A Travellerspoint blog

Alhambra Encore

sunny 29 °C

While Ernest Hemingway thought that Ronda was the most romantic city on earth, President Bill Clinton believed that this was the most beautiful view in the world...
large_b9619ab0-bfff-11ec-8cfb-83ed7ab0c3c6.JPG

This was Clinton's view of the Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas in the Albaicin district of Granada. The Alhambra is one of the most famous examples of Islamic architecture in the world and is here because the Moroccan Moors conquered Andalucia in the 8th century and reigned for several hundred years. The fortified palace was begun in 1238 by Muhammad I, the founder of the Granada Emirate. This is the view of the Mirador de San Nicolas looking back across the valley from the Alhambra...
large_a9a5e4f0-bfff-11ec-b799-4b4dc98bf171.JPG
The Alhambra became a renowned tourist attraction in 1832 after British/American writer, Washington Irving, stayed in the palace and published a series of essays titled, 'Tales of Alhambra.' Although largely fiction, Irving's tales caught the imagination of the well-heeled travellers of the day. There is no need to be well-heeled to visit Alhambra today, although, as we discovered, if you plan on visiting during the Easter holidays you had better book weeks in advance. We visited the Alhambra in October 2009 so were not totally disappointed when we couldn't get tickets. We wrote a post in 2009 titled "Alhambra - A Tale of Cabbages and Kings," and this is one of the pictures from that post - a reflection of the palace in the harem's swimming pool...
large_P1040074.jpg
The Alhambra is always busy, but the queues under a scorching sun on Good Friday made us glad that we didn't have tickets...
a95aab20-bfff-11ec-aca4-73b244a585c9.JPG
We did, however, get to wander in the shade of the forest that carpets the hillside beneath the fortress...
Fountaina.JPG
And we got to see several of the ancient Moorish gateways that once protected this place...
large_a9cb2030-bfff-11ec-ab03-6fdce513d109.JPG
In 2009, we were so engrossed with the Alhambra that we didn't visit the ancient Islamic quarter of Albaicin, and we didn't spend any time at all in the city of Granada. This time we stayed in the city and started with a tour of Albaicin...
large_Riverside.JPG
The ancient Islamic quarter is a network of narrow alleyways that carpet the hillside opposite Alhambra. Its labyrinth of cobbled streets and multitude of steep stone steps make it virtually impassable to traffic. Only residents and taxis are allowed to navigate the streets so it's a great place to walk...
a96cd390-bfff-11ec-b776-ad30110fdcdd.JPG
Traffic is also restricted in many of the streets in the city of Granada and we spent our days sitting in sidewalk cafes enjoying the traditional churros and hot chocolate while watching the world pass by. This is life in the sun as it should be...
large_a9b79830-bfff-11ec-bf3f-7f7e1e495f3e.JPG
After a long drive back to Malaga on the Mediterranean coast through the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains on Easter Sunday, we arrived in time to catch the very last Semana Santa parade just as Jesus was about to enter the Cathedral...
a96e8140-bfff-11ec-8afa-8b009903fc78.JPG
With a sun-filled and very interesting Easter week in Andalucia at an end, we are now taking the high-speed train north to the Spanish capital, Madrid. The weather forecast is not promising, and we may regret leaving the sunny south, but we have made a good start on our summer tans.

Posted by Hawkson 16:54 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Romantic Ronda

