March 13, 2007

March 12 of 12

Tahj, Ahj and R-Shelly are visiting us this week, so this is going to have to be a short one. I'll try to post in more detail later...but we have visitors from now until the 17th of April, so it may be a bit before I am able to do so. This idea comes from the fabulous Chad Darnell. Go to his site and see what everyone else in the world is doing today.

8:46; Sotogrande, Spain

After dropping Señor CC off at work today, I stopped by the bank to get some cash for our road trip. Amazingly, I saw this postal truck sitting there. I had never seen one of the large trucks before; usually I see men on mopeds delivering the mail.

10:45; Sotogrande, Spain

Tahj, Ahj, R-Shelly and I were on our way to Ronda. Yes, I've told you about that here, but today was another day and we did indeed see some new things in the white town.

12:01; Gaucin, Spain

On our way, we stopped at the Hostal Breñaverde to take some pictures of the wonderful view. We all thought it quite funny that the sign (at the hostal) pointed at the building and declared that you had 0.0 meters to travel in order to reach it.

12:16; Gaucin, Spain

Gaucín is one of the many white towns that pop up on the side of the mountain on the way to Ronda. Some towns are on such a steep slope that in addition to the zig-zag streets the cars use to get around there exist pedestrian stairs/slopes that cut virtually straight up through the town for 'easier' access.

13:52; Ronda, Spain

Our entrance to Ronda was somewhat normal. By normal I mean that the usual path we are able to take in our car was (of course!) blocked off for construction and we had to park in a completely new (to me) area. Arriving wasn't all that bad, and we were able to see some new shops on our way to lunch.

14:42; Ronda, Spain

Speaking of lunch, R-Shelly and I had the Menu del Día. I chose the mixed salad, this fabulous trout (head and all) and mixed fruit for dessert. It was yummy indeed. And that trout had such beautiful eyes...

15:31; Ronda, Spain

Our first stop after lunch, in order to see some 'history', was the new bridge. For a small fee we were able to go down and inside of the structure to learn about its construction and use. The room inside was used as a prison and then as a store at one time. There are great views of the gorge from these windows.

15:42; Ronda, Spain

I cannot seem to go to Ronda without taking at least a couple of photographs of this particular view. It is simply amazing and is one of my favorite here in Spain.

16:22; Ronda, Spain

We walked down, down, down through the cobbled streets towards the old bridge. This is where we could see this Puerta de Felipe V as well as catch a glimpse of the Arab baths.

16:31; Ronda, Spain

We crossed the old bridge and then began the walk up the side of the gorge towards the Plaza de Toros. Along the way we had magnificent views of the gorge and plantlife.

16:32; Ronda, Spain

Our path also allowed us this view of the New Bridge. It is unbelievable.

16:42; Ronda, Spain

We made it over to the Plaza de Toros and visited the museum there. One of the most interesting sections of the museum was the royal saddlery. The intricate costumes and saddles were amazing.
We headed back to the car, with a short stop for helado, and then attempted to make our way home. We had a few delays: the normal exit route was blocked and the other had a lack of signs. We eventually made our way onto a road that would lead us towards home, although it was not the road we really wanted to be on.

I saw a sign at one small white town that pointed towards Estepona, a city very close to where we live. I took that road and we embarked on what has to be the most interesting and exciting road I have ever driven on. To call the turns hair-pin would be quite the understatement, and I must say that I had never before played chicken with a massive dump-truck.

I suppose there is a first time for everything...

March 8, 2007

Sherry Bodegas and Horses, Oh My!

February twenty-eighth was the last official day of my birthday month for the year. It was also Andalucia Day here in Spain. Señor CC and I took advantage of his rare day off and drove up to Jerez for another scouting run. This time we were hoping to find parking as well as our way to the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestra, the Palacio del Tiempo, a couple of sherry bodegas and perhaps even the Alcazar.

