Slideshow

Toledo, Madrid (again), Cordoba, The Bobadilla, Granada, and Sevilla (Part 1)

Saturday, September 4

Anjela picked us up for our 1-hour drive to Toledo.  This was really a cool place (but, weatherwise, things are heating up!). We saw the church where El Greco's masterpiece "The Burial of Count Orgaz" is hanging.

Then we toured a huge, wonderful cathedral, which, like many in this area, was originally built on the site of a mosque. Much of the original walls still stands. The cathedral has a beautiful cloister filled with orange trees.  The town has 3 areas where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived "together' for many, many years. 

We have been looking to buy a platter and Anjela told us of a shop that has good ones and guess what? R-r-r-r-oberto was there!  it was a very interesting and old store. Lots to choose from. We went into the basement to look for more and the shopkeeper told us the basement was from the 1300s! So we purchased a beautiful platter.  Then we wandered around and eventually came to the main square (every town has one) - Plaza de Zocodover.  Not as big as the Plaza Mayor, but nice, and with a big Moorish arch looking out over the valley.

By this time it was of course time for lunch! Tapas again (yum!) - ham, steak and peppers, and oh so heavenly tuna moosh with red peppers; we ordered a second plate!  Then the ride back to Madrid, where we got in around 5:00.  So we had time to go to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Museum - lots of neat 19th and 20th century stuff. Very nice. Then back to the Palace to have "drinks" and keep an eye on all the fancy goings-on.

Then dinner. Another very fancy place called Zalocain (that's Za-lo-kiy-een, not Zy-lo-cane!). We took a cab over as it was on the other side of town. (By the way...these drivers rank right up there with the wildest drivers of the world. The cars are inches apart in front and on the sides - with motorbikes still managing to zoom through! Somehow they are always able to stop in time with no slamming or screeching of the brakes. They generally stop at red lights - and certainly if there are peds in the marked cross-walk; more often, the taxis will start going before the red light has turned green!).  Anyway........we got there at 8:55 and went in and the guy said to Wayne "Oh...you need a jacket and tie".  And they did not have any to provide! So we had to go out and flag down a taxi and go back to the Palace (at the height of the Chinese reception!  Cars, people, police, news trucks...), put on the fancy duds, get back into another taxi and zoooom back to the restaurant.  So, including the 4th taxi (to get home later), it cost us E40 just to eat there!

But it was worth it. They started off with (free) breads and some tiny fishy thing. Then, gazpacho. Then, the traditional fish and meat selections (yum) then the usual ice cream and chocolate cake and THEN they brought a plate of goodies. One was like a thin peanut (almond?) brittle (tuille) that was the size and shape of a roofing tile. Plus little cakes and candies (as if we needed them). Whoa! A great meal.

Sunday, September 5
Even though it is our last 1/2 day in Madrid, we still have one more thing to see: the Prado Museum.  The two biggies in this museum are Goya and Velathketh (oh....I mean Velazquez). It was really neat to see how the kings and queens aged as they had their paintings done over a number of years.

The other main artist (even though he is Dutch) is Bosch. Wow!  This guy was into some serious mushrooms! His most famous work is The Garden of Earthly Delights.

His colors and shapes are so totally out of place and centuries before their time, even though the subjects still had Biblical overtones. Really cool.

Finally we had to say adios to Anjela. She drove us to the Atocha train station (5 minutes away) where we went on the high-speed train to Cordoba. We were in First Class in Coach 1; in fact, we were the only ones in the car! We had a very nice lunch served to us (fish and chicken brochette with shrimp pasta and a chocolate brownie for dessert). The ride was very smooth; it didn't feel fast, but it was.

Then we were in Cordoba where we were met by Lola. She was another great guide who peppered her shtick with lots of jokes. For example, going into the big mosque: "Remember, you're only allowed to take good pictures in here"; or, seeing how many Japanese tourists there were: "Japan
is an island and there are so many people that 20% of them are required to be on holiday at any time; otherwise it would sink into the ocean".  HAHA!

But she did know all of the facts and dates and people as we walked through this most fantastic mosque.
 Part of it was built with columns scavenged by the Muslims from earlier Roman temples. There are several thousand (yes!) columns and arches. So beautiful and magnificent. And, of course, when the Christians came in they built their church right in the middle of it!!!

So the bell tower was built around the former minaret! At least they didn't destroy it like they did to so many others. But, speaking of destruction, were learned (as we had been told in the synagogue in Toledo) that lots of stuff was destroyed or "borrowed" by Napolean and his troops. As Lola said: "His name is Bonaparte which in Spanish means bona/bueno - good - and parte/parto - part, so he took a good part of everything from Spain" (nyuk nyuk).