sunny 29 °C

We have run across Ernest Hemingway in several of our travels and even stayed at the same hotel as he in Havana - albeit long after his death. However, Ronda in Andalucia appears to have been one of his most favourite haunts. In his famous 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway wrote: "There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first bullfight in, if you are only going to see one, and that is Ronda." This is the bullring...
Bullring.JPG
Hemingway continued, "Ronda is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town, and as far as you can see in any direction, is a romantic background. If a honeymoon or an elopement is not a success in Ronda, it would be as well to start for Paris." We don't relish the idea of watching bulls being tormented and killed, neither are we eloping nor on honeymoon, but we have to admit that the mountain top community of Ronda is a wondrous sight for one very special reason - and this is it...
large_Bridge.JPG
This is the 390 foot high bridge that joins the old city on the right hand side with the new city on the left. It was commenced in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete. Here is another view of this incredible construction...
large_36abf440-bd8d-11ec-86f5-13f7a65b85b5.JPG
Ronda is an ancient town perched high above a broad valley filled with orange and olive groves, A deep canyon, formed over millions of years by the GuadalevĂ­n River, split the mountain in two and created an almost impenetrable barrier to would-be invaders. The sheer-sided mountains rise straight out of the valley on either side of the canyon...
large_389e9c80-bd8d-11ec-ae56-895b616383b4.JPG
Ronda began life as a Celtic settlement six centuries BC, but, despite its defensive location, it has changed hands many times in the last two and a half thousand years. Traces of Roman and Moorish architecture remain. These are some of the Moors' walls...
388c4d00-bd8d-11ec-a75a-9b23e85da723.JPG
This city has seen bloodshed many times over the centuries as competing religious and political factions fought for control. However, the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 saw one of its bloodiest periods. Hemingway returned to Ronda in his Civil War novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," to describe the execution of Fascist sympathisers who were thrown off the cliff to their deaths...
large_38a3cca0-bd8d-11ec-9dde-c31a360b0daf.JPG
On a more romantic note - our hotel in the oldest part of Ronda began life as a private mansion in 1736. While the San Gabriel retains many of its original features, its architect and builder could never have imagined that one day it would have a fully functioning cinema...
372e91c0-bd8d-11ec-86f5-13f7a65b85b5.JPG
The cinema has just 5 seats and we were the only guests watching a feature presentation of the 1941 Cary Grant classic, "Arsenic and Old Lace."
We went to bed when the movie finished at ten, but most guests went out to witness the silent Semana Santa parade that began at midnight. We woke briefly to the rattling of chains and the mournful chanting of penitents as the parade passed the hotel on its way to the nearby cathedral at 12.30, and then slept soundly in a bedroom that has been slept in for nearly 300 years. This is the cathedral the following morning...
large_38dc41c0-bd8d-11ec-aee4-3734f2a0109c.JPG
Not a penitent in sight.
P.S. The street thermometres all read 33 degrees in Granada today, but we didn't want our friends at home to be jealous so we said it was a mere 29C.

Posted by Hawkson 10:27 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

Spanish Semana Santa

sunny 25 °C

Being in the right place at the right time is often a matter of chance, and we admit that we have been extremely lucky as we travelled the world for the past 17 years. We've lost count of the number of times we've turned up at exactly the right time to witness great cultural events or astonishing natural phenomena - and we've done it again here in southern Spain. While Easter is celebrated in one way or another in all Christian countries, no one glorifies Holy Week with as much fervour and razzmatazz as the Andalucians and we kicked off the week in Cadiz where the streets were completely jammed with expectant hordes...
large_1-P1140561.JPG
None of these people seemed to be waiting for nudists, but we were at the back of the crowd so couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Someone told us that Jesus was just around the corner, but all we could see were the tops of peoples' pointy hats. So,we gave up and returned to our apartment. And that's where the luck came in. Unbeknown to us, we had rented a second floor apartment overlooking the Semana Santa parade route and Jesus came right past our balcony...
large_1-P1140613.JPG
Jesus was quickly followed by the Virgin Mary...
1-P1140728.JPG
We had an amazing grandstand view of the whole parade, including the marching bands and the Nazarenos - the men and women wearing conical hoods who are so named because Jesus came from Nazareth...
large_1-P1140648.JPG
Although some Semana Santa parades are held in silence accompanied by the noise of penitents' chains rattling on the cobbled streets, others are accompanied by brass bands playing solemn music.
Semana Santa parades are being held throughout Andalucia all this week and to get a close up view of the incredibly ornate thrones we drove to Seville where we viewed many of them in one of the churches...
1-P1140785.JPGlarge_37e00120-bcc1-11ec-bfb5-a7a2237cc364.JPG
Some thrones are so heavy that it takes hundreds of men to carry them through the streets for several hours. Teams of men change places at regular intervals and our apartment in Cadiz overlooked one of the stopping places. This group of burly men were waiting to take over...
1-P1140661.JPG
With the changeover complete, we were praying that there were no nudists on the beach as Jesus and his band of followers turned the corner at the seafront and disappeared along the promenade...
large_1-P1140704.JPG
Hundreds of shackled penitents carrying wooden crosses accompany the thrones and, in some cities, men thrash themselves with canes and tear open the wounds with shards of glass. We watched the PG13 afternoon matinee parade so saw none of this. However, many of the parades begin around midnight and are held in silence when the rattling of the shackles and cries of the penitents can be heard. We are now in Granada witnessing some of the grandest parades. Here is a view outside Granada Cathedral as Jesus and Mary arrive on the shoulders of several hundred men...
large_1-P1140998.JPG
There are no Hot Cross buns here in Spain, but to celebrate Semana Santa we ate the traditional Easter treat of torrijas. We would show you a picture, but it is just a slice of French toast soaked in honey. So, here is a chained penitent passing our apartment in Cadiz...
1-P1140701.JPG
Next stop - Ronda. Yet another unexpected breathtaking surprise.

