Sunday, 3 November 2013

Andalusia, Spain

Welcome back, Blog Fans.  Well, we've had our final fling by going to southern Spain for the October Half Term break.  As I've probably mentioned before, I really prefer the school schedule here (3 terms, shorter summer break, pseudo-year round) that allows for better spacing of vacations/holidays.  I was surprised to realize that this was our 13th week or longer holiday over our nearly 3 years here.  Wow.  That's embarrassingly fortunate. 

We took slightly longer than a week to fit in 3 different stops in the Andalusia region of Spain .  We flew from our local East Midlands Airport on yet another discount carrier (Jet2) to Málaga (F).  We then took a bus (coach) to Granada (B, 2 hrs) where we stayed two nights.  From there, we took another bus to Sevilla (E, 3 hrs) for 5 nights.  While there, we did a day trip to Córdoba (D, 45 mins) before returning back to Málaga (2 hrs) for 2 nights.

One of the main draws to the area for me is lasting Moorish influence in the area.  Spain was occupied by the Romans for 7-800 years until the fall of the Roman Empire around 400 AD or so.  The Visigoths came in for awhile until 711 when the Moors from N. Africa took over (we were told that they were invited to help settle a squabble between two kingdoms and decided to stay).  The Moors, and their Muslim influence, were in control for over 700 years until the Catholic Reconquest finally defeated them in Granada in 1492.  Fortunately, the Moorish influence is still prevalent in the area.  As a result, one gets a unique mix of Moorish history and architecture and Spanish culture all rolled into one trip.

The area is also known for it good weather (though quite hot in the summer) and nearby Costa del Sol beaches and White Hill towns.  However, we stuck to the historical cities for this trip.


After checking into our very nice, semi-serviced apartment (link), we decided to check out Granada.  Here's the very large cathedral (we saved touring for another day).  Recall that Granada was the last Moorish city and the Catholics wanted to make a big statement so they knocked down the mosque and built on top of it.

A statue of Columbus' contract with Isabella.  It's no coincidence that he set off in the same year Granada was reconquered.  Riding the wave . . . .

Now walking along Plaza Nueva and Paseo de los Tristes; this is the Church of Santa Anna.  We stuck our heads in and, oops, wedding.  Can you top that Tara?

snapped this one on our way back -- the happy bride
 a bridge along Paseo de los Tristes and the Darro River -- that's my small family there

 there they are

 another church and a peek at part of the Alhambra

looking up at Alhambra -- more views to come and a visit the next day

We also made a stop to the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) next to the Cathedral.   (no photos).  Here the bodies of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs of the Reconquista rest.  Interesting site.

Sunday -- the Alhambra

"The last and greatest Moorish Palace".  Limited tickets are available to the Alhambra (or more specifically to the Palacios Nazaries inside) and advance purchase is highly recommended.  We had a "morning" slot with a 12:00 entry to the Palacios so we got to the complex around 10:00 to look at the other, un-timed, sites.
As with most palaces/forts, this one is on top of a hill.  We rode a small bus up to save our legs.  Here's a view back down into the city.

Garden shot (the grounds are huge).  Nice weather as you can see.

faux artsy hedge shot

this was an entrance to an old Moorish bath -- the rounded (horseshoe) archway is typical Moorish architecture

 a view of the Alcazar (fort) at the far end of the complex (towards the city)

 and looking down to Granada and the large cathedral

We've made it in to the Palacios now -- here's a closeup of the Muslim/Moorish artwork.  The top one is script.  These type designs are in many of the rooms.  Very geometric and repetitive.  Muslims tend not to have people or animals in their artwork.

  a bigger version in one of the rooms -- this one still had a bit of color left

 Courtyard of the Myrtles

Grand Hall of the Ambassadors (a perfect cube) was essentially a throne room for the sultan to great emissaries.  It was likely that the Reconquista was completed here when the last Moorish king, Boabdil, signed the terms of surrender.  It was also here where Columbus made his final pitches to Ferdinand and Isabella.

 the kids and Myrtle

 Courtyard of the Lions -- a rare chance with few people in the shot

 the Lions -- these used to be set to tell the time every hour

 in case you thought I was getting too cultured -- I couldn't pass up this "rear" view of a group photo

 another angle

 I think this is the "living room" or the Hall of Abencerrajes

more tantalizing artwork

I was a bit confused about which sites required tickets and had to be accessed before our "morning" slot was over at 2 pm.  (This caused a bit of tension with my other half).  So, after a quick sandwich, we decided to hightail it to the opposite end of the complex and the Generalife Gardens.

 but first, more wedding photos

Now in the gardens, here's a pomegranate tree -- don't see those every day.  The pomegranate is the symbol of the city (and granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate)

 peaceful fountains and flowers

 close up

After our touring, we decided to partake in a Spanish tradition:  the siesta.  We were due for a break.  Afterwards, we caught another mini-bus to the old town (Albayzín) for a quick stroll around.

