Category Archives: Travel

Back to España!

Back to España!

Spring Break for a teacher in the U.S. means time to high tail it out of town, so we’ve decided to spend some time in the Spanish countryside for some rest and relaxation. This time we flew from Dallas to Boston and then had a connection that would take us to Madrid. The flight from Dallas to Boston was uneventful, but once we got off the plane at Logan Airport, it wasn’t too clear how to catch our connecting flight. We met up with a lady and her daughter who were also on their way to Madrid and were a bit flustered at not knowing where to go to get their connecting flight. I decided to take matters into my own hands, ask some random airport employees (who were chatting with each other about girlfriend troubles.) These guys told me we had to go outside and take a bus to the International Terminal E, so we hurried outside — we only had an hour from touchdown to take-off, so there was no time to waste. Once outside, the four of us (the lady and her daughter were tagging along) looked for the bus to Terminal E. A rental car company bus pulled up and I thought I’d see if he’d take us there even though we weren’t rental car customers. As luck would have it, the driver was nice and said he’d drive us over to Terminal E. What good luck!

The bad part was that once we arrived a Terminal E, we would have to go through security again. Time was ticking, the tag-along lady was getting even more on edge, and the line to get through security was unbelievably long! I got out of line and asked another airport employee if we could get through any quicker since we had a connecting flight to catch. He told me to go through the First Class line, so off we went! Let this be a lesson to you: Ask and you shall receive! Sit still and be quiet and you’ll probably miss your flight!

We arrived at Barajas Airport at around 6:30 in the morning, stretched our legs, got a bite to eat, and picked up the rental car.

Curt in Barajas Airport

Having a bite to eat at Barajas Airport

Tortilla at Barajas airport

Tortilla y café con leche

Ibiza rental

Ibiza

We’ve been to Spain in the heart of winter, and the heat of summer, but this was the first time we’d been so close to springtime. It was exciting to see the fields looking so green and the almonds in full bloom.

The drive from Madrid

Green fields!

Almond groves

Almonds in bloom

Fields and groves

Scenery on the drive from Madrid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Audi here!

Get Audi here!

On the way back home from Cazorla Nature Park, we zipped along the road, without much issue with traffic. This might be a good time to reflect on some of the differences between driving in Spain and driving in the US. I will say that back in the States, people have the idea that driving in Europe is “crazy.” Comments like: “I’ve heard they drive like maniacs!” or “You’ll get killed trying to navigate big cities like Paris or Madrid!” are quite common. I have to put my two cents in here.

What I’ve noticed is that people drive with a purpose in Europe. People seems to drive like they need to get from Point A to Point B and they just move when they need to so that gets accomplished. On the other hand, people back in the states, who also need to get from Point A to Point B, do so while texting, talking on the phone, handing a McDonald’s Happy Meal to Junior in the back seat, etc. To me, that is more frightening than the aggressive driving in any big European city. One major difference attributing to this is that the use of cell phones while driving is a no-no in Spain. You can check out driving laws here.

Some other observations:

People in Spain use the left lane for passing. People in the States get in the left lane and hang out there, causing traffic to slow down behind them. Much cursing and road rage ensues.

People in Spain are supposed to wear reflective vests if they are on the side of the road. This is taken very seriously, apparently. We never saw anyone broken down on the side of the road without one. In the US, people will be practically lying underneath their broken down vehicle wearing shorts and flip-flops (another no-no in Spain, if you recall) right on the side of a four lane major highway. I think people in the US would find the reflective vest a bit too unfashionable. I mean if you’re going to get run over while changing a tire, at least you should look cute.

People in Europe navigate the glorious roundabouts with ease. I am a big fan of the traffic circles! No waiting at lights. No standoff at the stop signs where the other person doesn’t know it’s his turn and you are waiting for him to finally move through the intersection. In the US, people seem to be petrified of the roundabout. We have a total of ONE in my town back home and drivers are always slamming on their brakes in the middle of it.

Now I’m sure that there are exceptions to all of these observations, but honestly what is common place as far as driver distractions in the US, I just haven’t seen in Spain. People are not eating slices of pizza off their dashboard, or guzzling 32 oz sodas, or applying mascara at intersections, or reading a few pages of a novel…

That being said, we were on our way back home, and behaving nicely by staying in the right hand lane until needing to pass. Strangely enough, every time someone crept behind us and passed like a lunatic, it was one of these:

Audi sedan

“Get Audi here…!”

Not a silver one, or a white one, but a black Audi. Over and over again. Passed by a shiny black Audi. I wish I would have kept a tally because after a while it was quite humorous.

At one point there were some trucks traveling along, and one kicked up a rock that seriously sounded like a gun shot. If we were getting snoozy, that certainly woke us up! Even though we were beat from our day at Cazorla Nature Park, we decided to stop by Serón to get a feel for that town. It was late in the afternoon, so we just drove through the town and stopped to look at a sign that gave information about the area. We will have to return and make a day of it! I am very interested to see the old mines.

Just before we got home, while driving on the A334, Curt noticed a guy in the road wearing one of those caution green reflective vests. The guy seemed to be standing right in the middle of the lane. I am not certain what exactly our words were, or even which one of us said it, but it was something to the effect of, “What is that crazy nut doing in the middle of the road??” Well, it turns out that the “crazy nut” was pulling over cars for speeding. So he waves us over and tells us that we were speeding and should have only been going 60 km/h but were going 84 km/h. Can’t hardly argue with that. But then comes the clincher. The fine is 50 euros. Cash. As in payable now. Ahora. This might be a good time to mention another difference about Spain and the US. People in the States hardly ever have cash. And here was this Guardia Civil Trafico guy expecting us to rustle up 50 euros out of our pockets like some lucky winners on the way home from a casino. I start counting up all our cash, loose change, every possible centivo, and I only come up with around 30 euros.

“Oh well,” he says. “Then you leave the car here. You can not drive until you pay the fine. You are not citizens of Spain, right??”

(Of course not, dude… you can just look at us and tell we are not locals!)

So, he wanders off to round up more violators, and leaves us in the car. He managed to pull over a couple of others, and during this time Curt went to ask the cop’s trusty sidekick if we could go over the the cash machine to get the money.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I am a skeptic. I am not a person who blindly trusts random people, even IF they are wearing florescent Guardia Civil Trafico clothing. As far as I’m concerned that get-up could have been picked up on the black market and put on by a crazy nut who is making money off of speeding travelers.

That being said, the traffic cop said, “Okay, you can drive to the bank machine, but you must leave your passports here.” That didn’t sound like a great idea to me. I’ve seen enough episodes of Locked Up Abroad to know that untrustworthy people are everywhere. So my thought was to let Curt drive to get the cash and I would stay with our passports and the car. The traffic cop acted like this was an insane idea. He responded with, “Of course you can trust us! We are the police!” and then made a facial expression like we were full-on insane for even questioning him.

Against my better judgment and the inner voice that was telling me that this could be the next great scam, we did leave our passports and went to get money. The whole time I fretted about them being gone when we came back, and I was in general, a nervous wreck.

I’m happy to say that they were still there when we returned. They had pulled over even more people and were no where near being done with their fine collecting. Curt paid the guy, got the traffic ticket, and strategically positioned himself far enough from our vehicle so I could document it for posterity without being the obvious paparazzi tourist.

Spain traffic ticket

Time to pay the piper

Guardia Civil Traffico Spain

Yup. Got the cash, Señor.

Guardia Civil Traffico

Hand off of the documents.
“Buen viaje!”

Now that this was done, we drove (carefully and within the speed limit) to Zurgena for some groceries. We decided that this was just “one of those things” and weren’t going to let it annoy us. What can you do? You got a ticket. No big deal. It wasn’t chump change, but thankfully it was only 50 euros… (insert ominous music here)

When we finished picking up a few groceries at the Cayuela, we plopped back into the car, only to see this:

cracked windshield Spain

Remember that loud noise on the road?
Yes. Under that dust is a cracked windshield.

No problem, you say? The rental car insurance will cover it, you are thinking? Well, let’s just say that we had foregone the rental car insurance because it was more than the price of the rental for two weeks. Let’s just say that we were living “on the edge” and thought we could pass on it. This made the traffic ticket seem miniscule. A windshield is going to be costly. Our only hope was that Curt’s regular insurance would cover it, as car insurance usually does cover rentals. This called for drinks and free wi-fi, so we decided to drive over to a local bar called La Campillo so that we could get all of this figured out.

