. The town sits on a steep hill and has several small beaches set in coves beneath cliffs.
Nerja and its surrounds used to produce sugar cane, but now there are widespread plantations of semi-tropical fruits such as mango, papaya and avocado. The sugar cane factory is still on the eastern edge of town but is now empty, as the main industry is tourism. (Wikipedia: Nerja)
Marianne wrote about the abandoned sugar cane factory in Sweet memories: San Joaquín sugar mill, but we don’t have time to see it today. We do however make a stop, after lunch, at the Acueducto del Águila (Eagle Aqueduct), which supplied the sugar cane factory with water.
We head straight for the Balcón de Europa, a mirador or viewpoint which gives panoramic views across the sea and along the coastline, with its sandy coves and cliffs. It’s in the center of the old town.
Its name is popularly believed to have been coined by King Alfonso XII, who visited the area in 1885 following a disastrous earthquake and was captivated by the scene. Local folklore says that he stood upon the site where the Balcón now stands, and said “This is the balcony of Europe.” Local archive documents are said to show that its name predated this visit, but this has not prevented the authorities from placing a life-sized (and much photographed) statue of the king standing by the railing. Of course, I get a picture of myself standing with King Alfonso XII.
The Balcón area was originally known as La Batería, a reference to the gun battery which existed there in a fortified tower. This emplacement and a similar tower nearby were destroyed during the Peninsular War. In May 1812, three British vessels supported Spanish guerrillas on the coast of Granada, against the French. On 20 May, two of the vessels opened fire and the forts were destroyed. Two rusty guns positioned at the end of the Balcón are reminders of these violent times. (Wikipedia: Nerja)
We walk back through the little town of Nerja, where we come across the picturesque 17th century Church of El Salvador, or Iglesia El Salvador. It sits opposite the Balcón de Europa and close to what used to be the old Guards Tower.
The original church was erected in 1505, although the existing structure was not actually built until later, in 1697, and it was then further extended during the period 1776 – 1792.
Marianne tells me some of the statues inside the church are carried through the streets by parishioners during festivals.
Right in front of the church is a huge Norfolk Island Pine, brought back from South America at the beginning of the century. (Nerja: El Salvador Church).
We walk back through the town to head to the beach, but first we make a stop at Marianne’s favorite store, La Cueva. She is very restrained, but I end up buying two cute long knit “Spanish-looking” skirts, one coral and one white. 🙂 More stuff to add to my already heavy luggage!
Then we head to Playa de Burriana to have lunch at one of Marianne’s favorite beachside paella restaurants, El Chiringuito de Ayo. which has been a presence on that beach since 1969. Before we can eat, though, we must find a parking spot, which is no easy feat. Marianne calls for her “parking angels” to come to the rescue, and they don’t disappoint. She’s one of those lucky people who I would describe as having parking karma. 🙂
The restaurant describes itself thus on its website: Huge paellas prepared over wood fire under a thatched roof, during the whole day. It is not necessary to reserve them, because there is always a freshly prepared paella at your disposal. During the years, the restaurant often changed without loosing its excellent preparing and original touch, in order to offer the client the best and to satisfy the demand of the guests. Surrounded by palm trees , and covered by an immense thatched roof, this is the ideal location to enjoy a beautiful day on the beach.
Walking into the restaurant, we can see the huge pans of paella being prepared by the cooks in the sweltering heat.
The restaurant is packed and there is no one to seat us, because all the employees are frantically running around juggling plates of paella and drinks. Marianne and I split up and hover over the seated customers, waiting to pounce on a seat as soon as we see someone finishing up. We finally do find a little family paying their bill and as soon as they vacate, I’m all over those seats like honey on toast.
The paella is delicious, and the great thing is that you can go back for refills as many times as you like. I go back for a second helping even though I’m not that hungry, just because it tastes so good!
The lunch is lovely and lively, and the restaurant is great for people-watching. People come in right off the beach in their bathing suits, covered in sand and sunscreen and suntans. Whole families are out on this nice hot day.
