travel theme: architecture

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!

First choice, hands down, Cordoba’s Mezquita.  To see lots more pictures, you can check out my post: andalucía: córdoba’s stunning mezquita.

Cordoba's Mezquita
Cordoba’s Mezquita

Second choice, Seville’s Alcázar.  If you’d like to see more, you can visit: the alcázar in seville.

Seville's Alcázar
Seville’s Alcázar
Seville's Alcázar
Seville’s Alcázar

And finally, I have to include at least one place from beautiful Sintra, in Portugal: the gorgeous Palace of Monserrate.

Palace of Monserrate
Palace of Monserrate

two bus rides from spain to portugal: meeting restlessjo in tavira

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 EVA bus from Seville to Tavira: note the Algarve sign on the bus reflected in the window
on the EVA bus from Seville to Tavira: note the Algarve sign on the bus reflected in the window

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.

on the EVA bus
on the EVA bus

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!

the EVA bus at the Tavira bus terminal
the EVA bus at the Tavira bus terminal

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.

my first glimpse of Jo's famous bridge, the Ponte Romana, in Tavira
my first glimpse of Jo’s famous bridge, the Ponte Romana, in Tavira

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.

Jo and Mick at a little riverside cafe where we stop for wine
Jo and Mick at a little riverside cafe where we stop for wine

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.

Jo's back porch
Jo’s back patio

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.
Igreja de Santiago
Church of Carmo

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)

Igreja de Santiago
Church of Carmo

Many Portuguese houses and buildings have facades of pretty ceramic tiles.  I love these!

tiled facades on buildings ~ these are all over Portugal
tiled facades on buildings ~ these are all over Portugal

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!

cheese appetizer at Restaurante Bica
cheese appetizer at Restaurante Bica
Salmao Grelhado, or Grilled Salmon at Restaurante Bica
Salmao Grelhado, or Grilled Salmon at Restaurante Bica

After dinner, we take a long walk through the town, where we see the lights of Tavira reflected in the Gilão River.

a night view of the River Gilão
a night view of the River Gilão
 The River Gilão in Tavira
The River Gilão in Tavira
 The River Gilão in Tavira
The River Gilão in Tavira

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.

me with Jo, walking around in Tavira
me with Jo, walking around in Tavira

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!

some strange peeping street performers
some strange peeping street performers

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.

Tavira all abuzz at the cafes
Tavira all abuzz at the cafes

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. 🙂

the alcázar in seville

Monday, July 8:  I head to Seville’s intriguing Alcázar and its extensive gardens in hopes of finding some relief from the 43 degree heat.  Sadly, I find there is no relief to be found anywhere on its grounds or in the shade of its gorgeous arches.  However, it is stunningly beautiful despite the miserable weather in summertime Seville.

Entrance to the Alcázar
Entrance to the Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The original nucleus of the Alcázar was constructed in the 10th century as the palace of the Muslim governor, and is used even today as the Spanish royal family’s residence in this city, thereby retaining the same purpose for which it was originally intended: as a residence of monarchs and heads of state. Built and rebuilt from the early Middle Ages right up to our times, it consists of a group of palatial buildings and extensive gardens. The Alcázar embraces a rare compendium of cultures where areas of the original Almohad palace – such as the “Patio del Yeso” or the “Jardines del Crucero” – coexist with the Palacio de Pedro I representing Spanish Mudejar art, together with other constructions displaying every cultural style from the Renaissance to the Neoclassical.