Long story short, after internet searching and phone calls to the insurance company back in the US, we found out that Curt’s insurance wouldn’t cover anything outside of the US. This was one of those live and learn type of days. Note to self: pay for the rental car insurance!

On the positive side of the coin, La Campillo was a great find. A small bar/restaurant with 1 euro claras and free wi-fi. Now I had a place to go to upload my posts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cazorla Nature Park

Cazorla Nature Park

We dedicated the next day to an all day excursion to Cazorla Nature Park, which is located within an hour and a half’s drive from our house. As usual, I did my research and was really interested to see this part of Spain because it is supposed to be a huge nature preserve (the largest protected area in Spain) and one of the largest forested areas. Some of the pines in the park are some of the oldest in Spain — over 1,300 years old! Wow! I had read about the diverse and abundant wildlife that can be found in the park, and was hoping to see some of the meadows that are perfect for raising flocks of sheep. Our house is in a very dry part of Andalucia, and the Carloza Nature Park seemed like it might be an interesting contrast. Two of Spain’s main rivers, the Guadalquivir and the Segura run through the park, so there was hope to see part of a river, or even a waterfall!

We drove northwest from the casa, and finally arrived at the Embalse de Negratín., which is a reservoir just at the southern end of the park. It was a little amazing to see such a broad expanse of water because the area we’d just come from is quite dry.

Embalse de Negratín

Driving over the dam

After driving over the dam, we stopped in a parking area to get a better look at the reservoir. It was pretty, but an odd shade of greenish-blue. Was that natural or do they put something in the water?? Hmmm…

The dam at Negratín

Embalse de Negratín

views of the embalse de negratín

The water was so calm near the dam.

Cazorla Naure Park

Beautiful mountains in the distance

From here we left and drove on to a town named Hinojares. During our house hunt, I had found the most adorable home, fully furnished, and located in this whitewashed town. I used GoogleMaps and walked along the street view of this little town and thought it was absolutely charming. Unfortunately when I inquired about the house, it had actually been sold about six months prior, but was still listed as for sale. Apparently this is typical here in Spain. Homes are listed by multiple “estate agents” as they are called, and the seller may not let all of them know when the home is sold. I contacted several agents about a number of homes that had already been sold, but the listing was still online. In addition to this, the different agents might not list the home for the same prices. It’s very different from what we are used to here in the States.

But I digress…

The town of Hinojares is located in a valley, and we stopped at a scenic overlook to take some pictures.

Hinojares

Hinojares

Hinojares village

There was an interesting sign at the overlook which explained a lot about this area. The translation into English seems a bit weird, but this is what it says (I quote):

“HINOJARES IS IN THE BANK OF AN OLD LARGE LAKE

The south of the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas Natural Park has a different landscape. Nowadays you find arid soils in this area which originated at the bottom of a large lake.

Long after the formation of the mountains of La Sierra del Pozo and Quesada, only 20,000 years ago, in all the region there was an enormous interior lake which accumulated at the bottom mud and sediments coming from these mountains. But about 11,000 years ago a great movement of the earth’s crust tilted the area, the rivers changed the course and the lake disappeared leaving an arenous bottom.

During these 110 centuries the landscape has become eroded, the currents and the rain have carved the loamy rocks at the bottom of the lake as you can see in the white slope in front of the viewpoint. If you look carefully, upon the town, there is a plane horizon formed by these ochre and white lands which correspond with the material accumulated at the bottom of the old lake. The erosion continues taking down the no very solid lands of the original horizontal landscape and generates other full of precipices and gorges.

Among the materials at the bottom of the lake there are also rocks rich in salt. Some brooks dissolve them forming the courses with salty waters which has allowed the extraction of salt in manual exploitations like the Salt Pans of El Chillar.”

Wow that was hard to type because the translation is worded so strangely. Maybe I can get a job with Spain’s tourism council and help out with these crazy translations!

I thought this information was interesting though… even if the wording was odd. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I think all that history-of-the-Earth stuff is fascinating! I quoted it here because I searched and searched for some online resource to link to about this “ancient lake” but could find nothing about the geologic history of the area. I’m also curious about the Salt Pans of Chillar… if anyone has information to enlighten me, please share!

We left the lookout point and found an area with goats. This was no where near the green pastures with flocks of sheep that I was hoping for, but it was a creature in the Bovine family, so I was a step closer.

Goats in Spain

Goats!

The next town we drove to is called Zujar. We passed through there lickety-split, and then stopped at another mirador to have a picnic lunch.

Zujar, Spain

Zujar

Groves near Cazorla Natural Park

Lots of groves

Mirador de Todosaires

Cortijo Todosaires

Cortijo Todosaires

Mirador de Todosaires information

Why do annoying people
have to vandalize cool stuff like this??

We saw this sign over and over while we were driving. Thank you GoogeTranslate for letting me know it means “Cattle Route.” Just for clarification, we did not see any cattle along this route, but I was on the lookout!

Vía pecuaria

Vía pecuaria

What we did start to see were more trees, more craggy cliffs, and more winding roads. In some places the roads were quite narrow and curved, but we were lucky not to have much oncoming traffic. We did meet up with a giant tour bus, but the driver was nice and stopped to let us pass through as opposed to making us squeeze by with him barreling past.

Cazorla Natural Park, Spain

 

Cazorla forest, Spain

Evergreen trees in abundance!

 

Cazorla mountains

 

Rocky mountainside in Cazorla Natural Park

Everywhere you look you can see how the shifting of the Earth’s plates created these awesome landforms.
(It’s all very science-y.)

Dried flowers Cazorla Natural Park

 

Cazorla Natural Park

“…a long and winding road…”

Field in Cazorla Natural Park

A green field! Perfect for sheep!

It was very warm while were were there and we didn’t see a lot of other people around. I think more people would be visiting when it was not so sweltering hot. This was a beautiful nature park with lots of hiking trails and signs with information about birds that could be seen in the area. I would like to return when the weather was a little cooler and more comfortable for hiking. This park is very large, though and I would imagine that there were a lot of people enjoying the lakes and cooling off! Next time I will come prepared with some detailed maps of the park, but for this trip it was time to make our way back down the mountainside.

Cazorla Nature Park

 

Mountain road Cazorla Nature Park

 

Embalse de Negratin

Back to the Embalse

So we bid adios to Cazorla Nature Park. Or maybe just ‘sta luego! Poor Curt was pretty tense after the narrow, twisty roads (we don’t have many of those in Texas) but our adventure wasn’t over for the day just yet…

 

An evening drive

An evening drive

When we were house hunting, we had been ga-ga over a very remote house, but our low-ball offer was refused, and that is what led us to buy our current casa. Every day, as we are cooking in our kitchen, or enjoying the terraces, or waking up and looking out over the mountains in the distance, we say: “Aren’t you so glad we bought this one?” But today we decided to take a drive out to the other house, to look at it with different eyes. The eyes of owners of a wonderful spanish house, instead of the eyes of two crazy Americans who thought that buying a fixer-upper in the middle of no where would be a good idea.

We drove all the way out there and kept saying, “Oh my gosh, this is far from town!” The hamlet seemed sad and had just a few inhabited houses. The rest are vacant. Some were closed up and look like the owners haven’t been around in a while. There weren’t any people around. It was pretty quiet — not even barking dogs.

The countryside is beautiful out there, but seeing how kind of sad and dreary it was just confirmed that buying our reformed 300 year old casa on the edge of town was the best decision for us. After taking it all in, there wasn’t much to do, and Curt wasn’t feeling like walking among the houses, so we started to make our way out of the hamlet. We did pass by some grapes along the narrow road beside a house that had chained up gates, so I rolled down the window and let a few “fall in my lap.”

Grapes from Los Utreras

Grapes from Los Utreras

After this excursion, we went back to Albox and stopped at the Lidl. We wanted to go back to the beach before leaving Spain and were looking for an umbrella to shield us from the sun. It turns out that we hit the jackpot at this Lidl because not only did we find our beach umbrella, but also a shower rack that we had been looking for. Lidl is a grocery store, but in the center of the store they sell all sorts or random things like shoes, toasters, toys, etc. We picked up a few other food items while we were there. One thing I was so curious about was this melon. We had been seeing it in all the stores, but I had no idea what it would be like inside. It’s called Piel de Sapo, which means, literally, skin of toad. I guess the skin does really look like a toad’s skin!

Piel de Sapo melon

Piel de Sapo melon.
Similar to our Honeydew melon.

 

Cabo de Gata Beaches

Cabo de Gata Beaches

Cabo de Gata Natural Park lies along the southeastern coast of Spain and covers an area of more than 113,000 acres. This area has the lowest rainfall in Spain and all of Europe. Its average precipitation is only 4.72 to 7.09 inches per year. Wow! That’s dry! I had seen lots of beautiful images online and was very interested in taking a day trip there. We decided to drive over to Agua Amarga because we had read that it was a quaint fishing village with a beach that was visited by mainly Spanish, and so was not commercialized. That was just what we were looking for!

Cabo de Gata

Map of Cabo de Gata Natural Park

We packed a picnic lunch of bread, tuna pasta salad, chips, and some kiwis. The tuna salad was from the Mercadona and was great for taking with us on these day trips because we wouldn’t need to keep it cold, but could pop it open when we needed a bite to eat.

pasta con Atún

Tasty, portable, and perfect size to share.
Even comes with its own little spoon!

All we needed to bring along was a knife to slice the kiwis, and a spoon to scoop them out. If you haven’t discovered this simple way to eat a kiwi, you must learn pronto!

Eating kiwi with a spoon

You get every last bit of the tasty kiwi when you scoop it out with a spoon.

 

We left the house and arrived at Agua Amarga (which, by the way means “bitter water”) in less than an hour. The beach was fairly busy. This beach is the most visited in the area, but the town of Aqua Amarga has less than 500 inhabitants. We parked in the parking area just before the beach. There were a lot of really cute whitewashed houses right alongside the beach. I think many of these are rented out to tourists.

Agua Amarga

Agua Amarga beach villas.

Agua Amarga

…wouldn’t mind staying here…

Agua Amarga playa

The beach at Agua Amarga

Agua Amarga

White cliffs

Agua Amarga beach

Calm water

 

North end of Agua Amarga playa

The north end of Agua Amarga playa

Agua Amarga boats

There were a lot of little boats in the water at Agua Amarga.

After strolling along the shore at Agua Amarga, we thought we should drive a little farther north to Playa de los Muertos. This does sound like a morbid place since the translation is “beach of the dead,” but I had read that this was a really beautiful beach and wanted to take a look. The name is due to a supposed dark and treacherous past. Stories are told that many bodies of pirates, sailors, and sea merchants were washed to the shore of this beach. Luckily that was a long, long time ago, so I figured we’d be safe!

We drove north toward Playa de los Muertos…

Road to Playa de los Muertos

To Playa de los Muertos

Driving to Playa de los Muertos

… almost there!

As it turns out, there were so many people going to Playa de los Muertos… cars lining both sides of the road… people everywhere… that we decided not to stop there. I was certain that we could find a more quiet beach, so we drove just a bit farther north. We saw a small turn in alongside the road, and decided to investigate. This, it seems, was a little beach just to the north of Playa de los Muertos where Spanish people hang out. This was just what we were looking for! We parked in a big gravel area, changed into our suits, and walked down to the shore.

Parking at the beach north of Playa de los Muertos

The parking here was better since it wasn’t just on the side of the road.

 

North of Playa de los Muertos

View from the parking.
This beach was not as crowded.

 

What was really neat was that this beach was not a sand beach. It was made of little pebbles, so not only did you and your blanket stay nice and clean, but the water was unbelievably clear. On other beaches, the sand kicks up with each wave, making the sandy water into a suspension that looks cloudy. Not here! The water was crystal clear! It was gorgeous!

Spanish pebbble beach

Little pebbles on the Spanish beach

Clear waters at Playa de los Muertos

Crystal clear water!

 

We spent the afternoon lounging around on the beach. Our picnic was perfect, and we must’ve said twenty times: “This is awesome! Can you believe how pretty this is?” This beach was a great find and we knew we would want to come back another day before heading home to the States.

North of Playa de los Muertos

Beach views

On the Spanish Beach in Almeria province

“This is the life!”

Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea

Bucket List Update:
Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea,
Check!

North of Playa de los Muertos, Spain

Living the life in southern Spain!

Zurgena

Zurgena

When Curt came back from his ride he was pretty chipper. He had been riding along, passed another guy on a bike who greeted him, to which Curt responded “Morning!” This caused the man to stop his bike right away. I guess the guy was not expecting that greeting or the American accent. It turns out that this was a British guy who lives in Arboleas and he invited Curt out to cycle on Monday with a couple other guys. Look at that? Out one day and he’s already made cycling buddies in Spain!

Curt had ridden out to a nearby town called Zurgena. We had seen it when we were house hunting and it was a cute traditional looking village very close to Arboleas. Today was the weekly market in Zurgena and he said that as he cycled through the village the people were starting to set up their stalls. We decided to drive over and check it out.

Zurgena

The village of Zurgena

 

Zurgena market

Vegetable and fruit stall,
and the candy man!

 

Zurgena market clothes

Clothing stalls, too.
Lots of things for 5 euros.

 

Zurgena market honey

Honeycombs!

Vegetable stall Zurgena

We bought some vegetables and fruits from this stall.

 

Zurgena market

2,32 euros

 

After browsing the market, we went into a little grocery store to pick up a few things. We were determined to figure out the coffee creamer situation, for one thing. This time we picked out what was called nata para cocinar and made sure it was liquid.

Cayuela Zurgena

Cayuela

 

Nata para cocinar

THIS is good for coffee creamer.

 

El Raton cheese

Slightly odd brand of cheese:
El Super Raton??

 

Meat and cheese counter at Cayuela Zurgena

This was the meat and cheese counter.

There were a few ladies hanging around the meat counter chit chatting. I didn’t pay much attention to them because I was trying to figure out what to buy for dinner, but all of a sudden Curt was getting my attention saying that the ladies all started talking and pointing to him and all he could understand was “something about muchacho and then they were pointing at me!” I think what happened was the ladies were talking and thought he was waiting his turn so they stopped talking and told the girl behind the counter that the “muchacho” was next.

I told the girl behind the counter I wanted a chicken breast and she asked if I wanted it filleted. I’m glad she asked because it saved me from having to do it, and it meant the chicken would cook really fast once it was sliced so nice and thin.

We were happy with our little outing that morning and went back to The Casa to do some house cleaning. We needed to freshen up the place since it had been closed up, wanted to do some laundry, and also wanted to rearrange some of the furniture.

 

Bike shopping

Bike shopping

You do remember The Dream of the Vuelta, right? That is what inspired all this to begin with! You shouldn’t just dream the dream, but live the dream, I say! So today was a day for us to go shopping for Curt’s bike. He had already done some investigating via the internet before we left for Spain and found several bike stores in Cartagena, which is a town on the eastern coast of Spain about an hour away. If it seems like every place I write about is “about an hour away” it is true. The location of our Spanish casa is great! You can draw a radius of an hour’s drive in all directions and will find yourself on multiple beaches, in the mountains, at a lake, in the desert, at a nature park, or at a ski resort. It just depends which direction you choose to travel.

We headed to Cartagena, armed with the addresses of three bike shops. Two were in what is called the polígono industrial or industrial park, which you will find on the outskirts of towns. This is where you find larger stores that are selling construction materials, big furniture stores, or car dealers. How hard could it be to find giant stores on the outskirts of a town??… insert ominous music here..

Suffice it to say that addresses plus able bodied intelligent people plus stupid phone that keeps rebooting every single time you try to access a map does not equal happiness. Quite the contrary. It equals frustration and lots of it. I was inclined to search the outskirts of the town, thinking that a giant industrial zone might be easier to spot than a shop in the old downtown area, but who am I to deprive Curt of the fun of driving around and around and around this lovely town?

Plaza de Jaime Bosche, Cartagena

Plaza de Jaime Bosche

Oh happiness! There is a tourist information center just on the other side of this plaza! But as luck would have it, just as we reach the entrance, the huge metal gate-like doors swing shut, and a booming latch is drawn much like closing up a castle door.

Siesta Time, people! Hasta luego!

Tourist information center, Cartagena

Cerrado!

Disgusted with the phone.

Disgusted with his phone.
(Hmmm… my iPhone never has those problems… I’m just saying…)

Just when we were at the end of our wits, we stopped at a Repsol (gas station) and Curt went in and asked the guy if he had a map of Cartagena. The guy was super nice and gave him what we fondly call a “fun map” of Cartagena. This is a map that shows some streets, but not all, and its main purpose is to show someone the highlights of the town. None of which involve the polígono industrial, of course.

Cartagena

We drove along the harbor….

Cartagena war memorial

A sculpture and war memorial that is dedicated to the soldiers who fought and died in Cavite, Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

Bike lanes in Cartagena

These bike lanes in Cartagena look like their own streets!

Luckily we were able to somehow piece together bits of the map and believe it or not found the downtown bike shop — just in time for siesta! So it was closed!

Ciclos Curra, Cartagena

Patience is a virtue.

Looking through the windows, we could see that they only sold mountain bikes, but as luck would have it, they had a map to their larger store posted on the window! This showed us how to get to the polígono industrial! I took pictures of the map with my fully functioning phone, and then we headed next door to  get something to eat, since nothing would be open again until 5:00.

The restaurant next door was called Sabor Andaluz. We ate lomo y patatas y huevos, which was pork loin and potatoes with a fried egg. It was really good. This was not a “touristy” restaurant at all. Lots of Spanish people were there. It was a good place to sit back, have a café con leche, and regroup a little before trying to find this elusive polígono industrial.

Sabor Andaluz

Sabor Andaluz

Sabor Andaluz menu

Test yourself with the Sabor Andaluz tapas menu! What would you order??

Sabor Andaluz, Cartagena, Spain

Just a teeny bit stressed…

Sabor Andaluz

Lunch!

Sabor Andaluz waiter

Yes, the guy in the black shirt was someone’s waiter.
Yes, he is smoking while working.
And yes, the beer near him went down nicely with the smoke, but I didn’t get a picture of that…

While we relaxed with our meal (we had a while before siesta would be over, so why rush?) we noticed this thing that looked like a deposit box of some sort. It was a bit like a mailbox, but it was actually a trash bin. It looked small, but apparently what you put down the slot must fall down into some gigantic bin under the street because people came one after the other dropping in their bags of trash. One guy, who must have been a janitor for some building actually brought cartloads of trash, bags, boxes, etc and it all disappeared into this little drop box. I was so curious as to how large the underground bin was, and how they went about emptying it… Can you tell I was fascinated with this thing??

Cartagena trash

Mysterious….

Stomachs full, and nerves calmed, we hit the road again in search of the bike shop in the polígono industrial. Due to my fantastic co-piloting skills and Curt’s keen ability to navigate the Spanish streets, we managed to find it lickity split. There were two shops in the industrial area, so we visited both, picked out a bike, spoke “cave-man Spanish” to the salesperson, and amazingly enough got everything sorted out to purchase. It was easy as pie! …insert happy music which is followed by screeching halt sound here…

Now, trust me, I am happy to know that credit card companies are on the lookout for thieves and fraudulent activity, BUT when your card is declined after spending an entire day driving around a strange city, having doors literally closed on your nose, getting somewhere only to arrive at a time when the place is closed for two more hours, then finally thinking the whole shopping craziness will soon be over, only to have the guy behind the counter say (and trust me, you know it in any language) “No, the card doesn’t go through,” you want to scream. And I don’t mean stomp your foot and pout — I mean full on scream like in a crazy movie where the camera pans back and you see the windows rattle and people cower.

So yes, this is what we had to deal with next: calling our credit card companies and letting them know they needed to take the blocks off of our cards.

Fast forward to the final scene…

Ciclo Curros, Cartagena

Buying the bike.
Finally.

 

 

 

 

On the road again….

On the road again….

This time when we got on the road, we had an easier time navigating out of Granada… after all we had driven around and around so many times the night before, that we almost knew it “like the back of our hand,” as they say. A quick map recon, and we were on the open road. This would be an easy ride, and we were excited to get to The Casa and see if everything was okay there. The house had been closed up since the end of January, and we had no idea if we would find any surprises when we opened the front door – we hoped not!!

On the road to Arboleas

On the road to Arboleas

Driving to Arboleas

Timing is everything when you are traveling, and we had to plan ahead: We wanted to get some groceries to have on hand for tomorrow’s breakfast, but we knew that stores would be closed by the time we got to Arboleas. So we stopped in Baza, which is about an hour from the house and right on our way. It was perfect. We stopped at the Lidl
and picked up things like coffee, bread, butter, peach jam, milk and cereal. We also needed some creamer for the coffee, but I have to say that was quite the challenge. There is no “creamer section” in the grocery stores in Spain. Most people use regular milk, I believe, but we are partial to the creamy goodness (read into that: fatness) of half and half. This put us in a real quandary. They had some cream for whipping and then some for cooking. We chose the one for whipping and hoped for the best! Then we were back on the road.

The next thing to think about was the fact that we were getting pretty hungry. We assessed the grocery situation and decide to eat before going to the house. You may be thinking we were crazy driving an hour and then going to eat before putting our groceries in the refrigerator, but the thing is that milk products are pasteurized differently in Europe. They undergo ultra-high temperature pasteurization in which the milk is heated to around 280 degrees but for a really short time. This process allows the milk to be shelf stable and can be stored unrefrigerated for a long period of time. Once it’s opened, you do want to refrigerate it, but it stays fresh longer. I was reading that some people say the milk doesn’t taste as good, but we found it to be real tasty. You can buy whole, low fat, or fat free. It seems that the low fat milk is 5% so it is creamier than low fat milk here in the states. I was already familiar with the whole unrefrigerated milk product situation, so it wasn’t weird to me, but I guess some people think it’s really strange… whatever… I think people who are super finicky are really strange, so touché! The ironic thing is that people here in the states especially those buying organic milk, have already been drinking UHT milk, but it’s sold in the refrigerated section so as not to creep out the Americans. (That’s my fun fact of the day!)

So because of the unrefrigerated milk products, the only thing we had to worry about was the butter. No one wants to return to a big melted mess, but we had purchased real butter (not margarine, people!) and it is sold in a single rectangular block, not four sticks, so knowing what we know about science and larger solids holding temperatures for a longer time, we were able to have dinner and not worry about the butter melting.

We drove over to Albox and visited the restaurant Triana for the usual 5,50 euro chicken meal. We  have done this now each time we arrive in town, and it’s a good safe bet as far as a filling meal for a decent price. We were eager to get to the house, but things do move slowly in Spain, and we likened our waitress to a turtle, moving slowly… very slowly. You have to understand that in Spain, people don’t rush into a restaurant, shove the food down their gullets, and leave — it’s a slow process — you sit, you chat, you eat, you chat, you have a coffee, you chat…. keep in mind that the wait staff do not expect tips, so honestly it does not matter how long you stay. No one is rushing you out the door so they can turn the table over for the next customer. It’s very nice actually, to feel no pressure to finish your meal. Not like here in the States where a waitress once asked me, as I had my fork midway to my mouth on maybe the third bite of my main entrée, if I had “saved room for dessert.” I told her I’d have to let her know after I actually had a chance to eat my main course… sheesh. As I said, no worries about that in Spain, but on this occasion we were chomping at the bit to get to the house!

Good meal finished, we said “adios” to the waitress, and drove home. You have no idea how glorious it was to NOT be lost! We found the house in perfect shape. No big surprises! We just had to plug in the refrigerator and we were ready to hit the hay!

 

Dining in Granada

Dining in Granada

Before leaving Granada, we stopped in at the Hotel Guadalupe, which is literally across the street from the Alhambra parking. The hotel looked very nice and had been renovated during the winter of 2010-11. This would be a place to stay when we visit Granada again for a second look at the Alhambra. We sat in the bar and had a clara and some tapas. Unfortunately this was not true tapas eating time, so what we were served were just snacky things like chips, olives, bread, etc, but we enjoyed being in the air conditioning and taking a rest after the long day at the Alhambra.

Hotel Guadalupe

Hotel Guadalupe

 

Hotel Guadalupe bar

A typical sight:
jamón hanging in the bar.

 

Hotel Guadalupe, Granada

Snack time!

