Tuesday, February 18, 2014

awed by the mezquita

We left Granada and spent a night in a small town (Alcala la Real) between it and our next destination, Cordoba. We rolled into Cordoba to find out that it was the nicest whether they had had in many weeks, and it was Sunday, so half of southern Spain had descended on the town to walk around and go the the markets. Parking was a nightmare. Finally we found a parking spot in a parking structure that was in some early twelve hundreds building (they really know how to re-purpose old buildings in Spain). By happen chance, the parking structure was right across the street from the hotel we had been hoping to stay out (sometimes the parking gods do shine down on you).

Cordoba, like all the cities we had been going to, is an ancient city with lots of narrow streets and huge churches. We explored the city for a bit and ate at one of the better restaurants we had eaten at so far in Spain. Spanish food was good, but not very full of taste, and this restaurant was an exception. After a little talking to the waiter, we found out why: the chef was American - haha.

The next day we headed out to the biggest sight in the town, the Mezquita. Like many things in this part of Spain, it was Moorish built and then once they were kicked out, re-purposed as something Christian. It was a very impressive complex with hundreds of white and red arches stretching in all directions. Then in the middle of the whole thing was a Catholic church. We got in for free because on weekday mornings, there is a time before the morning services where they just open the doors and you can walk right in. Although, get there early, because at 9:30, they send guards around to shoo everyone out.

Outside the Mezquita.

Now that's a door.
Cathedral inside the Mezquita.

the alhambra: not your ordinary palace

After reluctantly leaving the coast, we headed back north towards Granada. As we approached Granada, we were alarmed by the snowy peaks that stood behind the city. We had seen so many rolling hills that an actual mountain was quite the sight.

We arrived in the middle of the day and tried to look for a hotel on the hill where the Alhambra was - which was quite difficult. At one point we wound our way down a tiny street that dead-ended and Maggie and Andrew's mom went on foot in search of a hotel, leaving Andrew and his dad with the double parked car (but we had a good view of the Alhambra).

We ended up parking in the Alhambra parking lot and from there decided to just go to the Alhambra and leave Granada afterwards.

The Alhambra is a old Moorish Palace that is the most touristed spot in Spain. As we read, the famous decorations inside were only supposed to last as long as the ruler who built them, but luckily for us, they have stood up against the test of time. The whole complex takes up a giant area with gardens, churches and palaces all within the grounds.

Some of the gardens leading to the Palace.

Just your Joe average door in this place.

One of the many beautiful ceilings in this place.

A view of Granada from the Palace.

marbella, how i could retire in thee

From Gibraltar, we headed south to Costa del Sol, otherwise known as the Florida of Spain. On a side note, all over Spain we saw these giant bull cutouts dotting the landscape. We have no idea what the purpose is, but they were always nice to see.

From the beginning of the trip, we had wanted to get some sun and surf while in Spain and the Costa del Sol seemed like the place to do it. We headed to the city of Marbella, known as the vacation spot for Russian mobsters and Saudi royalty (a Saudi royal built a replica of the White House here).

We found a nice little B & B only a block away from the beach run by the nicest Spanish girl. The town was oozing with charm and we decided to stay a couple days.

There was a boardwalk, good seafood and beaches, what more could we want. While we were there, we needed a night of down time, so one evening we even decided to stay in the room and have a cheese dinner while watching Yellow Submarine and Princess Bride.

On the beach

Enjoying the Seafood.

Nothing tastes better than beers on the beach at sunset.

gibraltar, just a big rock

In Sevilla, we looked at a map to get an idea of where we wanted to go next and saw that we were quite close to Gibraltar. None of us had ever been there, so we decided we might as well take a look.

Driving up to the rock, we definitely got an idea why it had become such an iconic place. It is quite impressive.

We had to park on the Spanish side and then walked across to the UK side (Gibraltar is technically part of the UK). Even thought it is a tiny place, the border felt like almost every other border we had ever been to - lots of seedy characters hanging around.

When you crossed into Gibraltar, you literally had to cross the airport landing strip to get into the city. That is how small this place is. The funny thing about that though, is that once we hit the city, we got lost. We wandered around for awhile, trying to find the cable car that takes you to the top. After an hour of walking around a small town, we finally found it. It was already getting late though and the city hadn't been that impressive so far, so we decided to skip the cable car ride up. We had already seen the rock and the famous Gibraltar monkeys, so what else was there. After a drink we headed back to the car.

The family crossing the landing strip to getting into the city.

Gibraltar Monkeys.

sevilla, what a great city

From Alburquerque, we headed to Merida, a town known for its impressive Roman ruins. When Rome stretched into the Iberian Peninsula, Merida was a major city and the town is still famous for many intact ruins. We arrived in the evening and drove past a few ruins just getting to our hotel. Walking from the car to the hotel, we passed a few more ruins, each with a cat siting by the entrance, who became known as Ticket Cats. We assumed they attacked if you entered without paying.

We headed out for dinner and found the city to be quite underwhelming when it came to atmosphere in their eating establishments. As a result we ended up at, once again, the closest restaurant to our hotel. It was a chain called 100 Montaditos and was surprisingly good. Montaditos are tiny sandwhiches and the night we were there, they were all half a Euro. So we ordered a bunch of little sandwhiches and chowed down. Andrew's mom feel in love and we went back the next day for lunch.

There is a picture from Montaditos, because it was the only thing really worth mentioning in Merida. There were Roman ruins, but we had just spent a month in Rome, so nothing too impressive. The weather was bad, so we headed out of Merida looking for sunnier skys in Sevilla.