We managed once again to follow signs for the centro and ended up in a parking garage right beside the information office. We headed inside to get a map and some other brochures. Our first order of business was to find the Real Escuela; we needed to know how far it was to walk there from the plaza. We saw a few interesting things on the way. The first was this fountain:

Next came this monument:

Followed immediately by the famous Tio Pepe barrels. Someone was having his photo taken in front of them with his guitar. As Jerez is the area of Spain where flamenco was created, the guitar is appropriate for sure.

Doors in Spain are different than those in the U.S. in a few ways, but perhaps the most noticeable is the doorknob. The location of the doorknob in the center of the door is visually different; functionally it does nothing except give you something to grab onto. One must have a key to turn the latch and open the door; the doorknob does not move. These doorknobs were the first that I have seen here with such handy explanation as to what those knobs are for...too bad the doors graced by these are very tall and it is really impossible to even reach the knob:

Jerez is full of monuments and statues. I saw more there in the few hours we were there than in most other cities I have visited. This next one sits at the end of a large plaza with a fabulous fountain.

We made it to the Real Escuela in pretty much no time at all and were able to find the carriage museum and Sandeman Bodega as well. Luckily, most of what we would want to see is up in one area. This is the ticket booth for the Real Escuela; if you look closely you can see the dancing horse above the ticket window:

As in any Spanish town, there are many churches in Jerez. I saw three or four of these tiled plaques in the small area we walked. They are all different and detailed. Usually there are flowers or some other gift placed nearby:

I am excited to go back to Jerez and see the dancing horses as well as some of the other interesting sights in the city. Only a few more days and we shall be there!

M&M Visit Tarifa

We have arrived (perhaps you are thinking "At last!") to the final excursion day of M&M's visit to Spain. This day could be so named only if one does not count the subsequent day's (FINAL!) trip to the airport as an excursion. I do not because although Travel Drama reared its ugly head, they did indeed make their way home safely.

The choice on Day Four of Spanish Goodness was to drive up and see the fine city of Jerez, where one finds sherry, and dancing horses galore (there are other attractions, including a zoo, but none are so popular as the two mentioned above) or to take a (much shorter) drive down the coast to Tarifa where one can see Africa on most days. Due to the multiple airport runs, three days of lengthy excursions as well as a particularly nasty thing called jet lag, M&M decided they would prefer the shorter trip followed by some quiality time at the casa where the Brothers J could get their fix of NCAA football for the next couple of months.

The drive to Tarifa is only about forty-five minutes from our town. Along the way we were able to see the many windmills dotting the landscape. There are a few types, but the most common is of this variety:

Once we found a place to park the coche, we walked down the main street towards the old town and the coast. Signs are everywhere in high-tourist areas, but as I've mentioned before, they are not for the one thing we all want: streets. Instead, they are for a mixture of other important things. In all towns signs are multi-lingual, but the closer you get to Tarifa and Africa, the more Arabic you will see:

We strolled through the puerta to the old town and weaved through the tiny streets on our way to the coast. The streets feel a bit like a maze the first few times you walk through them. Tarifa is so small compared to other cities that learning your way is fairly easy and in the case that you don't actually learn the streets, it is really no matter because there are so few that you will never go so far as to be lost.

There is a small plaza beside the ruins at the coast. This plaza has beautiful painted-tile benches and a long slender fountain. To one side is the Atlantic and Africa and to the other the streets of the town. This building has a view of the ocean and the plaza:

An old city wall/fortress ruin sits at one end of this lovely area. From up here one usually has a fabulous view of Africa.

On the days when M&M were with us, we had quite a bit of haze between the two continents and were unable to get a clear view. When you can it is beautiful.

This last day was a fairly hot one, so we quickly headed back towards the tiny streets and the shade. On our way back towards the car, we came upon a lovely rose garden.