 

Hotel Guadalupe tapas

Chorizo, olives, and breadsticks

After our snack, we went back to the Hotel America to pick up our luggage. While we were loading our car, we saw more spanish gatos. This time a puny mama cat with her baby (who was almost as big as she was) and the papa gato who was sitting on the windowsill of the hotel.

Mama and baby cat, Granada

Mama and baby

 

Cat at Hotel America, Granada

Papa keeping watch

 

Papa cat at Hotel America

“¿Estás hablando a mí?”

While having the photo shoot with the cats, we started chatting with some fellow travelers who were from Canada, but after a minute or two the Alhambra security guard came up and told us to hit the trail. There is no parking in that area in front of the Hotel America, and he was peeved that we didn’t throw our luggage into the trunk and leave right away. Ah well, “Adios, Alhambra! …luego, Granada!”

The Alhambra

The Alhambra

When I told people back in the States that during this trip to Spain, I would be visiting The Alhambra, most people had no idea what was the significance of this palace. But when I let them know that this was where Christopher Columbus met with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella about funding for his famous trip, it made more sense.

So here comes a bit of a history lesson!

Spain was part of the Roman Empire in 220 B.C. and was ruled by the Romans for about 500 years. The Visigoths took control in the year 409 and much of the positive influence of the Roman Empire was destroyed. The Moors, who were from Northern Africa, took control of most of the Iberian peninsula in 711 and began to rebuild from the ground up.

During the time of Moorish rule, which lasted for almost 800 years, much of what we consider uniquely “Spanish” developed. When you think of Spanish words, many of them are actually derived from Arabic. When you think of Spanish cuisine staples like rice and saffron, the Moors are to thank for that. The dry lands of Spain were irrigated with similar techniques used in Syria and Arabia, and many new crops were introduced, including pomegranates, oranges, lemons, eggplants, bananas, peaches, grapes, figs, apricots, sugar-cane, and cotton.

The Moors were, in general, tolerant people, and the Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived harmoniously, sharing various parts of their culture, music, dance, and art. There was a big focus on learning and huge libraries were created. Art, mathematics, and architecture were very important during the Moorish rule as well.

We can see so much of this in the palace of the Alhambra. The name Alhambra actually means “Red Fortress,” and from where it sits way up on a hill in Granada, you can see the reddish cast of the stone walls. I imagine that seeing it from afar during sunrise and sunset would just accentuate that. I read somewhere that the Alhambra is considered the “greatest book ever built” because the interior is decorated with walls and walls of writing in beautiful and intricate script. Before my trip, I had researched a lot about the Alhambra, but nothing could prepare me for the beauty of actually being there. I hope you get a smidgeon of that beauty from the photos I took on our day there.

View of Granada from Alhambra

On the grounds of the Alhambra
and looking out over Granada

Los Palacios Nazaries

This was Los Palacios Nazaries and we had to enter at a scheduled time.

Waiting in line at the Alhambra

Waiting to enter the Nasrid Palace

We were lucky because the day was slightly overcast, and the line for waiting to enter the Nasrid Palace was under some shade trees, so it was not too hot. I was also happy because the people in line were civilized and patiently waited their turn… (unlike crazy people who practically shoved my teeny children off the ferry boat dock on the way into Disney World years ago, as if there was only one ferry to cross over to see Mickey and Minnie, and they were going to get on it, and no 6 year old was going to get in their way, by golly!!)… anyhow, I digress… The point being: everyone was quite polite and we all entered civilly and were able to enjoy the sights.

Mexuar, Alhambra

This is the entrance to the Mexuar

The Nasrid Palace is divided into three areas. The first is the Mexuar, which was a more public area. This is where the council met and where the sultan would administer justice. There is a large room which was the council meeting room, and off to the side is an oratory which was used for prayer. This is a room with many arched windows and the interesting thing about it is that it is set at an angle from all the other rooms, so that it slants southeast toward Mecca.

Mexuar council room

Council room of the Mexuar

wood ceiling of Mexuar Alhambra

Look at the amazing wood ceiling!

Ceiling of the Golden Chamber

The ceiling of the Golden Chamber was really pretty. This was a room where people had to hang out and wait to be seen by the sultan in the palace beyond.

 

The next area is the Comares Palace, which was the building that separated the public and private spaces of the Nazrid palaces.

Comares Tower

Courtyard of the Myrtles.
Looking toward the Comares Tower.

 

Facade of Comares

The facade of the Comares Palace

You can see the walls are just covered with carvings! The walls are made of stucco, which made the decorating much easier, I’m sure. The main components of the oldest parts of the Alhambra are made of plaster, stone, and wood. The Moors felt that things on Earth are temporary, and that things would change as time went by… nothing man-made would last forever, and there are many parts of the Alhambra that had been torn down and rebuilt from the first building of the Alcazaba in 839 to the time when the Moors were driven from Spain. It wasn’t until the Moors were driven out and the Palace of Charles V was built on the grounds of the Alhambra that we see marble and more “permanent” building materials. Another consideration for what the original structures were made of had to do with using materials that would breathe and allow airflow in such a hot climate.

Comares wall detail, Alhambra

Comares wall detail

Tree of Life, Alhambra

The Tree of Life

Alhambra woodwork

Look at the details in the woodwork! The Moors were true mathematicians as can be seen in the intricate designs of this inlaid wood pattern.

Comares door, Alhambra

Palace door

Alhambra niche

Niches like this one are all over the Nasrid Palace. They sometimes held vases with flowers, but most often they held urns with water, which was symbolic of hospitality.

 

Alhambra doors

Look at how HUGE the main doors are… and then how small the other part of the door is! It looks like people were a lot shorter back then!

 

Courtyard of the myrtles

The Courtyard of the Myrtles looking toward the south gallery

Then we came to the Hall of Ambassadors, or the Throne Room. This is a large square room surrounded by arched alcoves. This is where the sultan would lie on his throne, huge stained glass windows behind him, the light casting a mysterious glow around him… I just imagine how it must have felt to enter the room and see that. The stained glass was destroyed in an explosion of a gunpowder factory in 1590, so the room is probably a lot brighter today than it was when the sultan was in power. The wooden ceiling is made of 8,017 individual pieces of wood put together like a puzzle. The design depicts the seven heavens of Islamic belief.

This is the room, that in 1492, Columbus pitched to the King and Queen of Spain his idea to travel west to reach the east and all of its riches. Little did he know that there was a significantly large land mass in between Europe and Asia… and the rest, as they say, is history!

Hall of Ambassadors

The Hall of Ambassadors,
or Throne Room

 

Much of the decorations within the Nasrid Palace are either tile, inlaid wood of various geometric designs, or script. There are no realistic representations of living things in the old palaces because the Muslims believed that man was not the creator of things in nature. You will find stylized representations of plants, especially the pineapple, which they felt represented hospitality, and many stylized shell motifs which are a universal symbol of life, water, and fertility.

I read that there are over 10,000 inscriptions throughout the Alhambra and experts have finally deciphered them all. Only about ten percent are actually religious, but the rest are verses of poetry or often just words of advice, such as “Enter and ask. Do not be afraid to seek justice for here you will find it.” or “Be brief and leave in peace.”

Alhambra script

Arabic script. So artistic!

Alhambra

“The only conqueror is God.”
This is repeated all over the Nasrid Palaces.

There was some renovation going on while we were there. The fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions was being restored, as was the Mirador of Lindajara.

Courtyard of the Lions

Courtyard of the Lions

Alhambra Mirador restoration

Restoring the Mirador of Lindajara

Mirador of Lindajara

This room looks out over the walled Garden of Lindajara. Before additions to the Alhambra (after the expulsion of the Moors) looking through these archways would have given someone a view of the entire city of Granada.

 

Garden of Lindajara

Garden of Lindajara

Courtyard of Lindajara

Courtyard of Lindajara

Across this courtyard, are the apartments of King Charles V, who was a grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella. The apartments were built for his state visit, but hardly used because his new wife was scared of the frequent earthquakes and instead they stayed in the city below. It is obvious that the design and architecture is very different from the other parts of the Nasrid Palace. This is where Washington Irving stayed in 1829 (He’s the American author who wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) and while he stayed at the Alhambra, he took lots and lots of notes, and later wrote Tales of the Alhambra.

Private apt of Charles i

Private apartment of Charles V

Washington Irving, Alhambra

Washington Irving slept here.