I wander around the gardens for a good long while, as they are expansive, but I find it unbearably hot as it’s mid-afternoon and the sun is relentless.

gardens of the Alcázar
gardens of the Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

When I wander into the Palacio de Don Pedro, I’m awestruck by the amazing arches and tilework.  In my eyes, this architecture is some of the most beautiful in the world.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The Conjunto Monumental, or group of historic buildings encompassing the Cathedral/Giralda, the Alcázar and the Archivo de Indias, constitutes a remarkable testimony to the major stages of the city’s urban history (Islamic, Christian, and that of Seville with its associations with the New World), as well as symbolizing a city that became the trading capital with the Indies for two centuries – a time during which Seville was the hub of the Spanish monarchy and played a major role in colonizing Latin America following its discovery by Columbus. (UNESCO: Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville)

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The Alcázar has been expanded and rebuilt many times in the 11 centuries of its existence. Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs, stayed here in the 1480s as they prepared for the conquest of Cordoba.  Later rulers created the lovely gardens.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

The Placio de Don Pedro, also known as the Mudejar Palace, was built by Pedro I between 1360 and 1364.  He built it in “perishable” ceramics, plaster and wood, following the Quran’s prohibition against “eternal” structures, reserved for the creator.  At the heart of the palace is the Patio de las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens) surrounded by beautiful arches, plasterwork and tiling.  The Patio de las Munecas (Patio of the Dolls) has delicate Granada-style decoration, brought here from the Alhambra in the 19th century (Lonely Planet Spain).  These are my favorite parts of the palace by far.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar

I meet Australian Barry near this gate; he looks as hot and wilted as I feel. He’s looking for Carole, who has wandered off somewhere.

Alcázar
Alcázar
Alcázar
underground cistern at the Alcázar

When I finish my visit of the Alcázar, I go in search of a cafe where I can sit in the shade and have a cool drink.  I find Carole and Barry sitting at a cafe near a fountain, and I join them for agua con gas, sparkling water, the only answer to the heat in Seville.

a common sign on streets throughout Spain
a common sign on streets throughout Spain
walking through the hot streets of Seville in search of agua con gas
walking through the hot streets of Seville in search of agua con gas
a little shade and a cool drink
a little shade and a cool drink

andalucía: seville & its impressive cathedral

Monday, July 8:  Seville is rich in history, from its first settlement by the Tartessians in the 8th century B.C. to its later settlement by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians.  Because the Rio Guadalquivir is navigable to the city, Seville became a strategic center for trade in Inland Andalucía.  The Romans called the city Hispalis and founded the colony of Italica in the surrounding area.

The Moors called it Ixbilia; the name of Seville is derived from that name. Moorish rule was a period of great splendor, not only architecturally, but culturally, politically, socially and economically.

In 1248, it was conquered by the Christian King Fernando III.

After the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Seville became the main port for trade with the New World, resulting in several centuries of grandeur.   Unfortunately, trade with America gradually moved to the port of Cadiz.

An Exposition was held in 1929.  Expo 1992 commemorated the 5th centenary of America’s discovery.

Seville is the capital of Andalucia and the 4th largest city in Spain, with over 704,000 inhabitants.  As part of the Mediterranean, its climate is warm and in the summer it reaches over 35 degrees.

We walk though Santa Cruz, the primary tourist neighborhood of Seville and the former Jewish quarter of the medieval city.   The neighborhood is the location of many of Seville’s oldest churches and is home to the Cathedral of Seville, including the converted minaret of the old Moorish mosque Giralda.  (Wikipedia: Santa Cruz, Seville)

According to UNESCO, the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias together form a remarkable monumental complex in the heart of Seville. They epitomize the Spanish “Golden Age,” incorporating vestiges of Islamic culture, centuries of ecclesiastical power, royal sovereignty and the trading power that Spain acquired through its colonies in the New World.

Founded in 1403 on the site of a former mosque, Seville Cathedral, built in Gothic and Renaissance style, covers seven centuries of history. With its five naves, it is the largest Gothic building in Europe.

entrance to Seville Cathedral
entrance to Seville Cathedral
Inside Seville Cathedral
Inside Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
Organ at Seville Cathedral
Organ at Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral
inside Seville Cathedral
inside Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral from outside
Seville Cathedral from outside
another unused entrance to Seville Cathedral
another unused entrance to Seville Cathedral
Another bit of Seville Cathedral
Another bit of Seville Cathedral

Its 90 meter high bell tower, the Giralda, was the former minaret of the mosque, a masterpiece of Almohad architecture and now an important example of cultural syncretism thanks to the top section of the tower, designed in the Renaissance period by Hernán Ruiz. Ever since its creation, the Cathedral has continued to be used for religious purposes (UNESCO: Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville).