After lunch, we head back to Marianne’s house to relax a bit before we go out for dinner tonight. Before we leave the area, we stop to take pictures of the Acueducto del Águila (Eagle Aqueduct), built between 1879 and 1880 (the exact date is not known) to aid the industrial revolution; it was intended to carry water from Nerja town to the local sugar refinery in Maro, Fábrica San Joaquin de Maro, built in 1884, for irrigation. The factory is now closed but the aqueduct continues to be used for local irrigation.
The design of the aqueduct is typical of the period of its construction (19th century), when the Mudejar style (copied from the ornamental architecture originally used by Muslim craftsmen in Spain between the 13th and 15th centuries) was very popular. The aqueduct is four stories high; each tier is constructed from a series of brick, horseshoe-shaped archways, of which there are 37 in total. These are topped with a mudejar-style spire, on top of which is a weather vane in the shape of a double-headed eagle, from which the aqueduct takes its name. The origin of the eagle symbol is not known for certain, but it is rumored that during the time of construction eagles were seen nesting in the hills of Maro. (Nerja — Acueducto del Águila)
When we get back to Marianne’s house, I put on my bathing suit and go for a dip. I lie on the chaise lounge and fall promptly asleep. This place is heaven. 🙂
Saturday, July 13: This morning, Marianne and I head off for a girl’s outing to a number of places, the first of which is the lovely whitewashed village of Frigiliana, nestled in the mountains in the easternmost region of Andalucia.
She takes me for ascenic drive along the back road from Torroxpueblo to the village.
As we approach the village, the haze seems to burn off and we get a better view.
We walk into the old district inhabited by the Moors before and after the Reconquista. The name Mudéjar is used to describe not only the Moors or Muslims who remained behind after the Reconquista without converting to Christianity but also the architectural style used by Arab craftsmen working in Christian territory. The quarter is made up of steep cobbled alleyways winding past white houses resplendent with flowers. (Wikipedia: Frigiliana)
We begin the uphill climb into the old district. I love the pebbled walkways with their interesting patterns.
Many of the houses have door knockers in the shape of the hand of Fatima. Usually depicting the open right hand, an image recognized and used as a sign of protection in many societies throughout history, the hamsa is believed to provide defense against the evil eye. The symbol predates Christianity and Islam. In Islam, it is also known as the hand of Fatima, so named to commemorate Muhammad’s daughter Fatima Zahra (Wikipedia: Hamsa). The door knockers in Frigiliana don’t quite fit the profile of the open right hand, as these seem to be a closed left hand.
Door knockers also have other interesting shapes.
We also see some interesting door bells.
Most charming and pleasing are the doorways, patios and windows decked out with flowers and greenery.
This is Calle El Zacatin, one of the most photographed streets in Frigiliana. This view is taken from the top. According to Marianne herself, in her blog, the steep street reveals “the original Arab layout of the village – winding streets, secret corners and adarves (little squares shared by a few houses and belonging only to them).” The street “is the original site of a Moorish street market, filled with merchants and artisans, over a thousand years ago.” (Photographs I love …. and why! [Part 9])
Calle Alta is another steep narrow street in the old district. Too bad the shadows make the street a little difficult to see.
Plaques along the walls of the streets tell the history of the village, in Spanish of course.
We stop at an overlook and admire the terra-cotta rooftops of the village. Here’s Marianne. 🙂
Here’s me at a convergence of two streets, a great metaphor for my life right now.
We stop at a little wine shop to sample Vino Dulce Moscatel, a sweet Muscat wine.
And I enjoy looking at the colorful jams, sauces and dressings on the shelves.
Wall art is a big thing throughout the south of Spain, and Frigiliana has its share. I am tempted by the geckos, and I end up buying two for my sons before we leave the village.
We drop into Frigiliana’s church where Marianne points out the statues that people actually carry through the streets during festival days. People consider it an honor to carry these statues even though they are heavy and cumbersome.
We also stop in a little courtyard to admire La Fuente Vieja, the old fountain.
And Marianne points out the manhole covers that are engraved with the name of the village and a representative picture.
