Albayzin and up

October 31, 2011

We spent most of the morning on a long walk up through the Albayzin neighborhood and then up onto trails that led past caves in the side of the foothills where people have carved out homes. Down in the Sacromonte neighborhood these cave homes, once the homes of gypsies,  are now white-washed and established. These farther up the hills are sort of the next cave home “suburb” out, though they have much more to do with scrappy homeless camps than leafy suburbs. Beyond the short stretch of caves we came to dusty, rocky, piney trails that seem to be much-loved, with good reason, by the mountain bike dudes that you’ll see down in Plaza Nueva gathering with their buds for a ride. Then back down through Albayzin, enjoying seeing life on some of the streets that are a little less travelled by the tourists who come up that way.

Shayla Waver's got nothin' for this earnest cantador.

Curb appeal is rough, but offers city and mountain views.

S-Works pines for her S-Works. (Note: S-Works refers to both Sheila and her mountain bike. This caption was written solely for the amusement of our friend Scott.)

The cap is from a popular regional brew. The fortress itself is in the background. This, my friends, is the very definition of a street souvenir.

Back to civilization in the Albayzin.

 

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Alhambra

October 30, 2011

We were excited to see the Alhambra today and glad to have our reservations for 8:30 entry in hand. We made the walk up the long hill across the street from our hotel. Things got a little more exciting and/or perilous as we found that the reservations meant we still had to wait in a decent line to get tickets from several balky terminals… and that we’d missed the line of Spanish in the reservation that said we should show up an hour before our reservation time. Once we got our tickets, we were told that we’d better hustle on the walk, advertised as 17 minutes, to the entrance to the main palace or risk being turned away. It’s nice when all that running has an actual purpose sometimes, and all the nimbleness developed by dodgeball in gym gave us the skill to negotiate thick crowds of Japanese tourists (always reliable for the first tour of the day). We made it with time to spare, possibly setting an American Record for that particular course.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but the Alhambra was likely the star of all the “sites” we’ve seen on our mini grand tour here of Spain the last couple of weeks.

A word about Granada, which is starting to sink in a bit. When we first arrived yesterday, we went a couple of blocks over to a place where our friend’s niece had recommended a spot for vegetarian tapas. We sat down on a couple of low-slung orange chairs and ordered some cervezas, tapas, and falafel… and watched the scene. A little impromptu dance party broke out with four or five youngsters and a lady in her sixties; there was a bull terrier sleeping on the floor by the bar, a couple of other dogs wandering in and out, little kids. Things picked up a notch when one of the waiters went in back and put on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” covered in an unfamilar tongue,  then he yelled “Iceland!” More dancing. The town is a kind of young person’s dream with the cafes, the nearby mountains for skiing, the beach not far away, the old gypsy cave neighborhood of Sacromonte where they say flamenco was born. Plaza Nueva, where our hotel is located, is the main crossroads where the downtown of a modern Spanish city of pretty good size meets the road up to the Alhambra, meets the cobbled streets up to the Albayzin, the old Moorish neighborhood, and the steep road out to Sacre Monte which heads out into a valley that feels like you’re leaving civilization behind. (We saw a Jesus-like hippie dude in wool poncho heading up the very steep hill on a mountain bike carrying two long sticks that seemed to be of great importance to him. Who knows? Always something intriguing/amusing to see.)  It all combines to make for a sort of Euro frontier town where I could imagine Eugene Hutz, wild-eyed lead man of Gogol Bordello, as mayor.

Main courtyard in the palace. Still catching our breath at this point, we said a little prayer to Allah for getting us through the turnstile in time.

Floor of the room where Washington Irving lived and worked in the 19th century.

I shared the view up during dinner yesterday. Today, the view down from the Alhambra shows where we were eating, right at the edge of the sunshine.

Gardens of the Generalife at the Alhambra, an atmosphere we aspire to recreate at 10 Spruce Court with the help of Colby Hill Landscaping.

Sevilla a Granada

October 29, 2011

A good long day. Kind of tired after getting up early for the bus ride, more later, but for now let’s just say that Granada has made a great first impression — a beautiful setting against the mountains with the Alhambra looming over the old part of town. Looking forward to getting up there to look around tomorrow.

Clearly somebody was paying attention at last night's flamenco performance. Early morning walk to the bus station in Seville.

Cathy, niece of our friends Jef and Jill, and her boyfriend Mitch gave us a quick tour of their neighborhood, including the ridiculously beautiful view from the rooftop deck of their apartment.

Walked up the steep hill across from the Alhambra for this sunset view...

...and down the hill for the dinner view from here.