Giralda Tower of Seville Cathedral
Giralda Tower of Seville Cathedral

It’s not too difficult to climb up the amazing Giralda because of the ramps built so guards could ride horses all the way to the top. Many windows along the ramp offer fabulous views of Seville and the spires and backbone of the Cathedral from above.  The original minaret was constructed in brick by Almohad caliph Yusuf Yacub al-Mansur between 1184 and 1198.  In 1365, an earthquake destroyed the original upper copper spheres.  To crown the new bell tower, El Giraldillo, a 16th century bronze weathervane, was added.  It represents the virtue of “Faith” and serves as a symbol of Seville.   The Giralda is considered by many to be Spain’s most perfect Islamic building because of its proportions, decoration and color. (Lonely Planet Spain).

It’s easy to imagine, as I climb the ramps inside of the Giralda, the guards and their horses clopping up the inside ramps during the tower’s early days.  What an amazing experience of rich history!

view from Giralda Tower
view from Giralda Tower
View of the top of the Cathedral from Giralda Tower
View of the top of the Cathedral from Giralda Tower
view from Giralda Tower
view from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
Bells in Giralda Tower
Bells in Giralda Tower
the courtyard of 60 orange trees from Giralda Tower
the courtyard of 60 orange trees from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
View from Giralda Tower
view of Seville's streets from Giralda Tower
view of Seville’s streets from Giralda Tower
Giralda Tower from outside
Giralda Tower from outside

I’m impressed by the elaborate tomb of Christopher Columbus, dating from 1902.  There is apparently great controversy over whether the explorer’s body is really buried there, however, as many argue that he is (mainly) buried in the Dominican Republic (Lonely Planet Spain).

Tomb of Christopher Columbus
Tomb of Christopher Columbus

The Capilla Mayor‘s Gothic gilded and polychromed wood altarpiece is believed to be the biggest in the world, holding more than 1,000 carved Biblical figures, according to Lonely Planet Spain.

The Patio de los Naranjos was originally the courtyard where Muslims performed ablutions before entering the mosque.  It is planted with 60 orange trees.

Orange trees at Seville Cathedral
Orange trees at Seville Cathedral
the door to the Cathedral from the courtyard
the door to the Cathedral from the courtyard

Of course like all the cathedrals in Europe in summer, Seville Cathedral is warm, damp and close inside.  Out in the orange tree courtyard, or climbing the ramp up the Giralda, or even wandering quietly or sitting in the Cathedral, I feel hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.  Escaping into the streets of Seville doesn’t give any relief either, but I head over to the Alcázar in hopes that its famous gardens might offer some cooling relief.

andalucía: morning in seville: plaza de españa, hotel alfonso XIII & tapas at hosteria del laurel

Monday, July 8:  Upon arrival in Seville, about a 2 hour drive from our villa in Mollina, Australian Barry, our resident botanical expert, notes the Jacaranda trees lining the streets of the city.  Jacaranda trees are apparently all over southern Spain. They have a light, pleasant scent and lovely blue or purple clusters of flowers.  Of course, as it’s July, they’re not currently in bloom, but Scottish Barry tells us Seville is beautiful in spring when the trees are in bloom.

First, we visit the Plaza de España , a plaza in the Parque de María Luisa It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, which Spain hosted.  It’s an example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España

The entire southern end of the city was developed into an expanse of gardens and grand boulevards, with a half mile of  tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches and lush plantings of palms, orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and stylized flower beds.