Marianne has written much about Frigiliana. Here are a few of her posts:
Friday, July 12: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband Michael, of East of Málaga …. and more!. They live in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía. This will be the first time I’ve met her, even though I’ve been reading her blog for some time. Since she’s lived in Spain for about 8 years, her blog has great information about the area as well as beautiful photos. She is so generous to offer me her hospitality for a couple of nights while I’m here in Spain. I’m very excited to meet her because she obviously loves the country and the culture, and I’ve become quite fond of it myself. Who is better than a local to give you the true feel for a place?
I get my first glimpse of Marianne standing outside the door of Hotel Lario in Málaga. Wearing a gauzy coral top that’s very becoming on her, she’s looking in all directions for my arrival, as Barry has told her we’ll arrive at 1:00 and we’re a bit late.
We hug each other hello, and at the same time, I introduce her to Barry and Barry and Carole. I give hugs all around to my traveling companions and tell the two Barrys and Carole that I’ll miss them, it was great to meet them, and parting will be such sweet sorrow. 😦
As all this is happening in front of the hotel where parking is prohibited, it’s all a blur. Before I know it, Scottish Barry has driven off, Barry and Carole have disappeared into their hotel, and Marianne and I are hauling my suitcase and carry-on to a busy main street in Málaga. Marianne texts Michael and in short order he drives up, we quickly throw my suitcases in the trunk, Marianne takes over the driving, and we head down the highway East of Málaga, following the title of Marianne’s blog, to their beautiful home perched on the side of a mountain between Torrox and Competa.
The house is perfectly situated for a stunning view; Marianne and Michael tell me if it weren’t so cloudy this afternoon, we could see Málaga and the sea. They are baffled by the clouds as apparently they are a rare thing in the south of Spain. For some reason the clouds, along with a cool breeze, have come to hang out today, but it’s fine by me as I haven’t seen many clouds in the two years I’ve lived in Oman. Neither have I had any cloudy days since I arrived in Spain. I’m not bothered by them at all and actually find them a welcome relief from the heat I’ve experienced during our tour of Andalucia.
The whitewashed house is decorated beautifully but simply. A patio with a swimming pool beckons; Marianne says she often takes a dip right before bedtime; it helps her to cool down and she enjoys floating on her back and looking at the bright pinpoints of stars in the black sky. Flowers and gardens are all abloom around the house and on the hillside.
Marianne and Michael have been happily married a long time. It’s lovely to see how smitten Michael is with Marianne. He brings her a flower every day and he’s always complimenting her on how she looks, how well she cooks, on everything. I love how they keep their romance alive. They make me feel hopeful.
Marianne is warm and easy-going and makes me feel comfortable right away. She invites me to settle into the guest room while she prepares a lunch of melon and prosciutto. It’s the perfect lunch, light and cool and refreshing, a lovely counterpoint to all the large meals I’ve been eating lately. Perfect.
We eat our lunch on the patio with the mountains unfolding before us and make a toast to our meeting with tinto de verano, a mixture of red wine and gaseosa (or Fanta) or lemonade. We all have a great conversation about our love of travel.
Marianne and Michael have been spending about 4 months out of the year in Australia during the winter months and have come to love it. One of the things that took them there was their love of motorsport. They’re self-proclaimed “petrol-heads” and have been able to watch Formula 1 Grand Prix racing in Albert Park, Melbourne on a couple of occasions. They have developed a great love for Australia and New Zealand and tell me I should really try to travel there.
I wonder how they are able to travel for 4 months out of a year, as I know travel can be expensive, but they manage it quite frugally by doing house-sitting. Marianne tells me of a website, housecarers.com, where they are able to arrange some great house-sitting opportunities. Sometimes they have to take care of pets, pools or gardens, but it enables them to travel for long periods of time. I like the idea a lot and determine I must look into it myself.
Michael has brought Marianne some hibiscus today. Two blossoms brighten up the table.
After lunch, we take a stroll around the garden, which grows abundantly and wildly on the hillside. I fall in love with a delicate passion-flower. The “Passion” in the name refers to the passion of Jesus in Christian theology. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Christ and especially his crucifixion.