We were all getting pretty hungry, so we drove back towards Sotogrande. Señor CC and I had been to a Mesón along the way that had fabulous tapas. We stopped there and ordered a few things for our midday meal. Calamari, jamon, chicken, and a few other items were delicious.

There are a couple of places along the drive where one can pull off the road to get a more elevated view of Africa. We stopped at one that has a snow-cone/icecream vendor and postcards of the view for sale so that M could try to get a better picture of herself with Africa for her Mom. We were higher up and the haze was low, so the picture was better, but still not great. I supppose we shall have to try again the next time they visit.

Home we went for an evening of NCAA (Lee Corso, that whistle is so annoying!) and regular food stuffs. Cooper was very happy that we were hanging out at the apartment and I think all of us were happy to veg out for a while. It had been an exciting and eventful visit.

I've already told you about the next day's activities. Oh so exciting were they. More to come soon on our glimpse of Jerez last Wednesday. A glimpse...but with pictures...of course!

March 6, 2007

The Missing Paella

M AKA The Brothers J Part Uno read my latest and greatest post. He then searched through the photographs he took while in Sevilla and came up with this gem:

AH-HA! The Missing Paella!


March 5, 2007

M&M Visit Sevilla

The Brothers J Take Seville

Sevilla was the one place that The Brothers J Part Uno requested we visit while M&M were here in October. I am quite certain that this request had very little to do with Spain, Sevilla itself, or Rossini for that matter (though he is good fun) and very much to do with that delightfully fwustwating wabbit, Bugs Bunny. So much so, in fact, that the Brothers J Part Dos informed me that I simply must include a link to the Rabbit of Seville in this particular post. The Brothers J - once again proving, through their ability to communicate with grunts, looks and thoughts alone that the rest of us will truly never understand them. It is best to simply comply and enjoy the results.

Therefore, I present for your amusement: The Rabbit of Seville

We began this lovely day by dealing with everyone's favorite vacation participant: Travel Drama. We had all had just about enough of TD thus far, so we were brief in our instructions. We changed the delivery address for the delayed luggage to a good friend of ours here in Sotogrande. I, being wary of the fact that we had once again spoken to someone at a computer and not at the actual airport where the bag was located, decided to write a note for the delivery guy using my best español (it wasn't that great) know, just in case they still delieverd it to our apartment instead of to the new address.


We have saved this note for all other visitors so that we shall be prepared if their bags are also delayed. Once again: Just.In.Case.

Having done all that we could regarding the luggage, we parted ways with doggy-fantastic - quite dramatically as he is very much like that eldest child...always wanting the attention - and were off to find our way to Sevilla.

Most of the drive was easy-peasy. The tricky part, as with any city in Spain (thus far), came when we arrived at the city and had to navigate the calles and avenidas without any well-placed street signs. Basically, we played a guessing game much of the time to figure out what street we were on, especially in the older parts of town. Oh, and of course tourists, they usually want to go to the older parts of town because that is where all of the old sight worthy stuff is located.

The one constant in each city/town that we have visited are the many signs for hotels, parking, and the centro. We played a game of Follow That Sign (centro) and eventually figured out that we were on Cristóbal Colón, one of the main streets beside the river. This was excellent, as we were hoping to park along that street somewhere as it is very close to the places we wanted to visit.

Unfortunately, we arrived in Sevilla in the late morning and many of the easy-to-reach parking garages were already full. Señor CC navigated some of the your-car-might-fit-but-it-might-not streets and we drove past a few garages that were full. We finally drove back out to Cristóbal Colón and just as we were contemplating crossing the river to park, The Brothers J Part Uno noticed that a previously full garage was now libre.

Can I get a WOOT!?

This parking garage was in a prime location; it was within a two minute walk of the Plaza de Toros. The white, yellow, and red color scheme seems to be the way to go; every bull-ring we have seen is painted those colors.