The Plaza de España has been used as a filming location for films such as the 1962 Lawrence of Arabia and the Star Wars movies.  It was also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator.  (Wikipedia: Plaza de España (Seville))

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España

Barry tells us that though it was built for the Exposition, it was never really used because of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España

The plaza was built on the Maria Luisa Park’s edge to showcase Spain’s industry and technology exhibits.  The Plaza de España complex is a huge half-circle;  buildings along the perimeter are accessible over a moat by bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. In the center is the Vicente Traver fountain. By the walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España
Plaza de España

Today the Plaza de España mainly consists of government buildings. The Seville Town Hall is located within it.  The Plaza’s tiled ‘Alcoves of the Provinces’ are backdrops for visitors’ photographs, taken in their own home province’s alcove.  I take some photos in the alcoves of the provinces I’ve visited or those I plan to visit: Toledo, Malaga, Cordoba & Barcelona.

Toledo
Toledo
Malaga
Malaga
Cordoba
Cordoba
Barcelona
Barcelona

At the end of the park, the grandest mansions from the fair have been adapted as museums. The farthest contains the city’s archaeology collections. The main exhibits are Roman mosaics and artifacts from Italy.

As we leave the plaza and walk into the city center, we pass some other beautiful buildings.

Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville
Seville

We then walk toward the city center of Seville, making a plush bathroom stop at the beautiful Hotel Alfonso XIII.  The hotel was constructed by order of of King Alfonso XIII of Spain to house VIP guests at the Iber-American Exposition in 1928.  The hotel has, for over 85 years, been the place to stay for royalty and heads of state.  Its distinctive Mudéjar-style architecture of sweeping arches, decorative brickwork, wrought-iron, ornamental towers and ceramic finials makes it a glamorous spot to stay in Seville.  It also welcomes visitors off the street to come in and have a look (Hotel Alfonso XIII, Seville).

Hotel Alfonso XIII
Hotel Alfonso XIII
Inside Hotel Alfonso XIII for a bathroom break :-)
Inside Hotel Alfonso XIII for a bathroom break 🙂
the staircase at Hotel Alfonso XIII
the staircase at Hotel Alfonso XIII

Outside of the hotel, Australian Barry identifies a prehistoric plant, a tree fern.  Barry is our flora expert on this tour, and he isn’t even the tour guide. 🙂

Barry says this is a prehistoric plant
Barry says this is a prehistoric plant

We meander into the Barrio Gotic, where we stop for a tapas lunch at the cafe Hosteria del Laurel.  We share a sampling of tapas: spinach with chick peas, chorizo al vino blanco  (sausages cooked in white wine), stewed beef’s cheek and a plate of Manchego Cheese.  I really enjoy the company of Carole and the two Barrys, the Australian Barry married to Carole, and the Scottish Barry, our guide.

It’s funny, after we polished off our tapas yesterday in Ronda before I remembered to take a photo, Carole begins to remind me at each meal to take pictures.  Thanks to her reminders, I have lots of pictures of wonderful Spanish food. 🙂

Hosteria del Laurel
Hosteria del Laurel
the view of the square from Hosteria del Laurel
the view of the square from Hosteria del Laurel
Manchego Cheese
Manchego Cheese
spinach with chick peas
spinach with chick peas
chorizo al vino blanco
chorizo al vino blanco
stewed beef's cheek
stewed beef’s cheek

After lunch, Barry the guide leaves us to explore Seville Cathedral and the Alcazar on our own.  The day is a scorcher, but little do we know it will reach 43 degrees during our explorations!  This is most definitely not the time of year to visit Seville.

my itinerary for spain: here’s what i’ve got so far…

Tuesday, June 11:  I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal.  I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.

Here’s my itinerary so far.

June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat.  I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)

I decided to skip Madrid altogether.

July 3-6:  Toledo, Spain.  I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire.  She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal.  She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo.  Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.

July 6-12:  I will head straight from Toledo to Malaga Airport, where I will meet Tour Andalucia: Tour Andalucia: Villa Tour

The small group tour includes the following:

  1. Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
  2. Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
  3. Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
  4. Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
  5. Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
  6. Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  7. Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.

July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of  East of Málaga …. and more!.  She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía.  I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.

July 14-25:  Heading to Portugal.  I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon.  While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire.  I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon.  No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