Posted by Hawkson 14:01 Archived in Spain Comments (7)

Naked in Cadiz

sunny 24 °C

Just over a week ago, on the 5th of April, the city council of Cadiz passed a law to decree that, henceforth, all beaches in Cadiz shall be nudist beaches. We got here as soon as we could but, apart from a number of young women wearing topless string bikinis we saw little evidence that the law was being embraced. This is the beach next to our apartment - La Caleta...
large_5db23cd0-bb07-11ec-9870-f7815c797c79.JPG
Not a nudist in sight. So, we strolled along to the next beach - La Playa de Santa Maria...
5d01b180-bb07-11ec-a366-b336617631eb.JPG
Ditto. However, it is early days. Despite the lovely sunny days, the throngs of summer tourists are yet to arrive...
Egret.JPG
With nothing of note to see at the beach, apart from a very pretty egret that had flown over from Africa, we spent our days sightseeing in the city. This is one of the busiest streets lined with restaurants and cafes under the palm trees...
large_5ddb48a0-bb07-11ec-8231-9934ac35ad90.JPG
And this is one of the many narrow labyrinthine streets of today's 'old' city...
large_5d2761f0-bb07-11ec-821a-9b01c9145be9.JPG
The Andalucian port city of Cadiz was founded more than three thousand years ago by the Phoenicians from Tyre and was named Agadir. It is regarded as the most ancient city still standing in Western Europe today. However, this place has been attacked, sacked, and burned so many times that absolutely nothing more than a few hundred years old remains above ground.
While a modern city now sprawls out into the surrounding countryside, the original city was built entirely on a fortified island just a few hundred yards off the coast. While a few of the fortifications remain, they appear to be neglected and are not open to the public...
Fortification.JPG
More interesting are the 18th century houses and shops that line the narrow streets...
large_5dcbb840-bb07-11ec-8a13-29b3d64890c0.JPG
These buildings are a reminder of the days when only donkeys and men with barrows laboured to unload the great sailing ships and the fishing boats that jammed this important harbour on the Atlantic coast. Most of the streets are too narrow for all but the smallest of cars, so the city is a pedestrian's paradise.
In many of the great cities of Europe it is the cathedral and other religious buildings that are most interesting architecturally, even for heathens like us, and Cadiz is no exception. However, in European terms, Cadiz Cathedral is not particularly old. It was actually completed in the 19th century after 116 years of construction. However, it is quite a sight as it towers over the beachside buildings...
large_5d16c020-bb07-11ec-a4a6-b7b9c047fafc.JPG
This is the front of the Cathedral that overlooks the main plaza...
5da74050-bb07-11ec-8b41-631868bb96fd.JPG
Markets are another feature of European cities and Cadiz is no exception. Being a major fishing port, it wasn't surprising that we should see large trays of fresh lobsters in the market.
Lobsters.JPG
There are still no nudists on the beaches, but there is great expectation in the air and crowds are beginning to form for one of the Cathedral's biggest events of the year. Will we be here to witness it - or will we still be trolling the beaches looking for naked people? Only time will tell.