There are fruit trees, cacti and aloe vera in abundance, among other things.
Some Spaniards own a house down the road from Marianne’s, but they only come to the house periodically to work on their gardens and relax. They leave their dog at the house, and he has taken to showing up at Marianne’s door. Since she feeds him, he has become her loyal companion. He’s not even her dog, but try telling him that. He wouldn’t believe it for an instant. He follows her faithfully everywhere and comes to greet her whenever she goes away and returns. She calls him Spud, even though that’s not his real name. Marianne’s a lucky lady, having a husband who obviously adores her, and someone else’s dog who loves her too. 🙂
After we take a walk around the garden, we walk to a neighbor’s house to meet them since we have plans to go out for dinner with them tomorrow night. Ross and Daniella are Brits, as are Marianne and Michael; they offer us a glass of wine when we stop by.
Since I haven’t planned the next step of my trip to Tavira in Portugal’s Algarve, I don’t have a clue yet how I will get there. I am thinking of taking the lazy man’s route and renting a car, but this will be very expensive. I spent $446 just to rent a car for three days from Barcelona to Toledo to Malaga; I don’t want to spend a fortune on another rental car, although I love the freedom a car offers. Luckily Marianne knows the ins and outs of the bus system and helps me to book bus tickets online. Together, we book a 7:20 a.m. ALSA bus from Torrox (e) to Sevilla (Plaza de Armas). I can’t book this leg of the trip online as the ALSA website won’t take my American credit card. Luckily Marianne is able to put it on her charge card and I pay her 25 euros for it. The second leg of the trip has to be booked through the EVA Transportes website. The EVA bus goes from Seville all through the Algarve. I am able to book that ticket online with my credit card for another $25. I’m so thankful that Marianne helps me book these tickets and figure this out, because it gives me a lot of confidence with the bus systems and saves me a lot of money. I end up taking buses and trains for most of the rest of my trip through Portugal.
After booking my bus tickets, I lie down and take a nap for a bit. When I wake up, Marianne is preparing a dinner of Moroccan chicken with dates and rice. I wish now I had written the recipe, as now I’ve forgotten all the ingredients. I hope she posts the recipe on her blog (soon!) because it is a most delightful meal.
We have more lively and interesting conversation about travel and cultures over dinner and wine. This is my first afternoon with this lovely couple and I go to sleep wondering what surprises tomorrow will bring. 🙂
Friday, July 12: It’s time to pack up and leave our little villa, Puesta de Sol, in Mollina because our tour is over. 😦 I for one am sad to have it come to an end. We have a leisurely breakfast, painstakingly prepared by Alan and Verna. Barry picks us up at 10:30; we load all our bags into the van, say our goodbyes to Alan and Verna, and head to Antequera, home of the impressive 3,000-5,000 year old Dolmens.
Antequera is a city in the province of Málaga. It is known as “the heart of Andalucía” because of its central location between Málaga, Granada, Cordoba and Seville. It is noted for two large Bronze Age dolmens.
In addition, the Vega de Antequera, watered by the river Guadalhorce, is a fertile agricultural area that provides cereals, olive oil and vegetables in abundance. There are also fields and fields of sunflowers.
On the northern outskirts of the city there are two Bronze Age burial mounds (barrows or dolmens), the Dólmen de Menga and the Dólmen de Viera, dating from the 3rd millennium BC. They are the largest such structures in Europe. The larger one, Dólmen de Menga, is twenty-five meters in diameter and four meters high, and was built with thirty-two megaliths, the largest weighing about 180 tons. After completion of the chamber (which probably served as a grave for the ruling families) and the path leading into the center, the stone structure was covered with earth and built up into the hill that can be seen today (Wikipedia: Antequera).
There is a great visitor’s center at the site where we sit and watch an animated film showing how the dolmens must have been constructed. It seems the people wanted a connection between the spiritual realm and the earthly realm, and they positioned the Dolmen de Menga so that its opening faced the Sleeping Giant, a giant rock in Antequera. It must have taken a long time and hundreds of strong people to build these dolmens. Australian Barry notes that the people must have had plenty of food and other resources at hand for day-to-day living, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to devote so much time and energy to building these dolmens.
When the grave was opened and examined in the 19th century, archaeologists found the skeletons of several hundred people inside.
We visit the smaller dolmen, Dólmen de Viera. It’s not nearly as impressive as Dólmen de Menga.
The Dólmen del Romeral, which dates from the early 2nd millennium (about 1800 BC), is outside the city. A large number of smaller stones were used in its construction. We have to drive through a palette factory to get to this dolmen; the palette factory even has some apartments for rent. I think it might be cool to live there so I could tell people: “Drop by for a visit at my apartment between the palette factory and the Dolmen!” 🙂
After we finish exploring the dolmens, we head to Málaga. We’ve arranged to meet Marianne at the hotel where Barry and Carole are spending the night before they fly to Paris tomorrow: Hotel Molino Lario. Barry and Carole are so sweet; Barry says to Scottish Barry: “I’d prefer to make sure Cathy is situated with her friend before you drop us off.” They’ve become a little protective of me, I think, during this trip, especially as they seem to think I’m a little disorganized. I wonder why? Usually I’m a very organized person, but as I seem to be doing everything on the fly during this trip, I think they have a wrong impression of me. Or, maybe it’s a correct impression as far as this trip goes!
The whole time we’ve been on this tour, I’ve tried to be careful not to become the third wheel with Carole and Barry. Often, when we got to the historic sites, I would drift off on my own: 1) because I like to take my time and soak in the atmosphere and take pictures at my own pace, and 2) because I wanted to give them time to themselves. They never made me feel like an intruder, though, and I love them for that.
Our tour, Tour Andalucia, was operated by Gary Montagu from the UK. We met Gary the first night of our stay, and had dinner with him in Mollina, but the face of our tour was Barry Simpson, our guide, who also runs his own tour company: Your Andalucia. As we got to know Barry quite well, and found him laid-back and highly knowledgeable, and since he will tailor-make tours for his clients, I highly recommend him.
My first look at Barry’s website had him referring to his tours as “bespoke.” As an American English speaker, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and thought the word sounds rather medieval. So I bring this up to him as we are driving to Malaga today. Australian Barry knows the meaning of bespoke, but he says it isn’t used much in Australian English either. I learn that bespoke is a British English word that means a clothing item made to a buyer’s specification (personalized or tailored). While it can be applied to other items, including computer software or luxury cars, the term historically was applied to only men’s tailored clothing, footwear and other apparel, implying measurement and fitting. For most non-clothing items, the term build to order is usually used instead.
I notice much later, when I look at Barry’s website, he has changed the word bespoke to “a totally personalised tour holiday in Andalucia designed by YOU.” Ah, okay, now it’s perfectly clear. 🙂
Thursday, July 11: After our Alhambra visit, we drive around the city and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya, a restaurant that hosts an excellent flamenco performance with young local talented musicians and dancers.
Barry tells us that when watching flamenco, it’s all about the feet and the face. The feet do most of the movement, and the face should express passion. It is danced largely in a proud and upright way. For women, the back is often held in a marked back bend. There is little movement of the hips, the body is tightly held and the arms are long, like a ballet dancer. Many of the dancers have trained in ballet as well as flamenco. I’m impressed by the girl’s footwork, but the male dancer has the passion down. His facial expressions are very passionate, as if he’s pouring his heart and soul into that dance. He’s also sweating profusely in his dynamic performance.
For me, dinner is cod loin served with seasonal vegetables. It’s okay, but nothing special. It looks really pretty on that blue plate though.
Carole has pork sirloin medallions with mozarabic sauce. She seems quite pleased with her meal.
Barry has a roast lamb’s leg with boletus, whatever that is, and truffle cream with garnish. He finds his meal just okay as well.
For dessert, we’re served a sorbet of lemon and mango. Yum. I think this and the starters are my favorite parts of the meal.