Our next order of business was finding a place to eat lunch. Up to this particular day we had been eating pretty much wherever. We had eaten tapas in La Línea for lunch, which is a very traditional southern Spain thing to do, but we hadn't been seeking out any particular foods. We were informed prior to driving to Sevilla that The Brothers J Part Uno had a list (A LIST!) of food that he simply must have while in Spain. Therefore at this moment we were not only looking for lunch, but for paella because he MUST HAVE PAELLA.

Let me be clear: I totally agree. He must have paella while he is in Spain. So must you and you and you. Also, Tahj, Ahj and R-Shelly should have some. It is mighty tasty when done well.

We found a small restaurant that was open and that served paella, so that is what we ordered. I must say that it was far better in Sevilla than in the few places I had tried in near Sotogrande. it was yummy indeed and there may have even been pictures taken of that massive pan of food.

No, I didn't take the picture, so I don't have it to share with you.

If there exists such a picture.

I did say may have been.

We headed off towards the cathedral after we ate. This cathedral is very old and it one of the largest, if not the largest, in Spain. The architecture was very interesting. The cathedral was first a Muslim mosque. After the reconquest, it was converted to a cathedral. When Cristóbal Colón sailed west to find a new route, all of the wealth was sent back to Spain, through Sevilla. The royal palace was in Sevilla for many years, and because of this, it was a very wealthy city. One can see this by looking at the cathedral.

Visitors are not allowed to use a flash inside the cathedral. At the time I had not had my camera for very long and I was not sure how to use it for taking pictures without a flash. As expected, many of my pictures are quite...interesting because of this.

Not wanting to mislead you, I admit that I hardly know anything more about that facet of my camera now, five months later. Yes, a class. Yes, I am scheduled (hopefully) to take one this summer.

[Back to the main event.]

The entrance to the cathedral is very deceiving. We passed through a small moorish tunnel to get from the ticket booth to the interior. There the are expands greatly. The ceiling feels like it is a kilometer high and there is a ton of open space above you. High up on the outer walls of the cathedral are stained glass windows that are full of color and depict many scenes.

Surrounding the main area are small chapels containing various treasures. Luckily there was an architectural detail that included a small rail on which I could place my camera in order to take long(er) exposure pictures. This is a shot of one of the side walls of a chapel. In it you can see the iron bars separating us from the area as well as the detail in the walls of the building.

Some chapels contained paintings and other more usual objects. Others contained brilliant red and gold objects from another time. Looking into these recesses was like looking at Sevilla as it once was. It allowed us to imagine what things must have been like in the times of Cristóbal Colón when Sevilla was the place to be.

Speaking of the man himself, there is a memorial to the adventurer complete with his remains. Four men hold up a casket and on one side there is a window through which we could see a very old small box that is said to contain what is left of Cristóbal Colón. There is still some debate as to the authenticity of the remains; some believe he may still 'reside' in Santo Domingo. This particular 'sight' is very popular; there is a special ramp set up to help visitors line up and view the memorial in a timely manner.

Another main attraction in Sevilla is the Giralda Tower. The tower is connected to the cathedral and your entrance fee includes a trip to the top, but they are in fact two separate buildings. The hike to the top is just that, a hike. We walked up about thirty-five short ramps until we finally reached a short set of stairs that took us to the top. The tower was built, as a minaret with ramps, by the Muslims so that a man on a horse could ascend to call the people to prayer. The view from the top is amazing. It is full of bells and offers a 360-degree view of the city.

When we left the cathedral, our exit was through the courtyard of orange trees. At one time, this was where the Muslims entered their mosque. It is complete with fountains and waterways throughout. It is here where we could really see the building's original purpose; the exit was an amazing Moorish arch.

Directly across the plaza from the cathedral is the Alcázar, a royal Palace built on the site of a Moorish fortress. Once in ruins, a palace was begun by Pedro the Cruel. King Pedro I used Moorish workers to construct the building, which gave it an Islamic design.