In addition to the Nasrid Palaces, we saw beautiful gardens, a church, and another tower and oratory. After our long, long, hike up and down the Rock of Gibraltar yesterday, we were happy that the Alhambra, while huge, was a place we could stroll through and not have to battle too many flights of stairs. My feet were getting less swollen, but weirdly enough, they were still a bit puffy.

Remains of the Palace of Yusuf III, Alhambra

Remains of the Palace of Yusuf III

Tower of the Ladies and Oratory, Alhambra

Tower of the Ladies and Oratory

Alhambra

 

Church of Saint Mary, Alhambra

Church of Saint Mary

We then went to see the Palace Charles V. This is said to be one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance architecture in Spain, but honestly after seeing the Nasrid Palaces and all the beautiful architecture and carvings, the Palace of Charles V paled in comparison. It’s huge, made of marble, and had many columns surrounding a circular courtyard, but to me, it didn’t hold a candle to the Nasrid Palaces!

Palace of Charles V Alhambra

The Palace of Charles V

 

Palace of Charles V doors

 

Palace of Charles V

West facade

 

Palace of Charles V

 

Palace of Charles V

Column detail

 

Palace of Charles V Alhambra

Classic Renaissance style architecture.

 

Palace of Charles V, Alhambra

It looks complete when you go through and visit it, but Charles V never completed it because he was also nervous about the more and more frequent earthquakes in the area. Now it houses the Alhambra museum, which we visited, and also a temporary art exhibit, which was also interesting.

It was starting to get warm — no longer so overcast — but we still wanted to see the Alcazaba. An alcazaba is a fortress, used for military purposes. It is the oldest part of the Alhambra. The views of Granada from the watchtower were amazing!

Alcazaba, Alhambra

The Alcazaba

Alcazaba, Alhambra

Plaza de las Armas

Stairs to dungeon Alcazaba

These stairs lead to a subterranean dungeon

Watchtower, Alcazaba, Alhambra

Torre de la Vela
The Watchtower

Alcazaba, Alhambra

The view from the watchtower back toward the keep

Bulwark of the Alcazaba

The bulwark of the Alcazaba

view from the watchtower, Alcazaba, Alambra

A view from the watchtower

The last part of the Alhambra that we wanted to see was the Generalife which is a gorgeous garden that had been created by the Moorish kings. The problem was that we were really wiped out from the plane ride, the car ride, the trek around Gibraltar, another car ride, and the walk around the Alhambra. We only saw a little bit of the Generalife because we were so tired. The little bit we saw of the gardens were very pretty.

Generalife

 

Generalife

 

Generalife

We will need to visit the Alhambra again. It is tough to see it all or to truly absorb all of the information and history that goes along with each part of it. This was an amazing place and I am so happy that I was able to see it, to be in a place that holds so much history, to stand within the same walls as have sultans, kings, queens, and explorers…

Hotel America, Granada

Hotel America, Granada

The Hotel America was really a beautiful place. The hotel had an interior courtyard where they had  tables set up in a gorgeous patio garden atmosphere complete with a fountain, lots of plants, and cute tiled tables. It was the perfect example of a melding of outdoor and indoor living space.

Hotel America courtyard

The courtyard at Hotel America

Hotel America patio

Where we had our breakfast

Breakfast at Hotel America

Our breakfast at Hotel America

The Hotel America breakfast was a typical Spanish breakfast, and what might be considered “too light” for most American tastes, but eating the way they do in Spain is really nice, to be honest, and we get used to it more and more each day. This was actually a pretty big breakfast; coffee, orange juice, croissant, yogurt and kiwi. They also served two breads, but we were too full to eat them.

This was a beautiful hotel. I would definitely recommend staying there. The people were super friendly and the accommodations were so quaint.

We left our luggage in an unused front room of the hotel, took a few pictures, and left for the Alhambra.

Hotel America

We kept our luggage in this front room

Hotel America living room

Living room of Hotel America

Entry of Hotel America

The entryway into the hotel

Hotel America

Hotel America

 

To Granada!

To Granada!

We got on the road and made our way back along the coast before heading up to Granada. I had reserved a room at the Hotel America which was located on the grounds of the Alhambra. The reviews I read for the hotel were quite good, and people said that it was very convenient to be able to walk a short way to the entrance of the Alhambra, so I was hoping this was a good choice. I had printed the directions from GoogleMaps, but the problem in Spain is that street signs are not prominently posted. If they are posted at all, the names of streets will be on a tile sign on the corner of a building. Sometimes the writing is in fancy script and as you are zipping by they can be hard to read. Like I said, that is IF the street names are posted at all!

This being said, we drove around Granada… and around Granada… we found some of the streets we were looking for, and then we were stuck turning on what seemed to be the wrong street. We kept back-tracking and to make matters even worse, every time we tried to look up the maps with Curt’s phone, it kept rebooting. It was maddening! None of the small streets near the hotel had names posted! Finally we drove up into the grounds of the Alhambra, we stopped by a Guardia Civil (who was carrying a big gun in a holster) and after telling him we had reservations at the Hotel America, he let us pass and go up this teeny street alongside the Alhambra. If you have a night ticket, you can visit the Alhambra at night, but otherwise they want you to high-tail it off the property.

At this point we had been going around and around for like an hour and a half. Why, you may ask, did you not call the hotel to get directions? That’s because I can guarantee we would have had no clue where they would be telling us to go. People here rattle off directions: “Go up the hill, turn right just past the cafe “blah blah blah” then go round the bend and turn left at the top next to the something or another that we can’t understand, and keep going and you’ll see it.” And there are no street names, and we can’t see the cafe, and it’s insanity… so we choose to torment ourselves and build character  in the privacy of our own vehicle.

So we get to the hotel, which is a beautiful old casa right there on a side street of the Alhambra. According to the Hotel America website, “The building was originally constructed at the beginning of the 19th century as a summer residence. Since 1936, when Mr. Nicolas Garzon bought the original house and converted into the Hotel America, the building has belonged to the Garzon family. The name, Hotel America, is derived from the Iberoamerican Exhibition which took place in Seville in 1929.” You can check out the website here. It has a lot of good pictures as well as information about the Alhambra and Granada in general.

When we arrived, we were pretty miserable. It was late. We had been driving around lost for a long time. And now it was too late to get food anywhere. The room was fine, but small.

Hotel America room

Our room at Hotel America

Hotel America room window

The room had air conditioning, but we couldn’t get it to work. The english speaking lady had left and now there was a man who spoke only spanish. He came up to help us and finally realized that the circuit breaker for the air conditioning was off. Once he flipped that, the air conditioner turned on, and we knew we’d get a good night’s sleep. The room would’ve been hot and stuffy without it.

We needed to move the car because the hotel didn’t have parking, and the lady at the front desk (who did speak english) gave us a map and told us where to park the car. She suggested that we try to pick up our entry tickets tonight to save us having to get them in the morning. I had purchased the tickets ahead of time on line and only needed to go to an automated machine to pick them up. The lady seemed to think that the machines would still be working this late, so we parked the car and then tried to find the automated machines. Emphasis on tried. We saw a sign on a booth that said Alhambra tickets were sold 100 meters away, so we walked over to find the ticket sales office and couldn’t find it. We went back to the booth and saw a man inside… let me rephrase that: we saw a cranky and mean man inside, who basically just pointed to the sign we had already read and waved his hand away. So helpful. Eventually we found the ticket sales office and found a couple of nice guys at the entry to the park who said they were in charge of the flamenco show that was going on, and couldn’t help us but told us that the ticket sales (even the automated ones) were closed until the morning.

We walked back to the hotel, which was a looonnnng way from where we were, and pretty much collapsed into slumber.

Dining in Gibraltar

Dining in Gibraltar

Before leaving Gibraltar we wanted to get something to eat. We had about a three hour drive to Granada, so we went back to Casemate Square and stopped into a pub called Lord Nelsons. It was decorated with a ship theme (the bar looked like a ship’s hull and there were masts and sails decorating the ceiling.)

We had shandys and, of course, fish and chips.