Posted by Hawkson 08:57 Archived in Spain Comments (5)

Perspectives on Gibraltar

sunny 22 °C

The British enclave of Gibraltar is, in essence, a small island at the very tip of Spain. We live on a small Canadian island, so we decided to put Gibraltar in perspective by comparing the two. Gibraltar covers just 2.6 square miles while our island of Gabriola is more than eight times the size. However, the population of Gibraltar is 32,000 - eight times the population of Gabriola. If our island had the same population density as Gibraltar there would be over a quarter of a million residents. Even more astounding is the fact that while the whole of Gabriola Island is habitable, almost all of Gibraltar is one uninhabitable sheer-sided mountain that is affectionately known as 'The Rock'...
large_eac14df0-b972-11ec-8812-3f0ccbc9cb2f.JPG
Gibraltar is a popular tourist destination and, before Covid, it would welcome some 12 million visitors a year. To be on a par with Gibraltar, our island could expect some 96 million visitors a year and we would definitely need more ferries than the two new ones that start service this week. But where do all the tourists stay on 'The Rock'? While some visitors stay on cruise ships, many are day-trippers from Spain. There are a number of fine hotels in Gibraltar for those staying longer, but there is only one that should be on every world traveller's bucket-list. It is rather unimaginatively, though understandably, named, "The Rock"...
large_ea958300-b972-11ec-8812-3f0ccbc9cb2f.JPG
This iconic hotel is nestled deep into the side of the mountain and has welcomed the world's statesmen and celebrities since 1932. We have loved our time at "The Rock" with its comfy beds, delicious meals, and spectacular views from our balcony across the Strait of Gibraltar to the coast of Morocco just nine miles away...
large_Morocco.JPG
However, to truly put Gibraltar in perspective we needed to take the cable car to the top of 'The Rock' from where we could look down at the small city clustered around the port...
Gibraltar.JPG
To the extreme right of this picture is the international airport that occupies the only flat piece of land between 'The Rock' and Spain. The only road on and off the peninsula cuts right across the middle of the main runway. For obvious reasons, no stopping is allowed on the runway and anyone jumping the traffic lights while a plane is landing is likely in for a nasty shock.
Another oddity of Gibraltar is the troupe of barbary macaques that live high up on 'The Rock'.
large_ead80a40-b972-11ec-b249-b1ab8bed0421.JPG
These cute little apes are a tourist attraction in themselves as they attempt to snatch a free meal from any unsuspecting visitor carrying a lunch bag.
Macaque.JPG
More than half of the world's maritime trade passes through the Strait of Gibraltar and at any one time upwards of forty freighters, ferries and cruise liners can be seen at anchor or passing through the strait from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic...
large_Sunset.JPG
Gibraltar's dominant location twixt Africa and Europe means that whoever holds 'The Rock' is able to control this busy waterway. Neanderthals lived in 'The Rock's' many caves some fifty thousand years ago and many invaders have fought over its strategic location for millennia. The British seized 'The Rock' in 1703 and despite several Spanish assaults, have clung on to it ever since. From 1969 to 1982 the Spanish cut off all road access to Gibraltar in the hope of starving the British out. While the Spanish may have successfully used sieges in Medieval times, they had no chance against a community served by a major port and an international airport. Gibraltar even has its own hospital, and a university.

Our few days in The Rock Hotel in Gibraltar were a delight as we hit the heights and strolled in the surrounding sub-tropical botanical gardens...
large_eabb0c60-b972-11ec-9527-63dc69020cf8.JPG
And in the evenings, we dined on the terrace in the warm glow of the setting sun...
large_Happiness.JPG
And so, in perspective, Gibraltar is a bustling, thriving place that is, simultaneously, an island of calm in a turbulent ocean.

Posted by Hawkson 08:50 Archived in Gibraltar Comments (9)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 702) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »