Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Rain in Spain

Once again, this was written 2 days ago. Internet access at our new site seems much better.

The weather has finally caught up with us and it’s raining today. Not much rain, but enough to make us change plans about taking MoJo the scooter out for a run. We opted instead for a lazy day and walked into the local village, La Carlota.

This is quite an uninspiring, charmless kind of town and after walking the length of it twice and popping into the church, we opted for some bar crawling. The bars were also uninspiring but at least had alcohol and food.

When we left our wonderful campsite in Sierra Nevada, the lovely manger gave us a bottle of our favourite ‘Puzuelo’. Clearly no-one had drunk 3 bottles of it before now!! It is a really lovely wine, we’ll save it Christmas.

The last 2 days were spent in Cordoba. As usual the old part of town is interesting and fun to wander around and get a bit lost in.

The key attraction of course is the Mosque “La Mezquita”. This must have once been one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and still has a beauty that is hard to describe. Its loveliness is in its simplicity and repetition of arches and columns.
The beautiful Mezquita
Sadly, after the reclamation the catholic power brokers decided to build a typically over-the-top renaissance cathedral in the middle of it. Not content with that, they also added side chapels in the same style. If you look purposefully, you can almost ignore this aberration and see only the beautiful understated Islamic architecture.
Catholic Vandalism

Carlso V was the dude who sanctioned this, albeit reluctantly, and when finished apparently stated “You have built what you and others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world”. That sums it up.  This, from the man who built his own palace within the grounds of the Alhambra.

The Alcazar along with its formal gardens and royal stables were also lovely to see, but they wouldn’t let me ride the horses. The Alcazar now houses some lovely roman mosaics from the 2nd century.
The Roman Bridge

Typically for this part of the world there is a Jewish quarter with one remaining synagogue  - the only other others still standing are in Toledo. Cordoba’s old city has the usual maze of streets with whitewashed houses directly on the street. I kept poking my nose in doorways etc because they all face onto beautiful courtyards, decorated with blue & white tiles and orange trees,  which you can’t see from the street. I felt locked out of the best parts of the city. Hurrumph.

Tomorrow we head to El Rocio which is where we will be spending Christmas. It’s on the edge of a National Park “Coto de Donana.” The aim is to spend time walking and pottering around before heading to family in Bonn for NYE.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Running with Bulls

Actually I was running away from the bull. We went for wonderful hike into the Mountains but came across a large bull who was showing a bit too much interest in us for my liking (Lawrence wasn't worried, but I'm a chicken). He was monopolising the path, so we headed downhill. Fortunately we met some Spanish walkers, who said “ don’t worry, come with us, you’ll be fine”, so went started upward again, and went cross country to avoid el toro, who seemed to lose interest in us finally.

It is really steep here and I find it quite challenging. Lawrence is part mountain goat, so looks like he’s out for a Sunday stroll. I scramble about like an ungainly crab.
On our hike
After 2 hours of constant uphill, we left our new Spanish friends to it and headed for home for a 3 hour lunch on the terrace in the sun, drinking wonderful Spanish wine.
How smug do I look??

We’ve spent time wandering about Granada city and the lovely old Moorish suburbs. The Alhambra was as beautiful as anticipated, even worth the queuing for 45 minutes to take up our allotted time slot in the Palacio Nazaries, the building that features in the photos and brochures. The intricate carving on the walls is truly beautiful, so unlike the rococo and baroque that we have seen the Catholic churches.
Stunning Alhambra
Tomorrow we are going to do some more hiking in these wonderful hills. We are making friends with the dogs in the neighbourhood as we walk by. We come across goat and sheep herds on our way home with their bells clanging being guarded by very watchful dogs, who eye us suspiciously.

We are hoping that all this walking will help our waistlines. Every time we order a drink, a little dish of food appears on the bar or table. Fried breadcrumbs (divine!), potato pauvre, big fat olives, ham and bread, a bit of paella. All so delicious that we wolf them down before our meal. Love Spain!
Our local village Guejar Sierra

Next stop Cordoba.

A Winter’s Tale

Once again - internet access has been patchy so this blog is a few days late.

OK so we knew it would be cold in Central Spain, but really this is ridiculous. We have just spent 2 days in glorious Toledo, wading through the thick cold fog. Once the fog lifted at about 2pm, and the sun came out it was quite delightful, max about 10 degrees.

View of Toledo from our Parador
We spent the night at the wonderful Toledo Parador, which is situated across the river on a hill overlooking the city. The position is enhanced by the inability to see any of the modern city. From the terrace you can see the Cathedral and the Alcazar standing proud of the other buildings. The Cathedral is so large you can only really see fully it from afar.

Once inside the cathedral we were completely overawed by the ornate nature of this building. Nothing so far has come this close. One side room housed 16 El Greco’s, a Rafael, a Caravaggio, a Titian, a Van Dyk – this is supposed to be a church!! The side chapels, the altars and the choir stalls were almost hideous in their conflicting gaudy styles.
Altar of Toledo's Cathedral

We loved the mix of religious buildings, Mosques that were turned into churches after the reclamation, but still look like beautiful mosques, synagogues, basilicas and wonderful winding streets to get lost in and find nice bars. Also did the obligatory El Greco museum. Love the 12 Apostles, the rest were a bit weird for my taste.

We are becoming very Spanish and had late lunch – 2.30!!
Beautiful Crypt in Madrid's Cathedral

Next was Madrid. We spent the night at a lovely hotel – bargain prices due to off-season. Once again it was freezing cold, but the promised rain stayed away. Madrid is very grand and ornate but nothing really stood out to us except the bars and the food. Barcelona is feted as the Tapas capital, but we felt that the Tapas bars and the restaurants in Madrid were more fun, cheaper, friendlier, easier to find and full of locals. Needles to say to we took advantage of this and ate very very well.
Wonderful Paella - can't get enough of this stuff.