Lord Nelson, Gibraltar

Lord Nelson Casemates

Lord Nelson Casemates decor

Lord Nelson fish and chips

Yummy! Fish and chips

Don’t talk the talk, unless you’re willing to walk The Rock! (of Gibraltar, that is)

Don’t talk the talk, unless you’re willing to walk The Rock! (of Gibraltar, that is)

Breakfast was included at the Azur Hotel Campo de Gibraltar. It was a huge buffet style with all sorts of things from eggs cooked any way, breads, fruits, cheeses, sandwich fixin’s, this awesome ham/bacon, all kinds of juices, and hot drinks from an automated machine (the type where you select espresso, cafe con leche, chocolate (the super thick kind to have with churros), or chocolate con leche.

Azur Hotel breakfast

We put the luggage in the trunk of the car which was backed into a corner space in the secured underground parking, and began our walk to Gibraltar.

Azur Hotel Campo de Gibraltar

View towards Hotel Azur Campo de Gibraltar

The Rock of Gibraltar

The walk towards The Rock

I had read that it was a better idea to walk across to Gibraltar because the line of cars can be quite long and it could take a really long time just waiting to get through the gates. There were a lot of cars waiting, so we were happy to just walk a little ways. Up ahead we could see the customs gates, and then we would be walking across the Gibraltar runway before entering. It’s crazy because when a plane is landing or taking off, all the people are held on either side and can’t cross until the runway is clear. We did have to wait while a plane landed.

Curstoms gates to Gibraltar

Getting ready to cross into Gibraltar

Waiting for a plane to land in Gibraltar

Waiting for the plane to land
before crossing the Gibraltar runway

Gibraltar Monument

 

The first place we went was Casemate Square and then on to Main Street. It was very crowded. Lots of tourists. It looked like a festival was going on, but it was just the normal crowd, I think!

Entering Casemate Square

Entering Casemate Square

Casemate Square

Casemate Square

Main Street, Gibraltar

Main Street

Knowing that we needed to go “up” we took some cool stairs that were in a little side street. They were narrow and steep and looked interesting. We went up, and up, and up… they seemed to go on forever… winding around these quaint little houses.

Stairs in Gibraltar

Up we go!

Cat in planter

Here’s what we found at the verrrry top of the stairs!

 

We turned back around and had to get back to Main Street since that set of stairs didn’t lead us anywhere really. There were a lot of cute little side streets and we took another set of stairs up.

Side street in Gibraltar

Gibraltar stairs

Going up again!

View of Gibraltar

View of Gibraltar

More stairs Gibraltar

Up more stairs…

View from Gibraltar to Spain

Looking back toward Spain.
See the runway?

Gibraltar stairs

Still more stairs….

The walk was REALLY long really tiring because if it wasn’t stairs it was a road on a fairly steep incline. The Rock of Gibraltar is pretty tall, after all. Not to mention I still had slightly swollen feet, but we are troopers and kept on keeping on. Finally we reached a booth where a guy sold us tickets to see the sights of the Rock of Gibraltar. It turns out that we were walking in the opposite direction as was expected and the path we were taking was the way people walk to leave the Rock after seeing all the sights. I think they would all be having an easier time walking downhill than we were having going up, but at this point there was no turning back. The history of Gibraltar is very interesting. You can read about it here. The first place we came to was a Moorish Tower. This had great views… once you went up many stairs…

Moorish Tower Gibraltar

Tower plaque

Views from the Tower in Gibraltar

Views from the tower

Stairs in Moorish tower Gibraltar

Surprise! More stairs!

From there, we went to the City Under Siege exhibit which showed how the soldiers and their families lived while under seige. The exhibit was interesting, but it had these creepy mannequins throughout and that was a little weird. The first one we saw was a guy who was carving some graffiti into the wall. Apparently the soldiers wrote lots of things onto the walls and even drew things like this ship.

City Under Siege exhibit Gibraltar

Graffiti

Gibraltar graffiti

Graffiti made by the soldiers during The Siege

Then we continued up the Rock and came to the Siege Tunnels. These were carved right through the rock at the time of The Great Siege. There were cannons in the tunnels and through the openings the views were fantastic.

Cannon in Great Siege Tunnels Gibraltar

Siege tunnel plaque

View from tunnels

A view from the tunnels

From there, we were pretty much done with the stairs. Now it was just walking up an incline to the higher points of the rock. We wanted to see the famous Barbary Apes. These are actually true monkeys, not apes, but since they have no tails, I think that’s why people call them apes. It is against the law to feed them, but there were these annoying tour van drivers who would encourage the tourists to feed them and even ran around shaking sticks at the monkeys and chasing them.

Don't feed the monkeys!

Yikes!
Don’t feed the monkeys!

I read about how the monkeys would be aggressive and how you should be careful because they would steal your things or come after you, but honestly the monkeys were so docile. It was only the ones who were getting chased after and antagonized that were running around like crazy. We felt bad for the monkeys, because they just seemed to want to hang out and live their monkey lives, but the tourists would annoy them. We walked over to the Apes’ Den where food is brought to them every day, and we saw quite a few monkeys that were just chilling out. The cutest were the mother and baby, and the other one who seemed to coyly mug for the camera. Luckily no other tourists ventured over to the Apes’ Den, so the monkeys were very calm around us.

Barbary Ape

 

Barbary Ape mother and baby

Mama with baby

Barbary Ape silhouette

Young Barbary Ape

Mama Barbary Ape and baby

Another mama and baby

Me, Apes, adn bunny ears

See? Nice apes!!

The walk down was seriously exhausting too, because the incline was still steep. We found some random footpath that lead in some precarious looking areas, as well as an unreal number of stairs (again), but in the end we made our way back down and back to the car. After this long, long day, we were on our way to Granada. The plan was to visit the Alhambra tomorrow!

Gibraltar

 

Gibraltar footpath

We walked down this…

Gibraltar painted stairs

…and down these…

Gibraltar

Until next time, Gibraltar!

Where oh where is the Azur Hotel del Campo de Gibraltar?

Where oh where is the Azur Hotel del Campo de Gibraltar?

 

We drove back and forth on the road in La Linea looking for the Azur Hotel and for a while thought we were not going to be able to find this place! Thank heavens for the roundabouts, because we could just keep circling back and forth from end to end. It turns out that the hotel was right where we thought it should have been, but it had signage that you could see only when coming from the west and each time we came from that direction we were not looking up. What a relief to finally find it. At this point we were really pretty tired — the nine plus hour flight and the six hour drive was catching up with us!

The hotel had underground parking, which was one of the selling points for us, but we parked the car on the side street of the hotel and brought in our bags so we could check in first. The thing I noticed the most about the walk up the street to the hotel was the disgusting smell of urine. Bleh. Not such a clean part of town, I guess.

The hotel looked very nice and the lobby was modern and clean, but it was really hot and humid in there! I think the heat was coming in from the revolving doors in the lobby. There were a lot of people checking in so we had to wait for a little bit, but we finally got checked in and brought our bags up.

I had reserved a junior suite with a sea view and view of the Rock of Gibraltar. On the website for the Azur Hotel, they show this lady hanging out on the balcony with the huge Rock of Gibraltar behind her. I had to wonder if the picture was actually a realistic one, or not, but when we came into the room….

Rock of Gibraltar

Hey! Look what’s right outside the window!

View of the Rock of Gibraltar

The Rock!

It was just like the website!

Azur Hotel view

Here’s the pic from the website

On the balcony of Azur Hotel in Gibraltar

…and here is a picture from our balcony.

How cool is that??  The view was incredible! The room was really very nice and spacious. It had a good couch for relaxing and trying to improve the condition of my STILL swollen feet.

From the seventh floor we had great views of the sea, as well as the large pool area. In all it was a very nice room and I’d book a room there again if I was in the area.

Hotel Azur view of the boats

Azur Hotel pool area

Azur Hotel pool area

More of the pool area

Azur Hotel Campo de Gibraltar junior suite

Our room’s living area

Enough of the good stuff…. Since we had been delayed, we were really late getting to the hotel, and after moving the car into the garage (which was also an ordeal because the room card became demagnetized and Curt had to walk back in to the hotel and get it replaced), we realized that the hotel was only serving dinner for another 15 minutes at most. What to do? What to do? With swollen feet, and streets that smelled of pee, ordering in seemed like a good option. The only menu provided by the hotel was from a place called Telepizza. This appears to be like a Domino’s of Spain because you see people on mopeds zipping around town delivering. Now, granted, I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about this Telepizza place… I mean, it doesn’t sound too gourmet, but we were exhausted and hungry, so we gave them a call. Just to let you know what you are about to see, this is a pizza which is half Hawaiian and half Especial de Casa. “Especial” does not fully describe what was in the box… see for yourself…

Telepizza

Tele”pizza”

The pizza (we shall call it a pizza) looked as if someone blindly tossed the toppings across the kitchen in the direction of the dough, then ran over the finished pizza before and then again after throwing it forcefully into the box. Not to mention the Hawaiian side was missing the pineapple.

