A Travellerspoint blog

Day 7 - Friday 3 July

Ronda to Seville

sunny 39 °C

Our day started at 9am when we left the lovely town of Ronda and headed for Seville, two and a half hours away. Tom our guide, changed our schedule so that we had a tour as soon as we were in Seville. That was to allow the hotel time to get our rooms ready.
A young Dutch man was our guide and the first thing we saw was the monument to Christopher Columbus. As we walked towards the Jewish Quarter, he explained that there was a beetle destroying the tall palm trees in the gardens that we passed through initially. The Jewish quarter was made up of the narrow lanes and beautiful buildings. Finally we arrived at the Palace of Alcazar. We entered a square surrounded by 12th, 14th, 16th and 18th century architecture. We walked through the wall of the 12th century to a palace garden. Recently a section was excavated to return to its original glory so that fruit trees were planted down in a trough. We moved on into other rooms of the palace with similar decorations as the cathedral in Cordoba. Christian influences could be seen in various parts – pictures of monarchs, castles and lions. The Islamic art work was amazing and featured only nature, words and geometric drawing. Some of the rooms had intricate tapestries hanging on the walls. We arrived at the gardens with hedges, flowers, fruit trees and fountains. Our guide explained that when gardens were built, five elements had to be considered: shade, water, food, fragrance and colour. These gardens were certainly an oasis to behold. There was a section where they used oyster rocks to create a very rough exterior, one rulers request apparently – Romanesque I think he said.
Having finished our walk to the gardens we proceeded to find a place to have lunch. We went into one of the less prominent streets and found a café that made a lovely chicken and salad sandwich and chicken, peppers and special jam dressing. We all enjoyed our lunch immensely.
Next stop was the Cathedral of Seville, with gothic architecture to die for. It is a massive cathedral and certainly worth the visit. The most amazing thing about this cathedral is that it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus and his son. The stained glass windows were very beautiful.
We had a bit of a walk to reach the bus which transported us to our hotel. The Gran Melia Colon Hotel is certainly worth staying at. Our rooms are spacious. We had a rest until 5pm when we then met to visit the Flamingo museum. It was very interesting learning about the history of the dance. Flamingo has developed from several influences: the gypsy dancing, ballet from France, Caribbean slave dancers and hand movement from Indian dancers. Flamingo dancing incorporates music, dancing, singing and storytelling. We were given a class of sangria at the end as it was extremely hot outside.
On our way back to the hotel we did a spot of shopping and then had dinner in the hotel bar. It was time for bull’s tail au gratin and pork loin – very delicious. We were all very tired from the heat but had had a wonderful day.

Posted by gpric6 14:13 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Day 6 - Thursday 2 July

Granada to Ronda

sunny 40 °C

Before I start this blog, I have to advise that there were some factual errors in day 5. I had the incorrect name of the village that fed us and the incorrect explanation of the mule measurement. This has now been rectified.
Today we had a sleep in as our tour didn’t start until 9am. We left our beautiful hotel and headed along a laneway to meet the bus. Our local guide took us through the streets of the old Jewish town, whose history dated back many centuries to the Romans, Visigoths and Muslims. He told us stories about philosophers, matadors and the Jews prior to expulsion (1492) during the Spanish inquisition.
During our walk we could hear the bells of the church, calling the people to mass. We headed towards Cathedral Cordoba. It is a historical fact that the San Vicente Basilica was destroyed during the Islamic period in order to build the subsequent mosque. Cordoba was invaded by the Islamic forces and the dominating Muslims proceeded to demolish the Church of San Vicente and began the construction of the Mosque in 785. The Christians eventually reconquered Cordoba (1236) and fortunately did not destroy the mosque. Rather, the Christian church was built inside the mosque, this work beginning in 1523. Today it is possibly the only place that Islam and Christian religions live in harmony side by side. It is a truly beautiful building that shows recycling of materials such as the columns. This has meant that there is not a uniformity of pillars in the building as they have brought these from different areas and they were made of different materials and decorations.
Lunch was very delicious. Unfortunately, Uncle Bill was not feeling well so he missed out on the delicious oxtail stewed in broth. We had lunch at Casa Palacio Bandolero Restaurant. Once lunch was over, it was back on the bus for a drive to Rondo. We had to have a break at a service station so that we didn’t arrive too early in Rondo.
The hotel in Rondo is run by the government. The room was clean and the yard was lovely. It is built atop an escarpment. Rondo is 780 metres above sea level. You might expect that it would be cool but it was extremely hot, probably close to 40 degrees even late in the afternoon. We met a guide who told us that our hotel was once the city hall and that Earnest Hemmingway’s story, For Whom the Bell Tolls, was set there up to chapter 10. (Not sure if that is correct.) Next he drew our attention to the new bridge that connects the old town to the new. He said that this bridge was once the jail for bandits etc. We walked across the bridge and looked down into the ravine. We were taken to the San Juan Bosco house so that we could get a good view looking back at the hotel. The view across the valley was spectacular. Of course, the landscape is very dry at the moment. All the buildings are whitewashed to help reduce the heat. We wandered around the old part of the town, meeting real nuns who live there. He also explained that bullfighting was carried out there with no ring. They took place in the square of the town.
Following our walk around the old town, we went to the bullring that is still used today, three times per year. We went through the small museum to hear the history and see some beautiful outfits worn by the toreadors. We were also able to walk into the centre of the ring. The bullring at Rondo is bigger than the normal ring size. Quite impressive.
Dinner was quite enjoyable and was held in the main dining room of the hotel – vegetable soup, guinea fowl and tiramisu. Following dinner, we went for a quick walk to see the lights on the bridge. It was a little cooler at 10pm!

Posted by gpric6 14:32 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Day 5 - Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Granada to Cordoba

sunny 35 °C

Today was like no other. Breakfast was special as it turns out that the Hotel Palau de La Mar was once a monastery so there were gravestones in the courtyard where we ate. We had to order our hot breakfast and it was quite nice.
The bus left at 8.30. There were some people in the group that didn’t wake up as their wakeup call didn’t eventuate. They sleep and snore on the bus all day so I am not sure how they sleep so long at night. The first stop was Alhambra at the top of Sabika Hill. Now, if you have ever played Where in the World is Carmen San Diego – Treasures of Time, you would have remembered being sent to Alhambra to find a clue. The official name for the site is The Alhambra and The Generalife and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Construction of The Alhambra commenced in 1238 by Muhammad 1 al-Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid Dynasty. Over the centuries, it came under the influence of Catholic monarchs such as Isabella of Castile and Charles V in the 16th century.
Tickets were sold out for the day – a very popular place. You must book ahead to ensure that you can get in. It took us 3 hours to walk the entire palace – 5 kilometre walk they say. Uncle Bill’s stripes appear to be matching up with all this exercise!!! He’s doing very well as it was extremely hot in the sun. We looked at the Palace of the Generalife and its gardens first, led by the local tour guide. The palace’s Arabic background is interesting. The gardens were spectacular and the palace has a view to the valley below no matter where you might be standing. The rose is their symbol so we sniffed many beautiful flowers and snapped many beautiful colours. Once we had finished this section, we crossed to the next section – The Medina, Palace of Charles V, Hall of Kings – to name a few points of interest. The Christian influence in parts was explained. Napoleon destroyed the Medina at one time in history so we were able to see ruins along the way. We stopped at a shop where they made furniture using a type of parquetry skill handed down over the centuries. Regardless of where we were, the carvings and workmanship were amazing.
At midday, we climbed on board our bus for a one and a half hour drive to Malaga. Now, I had no idea of what to expect scenery wise in Spain. The rugged hills that we had followed from Barcelona continued. Believe it or not the scenery was spectacular as the land is farmed so intensively. Both sides of the road were covered with olive and almond trees, immaculately planted and maintained, to the base of these mountains and as far up as possible. Intermingled with the trees were fields of wheat and maize. So, as far as the eye could see, the land was under cultivation. We turned off the motorway and headed up into a mountainous area to the village of Alfarnatejo. The rock in these mountains is pumice, resulting from earthquakes. Once we were in the village we were taken to an almond, honey, fig and honey tasting session. Following that we were divided into smaller groups and were treated to lunch in the homes of local ladies. There were 10 in our group and we were served salad, pumpkin soup, veal and gravy and fruit salad, all prepared by a lovely lady named Virginia.
The next stop was an olive mill. A young Englishman explained the process needed to obtain extra virgin olive oil. This mill also processed wheat and maize. Apparently, there is very little money in Spanish agriculture so the farmers are paid a bonus to keep the farms going. Because the land is so rugged in places, the measurement of land is calculated by how much land a mule can plough in a day. Planting to harvesting would be prohibitive.
We left this very mountainous area and headed for Cordoba. On our arrival at 6pm, the temperature was 35 degrees. Our hotel, Palacio Del Bailio, was an old Roman building that had been converted to a hotel. When standing in the dining room, one could look through glass and see the Roman foundations below. It was a beautiful hotel but we felt that it explained why the Romans lost their battles. Some people could not find their rooms. Ross and my room was out the back on the other side of the garden and pool area. We went to Bill and Denise’s room where the men had a scotch and Denise made a cup of tea. We didn’t go out at all but chose to enjoy the air-conditioning until we went downstairs to a lovely courtyard. We ordered sangria which proved to be delicious. Ross had a cheese salad, Denise and Bill had lovely meat and I ordered oxtail ravioli with mashed potato. Well, the latter was interesting as it did not look anything like ravioli to me and the mashed potato was pink and like a cream!! I asked to make sure I had the right meal. At 10pm, the sun was still up but we decided to go to bed.

Posted by gpric6 05:26 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Day 4 - Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Valencia to Grenada

sunny 35 °C

Breakfast was a bit of a challenge. The hotel was not big enough for our group so it was a little difficult to find what we wanted. We had to share a table with a chap from Italy – a gelato salesman. Before long, we were on our way.
The road to Granada was impressive. Both sides of the road were covered in olive groves. The mountains followed us all the way, as rugged as ever. The land was so barren yet it supports such a flourishing industry. Smoko was at a small roadhouse out in the middle of nowhere. We had a croissant and coffee and then we were on our way again.
The scenery was breathtaking even though it was a continuous flow of rocks and arid land. The mountains rise up out of the ground but are solid rock structures. As we went along we were told that the area not only grows olives but almonds. There were massive almond plantations as these trees can tolerate the heat. The fields also developed a tinge of yellow as barley appeared. Truly amazing. They harvest the barley and the stalks – nothing is wasted. As time went on, snow on the Sierra Nevada could be seen in the distance to our left. We pulled into another roadhouse and has lunch. Ross and I shared a bread roll of cheese and ham. Bill had veal and vegies and Denise had a lovely seafood salad. Tom was anxious to get us on the road as two others coaches had pulled in.
There was a change in the soil type after lunch time and it became very clay-like. It was then that we started to see caves. Our special treat today was to turn off the main highway for a “habitat – troglodita” experience at the village of Purullena. It was very hot and we were fanned by a very hot breeze. Paco Senior and Paco Junior met us and took us inside their cave house!! We walked in and it was so cold. Paco told us about his home and how it has been in the family for some time. He explained how he excavated an additional room and also made a set of stairs that connected the lower level to the upstairs museum. One cubic metre of this clay weighs 1800 kilograms. It is so dense that is impervious. It has to be painted with whitewash so that the earth breaths. The temperature inside ranges from 18 to 23 degrees with no air-conditioner. We were able to go to the top of the building and look towards the Sierra Nevada. This area was created as it was once the bottom of the ocean so it was a very unique experience.
Once we were on the road the scenery continued to Granada. We all had nanna naps. Once we arrived in our hotel, Palau de La Mar, Grenada, we had free time. We braved the heat outside and walked along the street. At the end of the avenue was a statue depicting Christopher Columbus kneeling before Queen Isabel. The main attraction was the beautiful renaissance and baroque architecture of the Cathedral of Grenada. We paid 4 euro each and had a quick look inside before we rushed back to meet the bus for dinner.
Dinner was spectacular at the bull fighting ring. When we stepped it off the bus it was 35 degrees at 7pm. We had salad, followed by a triangle treat, followed by “spring roll” with lettuce leaves and creamy sauce, followed by veal chop or fish and lastly chocolate mud slice with chocolate ice-cream. The latter was soooooo rich. This was all washed down with white and red wine as well as beer. Carlos also served us coffee and tea. The bulls’ heads attached to the walls watched over us as we enjoyed our dinner.
Victor the bus driver had to drop us off behind the streets of the hotel as there was a protest on the street of our hotel. We followed Tom and wove our way back home to our very comfortable room.

Posted by gpric6 11:18 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Day 3 - Monday, 29 June 2015

Barcelona to Valencia

sunny 33 °C

This morning we left bustling Barcelona and headed south. The scenery quickly changed to farmland between the hills. The fact is Spain is 40% mountains. These hills were denude of any vegetation and it reminded me a good deal of Greece – rocks, rocks and more rocks. During our early stage of travel, we passed the Monserrat Mountains. The road system is marvellous. We stopped for coffee and apple cake at some little outpost.
Tom continued to impart his knowledge of the history of the Iberian Peninsula from the Celts, Visigoths, Vagabonds and Muslims, not necessarily in that order.
Our next stop was at the seaside town of Peniscola (pronounced pen-is-col-a). There was a festival happening so Tom was unsure if we would be able to get in. Luckily we were able to drive right to the port. We climbed the hill to visit the township that is built on the remnants of a Moorish outpost. The winding streets and white buildings reminded me of the Greek islands. This outpost is washed by the Mediterranean. It was very hot but an amazing visit. We had lunch at the fish and chip shop at the bottom. Ross and I ordered cuttlefish and calamari and Bill and Denise had sol fish. With chips included, it was a delicious meal.
Following lunch we continued our journey towards Valencia. We checked into our hotel, clean but certainly not 5 star. Our first outing was to the Science Centre. The architecture of this building and those around it was very modernistic. One building looks like the Opera House. The architect was a student who followed Gaudi ideas but unfortunately the tiles have fallen off and it was being repaired. All the buildings are white with blue tiles. Huge water features connect the different structures. The town of Valencia once had a river flowing through it and, following a very bad flood they re-diverted the river to run outside the town. All these buildings are built in the river and the rest of the area is gardens and sporting facilities.
The local guide took us on a walk of the old city, the architecture being a mixture of baroque, renaissance and modern. It was a very interesting walk which started at the castle gates and led to a square bounded by a cathedral. Once we completed our walk we set off in search of the camera battery. It was very hot. We tried in the department store but they suggested we go to their next store that had computer gear. We followed the broken instructions given to us, found the store only to find that they had none either. The next suggestion was to find a store near the bull-fighting stadium and the train station. Finally we had some luck and handed over 29 euro for our spare battery. Even though this was quite a long walk, we all enjoyed it but Uncle Bill’s feet were killing him. It was great to have time to have a closer look at the bull fighting ring and the station, the latter being decorated with oranges in honour of the city – Valencia.
After a brisk walk back to the hotel we made our 8.30 reservation for dinner. After our sizeable lunch, Ross and I had a plate of Valencian paella each which was tasty despite the chicken being cut like they do in China, bones and all. Denise and Bill had veal and fish. All in all we had a fantastic day.

Posted by gpric6 09:53 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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