Hello all! We know this is an extremely long post but it was an incredible week and couldn’t skip any details. Enjoy!
Thursday – Dec 18: Granada
We arrived via train into the beautiful city of Granada. The snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada seemed so close on the train; now in the city we would spend some time during our visit in search of the perfect view from Granada.
Granada is home to the magnificent Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace. It is the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic historical legacy. We would spend the better part of two days exploring these historical grounds. In Granada the Islamic history feels current, as 10% of the population is Muslim North Africans; and many of the visitors are as well. There’s even a modern mosque in the medieval district. This area of Granada made for interesting food choices and colorful shopping.
Our flat was spacious and included a huge outdoor patio overlooking winding streets and neighbouring rooftops. While the temperatures did reach 18+, we were out during the day and by evening it was too cool to enjoy it. Thousands of tiny ants formed long lineups to the open box of sugar cubes on the kitchen counter; it took a few days before we persuaded them to vacate the premises.
Our neighborhood had a youthful vibe, some free tapas, innovative bars and intimate flamenco haunts. We loved it here.
Friday – Dec 19
Our first visit was to the Granada Cathedral; a giant structure in the heart of Granada. We have seen many churches in our travels but none with the ceiling height of this grand Cathedral. It was breathtaking.
We decided to climb the mountain trail to the Alhambra mid afternoon, as we had purchased entrance tickets for Friday and wanted to have an idea of where to go. We were so glad we did! We spent at least 2 hours in Sibaka Hill, a free section of the Alhambra.
We toured a museum that featured a famed Flaminco singer Enrique Morente. It was here we saw the second reference in Spain to Canada’s Leonard Cohen (the first was a jazz club playing his music). Morente was apparently a huge fan of Cohen’s poetry and his collection of Cohen’s books were displayed. There were also photos of a trek to New York to see Cohen live. Many of Cohen’s Spanish fans do not speak English but learn the words of his songs nevertheless. Recently Cohen was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts, Spain’s top intellectual prize. We thought this was very interesting!
Saturday – Dec 20
The Alhambra was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. It is certainly Granada’s pride and joy and one of the most visited in Spain. It consists of a defensive zone, the Alcazaba, together with others of a residential and formal state character, the Nasrid Palaces and, lastly, the palace, gardens and orchards of El Generalife. The Alhambra takes its name from the Arabic al-qala’a al-hamra (the Red Castle).
The Generalife is a garden area attached to the Alhambra which became a place of recreation and rest for the Granadan Muslim kings when they wanted to flee the tedium of official life in the Palace. It is of the Islamic Nasrid style, and is today one of the biggest attractions in the city of Granada. The Generalife was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In the height of summer, some 6000 visitors tramp through here daily; we were once again lucky to visit during the quiet of winter.
Sunday – Dec 21: Algeciras (La Linea)
Our journey today takes us to Algeciras; 5 hours by train from Granada. Another delightful trip; this time we stopped at about 10 stations and waited 3-4 times for trains going the other direction, to pass so we could use the track.
From Algeciras we have to take a taxi into La Linea, which is just outside of Gibraltar. Joe has been looking forward to this leg of our adventure; to see both the Rock of Gibraltar and Moracco. I am feeling a little less comfortable about this part but Joe is confident so I am in good hands. Joe will be blogging the next few days….enjoy!
Monday – Dec 22: Gibraltar (Joe)
Woke up this morning in La Linea. Looked out of our balcony and there she stood! The incredible Rock of Gibraltar! 420 meters of mountain seeming to rise out of the ocean on it’s own. We had originally wanted to climb it … But we were both feeling a little run down so went on tour instead.
First a 20 minute walk to the border between Spain and Gibraltar. Once through no hassle border we booked tour bus and got on with 4 folks from San Jose. First stop The Pillars of Hercules view point. In ancient times the Straight of Gibraltar was thought to lead to the end of the flat world…where you would fall off if you sailed past. One of the pillars is the Rock of Gibraltar and the other on the Africa side is debatable – either Mount Hacho near Ceuta or Jebel Musa in Morocco. From this viewpoint we got our first look at the mountains of Morocco in Africa…20 Km away… About the same distance as looking across the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Farther up we saw the incredible St. Michael’s Cave – which is an amazing underground cathedral of stalignites and stalagnites where the acoustics are so pristine they hold concerts here. Huge cathedral rooms- amazing colours.
Outside the entrance saw our first of many monkeys that inhabit the Rock. Cute fellows that are very mischievous and will steal your food if you have any. Farther up still is the feeding ground where most of the 100 or so monkeys live.
Grandma, the oldest monkey in Gabraltar:
Here is the top ..what an amazing view . Across into Africa, back into the city of Gibraltar and of course – straight down to the beach at the bottom.