After dinner, I do as Barry suggested and try to use my debit card to pay for my meal. The guy runs it through his machine and he says, “Sorry. This card doesn’t work.” I say, stomach churning, “Do they say what the problem is?” He says, “It’s too old; it’s expired.” I look at the card. Carole and Barry look at the card. It definitely says it expires 06/13. Oh my God! I’ve grabbed the wrong BB&T card, the one that I found out expired while I was in Barcelona!! For my post on that, see meeting antoni gaudí: casa batlló. I would have cut it up immediately in Barcelona, but I didn’t have any scissors so I just put it back in my suitcase. I must have grabbed it out of my suitcase this morning by mistake. (I had two BB&T cards with me, one for my personal account that EXPIRED on June 30, and one from the Joint Account that I have with Mike. I knew the one from my account had expired; I thought the bank was rejecting the Joint Account card!) All that worry for nothing.
Both Barrys and Carole get a good laugh out of this and they ask me if I will tell Mike what happened, after all my panicked texts to him this afternoonwhile he was in his doctor’s appointment. I say I’m not going to tell him anytime soon, but I probably will tell him after I get home. It will be the source of great amusement for him for some time, I’m sure; and I’ll become the butt of many jokes because of it. Ouch.
After dinner, we take a five-minute walk to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beautiful Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s really is fantastic!
Today is the last big day of our tour, and we don’t get back to the villa until midnight. I realize I’m going to miss Carole and Barry and Scottish Barry when we part ways tomorrow. In the morning, we’re going to see some Dolmens near Antequera; after that, at around 1:00, I’ll be meeting Marianne & Michael from East of Málaga …. and more! for a two-night stay at their house. 🙂
Thursday, July 11: After lunch, around 3:00, we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering around the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces on a timed entrance at 6:00.
The Alhambra and the Generalife were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
We start by walking through the Generalife upper and lower gardens to the Generalife Palace. It was constructed as the leisure area of the Granada monarchs, where they escaped from their official routine.
After we explore the Generalife, we head on the long walkway to the Alcazaba, one of the oldest parts of the Alhmabra, and its military area.
On the way to the Alcazaba, I stop in a bright little church along the way.
When we finally arrive at the Alcazaba, we visit the terrace of the Torre del Cubo (Round Tower), the northern wall walk, the Plaza de las Armas (including the military quarter), the terrace of the Puerta de las Armas (Gate of Arms), Torre de la Vela (Watchtower) and the Jardin de los Adarves (Wall Walk Garden). As we walk around this part of the Alhambra in the hottest part of the day, we are wilting fast. I don’t know how I will have energy for flamenco tonight.
According to the Alhambra De Granada’s website, the Alhambra was so-called because of its reddish walls (in Arabic, qa’lat al-Hamra means Red Castle). It sits on top of the hill al-Sabika, on the left bank of the river Darro, to the west of Granada and in front of the neighborhoods of the Albaycin and of the Alcazaba.
The Alhambra sits on a strategic point, with a view over the whole city and the meadow (la Vega), and this fact leads to believe that other buildings were already on that site before the Muslims arrived. The complex is surrounded by ramparts and has an irregular shape. The Cuesta del Rey Chico is the border between the neighborhood of the Albaycin and the gardens of the Generalife, which sit atop the Hill of the Sun (Cerro del Sol).
The first historical documents about the Alhambra date from the 9th century and they refer to Sawwar ben Hamdun who, in the year 889, had to seek refuge in the Alcazaba, a fortress, and had to repair it due to the civil fights that were destroying the Caliphate of Cordoba, to which Granada then belonged. This site subsequently started to be extended and populated, although not yet as much as it would be later on, because the Ziri kings established their residence on the hill of the Albaycin.
The castle of the Alhambra was added to the city’s area within the ramparts in the 9th century, which implied that the castle became a military fortress with a view over the whole city. In spite of this, it was not until the arrival of the first king of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar (Mohammed I, 1238-1273), in the 13th century, that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra. This event marked the beginning of the Alhambra’s most glorious period.