We also stopped for a drink and one of our favorite tapas, melon con jamón with a sunset view of . . . .

 . . . the Alhambra

We ate dinner elsewhere.  I'll save the bulk of the food photos for the end.


We had a chance to walk around a bit before our bus to Sevilla so we took advantage.

One of the better buskers.  Always good to get a dog involved.

This was in a store near our apartment.  Made me think of my therapeutic/hobby artist Aunt Helen (the style, not the shape!).

We had a chance for a quick tour of the cathedral as well.

Impressive organ, though it made me think of the trumpeters in Monty Python's Holy Grail.

 Entrance to the Corral del Corbón, a protected place for merchants in ye olde times

 and inside -- dates back to the 14th century

 tick one off Alex's list -- a plate full of churros and a hidden cup of chocolate
and finally in Plaza de Bib-Rambla before heading to the bus station and our journey to Sevilla



We like walking tours (Kuk in particular) so we tend to look for ones when visiting a city.  The timing didn't work out for Granada, but we wanted to make sure we did one in Sevilla.  We were very happy with Sevilla Walking Tours (link).  We took their 2-hour city tour and liked it so much we signed up for their 1-hr tours of the Alcázar and the Cathedral.

We've got a lot going on at the moment with "challenging" situations at work and preparing to move back to the US.  As such, I didn't quite do the detail planning that I normally do.  One thing I assumed was that it was going to be sunny and warm the entire time.  Oops.  Most of our 5 nights in Sevilla had some rain.  We had light rain coats, but I did buy a couple of crappy, disposable umbrellas as penance.  Oh well.  At least the rain held off for the city tour.

Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was imprisoned in Sevilla for bankruptcy and may have written part of the book there.  The statue is on the street Entre Carceles (between jails) and is, in fact, facing the jail.  (some Sevillian humor)

the courtyard of Iglesia del Salvador, another former mosque -- here are some Moorish Archways from when the ground was much lower

another courtyard shot with some orange trees in the mix

 a quick shot of some flamenco dresses (a big deal here)

 the Cathedral's Bell Tower (only the photographer is leaning)

 a little more of this huge cathedral from the outside

 a street with traditional colors and orange trees -- the trees are primarily used for their year round shade.  In the Spring, they blossom and produce a wonderful fragrance I'm told.  The fruit, however, is not so sweet.  They are actually shipped out to make marmalade for the Brits.

another view of the Cathedral

After a quick lunch (tapas, naturally), we were ready for the afternoon tour of the Alcazár (fort).

After having seen the Alhambra, I was prepared for a letdown of this Moorish Alcázar.  However, it turned out to be a really pleasant and interesting afternoon.

From Rick Steves:

. . . originally a 10th-century palace built for governors of the local Moorish state, this building still functions as a royal palace -- the oldest in use in Europe.  The core of the palace features an extensive 14th-century rebuild, done by Muslim workmen for the Christian King, Pedro I (1334-1369).  Pedro's palace embraces both cultural traditions.

Sevilla was reconquered in 1248 so this was quite unusual/shocking to build in this Moorish influence at the time.

 the patio before the formal entrance

 a peek at some of the Moorish architecture

 inside the main courtyard

there's our trusty guide Alfonso who was with us for all 3 tours -- he was great; loved his sense of humor too

Additional photos of the palace, etc. below.  We really enjoyed it, perhaps even more than the Alhambra??

some ceramics in the Banquet room, I believe.  I forget which Queen this was supposed to be, but I was struck by the homeliness.  Big foreheads (shaved back) were in style.  Wish I could remember the story behind this . . .

this was the last panel -- looks like they ran out of money or time or had a sense of humor by placing the final tiles in a haphazard way (perhaps a statement about their wages too)