Finally looked at the Great Seige Tunnels – built in WW2 to defend the city . Over 7km of tunnels in this mountain.
Ended the day down in the city and shopped a trendy main drag street…weird to see all the signs in English after so much Spanish. lunch at a British Pub. Walked back to Hotel for a quiet evening.
Tuesday – Dec 23: Morocco (Joe)
Last night we took the plunge and booked a day tour of Tangier, Morocco. We felt it would be a shame to come all this way and be 20 Km from Africa and not set foot in it.
So took ferry to Africa – (hooked up with Erik from Sweden, who was also on the tour, and spent the day together) so the three of us made for a small tour group…it was fun. Took ferry to Ceuta which is across the Straight of Gibraltar in Africa but is actually still part of Spain. Met tour guide Abdul who welcomed us to Africa and then proceeded to tell about Ceuta and history – cool town.
Then through the border and into Morocco and the city of Tetuan… An ancient city. We spent most of our time in the Medina (old part of city) which has about 3000 winding tiny narrow streets that is a complete MAZE. Abdul knew his way around though and led us through the ancient market…what a time warp! People selling produce and meats in much the same way for 1000’s of years….unbelievable. We thought the streets in Madrid were narrow and winding – but this market redefined everything. These streets were approx 6 feet wide…no cars, just a ton of people. Very strange, foreign and exciting in a way….check out the stalls in some of these pictures.
‘Fresh’ chicken and the Butcher:
Abdul showing us a wedding limo and also some Mosques:
Mohameed; Abdul’s friend/assistant – stayed behind us in the windy streets;
Guide took us to carpet school where they train people to weave and also to sell to unsuspecting tourists…we remained polite but declined to buy, although the carpets are amazing.
Lunch was arranged at a very nice restaurant ( compared to the market stalls). Good soup, kabobs and couscous. Our new friend Erik:
Drove to Tangier on the Atlantic coast, bustling major port city of about 1 million people. Visited the old medina city centre and were once more amazed at the markets and vendors ( very aggressive sellers). Paula got some good pics here. It was weird to be able to look back and see Europe in the distance.
One of several bakeries:
Drove back to ferry for return to Gibraltar …beautiful coast:
All in all an amazing day and we can now say we have been to Africa!
(Paula’s little interjection here)
We had to go through customs twice, each way, on this trip once we were in Africa – first to leave Spain and enter the twilight zone and then to enter Moracco. Taking pictures was strictly forbidden; and they would have been good pictures!
The lines of foot traffic were incredibly long! The territories are surrounded by fences to deter illegal immigrants. But Ceuta and Melilla are used by many Africans as a way into Iberia. Many migrants are caught and some drown while attempting to make the sea crossing. People trafficking is common. We also saw numerous random road checks throughout the day; cars and people being checked – it was all movie stuff I tell you! Thank goodness Abdul had a tag team of people moving US quickly through custom checks; Although it was an uneasy feeling to see him disappear with our passports several times.
Once a young African man followed us, singing. I smiled for awhile and then ignored his attempts for money. Joe would have nothing to do with this fellow but Abdul quickly ushered as ahead when the singing turned to “my mother won’t kill you, my father won’t kill you, but I will kill you”. Wow, huh? Time to get Out of Africa!
We will be talking about this day for a very long time.
Wednesday – Dec 24 Christmas Eve (Paula again)
Two different trains to travel to Seville today but all went smoothly. Acre after acre of olive tress! So nice to watch out the train windows as travellers were met by loved ones on Christmas Eve.
Our first hotel in Seville is fantastic as we splurged for Christmas.
This is is our hotel room door!
We found an Irish Pub that was still open when we arrived and had great salads.
Spent the evening in our room listening to Christmas music with good wine. I enjoyed this unique Christmas Eve but had waves of emotions with not being with our children for the first Christmas ever. We missed them and our traditions dearly.
Thursday – Dec 25 Christmas Day
I gave Joe the gift of my cold a few days ago so Merry Christmas honey!
We had an incredible buffet Christmas breakfast this morning and went for a long walk in the sunshine.
Found where we will be going for a tapas dinner so we were looking forward to that. Sat by the water and had cervezas in the warmth of the Sevilla sun and we were happy.
Christmas dinner – including bull tail stew!
Merry Christmas / Feliz Navadad!
Dec 26 – 27 Sevilla
Arches of Hercules:
Loved this old photo of young Flaminco dancers – such passion captured!
Outside our new hotel room:
Hanging wine bottle Christmas Tree:
Early bus tomorrow into Faro / Albufeira – Portugal so will see you then!!
Paula and Joe