Got back to the Mog and declined dinner.

We’ve had some funny experienced with ordering food. Lawrence’s Spanish is coming along quite well, mine is restricted to ordering vino tinto. On our last day in Aranjuez we walked into town for lunch. We thought we were ordering raciones, which are like tapas but bigger, so we ordered 3 dishes. Out came 3 enormous meals, which wouldn’t fit on the table, one of which was a hot dog!! Lawrence thought he had ordered stuffed pimentos, but got a hot dog. We had a good laugh but the staff must have though we were balmy.

We are now just outside Granada in the Sierra Nevada. We can see snow covered mountains from the bar - yes first stop was the bar. It was a LONG day’s drive. We had intended to stop in a National Park campsite on the way, near a very cute town, but the yellow truck could not make it through the gateway – too high! Groan, on we go.

We drove through La Mancha vineyards, industrial sprawl, a mountain pass with deep gorges and into olive grove country, with snow covered mountains outlining our horizon. MAN, I’ve never such vast olive “plantations”, as far as the eye could see, mile after mile. No wonder they give them away free in the bars.

Disappointingly, Granada’s urban sprawl is also vast. We had no idea it had grown so much. The accompanying pollution is also ghastly. We are booked in to see the Allhambra on Friday as our guide book suggested that booking ahead is recommended as visitors are restricted to 8,100 per day…!!!  once again I’m hoping that off season will be in our favour.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don Quixote Country

The town of Aranjuez was built as a royal playground in the mould of Versailles. The palace and grounds are truly wonderful and typically over the top in richness and opulence. Lawrence and I both thought it was much lovelier and grander than Versailles – but then again neither of us was much taken with the French King’s playground.
The Royal Palace - Arunjuez style

The Palace was built in the mid 18th century and redecorated by Isabel in the 19th. Her taste was questionable, but of the era – very ornate. There is one room that is completely oriental rococo – I’ll leave that to your imagination!!

The grounds, however, are lovely and enormous. You could spend days wandering through them. We are going to hire bikes to look at a section near our campground. After Isabel was turfed out, the new King decided that the area should be opened to the people and the town was planned. It is so lovely with very very wide tree lined streets that are a joy to wander around and find a coffee or a vino.

Today we went in search of wine. However typical of this region, all the major producers are co-operatives that buy in grapes from the endless vineyards. Sadly the whole La Mancha area has become very industrialised, so although there are still mile upon mile of bush vines, they are amongst factories and petrol tanks.
Some Don Quixote country still exists

The bush vines make you wonder how they actually grow anything, they look like Mallee roots sticking out of the ground.  We didn’t find anywhere to taste but did find a tank farm belonging to Felix Solis, one of the major producers. This is wine production on a scale you just don’t see in Australia, thankfully.
Felix Solis - wine anyone??

We had lunch in Valdepenas and made the mistake of eating in the first place we saw because I was about to faint from hunger. Of course at 2pm we were the first patrons. 5 courses for 16 euros – how can you resist?? Once again we ate so much that dinner is not required, and that was without desert. The wine was 11 euros and absolutely delicious. Lots of subtle red cherry fruit with soft tannins and great length. 11 euros!!!! You wouldn’t be surprised to pay $50 for it in Australia. The great value of the meal was offset by the 60 euro parking fine…

The weather is stunning but it is so cold in the morning you can hardly breathe. It was 2 degrees when we ventured out at 9.15am.
The Man from La Mancha - don't you love him?

Tomorrow Toledo…

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Motorway Robbery

We left our camp and new friends in Villanova and headed west via Zaragoza. This is a city that has grown enormously very recently and our caravan park was really in the burbs, however it was easy to get to the old city and enjoy what it has to offer. The 2 main attractions for us were the Cathedral and the Basilica.

The cathedral was started in the 14th century and would have been lovely initially with its elegant columns and beautiful vaulted ceiling however was ruined in following centuries by the addition of side chapels of every kind of bad taste Rococo you’ve ever seen.
The Cathedral - no photos allowed inside

The Basilica is a massive monument to 18th century over the top grand ‘look what we can do ‘ architecture. The whole place is completely soulless as far as I’m concerned. I thought it looked like a bank and Lawrence thought a train station.
The Basilica

We headed to Aranjuez (south of Madrid) via the Autopista as that was our only option. Heavy fog enveloped us to start, then sunshine, then fog.

We’d heard that you can be readily robbed in Spain, however we didn’t expect it to be by the Police. We were pulled over on the motorway by the local Plod and were fined 100 euros on the spot, cash,  for having a dodgy headlight, driving in fog. Obviously a slow day for the Guardia Civil. Bloody highway robbery. Lawrence, fortunately, restrained from punching one of them.
Lawrence trying to be polite to the Guardia Civil
We drove through really interesting country. So different from the soft autumn colours of the French landscape. This is arid harsh country, with colours similar to Australia. Some of it resembled a cross between South Australia and Arizona. We drove between high flat plateaus and rugged hills of limestone, with some snow capped peaks in the distance.

After driving through endless miles of industrial and suburban sprawl around Madrid, we arrived in our camp set in the grounds of a former castle, by the river. It was a lovely vista when we arrived, having expected the worst.

The weather is still sunny, if cold. This morning, it was so cold in Zaragoza that our gas stove struggled to work!!

We are here for about a week to see Aranjuez, Madrid and Toledo.