Throughout Spain we have found painted tiles. They are vastly different and all are beautiful. I knew that the Muslims also decorated with painted tiles, but I was not sure prior to my visit to the Alcázar of the difference between the Spanish style and the Islamic style. Our visit to the Alcázar was even more amazing because of the 'new' visions within.

Like the Alhambra in Granada, each ceiling is decorated in great detail and each is somehow similar but drastically different.

The doors are similar. Some are wooden and rise from floor to rooftop and some are metal. Many surfaces within the palace are gold-covered or graphically painted.

The Courtyard of the Maidens reminds me very much of La Alhambra's Courtyard of the Myrtles. There is a reflecting pool and gardens in this courtyard which is surrounded by marvelously detailed arches.

Equally amazing and worth your time are the gardens adjacent to the palace. Even in October when most flowering plants were no longer in bloom the area was beautiful. I can only imagine what it must look like in the spring.

The painstaking detail not end with the interior of the building. Exterior walls and small buildings are full of detail and color as well.

After our visit to the palace, The Brothers J and their wives were feeling a little tired. We decided to attempt food number two on the LIST! of things to eat in Spain. Luckily for all, this one was a real treat. We headed to the local gelado shop and each ordered whatever looked good. It was a tad difficult choosing our flavors as everything looked mighty yummy indeed.

We were all ready to sit down for a bit, so we walked back to the car after some souvenir shopping. We piled into the wee orange car that could and drove back towards the southern coast. Along the way were able to see a couple of these big guys:


On our drive home we were all able to reflect on our day...and to recall that pesky little Travel Drama once again. We had no idea if the luggage had been delivered...and if it had, where they had decided to take it. This was M&M's last chance to receive their bag in Spain because they would be heading home before the next scheduled delivery date.

Luck was on our side because there sat the enormous bag at our door when we arrived home. What a joyous homecoming it was! Doggy-fantastic was happy (especially now that the delivery man was done making his noise) and so were we. Rest was on the menu, but not for long, because we headed out to dinner at La Cabaña that evening. The food was yummy as always, and it made for a nice ending to a long but enjoyable day.

Long live the wabbit...

March 1, 2007

M&M Visit Gibraltar

Outdoor sports are very popular here in southern Spain. Paddle is the most popular; people of all ages play. It is similar to raquetball, but different in that you play outside with a bigger raquet and you use what looks like a tennis ball instead of the smaller rubber one used in raquetball.

Tennis is popular in its own right. In fact, we have plenty of tennis courts in the area, both hard surface and clay. M&M had never played on clay courts, so they brought along their tennis gear and during the morning on October 9th, they played. I took tons of pictures with my camera, including the impression their shoes made on the court (cheezy, I know), but here is the best one I took that shows them both playing:

I drove them around the port so that they could see the yachts and restaurant area as well as the pebbly beach. We then stopped by the house so that they could clean up. La Línea was our next destination. We parked there and I walked them through the pedestrian streets to the mercado in the center of town. Here you can purchase anything you might need for the day's meals. There are pork, poultry, beef, seafood, olive, flower, fruit and vegetable, spice, and cured ham and specialty vendors in the mercado. After our walk-through we headed back towards the car and stopped at a tiny tapas bar for lunch. The weather was nice, so we ate outside. We ordered a few things that we recognized and a couple that we didn't. It was the best calamari I've had here yet - mmmm...calamari.

We walked across the border into Gibraltar. Just as we passed through the passport control we came upon one of the sales desks for the Rock Tours. These tours are pricey, but they give you a decent introduction to the country and what it has to offer. The best part is that your tour guide takes you in a van to the top of the rock and through the Upper Rock Nature Preserve. I would never want to have to drive up there; the streets are smaller than some I've seen in Spain and everything is one way. I am quite certain that I would get us lost and heading in the wrong direction. To me, it is well worth it to not have to drive up there myself. Plus, your entry to the attractions is included.