Then we walked around the old Jewish quarter (no old or young Jews there now), with its narrow streets.  There is a statue of Maimonides who was a 12th century rabbi, physician, and philosopher. He was born here.


Lola pointed out how the walls had a concave section in them about 18" high and 3' off the ground. She told us that they were built this way to allow clearance for the axles of the original carts that were used there (she promised that that was NOT a joke).  Then it was time to leave.

Our driver took us on a 2 hour ride through beautiful countryside to the La Bobadilla (named for Boabdil, the last Muslim leader who surrendered Granada - more on that later).  Whoa!! What a fabulous place! Out in the mountains, surrounded by olive groves. A wonderful room with a view of windmills on the ridge in the distance (no, not the 16th century kind, the 20th century electricity generating kind). The resort has a chapel which seems to feature a Japanese couple's wedding every day!  By this time it was too late to do anything (tennis? archery? skeet? French bowls?) so we watched CNN and started thinking about dinner!  The resort has to restaurants so we decided to go to La Finca (literally "The Fancy One") first. Eating outside, watching the sun set (at 9:00), seeing today's bride and groom (but we found out later that most of them are actually married first in Japan and this is just a "special" ceremony). They gave us a little taste of asparagus gazpacho, then fish and pork (very few vegetables offered; like one carrot slice). The fish came with purple potatoes which were quite good. Then 4 kinds of sorbet and chocolate molten cake. Aaahhh! Delish!

Monday, September 6
Picked up at 9 by a great driver, Arnold. He's from Holland but lives in Spain and speaks many languages. He did lots of talking on the 90 minute ride to Granada. We learned about olives: harvesting, pressing, and that there are 40 kinds!
 We got to Granada and were met by Marie-Carmen - another perky, knowledgeable guide. Even though it was just the two of us, she kept saying "Family, let's go this way" or "Over here, family". We figured that was easier than remembering our (and her other charges) names.

So, straight to the Alhambra. WOW!!!!
  
In many churches and castles the guides said "This was originally very colorful..." (but now not), but here there were lots of great colors thanks to all the Moorish mosaic tiles.
1492 was a big year for Spain: on January 2nd they defeated the Moors after 10 years of struggle. So Boabdil gave the keys to the Alhambra (and that was the end of Muslim rule in Al Andalus) to Ferdi and Ysabel.  And of course the Columbus thing; we stood in the actual room where he discussed his trip with F and Y! And then there was that business with the Jews.......

We walked through the various rooms and learned what each one was used for when Boabdil lived there, and then of course, the part that the Christians added on (and where Washington stayed when he visited.  No, Washington Irving!).

Then we walked up the hill a little way to the Generalife where Boabdil went to relax- great views over the whole area. Then the new palace that Charles I (?) built - an exact replica of the Pitti Palace in Florence, but it was never finished and he never lived there.

Then it was time for lunch. Carmen wanted to go home to be with her husband and baby daughter so we "convinced" Arnold to join us. We went to a fabulous place called Rita de Veleta. No stars, but an honorable mention from Michelin. We ordered starters of tuna and ham gazpacho and goat cheese; Arnold had their famous almond soup (apparently he's eaten here quite often). Then garlic bread, and red peppers wrapped in smoked cod. So good! Wayne was full by that time (big surprise). Oy! Then fish and pork (or was it beef?), then desserts: chocolate followed by a plate of bon bons. Arnold had no trouble eating everything. What a great place...rustic and authentic with several hundred ceramic pitchers hanging from the ceiling. Arnold told us he had brought Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill) there! The lunch took over 2 hours!!!!!! Carmen then appeared.   We were supposed to see the local cathedral, but we didn't have enough time. Oh well.......but we did see the "Chapel Real", a beautiful church which contains the actual remains of Ferd and Ysa! You can see their caskets. Then it was
back to La Bobadilla.

Note: Do you know what the difference is between a church and a cathedral? No...it's not the size. A cathedral (from the Latin "catedra" meaning "seat") has been consecrated by a bishop or higher.

We were starting to get the message that two large meals a day was one too many. So tonight we went to the "casual" restaurant in the resort and ordered a light meal: one gazpacho, those great peppers, garlic shrimp, olives, and bread. Simple. Tasty.

Tuesday, September 7
A planned day off!  What a concept!! We slept late (8:00! Those 10:00 dinners are killers!). A light breakfast (even though they had the best breakfast buffet ever. Plus they make any kind of omelet - for example, someone at our table had shrimp, peppers, and capers!). Then we took a lovely hike around the property. They have several kilometers of well marked, easy trails. The weather started out cool (mod 70s) but by the time we got back 90 minutes later it had warmed up pretty well. We saw beautiful vistas and were able to get right next to olive trees. With real olives! 