We walked around the gardens on our own after the tour but unfortunately it had started to rain.  I wanted to snap this one to get the color of the sand.  This was the basis for the "yellow" used in the traditional house colors.

 more gardens

 night time shot of the Cathedral

We decided to try a flamenco show.  There are many options for this and we decided on the Casa de la Memoria a less touristy, no frills, intimate, and "traditional" show.  Can't say it was exactly what I was expecting though perhaps I was expecting the wrong thing.  It was intimate (we had front row seats) and they were talented but it was more of a series of solos and fairly angry if I were to describe it.  I was expecting more "duets" (or whatever the right term is) and more sensuous/romantic.  Not sure where I got that idea.  Still glad we went but perhaps I didn't pick the right show for us.


We started the day by heading to the Plaza de la Encarnación.  Home of the big mushroom or waffle:

The city is split on this bold statement.  I kinda like it.  It's named the Metropol Parasol and is made of wood and glue (supposedly). 

Underneath, they have some Roman ruins (an antiquarium) and they were well worth a look.  

 including a Medusa Mosaic -- it was a nice little exhibit

Of course we had to go up to the top of the Parasol/mushroom to get a closer look

 along with nice view of the city


Next up was our tour of the Cathedral.  I must say, I'm a bit cathedraled out but there were a couple of interesting tidbits in this one.  The Cathedral is the 3rd largest in Europe behind St. Peter's and St. Paul's and is the largest gothic church anywhere.  Once again, they took the site of the city's mosque (keeping its bell tower) and built it in a relatively quick 120 years in the 15th/16th century.

 organ shot

Gothic arches

an interesting fact about Spanish Cathedrals is that you cannot see the altar directly from the front/back of the church as the choir is placed in the way.  For large churches, folks would go to "listen" to church since they couldn't see the priest (other than on video screens)

We had quite a discussion about this tomb.  It holds the remains of Christopher Columbus.  Old CC has been moved around quite a bit (Spain, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Sevilla) but they did DNA testing (his son is also buried here) and confirmed it was him.  However, they only have about 100g (arm and some jaw) and our guide Alfonso joked that they just have "Christopher Columbus tapas".  He also said jokingly that they have him in this raised tombed in case they need to move him again!

The pallbearers represent the four kingdoms of Catile, Aragon, León and Navaree.   Note the mural of St. Christopher from 1584 in the background.

Of course, we had to climb the bell tower.  The "climb" was actually on a ramp that allowed donkeys to travel up (must have taken awhile).  I believe there were 34 ramps in total.  Nice views from the top though.

this one is of the bullring which we visit later in the week

Alfonso gave us a recommendation for a very small tapas place that we ate at that night.  There were just 4-5 tables.  He vouched for the food but also told us the reason it is so good is that his mother is in the back cooking (it's his sister's place).  Glad we tried it!

Córdoba (Thursday)

Thursday was the day for our day trip to Córdoba.  I had pre-purchased tickets on the high speed AVE train which made for a quick 45-minute trip each way.  Córdoba's claim to fame is the Mezquita, a former mosque with a 16th century church built inside.  Another very impressive site.

We are inside the courtyard/patio with the bell tower in the background (this one wasn't open for climbing).

 another courtyard shot

very unique architecture on the inside -- the columns date from 786 (there are apparently 850 of them) and they are topped with double arches.  It looks like the go on forever.

there is an early mosaic from the 6th century that shows that the site was actually a church before the mosque

the Mihrab -- a mosque equivalent of the high altar

 another view

while taking a pit stop I was able to get a nice view of the Triumphal Arch which was designed to give King Phillip II a royal welcome, but he arrived too soon and it was never completed.  Oh well.

back inside the undisturbed mosque

in the middle of this vast mosque is an imposing Cathedral jutting upwards; this was added in the 1500s

Although I didn't inundate you with photos, we all really liked the uniqueness of the Mezquita. 
We took a walk across the bridge and visited the very skipable Museum of Al-Andalus Life but did get this nice view back.

A quick rest in front of the Alcázar before heading to lunch.  We did not go in.

More walking after lunch.  Alongside the old city walls here.

 interesting door knocker

 Alex taking a rest in a courtyard while Kuk looked in some shops.