The first place we stopped on our tour was at the Pillars of Hercules. There are two pillars, one in Gibraltar and one in Africa. They mark the entrance to the straight of Gibraltar, which was at one time the border between the known and the unknown. The rock of Gibraltar was at one time under Spanish control, and for this reason the Pillars of Hercules appear on the Spanish coat of arms.

There are two sides of the monument, one for the "Ancient World" and one for the "Modern World". The plaque on the "Ancient World" side reads: "To the ancient world Gibraltar was known as Mons Calpe, one of the legendary pillars created by Hercules as a religious shrine - and as an entrance to hades. To many, it signified the "non plus ultra," the end of the then known world."

Our next stop was Saint Michael's Cave. This cave is one of many within the rock. It is dramatically lit with colorful lights and there are plaques with information on them throughout the tour area. Within the cave is a stalagmite that at some point broke off and fell to the floor. A piece was cut off of the end of it resulting in a cross-section that shows its growth over the years.

One of the most interesting things about the cave is that at this time one of its main uses is that of a performance theatre. The acoustics in the cave are said to be perfect and a stage has been built and seating placed. Over one hundred people can attend a performance in the cave at a time. It would certainly make for a performance with some interesting atmosphere.

There is a shop and a restaurant at the cave's exit. We opted to not purchase anything to eat since the apes on the rock are very aggresive when it comes to food. We were told not to have any food out because they will come over to you and take it. I have heard of them jumping onto people and sitting on your shoulders and head until they get what they want. We did not experience anything like that, but the apes had no problem being close to people.

The next stop on the tour was at the top of the rock about halfway along its length. We were able to look to either side and see the Atlantic on one and the Mediterranean on the other. This picture is looking back towards the cave and pillars. The water is the Mediterranean Sea.

While at this vantage point, we ran into another family of apes who were very busy doing what apes do best: grooming. They are very cute, but definitely wild animals.

The Seige Tunnels are one of the main attractions on the rock. They were created during the Great Seige when France and Spain made an attempt to take the rock back from the British. The attackers were so close to the rock that the defenders were no longer able to fire on them; they needed a way to protect the rock from the north face, called the Notch.

A tunnel was suggested and begun. While constructing it, the fumes were so great that small openings were cut into the side of the rock for ventilation. Immediately they realized that these vents would be great for placing cannons. Once mounted, these cannons allowed the British to maintain their control and the French and Spanish were unsuccessful once again.

Cannons were carried to the top of the rock and into the tunnels by using rings mounted into the rock. All along our tour, we could see rings sticking out on the side of the road. These rings, along with some sort of rope and the manpower to pull the weight, are what allowed the British to mount cannons so far up on the rock.

There are only a few cannons still in place in the Seige Tunnel. As we walked down the path, we were able to look out of the ventilation holes and see Spain. Gibraltar and Spain are currently connected by reclaimed land on which the airport is located. Through some of the openings we could see the runway very well.

Ignighting the gun powder was something they could not afford to do. In order to protect everyone cloth was hung from rods over each cannon. In some areas there is nothing left, but in others we could still see the strips of cloth.

Señor CC was at work while M&M and I were enjoying tennis, La Línea and Gibraltar. His workplace is directly across the water from the rock and we were able to take some pictures of the site from the top when we exited the tunnels. This is the best I could do from such a distance; it is quite large in reality.

Once our Rock Tour was complete, M&M and I were dropped off in Casmates Square. Connected to the square are the many pedestrian streets of Gibraltar with shops galore. We traversed them a bit and M&M purchased a couple of shirts for their remaining days. When we tired of the shopping we headed back towards the airport and the Spanish border. There is a stoplight at the runway for those times when a plane is either taking off or landing. Luckily we had a green light and were able to walk across the runway and through passport control to Spain. From La Línea we drove back to Sotogrande and ordered comida para llevar from one of our favorite restaurants, Little Buddha. It was a full day.