 

Cordoba

October 28, 2011

Caught the morning train up to Cordoba, mainly to visit the historic cathedral/mosque. I’ll spare you an extensive history lesson, mostly because I’m unable to teach it – but, basically, the site originally had a Christian church on it. During the Moorish era, the Muslim leader bought the piece of land and built a huge mosque that could hold as many as 40,000 worshippers. Once the Christians ran the Muslims back out of Spain, the powers that be plopped an ornate cathedral right down in the middle of the austerely beautiful mosque. So it goes. On one hand you could say, at least they didn’t tear it down. On the other hand, the Christians sort of turned the mosque into their entryway.

The brochure, written by the current Christian landlords, was kind of defensive in tone, emphasizing the bit that the Christians were there first and referring to the “Muslim interruption.” But I did like this “reflection” that they included at the end: “The visit to the Cathedral of Cordoba may awake the demand and the quest for a greater Beauty that will not wither with time. Because beauty, as truth and righteousness, are an antidote for pessimism, and an invitation to take pleasure in life, a shaking of the soul that provokes the longing for god.”

Truth, beauty, shaking of the soul. All good. As for the longing for god, to each his own. As for Cordoba, I’m glad we made the trip for the cathedral/mosque but didn’t like the city as much as our other stops. Felt pretty good with making it a day trip, heading back to Seville about 3:30.

It was a full day as we had an evening of further soul shaking at a flamenco show. Stirring and fun and very impressive—guitar, dance, singing, and all seeming to meld into one. It was recommended to us from our Toledo friends Jack and Lynn, who I bumped into while running yesterday afternoon. We got together with them last evening for dessert… and, who knows, we’ll probably cross paths again in Granada.

Bought our bus tickets for the 9:30 to Granada tomorrow morning. Will be fun to get a look at bus travel in Spain. Seville has been a wonderful stop along the way and we’re glad we’ve had as much time here as we’ve had.

Roman bridge over the Rio Guadalquivir with the cathedral/mosque on the other side.

It's a shame that Sheila had to get in the way and spoil what would have been a lovely photo of the gentleman in the red sweater.

Eating falafel as theo/political statment: We made a point of seeking out a middle eastern place for lunch and were pleased to find "The Sultan." Tasty food, funky casbah decor and music.

Ended our last evening in Sevilla with a drink at this little bar on a quiet corner just down around the corner from our hotel.

Alcazar y Toro!

October 27, 2011

Hola, amigos. We spent the better part of the morning and early afternoon touring the Real Alcazar, the royal palace and gardens that are at the heart of the old city here in Seville. It lives up to its billing for beauty, particularly the extensive gardens and the many courtyards.

Stop numero dos de la dia was at the bullring in Sevilla, one of Spain’s oldest and most beautiful. We weren’t sure if it would be worth the entry fee for the tour and the chance to see the inside of a real live bullring. After doing it, we’re still not sure. But we did get the chance to take a few photos which we’ll share here with the later offer of 8 x 10 glossies (autographs printed on, not authentic). In the end, I’m glad to have gotten a look at one of these places where old Papa Hemingway may have sat to take in a fight. And we got to see the head of the mother of the  bull that killed the great Manolete. I spit upon you mother of the bull that killed the great Manolete!

Sheila is grabbing a little siesta as I update the world on our travels. She has done an outstanding job with her Spanish, by the way, making good friends with a waiter who let us know that the dish we ordered included a “tiny octopus” (pleasantly rubbery it was) and also managing to communicate with the hospital staff during what will forever be known as El Noche de Woozy.

Now for some picturas.

Our friend in the gardens of the Alcazar.

Shayla breathes a sigh of relief as she sees we will make it out of the Alcazar hedge maze alive.

Bring on el toro.

Vive Manolete!

Todo en Sevilla

October 27, 2011

As for photos, I’m just going to let this worn cherub who looks to have taken a little recent graffito to the forehead  say it today. A visit to Seville’s massive cathedral, the biggest gothic cathedral in the world, so they say, was our main focus on the tourist itinerary. It is, indeed, a truly impressive place with an interior that soars upward. I even managed to overcome my fear of heights to go up La Giralda, the bell tower. (It was actually pretty tame and as I watched toddlers and 90-year-olds come down, I became convinced that I could handle it.)

We’ve got two more full days here, but plan to use one of them to take the train to Cordoba. Not sure if we’ll do that tomorrow or the next day. Also on the agenda for Sevilla are the Real Alcazar and possibly a visit to the bull ring, which you can tour even when the bull fighting is out of season.

Toledo a Madrid a Sevilla

October 25, 2011

First, a bit about last night, when we made a stop that definitely wasn’t on our itinerary – a la sala de emergencias in Toledo.  Second, I’ll break the suspense and assure you that all is well.

Sheila had been feeling poorly through much of the day, but soldiered on to go out to dinner with Lynn and Jack, the couple from Colorado we met at breakfast. She started feeling worse during dinner and decided it would be best if she headed back to our hotel. On the way up the steps of the basement restaurant, she wobbled as I had my arm around her. On the way out the door, she gave away and crumpled to the ground, passing out for 20 seconds or so. (Mostly I caught her, really I did.)

It was a scary moment, but staff of the restaurant and bystanders were wonderful and helpful. Somebody brought a chair out and Sheila took a seat to see if it would pass quickly, which it didn’t. Then as it was dawning on me that we should get a cab, one drove by and I waved it down. But right behind the cab was an ambulance that someone at the restaurant must have called.

The EMTs, who spoke no English, seemed to have no question we were heading for the hospital. So off we went. Sheila in back with one EMT and me in front riding with the other.  At the hospital, it was  strange feeling as they sent Sheila down the hall to the ER and told me I couldn’t go with her, but had to sit in a waiting room with about sixty other people. Longish story, somewhat shorter, after a little more than an hour the call came over the speaker that “Shayla Waiver” was released. After some searching and help from more kind Toledeans, I found my way to her through a maze of hallways and we got a cab home.

Who knows what it was – maybe some dehydration, fatigue, a bit of a bug, low blood sugar or some combination of all of the above. Our thanks to the Spanish medical system for this “adventure” that saw us through the ER in about 90 minutes, no charge for that or the ambulance. (I had my Blue Cross card, but they didn’t ask for it. They did ask for a passport number, but I didn’t have it on me, and that didn’t seem to be a problem.) Thanks also to Jack and Lynn for picking up the bill as we fled the restaurant. We’ll be sending them a check in Colorado and hope we might cross paths again here in Seville. (For any Weavers/Hortins reading out there, Jack reminds me a lot of Uncle Bob in both appearance and demeanor.)

Onward.

This morning, we headed over to the Santa Cruz Museum in Toledo, an amazing collection of art (lots of El Greco) and artifacts. Especially amazing for a free museum.

Then it was off to the train station to ride back to Madrid, then on to Seville. Train ride was fast and efficient as always. The landscape: mostly olive groves rolling to the horizon, broken by some more rugged terrain here and there.

Walked from the Seville train station to our Hotel Murillo, great location and nice hotel right in the old Santa Cruz neighborhood. First impression from a quick walk around town is that this is likely our prettiest stop (and possibly the narrowest streets) yet. Feels like we’ve taken a real step to the south with both the architecture and the flora. Lots of orange and red and yellow painted plaster, very lush, and we’ve seen enough dates and limes lying on the street that we’re considering foraging to economize.

Adios to Toledo and its striking train station.

I'm pretty sure that most of us have eaten at least a couple of olives from the trees we saw today between Madrid and Seville.

In Seville. It's all about the color, I'm sayin'.

Out of the ER and into the streets: Shayla Waiver lives to fight another day on the streets of Spain.

En El Greco’s ciudad

October 24, 2011

Despite the warnings, we visited the plain in Spain. And, of course, that means you’re mainly going to get rain. Ha. Actually a pretty gentle rain and just for half the day. Spain needs it, so I think walking some slick cobbles on steep hills is a small price to pay.

Did our usual wandering around the neighborhoods today. A few of the sites/museums were closed on Monday, so it was pretty quiet in the town. Hoping that we’ll be able to get into the El Greco Museum tomorrow, though the time is a little tight with making our train. We’ll see.

I had an excellent hour-long run this afternoon that took me on a path that follows the Rio Tajo, part of a very long Appalachian Trail sort of path that crosses the region. The run also took me by the bull ring and into Toledo’s pequeno soccer stadium. Click here and you’ll see the Garmin read of my run. (If you’re reading out there, TH, this is my space age watch I told you about. Click on “aerial” on the map for the satellite photo view.)

Writing this as we rest up a bit before heading out to dinner with a couple we met at breakfast in the hotel dining room. Jack and Lynn, they’re from Colorado, driving around Spain on a trip to celebrate his 70th birthday. He taught math, she taught English, and Lynn is from Clinton, Illinois originally. So we’ll have  few things to talk about. They seem like interesting, well-travelled people.

One of El Greco's views of Toledo

The morning sky that gave us rain also gave us an El Greco-like view out our hotel window. All is forgiven.

View on the path along the Rio Tajo.