On the bright side, they did provide napkins, as well as utensils (luckily, since the pizza appeared to have been sliced by a person with such little musculature that they could not get the blade completely through the paper thin crust), AND they provided these interesting cardboard doo-dads to serve the pizza on. Be careful! You may eat the cardboard serving paper by accident because it was the same thickness of the actual pizza!

Telepizza plate

Telepizza plate. Perhaps more appetizing than the actual pizza…

Okay, so truth be told:
we ate the pizza.
It was NOT delish,
but we have lived to tell the tale.

Driving to Gibraltar

Driving to Gibraltar

We hadn’t driven along this stretch of highway before, so it was fun to see something different. Spain is only about the size of Texas, but the landscape is much more diverse. In this part of our drive we passed through some pine forests at the Coto nacional de peñas negrillas.

Pine forest

Pine forests

We decided to get out and stretch our legs at a town called Santa Elena. There was a little plaza with a Statue of Alfonso VIII, a large (completely empty) fountain, some play equipment, a ping pong table, and more of that strange “work out” equipment.

Plaza at Santa Elena

Plaza at Santa Elena

Statue of Alfonso VIII

Alfonso VIII

Plaque of Alfonso VIII

Ping pong at Santa Elena

Outdoor ping pong

Exercise equipment at Santa Elena

My feet were still swollen, which was bad, but Curt felt less sleepy after stopping and walking around this plaza, which was good. So we got back in the car and took off again.

On the way to Jaën

On the way to Jaën

Near Los Infantos Villargordo

Near Los Infantos Villargordo

This part of the country is covered with olive groves! Everywhere you look: olives! We were driving in the direction of Jaën, and we could see it in the distance.

Jaën in the distance

Jaën in the distance

Olives!

Olives!

Olives and tunnels

Entering Granada province

Entering Granada province

There was a pretty village we passed called Loja. It was nestled in the valley.

Loja

Loja

Going toward Malaga

Going toward Málaga

The highway ran along the coast after we reached Málaga. This area is very commercialized, busy, and touristy. Seeing the ocean in the distance was pretty, though.

Ocean view of Torremolinos

Ocean view of Torremolinos

View of the ocean near La Linea, Spain

Finally we arrived at La Linea. This is the last Spanish town before Gibraltar. We planned to stay overnight there because we could literally walk into Gibraltar from the hotel, and the price for the hotel was quite a bit less than staying in Gibraltar itself. We could only hope the hotel website was accurate and the place was as nice as it looked. The town of La Linea was, from what we could see so far, run down looking, and not so picturesque. But we were driving though only one part of town, so we would just have to see…

The Flight and Beyond…

The Flight and Beyond…

Unfortunately our plane was delayed for about an hour and a half at DFW, so we were going to be behind schedule.

DFW Pre departure

The plane was packed and we were stuck in the middle section of five seats. (We had wanted the two seats along either side, but none were available.) Even though I had requested seats, we didn’t get them assigned until check in and there was going to be a person between us. I figured we could just ask the person to swap because who would want to be stuck between two people traveling together? As it turned out, the seating arrangement was even weirder than we thought originally. It was: a pre-teen girl, me, a random woman, Curt, and the father of the pre-teen girl. So we rearranged everyone and ended up sitting beside each other in the end. It was cramped, for sure, but not horrible. It also was not freezing like it usually is, but it was like a TB ward with some kids hacking and coughing behind us. We swear by the Cold Eeze lozenges, though.

The flight we took in September was also filled with coughing people and we both ended up with terrible colds. The next trip in January we took the Cold Eeze and even though there was some hacking on the plane, we were healthy on that trip. So we decided to stick with what seemed to help keep us healthy and took Cold Eeze before departing, again before sleeping, and again upon waking up. Better safe than sorry!

The girl I was sitting beside has been living in Madrid for the past two years and loves it. She and her husband decided to go on an adventure and teach English in Spain for a year. They got TEFL certified and ended up loving it, so they extended their time for a second year. They are able to live in Spain with a student visa, and have been traveling around seeing a lot of Spain, as well as other countries nearby. They decided to extend one more time and  will be in Madrid for one more year. (note to self: get TEFL certified.)

We really had a decent night’s sleep and I didn’t feel too bad when we landed in Madrid. Except that for some crazy reason my feet had swollen up and were totally scary! I’d never had that happen before, and it was terrible. I spent the in-flight time wearing comfy socks, but of course I had to put my shoes back on to leave the plane… and my shoes were so tight on my swollen feet — it was nasty.

Swollen feet

Swollen piggies

Getting the car sorted out at the rental counter was no problem, and we decided to get a couple of coffees and take a look at the map before leaving the Barajas airport.

Coffee at Madrid Barajas airport

After the 9 and a half hour flight.
Fresh as a daisy!

Our original plan was to leave Madrid and drive toward Gibraltar via Cordoba, stop for lunch in Cordoba, and arrive at our La Linea hotel in the evening time. Since we were running so far behind schedule because of the plane delay, we figured we should drive to La Linea via Granada instead because that would shave a little bit of time off of our trip.

The lady at the car rental counter told us the wrong parking spot number and we first walked up to a teeny tiny fiat that looked like one of those car you’d expect to see twenty clowns climb out of, but thankfully the actual car we rented was just beside it. This car was a great size and quite comfy. We needed to make sure it was big enough to hold the bike Curt was planning to buy.

Mercedes B Class

Mercedes B Class

Rental car Merecedes B Class

Plenty of room!

By the way, all cars in Spain come equipped with a roadside safety vest in the glove box. People are super good about actually wearing this thing when they are broken down. Reflective road wear is serious business here and anyone doing road works is wearing highly reflective garb.

Spanish roadside safety vest

Safety first!

The girl on the plane seemed to think we were a little crazy for making such a long drive after just flying in, but we wanted to see Gibraltar the next day and if we stopped overnight in Madrid that would take up another whole day. At least we felt somewhat rested from the flight. So we hit the road.

To GIbraltar from Madrid

On the road to Gibraltar

¡Sí! se puede!

¡Sí! se puede!

Having a Colombian father, you would think that I would already know how to speak Spanish, but no…. Having a French mother, I chose to learn French instead. This can be a positive because some words that are Latin based are at least similar. This is a negative when my brain freezes and I can only think in French… like the time we were walking around Arboleas and we encountered a very nice, friendly Spanish lady who wanted to chat. My brain was screeching to a halt and then I rattled off some responses, after which Curt said, “You’re speaking to her in French.” Ooops.

This is where we hope Rosetta Stone will come to the rescue.

But do I practice diligently? No.

Am I a slacker? Si.

But we can do it! Yes, we can!

Rosetta Stone Spain

¡Sí! se puede!

 

Exploring to the west

Exploring to the west

Looking south from our house we could see that there were some old railway tracks, so we decided to spend the next day doing some exploring. We drove along and found the old Arboleas station. A ruin, now, but had some character. We parked the car across the street and had to climb up a little hill and battle some weeds and brambles to get to it. Of course just taking a picture from the road was not good enough for me! I had to go inside.

Arboleas train station

The old Arboleas station

Arboleas station

Do you see the prickly pear cactus growing on the roof??

Totally run down and falling apart, the station is only used as housing for the birds. They obviously eat the prickly pears and have “deposited the seeds” on the roof! The inside of the building was in bad shape. Originally it must have had some nice tiles on the floors, but now it is a mess!

Inside the station

Inside the old station

We liked the tiles with ARBOLEAS on them, though.

Arboleas

Since it was January, we thought it would be fun to drive about an hour to the west toward Baza and see some snow as we got further toward the mountains. So we took off for a little drive west and made a loop to the south and east to return back home.

Driving west

Driving west

Toward Baza

There’s some snow!

Sheep

Sheep!

It was a really nice drive. We were amazed at how different the terrain was just going about an hour west. Our casa is in a great location because about an hour east or south and we are at the beach; about an hour west or north and we are close to the mountains… we have so much to explore!