First of all, the old part of the Alcazaba was reinforced and the Watch Tower (Torre de la Vela) and the Keep (Torre del Homenaje) were built. Water was brought by canal from the river Darro, warehouses and deposits were built and the palace and the ramparts were started. These two elements were carried on by Mohammed II (1273-1302) and Mohammed III (1302-1309), who apparently also built public baths and the Mosque (Mezquita), on the site of which the current Church of Saint Mary was later built.
We can see the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada from the tower of the Alcazaba.
Even while enjoying the Generalife and the Alcazaba at the Alhambra, I’ve been worried about my debit card not working this morning. Sometimes the regular hassles of life impinge on a holiday; unpleasant things sometimes have to be dealt with. I still have a long time to travel, and I don’t know how I will have access to money if my bank has put a stop on my card. Since it’s only a little after 5:00, and our tickets to the Nasrid Palaces aren’t until 6:00, I spend some time on a bench under the shade of a tree texting Mike: Mike! Emergency! The bank put a stop on the debit card and the atm in granada actually ate the card! The bank luckily gave it back but it can’t be used. Can u please call the bank right away and find out what’s going on? It worked perfectly well when I used it in Toledo!!! What the heck is wrong with that bank???
I don’t hear from him for a long time, so I’m not even sure he got my message. I send another text: Can u plz let me know right away if u got my mssg???
Still no reply. I then resort to texting Adam, who does reply right away. When he does, I write him back: Hey!! Can u call dad and have him answer my texts to him asap?
Adam: Yes, 1 sec.
Me: Thanks sweetie! The bank has cancelled my debit card and I have no access to cash!
Adam, after a bit: He’s @ a doctors appt but if its really important u have to call him he says!
Me: I can’t call him! Did he get my texts??
Adam: Aggh i don’t know he seemed peeved and/or doing something important so I just told him that you needed him and he said for you to call him.
Me: Ok thanks! I cant call bc my phone doesnt work here except for texts
Adam: Oooo is there anything else i can do for you?
Me: No thanks sweetie! Just make sure dad checks into this as soon as possible
Finally, I hear back from Mike: As soon as I get out of Dr. Appt I will check
Me: Ok i just need u to let me know that u get my texts!
Mike: Was in middle of annual physical and still finishing up. Its hard to reply when talking to Dr or while he is examining me.
Me: Ok sorry! I am so pissed at that stupid BB&T
Mike: Perhaps its the local bank software. I’ll check. Still waiting for EKG and tetanus shot. Dr. Kessler was at Oman royal opera hall in late Jan or early Feb. He is the NSO physician when they travel abroad. Ltr.
About an hour later, Mike texts: The bank did not see anything in their system about an attempted use or rejection. Perhaps it was a glitch with that bank or ATM. They suggested trying a different bank ATM.
Me: OK, will try on monday when i can go inside the bank if it takes my card. Thanks so much for checking. I was really in a panic!! I hope it will work next time!
Mike: He saw no problems in their system which would show you trying to use it and a rejection. You are still listed as traveling through the 25th.
I feel a little better after hearing this information, but I guess it remains to be seen whether the card will work next time I try it.
Finally, it’s 6:00 and Carole and Barry and I head into the Nasrid Palaces. There are three Nasrid Palaces: The Mexuar Palace is from the reign of Ismail I and Muhammad V (1362-1391). The second is Comares Palace, from Yusuf (1333-1354) and Muhammad V (1362-1391) and the Palace of the Lions, from Muhammad V (1362-1391).
Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391) are responsible for most of the Alhambra’s construction that we still admire today, from the improvements of the Alcazaba and the palaces, to the Patio of the Lions (Patio de los Leones), the Justice Gate (Puerta de la Justicia), the extension and decoration of the towers, the building of the Baths (Baños), the Comares Room (Cuarto de Comares) and the Hall of the Boat (Sala de la Barca). Hardly anything remains from what the later Nasrid Kings did.