We enjoyed the Mezquita, had a nice lunch and enjoyed the parks so we were glad to have made the trip to Córdoba for the day.  The city itself didn't grab me like Sevilla so I'm glad we didn't stay over night.  It also had a bit of a funk by the river.  Overall it was a little grittier, at least the parts we saw.


Last day in Sevilla.  Fortunately, we had a few more sites on our list.  We probably could have squeezed it down a day but it was nice to talk things leisurely on this trip.

The first order of the day was to visit the bullring.  It's the offseason but they still give guided tours (the only way to see it) and it turned out to be really enjoyable.  Not sure I'd want to attend the event, particularly with the family, but this tour was a nice cultural lesson.

Second oldest bullring in Spain (next to Málaga) and holds 12,000+.  I think the season is April to October and they have multiple events per week.

Royal box or perhaps just the VIP box.

 kid shot

our trusty guide -- loved the traditional outfit.  Very good bilingual tour and great disposition.
We learned about the different styles over the years (on horseback, in the ring but not so close, and the modern style of dancing with the bull).  There are different phases to the fight that I won't go into (refer here).  In the vast majority of the cases, the bull loses (dies).  I think there have been 2 instances in Sevilla where it did not.

 a final shot inside the stadium corridors
Next up was the Hospital de la Caridad -- the Charity Hospital founded in the 17th century.  Here we are inside the courtyard.
 another courtyard shot

 some death is going to get us all art inside the church
I did like the thematic element of the artwork inside.  Most were related to being charitable which was a reminder for the monks (?) running the hospital.

 another example -- this is the freeing of St. Peter

Sevilla was probably our favorite stop and we were glad we gave it the longest time.  It had a very safe and comfortable feel to it.  We stayed in an apartment in the Barrio Santa Cruz (old Jewish quarter) and it was an excellent location.  Easy to get to the sites and there were numerous dining options (tapas, etc.).

For our last 2 nights, we headed back to . . . 



Given our early/mid afternoon arrival, we decided to just have a walk about on the first day.

really enjoyed the Paseo Parque near the wonderfront -- so many exotic trees and plants

 Birds of Paradise -- one of our favorites


New city, so it is time for another walking tour.  We chose welovemalaga  and given that it was Sunday morning, had the guide to ourselves.  It was a nice little walk but didn't quite measure up to Sevilla.

 a church through the narrow alleyways

we got a nice little lesson on pata negra (wiki link), the special ham of the region
Sagrado Corazón -- Antonio Banderas' childhood church and one he still patronizes
 quite elaborate artwork/costumes on the inside
a quick photo with Picasso, who was born in Málaga
 a view of the Roman amphitheater and the Alcáczar

After the tour (and lunch) we decided how to spend the rest of our full day here.  We'd seen cathedrals and alcázars so we didn't feel the need.  We decided on something different:  the Glass and Crystal Museum (actually the number one rated activity on Trip Advisor for what it is worth).

The museum is a restored 18th century house that is lived in by 3 colleagues who have inherited/collected glass and crystal from around the world.  The museum is an escorted tour through the house by one of the owners.  Very different!

I particularly liked the stained glass.  The framing was done by a local artisan and added a nice touch.  It brought the various windows together nicely.

This one is more of a comic book telling stories of the day.

 some very early glass from about 2500 years ago
 and another
a courtyard in the middle of the house (from the upper floor) -- traditionally this would have been open to the elements, but museums don't like elements so it is closed off
I liked this one because each shade of green was baked on separately so you could feel the 3-D element of it.

 and one more stained glass

I know it sounds kinda weird, but we all actually enjoyed it.  The old chap engaged the kids as we went around so we all left satisfied.  Good choice!

We also visited the Picasso Museum (no photos) along with the rest of the city on the one free day of the month.  I got my money's worth.  <sorry>  It's just wasn't for me.  I like his Guernica piece in Madrid but this didn't to much for me.  I did get a shock though.  I was sitting there shaking my head at a painting of a 3-breasted women saying I don't get it and Alex (!) says "Don't you see that part of the painting she is lying on her back and the other part she's on her side and he's put them together."  What just happened?  Alex?  That may be the highlight of the trip.


We had an early evening flight so we had some time to kill, so to speak, during the day. Many sites were closed anyway, but we continued our laid back approach and simply had another walk around.