And Sevilla didn't let us down. We had quite the time finding a parking spot by the old city, but after a few laps through some round-abouts, we found one and started exploring a great city. The old city of Sevilla is a sight to see. Tiny roads turning this way and that with little shops and restaurants everywhere, not to mention the orange trees - they are also everywhere.

This road is a virtual interstate by old city Sevilla standards.
The sun was shining so we headed around town.  After getting lost in the winding streets of the old city, which is pretty much a given, we finally found Plaza de Espana. It was built in the 20's for a Spanish / American Expo, but unluckily for them, it took place right after the market crash - so Americans didn't show up in the numbers they hoped. But none the less, it was a beautiful area.

Sevilla is also known for its great food which we indulged in. We ate at a restaurant that was in an old Moorish bathhouse. The whole room was done in intricately-patterned Moorish til.

The next day we headed to the Giralda Tower which is a symbol for Sevilla and is attached to the Seville Cathedral, the largest Cathedral in Europe. We had seen many churches and Cathedrals in our time in Spain, but this was definitely was impressive.

Us in the Plaza outside of the Giralda Tower

The Giralda Tower and Cathedral from the outside (and more orange trees).

Entrance to the Cathedral.

The Cathedral houses many tombs, one being that of Christopher Columbus, maybe. He was supposedly buried in Cuba, but brought to Spain after Cuba's troubles in the past. Although rumors abound that it's maybe not him... but anyway, whoever is buried in the Cathedral has one hell of a tomb. This is how you get buried in style.

Andrew and his Dad in front of Christopher Columbus's tomb.
Next we made the long trek to the top of the Giralda tower, to see the breathtaking view of Seville.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the halls go to alburquerque... spain

The next stop on our journey was more of a Hajj than anything else. When we had decided on visiting Spain, Andrew had looked up where Albuquerque's namesake (Alburquerque, notice the extra 'r') was in Spain. It wasn't very close to Madrid, but if we decided to go west, it could definitely be fit into the trip. Since we did go west, it was a must stop.

We had no idea what to expect and as we approached, we were startled to see that a giant castled loomed over the shepherding village. We knew we were close to the Spain / Portugal border but as we came to find out, the castle in Alburquerque played an important role in the border wars between the two Iberian powerhouses.

A view of the castle as we approached the city. And also, sheep.

Sheep are even on the Alburquerque Coat of Arms. Along with another Strawberry tree, which we still don't believe exist.

The castle and its horse guardian.
After driving through the town a bit, we finally ended up just outside the old wall that surrounded the castle. We got out and tried to see if we could get inside the bugger - it felt like our birthright as Albuquerque citizens. Unfortunately for us, it was closed for restorations, but that didn't stop us from scaling the wall and storming the castle... at least as much as we could.

After scaling the wall.

Andrew storming the castle.
The castle really was on the highest point in the region and actually allowed us to look into Portugal. Andrew hoped to see Ronaldo waving back, but no luck. We also had a great view of the city and it almost felt like standing on Sandia Peak and gazing down.

Is that the First National Bank building I see?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

seat of the conquistadors

Our next two stops were in the cities and collective area known as the "Seat of the Conquistadors." It is so named because a majority of the Conquistadors came from this area. It is isolated and barren and, at time of Columbus, full of nobles with nothing to lose and much to gain. After their success in the New World they returned to Spain rich and the towns of Trujillo and Caceres flourished. Since that time, not much has happened in the area, so both of the towns are known for still possessing their 1500's charm.

First we stopped for lunch in the hilltop town of Trujillo. After a rather underwhelming Sunday brunch, we headed out and explored the walled city. Tight streets curved and looped their way higher and higher until you were at the top with a view of the surrounding area.

The hilltop city of Trujillo from the car.

A statue of Pizarro in the town square, with storks perched on top of the tower in the back.
After our exploration we hopped back in the car and headed to Caceres for the evening. We arrived late at night and found a cute little hotel right on the town's main square. After drinks while watching a La Liga game, we headed to the restaurant next to our hotel for dinner and another La Liga match on TV (they love their La Liga in Spain). We decided on a Tapas evening and ate cheese until we felt like we might burst.

The next morning we headed out to explore the city before moving on. It was much like Trujillo, tight streets winding this way and that. But unlike Trujillo, it wasn't on much of a hilltop, so the walking was much flatter. We entered a Church and made our way all the way up to the bell tower and got a good view of the city.

One of the bells in the Bell Tower, with the city beyond.
The view of Caceres from the Bell Tower.
The wall surrounding the old city of Caceres.

Friday, February 7, 2014

afternoon hike in monfrague

Leaving Salamanca, we headed to the National Park called Monfrague. We really didn't know what to expect and were surprised to see the massive replanting effort that had gone into the place. Rolling hills after rolling hills were filled with rows of trees all of the same height. We assumed there must have been some heavy deforestation in its past and they were trying to get it back. We stopped in the little village in the heart of the park for a map and a little info on where would be a good place to hike.

We found a hike that seemed reasonable and headed out across the river to the trail head. We decided on a hike that would take us to an old Moorish castle that sat on top of one of the many ridges in the area. A hike with a scenic destination always makes for an easier hike.

 It took us around an hour to make it to the top. At the top we had stunning views in all angles and as Andrew's dad said, "I feel like we can see all of Spain."

 We were able to climb up in the castle to get even better views. We felt like Moors watching out for invading Christains.

There were many giant buzzards circling overhead, ready to pick on any fallen hikers - luckily that wasn't us. We also found out once we reached the top, that there was a road on the opposite side of the ridge we hiked up, that takes you almost to the castle. But the way we saw it, the hike allowed us to earn our beers that evening.

The bridge is where the trail head was. To get an idea of how far we hiked.