From the time of the Catholic Monarchs until today, Charles V ordered part of the complex to be demolished in order to build the palace which bears his name. From the 18th century, the Alhambra was abandoned. During the French domination, part of the fortress was blown up and it was not until the 19th century that the process of repairing, restoring and preserving the complex started and is still maintained nowadays. (Alhambra de Granada: Historical Introduction)
According to the Alhambra website’s “Artistic Introduction,” the Nasrid architecture marked the end of the glorious period that started with the Umayyads in Cordoba in the 8th century. The architects of the Cordovan mosque, which was built a long time before the Alhambra, did not influence this architecture. It includes some of the typical elements of the Andalucían architecture, such as the horseshoe arch with sprandel (square wide frame which envelopes the arch) and the arch scallops (arch scallop of triangular shape), as well as its own special elements such as the capitals of the columns of the Alhambra.
The greatest concern of the architects of the Alhambra was to cover every single space with decoration, no matter the size. No decorative element was too much. Most of the interior arches are false arches, with no structure; they are there only to decorate. Walls are covered with beautiful and extremely rich ceramics and plasterwork. And the coverings have wooden frames that have been exquisitely carved.
The Alhambra was built with its own special type of column, which is not used in any other building. This column has a very fine cylindrical shaft, the base of which has a big concave molding and is decorated with rings on the top part. The capital is divided into two bodies and the first one, cylindrically shaped, has a very simple decoration and a prism with a rounded-angled base and stylised vegetal forms as decoration.(Alhambra de Granada: Artistic Introduction)
Even though Muslim art bans figural representation, the decorating themes in the Alhambra are quite varied. The classical calligraphic decoration is used, in particular cursive and kufic inscriptions, which reproduce the words of Zawi ben Ziri (founder of the Nasrid dynasty): “Only God is Victor,” and poems written by different poets of the court.
The decorative elements most often used by these architects were stylised vegetal forms, interlacing decoration and the nets of rhombuses.
I am amazed by the Alhambra’s decoration throughout the Nasrid Palaces. Just like the Alhambra website says, every surface is covered with decoration, no matter how small or unimportant. It is truly amazing.
However, for some reason I have an iconic picture in my mind of the Alhambra and I can’t seem to find it. I imagine a picture of a beautiful cloister with a pool and garden in the middle. Around every corner, I am poised to find this iconic image, but I never do. Barry and Carole go ahead to meet Scottish Barry, but I keep poking into every nook and cranny looking for something that apparently doesn’t exist!
Finally, I realize that I’m a little lost and late to meet everyone at the car. I walk as fast as I can to the entrance pavilion, where Scottish Barry is looking impatiently at his watch. He tells us we must hurry to get to the flamenco show at 8:00. I tell Barry I was looking for an iconic shot that I remember seeing somewhere and I could never find it. He tells me the iconic shot of the Alhambra is the Patio of the Lions. Well, I spent quite a long time exploring that patio, and that wasn’t the shot I envisioned at all. Besides, of all the pictures I took there, I don’t think I took that iconic shot! 😦
In the car, as Barry zooms to the Albaycin, Carole and I change out of our sweaty clothes and into skirts (“I feel like a girl now!” says Carole, with a sigh of relief).
On the way to Jardines de Zoraya, Barry has a great idea. He tells me I should try to use my debit card to pay for the dinner and show tonight. That way, I can find out if the card works and put my mind at ease. Also, I’ll be dealing with a human being instead of an ATM, and if there’s a problem, they can tell me to my face what it is. That sounds like a brilliant plan. 🙂
I have to say, overall, that I find the Alhambra to be lovely, but just a tad bit disappointing. Maybe it’s my state of mind over the bank card debacle; maybe I have built up “the Alhambra” too much in my mind. Maybe it’s because of the touristy nature of the place, unlike Cordoba’s Mezquita, which didn’t seem touristy at all. Maybe it’s because of the heat, or the fact that I can’t find the classic view of the Alhambra that I’ve always held in my imagination. It’s funny sometimes how so many factors can affect our experience of a place. It is lovely, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t quite meet up to my expectations.
Maybe it’s best to throw out all expectations of a place before going there, if it’s possible to do that. 🙂