We decided to venture to the harbor to check it out.  Here's a monster yacht with the cathedral in the background.  We leisurely strolled up/down the harbor while checking out a shop or two.  There was a Michelin starred restaurant that had a fixed price dinner for 90€.  Perhaps some day . . .
We continued our walk to the beach to touch the sand.  This is the city beach.  I understand there are some much nicer beaches down the coast.
As we were eating our final lunch at a restaurant with outdoor seating on a square, a film crew came by to take some shots.  I would assume it was a Bollywood (Indian) affair based on the crew.  This girl walked towards us for a couple of takes.

The star appeared to be this guy (and not Nicole's head).  It's not a good shot.   Why was he the star?  Because he had a guy holding a little umbrella over him for sun protection when they were in between takes.

Málaga was a fine stop at the end of the trip but it doesn't compare to the other cities in my opinion.  That said, we did enjoy the leisurely strolls, good weather and the unique Glass museum.

Food, food, food

As you know, we love our food.  We shared most nights whether it be tapas or full portions (we did both).   The local style would be to do a tapas crawl from bar to bar but that doesn't rally suit us.  The other advice is to find the most crowded bar and go there -- that's not us either!  We often sat inside for a quieter affair in addition to eating "early" at 7:30 - 8:00.   We enjoyed the variety and had a good culinary experience overall -- only one place really didn't measure up.  Rome's probably our favorite for food but this is in the mix with our Normandy, Bruges/Amersterdam and Berlin trips.

 an interesting way to have artichoke hearts

it took us a little while to know what to look for, particularly in Granada -- our first night was more of a proper restaurant and there wasn't much for the kids.  So they decided to gnaw on this lamb shank.  (It was good.)

melon w/ ham from above -- worth a repeat

 fried squid

 fried eggplant/aubergine -- also good but I have to limit the fried stuff

paella -- not the specialty of the region but still good.  This one was a little salty.  Our best was actually during our first lunch (no photo) and a real touristy place on a square, surprisingly enough.

 another melon con jamón -- we tried it when they had it

Under the pile of fries is a cut up cochinillo (suckling pig) tapa/racion.  I had the ultimate in Segovia a few years back so I thought I would try it.  The meat was good, though not as I remember, but there was a lot of fat, bone and even some hair in there.  Hmmm.

 fancy mushrooms

 a local variation of gazpacho -- they called it salmorejo I believe; very tasty

like above, this is from the one Italian restaurant we ate at.  It was on the ground floor of our apartment so we had to try it -- good stuff

duck and roasted vegetables -- very good though my "breast" order got lost in translation and I got dark meat

For our last night in Sevilla we went to a "gourmet" tapas place that was good for a change of pace and we liked the variety.  (Vinería San Telmo)

squid ink pasta!

the tower (tomato, eggplant, and cheese) -- the cheese was a little strong (brie) and buffalo mozzarella might have been better

 a chicken, apricot tart with Moroccan spices

(different restaurant) -- a variant of the popular Russian (potato) salad

what, more melon and ham? ☺

stuffed peppers


seafood platter in Málaga -- they specialize in fried "anchovies" (sardines) which we tried but no photo.  Tasty and worthy of a plate but I wouldn't want to eat them every day.

Finally, a typical house  mixed salad; a welcome compliment to the fried food and tapas!

Despite the relaxing pace, it was still hard to fully detach from our work and move stresses but this was a nice trip and a good break.  Back to the final push now -- 6 weeks until we move back.  Plenty of hurdles between now and then, but we'll make it.

I'm quite pleased with our travel choices.  Others have done more and some less but it was the right mix for us.  We've certainly taken advantage of our opportunities (if I do say so myself).  Sure, there are plenty of places that we didn't get to see (Greece, Turkey, parts of France, Spain, Italy, etc. etc.) but we can come back.  It will just take a little longer.

Have a good week (or more!) everyone.


  1. That's great that you found some brides! I haven't walked in on an actual wedding yet, so you've got me beat there. I'm glad y'all liked Seville the most, it was our favorite place in Spain as well. It's a shame that you got rain every evening while you were there, but impressive that it still came out your top place. I enjoyed reading the blog as you did some similar things as us, but also a lot of things we didn't have the time to do. The food pics really make me miss all the tapas! I can't believe you're going back so soon! And we'll be just a few months behind you!

  2. Nice post Steve. All the cathedral/mosque photos makes me want to go tour a church now. Have fun packing up! See you in a few months.