Then we headed for an afternoon by the pool. Surprisingly, it was probably the biggest hotel pool we've ever seen....and no one was in it! One toe-dip told us why: it was freeeezing!  After an hour or so it was time for lunch (already?), so we went to the pool grill.  Let's see:  gazpacho, followed by (Wendy) salmon and (Wayne) fried sardines. Then more sitting by the pool. Eventually it was...time for dinner. (Madre de dios!!!) back to the fancy restaurant.  More brides and grooms.  We had gazpacho (again!), duck in crepes and steak. Then the most awesome dessert: the menu said "semi-cold grapefruit with raspberry sauce", but it was semi-frozen grapefruit puree (about 1" thick) with a layer of raspberry sauce on a bed of soft cake.  OOOOHH!!! melt-in-your-mouth good.  And refreshing. Once again we were outside with the beautiful sky and the flowers and perfect temperature. La Bobadilla: Fantastico!!

Bye-bye Bobadilla!

Wednesday, September 8

We arranged specifically for Arnold to be our driver on the next leg of the trip. This was another travel day. We are already losing track of where we are and what we've seen and what we've eaten!  A 9:00 pick-up and we were off to Ronda. An hour and a half ride through more olive groves, but also corn, wheat, and tobacco. Beautiful mountains and lots of whitewashed towns with a large church or castle at the highest point. We learned that a hacienda is a large farmhouse, usually with 2 towers (as opposed to a "carmen", which is a large city house usually with an interior garden, as opposed to a "casa", which is your basic everyday house - or more likely a flat as most folks here live in apartments. Whew!).   So we got to Ronda and it was fantastic! Another old city with lots of curvy, narrow cobblestoned streets and a 2,000 year old Roman / Arabian bath and great views over the mountains and valleys and the original bridge (Roman), the "old" bridge (Muslims - 12th century) and the "Puente Nuevo" (1880s)!!!

Then we drove down a narrow path to see the town from below, looking up. Breathtaking! Then we went to the bull ring and got to walk through and listen to Arnold tell us all about the history, etc. of bullfighting.  They still have bullfights here, but we did not want to see one.

Then, it was time for lunch! Tragabuches (named for a 19th century bandito, of which there were many as they even have a "Bandit Museum". Seriously!), was a chic, contemporary restaurant - meaning austere and nothing on the menu Wayne would like! First they brought little plates of octopus pieces and tiny potato pieces (luckily, the two were easily distinguishable and there were more spuds than suckers). Then avocado gazpacho! What'll they think of next?  Then pork shoulder and fish. Then another chocolate molten cake (must be the in thing!). And...when they bring the bread, they also bring bottles of different olive oils and describe the characteristics of each so you can choose the one you want.

Then another drowsy ride through the countryside and into Seville.  A very big city built on a river. The Romans called it Betis and the region Betica. The Moors changed the name of the region to "Al Andalus" (Andalusia now) and the name of the river to "Guadalquivir" (it runs all the way through Cordoba. Guadalquivir is Arabic for "Big River"..in other words "Rio Grande"! For many years Seville was the main port for goods to and from the mainland even though it is an inland port (because the mouth of the river was easier to defend than an ocean port like Cadiz). So, driving in, we were on the main street which was built for the 1929 Exposition - it looks  lot like Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, with the palm trees and buildings.  Arnold pointed out all the buildings from that time (the Guatemala and Peru and US and Argentina ones for example). Finally we reached our hotel - the Alfonso XIII.  Luckily, Alph was away so we got his room! 

Wowzers!!!  Cloth on the walls and a 15th century frieze across the top , tile floor, fancy chandelier and canopied bed.  And very central to all the main sights and shopping areas.  It was too early to eat (only 5:00) so we headed out to see the sights. There were throngs of people - looked like both tourists and local folks. Saw a wall with a painted ad for Studebakers!!!

We had planned to attend an outdoor performance of Bizet's "Carmen", staged in and around the actual tobacco factory, but we found out that it had been cancelled (for some unknown reason).

The whole trip we have been looking to buy a photo album (we did get one in Cordoba, but with so many pix, we figure we need another!), so we were looking in store after store (a way to shop and get some local flavor at the same time). Finally we found a small shop that had the perfect one. We went it around 8:15 and buy the time we finished selecting and buying it was 8:30...and the streets were deserted!  Where'd everybody go? It was weird.  So we walked a few blocks to Casa Robles (celebrating their 50th anniversito) and sat outside for tapas.  We had a great view of the fish and slabs o' meat hanging inside behind the counter. We wanted something light so we ordered (in addition to sangria and cerveza) the fried fish platter (hmmm...doesn't sound light). And then, the dessert platter!  Yummmo!  Then, a short walk back to the Alphonso XIII and our heavenly bed.

End of day XI.

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