I was among the 95% of American middle school boys who took Spanish and did a report on bullfighting. I've long remembered that tickets are sold according to whether the spectator wants to sit in the sol o sombra, sun or shade, or some of each. I've long shared this fact with Sheila, who seems to find it more fascinating every time I do. Today, she received confirmation of my wisdom.

Madrid a Toledo

October 23, 2011

Managed to get myself out of bed for an early run up to and around Buen Retiro. It was dark, but the park was well lit and it didn’t feel like too many thieves were lurking in the woods with daggers of the finest steel from Toledo (I’ve been working the “finest steel from Toledo” thing pretty hard today). Birds singing in the morning, I tried to file that sound away for winter.

We got some coffee and pastry at Plaza Mayor, then went over to the fabled El Rastro flea market. It was as large as promised, seemingly endless as it spilled off onto sidestreets. A lot of the same tourist stuff you’d expect — pashminas, humorous underpants, Madrid Real soccer stuff, and more practical items like bins of nuts and bolts and an old woman who seemed to have every sort of adhesive tape ever manufactured. A swing by the royal palace for a look  and then to the train station for the 12:20 to Toledo. Streets of Madrid are something to see on a Sunday morning. They have an impressive street-cleaning operation and it is much needed.

Again enjoyed the seemingly effortless efficiency of the Euro high-speed rail trains. I look at the digital clock in the coach at 12:20 and the train starts to roll without an announcement. It’s 12:20. We’re going to Toledo. What else would we do?

Made our way through the small, beautiful train station then up the prodigious hill/cliff to the old core of Toledo. The two Euros apiece for the bus up the hill/cliff might have been a wise choice. But this was a more authentic experience. And think what we can do with that four Euros saved! We were able to find our way to the Hotel Abad pretty quickly and checked in. It’s a big step up from the Hostal Astoria in Madrid. Abad once was a blacksmith shop that’s been converted into kind of a chic, hipster hotel with exposed brick and beams and such, great views toward the country side and two — count em two — balconies, one for the bedroom and one for the bathroom.

Out the door, quick tour of the town, stop in a church to see an amazing work by El Greco. Then got some cheese, jamon, and wine from a shop down the street to have a cheap dinner in our room. Sheila put her Spanish to the test and passed with flying colors as we dealt with the shop owner who was just the mix of gruff and sweet that you’d want… and he had a bullfight on the TV.

This circle of buildings was a block or so from our hostal in Madrid. One of our favorite spots on the cityscape, shows Madrid's architecture at its elegant best.

Bridge on the steep walk from the train station to Toledo: Prepared to storm the walls of the old city and Alcazar with rolling suitcase.

Prado y Parque

October 22, 2011

A pretty simple day of it today — El Museo Prado and the Parque del Buen Retiro for the most part. We had tickets for opening time, 9 a.m., which seems to be the territory of the Japanese and the Americans. We made a beeline for the “star attraction” paintings so we could get to them before the big tour groups. For the most part, we succeeded. Overall, we both thought the Prado was a great museum experience. Not as overwhelming with sheer volume as some museums and the crowds weren’t unreasonable. Velazquez, Goya, El Greco are the heavy hitters and we spent a lot of time with them and found some other less expected favorites.

After that we headed to Parque Del Buen Retiro, just a couple of blocks from the Prado, with cheese and chorizo baguettes in a bag for lunch. We’d explored el parque the other night and had just scratched the surface. It’s huge, beautiful, varied, well-loved and well-maintained. And with a quiet spot in the sun it is an excellent place for a “buen retiro,” which I’m going to say means “good nap.”

After finding tickets tight for the Barcelona to Madrid train ride, we decided a little planning might be in order and went by the Atocha station to check on tickets for the next legs of our trip. So we’re now set to head to Toledo around noon tomorrow, then a couple of days after that it will be back up to Madrid for the trip to Seville since you can’t do it direct from Toledo.

Just got back from dinner at a place just behind our hotel. Wish we’d found this whole network of squares and alleyways last night instead of taking something of a death march in search of dinner. Oh, well, it built character and allowed us to get to know many out-of-the-way streets in Madrid, particularly since we passed by them multiple times.

If I can wake early enough, hoping to get a run in tomorrow morning. The sun doesn’t come up until about 8, so the morning runs are dark ones. Main plan before the train to Toledo is El Rastro, a Sunday flea market that the guidebooks build up as a major weekly event in Madrid.

Cecelia y Tomas behind El Prado.

These guys were among many warming up for a 10K in el parque. It crossed my mind to see if I could sign up, run back to the hotel and change into my running stuff, do battle with the Madrilenos. But then I thought about the chorizo I'd eaten, my tired feet, the impact upon Spanish/American diplomacy after I whupped up on guys like these two... I got a beer instead.