A Travellerspoint blog

September 2018

The Alahambra - Granada Spain

sunny 17 °C

Granada is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in southern Andalusia. We arrived on December 11 with the intention of touring the Alahambra.
Set high above the city and the River Doro, the Alahambra holds a strategic position. It started out as a fortress - an alcazaba, in the ninth century.


A palace - alcazar - was built by the Nazrid kings in the thirteenth century and became the court of the Moorish rulers.
The palaces and surrounding gardens are masterpieces of Arabic art and craftsmanship.

In 1492 the Christian monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel, drove the last Muslim ruler out of Granada. The Moors had been in control for 800 years.
In the sixteenth century Charles 5 of Spain also built a palace within the Alahambra.
The fortress/castles/magnificent gardens complex is a World Heritage Site and one of the most visited monuments in Spain.
We booked tIckets online and we have a time slot of 1130 am to tour the Nazrid castles.
We are staying at ABS Granada a sister hotel to Monjas del Carmen, kind of the smaller, poorer relative.
We have a room with twin beds and a narrow balcony overlooking a quiet lane. Hotel Macia Condor.


There was a pleasant girl at the front desk who gave us a map and explained where to exchange the internet printed voucher for tickets to avoid waiting in line at the Alahambra.
She also marked two recommended two restaurants near by.
We set out to look at the town. Numerous small lanes branch off and the first information centre is closed. We assumed it will open at 430 as lots of shops close for siesta.
We stopped at a recommended bar for lunch.
In Granada, if you order a drink you get a free tapas. I ordered a beer and we got a small plate of breadcrumbs and sausage. Likely Migas which is typical to the area, filling.

Tapas in North America does not compare. First they aren't free. Second, they are cheaper to buy here.
I doubt you could get much for 2 euros fifty cents (3.75 C) back home. The beer here is cheaper also and we are smack in the middle of tourist central.

Granada is the epicentre of the free tapas with drink tradition. Bars in other cities and towns may do it, but it is not reliable.

It is 17 degrees C, sunny, we go back to the tourist office and it is still closed. The map is examined, we veer left down narrow lanes.

We paused by the church of Iglisia do Santo Domingo which has some historical significance. It was originally the chapel of the Convent of Santa Cruz. Building started in 1512:

There is interesting graffiti in Granada as well:


Having had no luck in our quest to pick up tickets to the Alahambra we made our way back to the hotel.
We will get our tickets in the morning. Our room is clean and the beds are comfortable, the sink is in the room, open a door and there is a toilet, open another door and there is the shower, pretty compact.
This was our smallest room and the cost was 65 dollars per night, no breakfast, good location, friendly staff, clean - a bit awkward getting showered and dressed but better than a shared bathroom!! Very compact but pleasant.
The street is quiet but when other guests go down the hall you can hear them talking which is annoying at 130 am. Depends on the manners of other guests, earplugs and eye mask recommended so you won't be bothered by the noise or hall light activated by movement.

12 December is a bright sunny day, we are up early as we want a coffee before the tourist office opens at 9. Turns out they open at 930. Also this is not the right place so we are redirected to another little lane and discover my ticket means handicapped (not senior) and I must go to the ticket office at the Alahambra and pay the difference which is another 6 Euros. So we basically wasted a lot of time to no avail.
We hopped on a red bus that is small enough to maneuver the narrow streets and were dropped off at the ticket office. The lineup was not too daunting as it was before 10 am and it is low season.
It was a pleasant walk to the castle:

The evergreen hedge corridor with windows is so densely packed you cannot poke a finger into it.
Since we are early I quick toured the fortress. Lots of stairs to lookout points and views of Granada. I went to the bell tower last which seems the highest point. It took me a minute to recover from the climb up.

We joined the line forming up for the castle and as we entered we were overwhelmed by the opulence and detail.


Everything is intricately decorated, the ceilings are spectacular. Like other castles I have visited it is not very cozy.



The palace of the last Muslim ruler is an astounding example of delicately carved plaster, ceramic tiles (Azulejo) with geometric patterns, wood lattice, leafy courtyards, and formal gardens. Fountains and reflecting pools add beauty and harmony. It is mind-boggling when seen with a crush of other tourists from the four corners of the world. No touching!


You really must experience it in person as pictures and words cannot do it justice.

The museum is in the sturdier, blockier castle of Charles V and it is closed on Mondays. Disappointing.
There was an art exhibit upstairs by the painter Fortuny. He was the father of the famous dress designer. We walked through the exhibit but picture taking was not allowed.
IMG_3645.jpg IMG_3644.jpg

The most significant design element of the Henry V castle is the large central courtyard:

It has an dimpled, pillow-y looking exterior with benches and brass rings all around. The rings are set up quite high. Was the purpose functional or aesthetic? Did they stand on the bench to tie up their horses?

I was not aware persimmons grow in Spain. They hang from leafless branches:

We took the red bus back downtown. The ticket costs two dollars and is good for an hour so we had time to take another bus for a circuit to see a bit more of the city.
For a late lunch we went to a busy bar I spotted yesterday. The few tables were occupied but eventually we got one.
I ordered a beer and a tapas and got a free tapas as well, this time rice and ham. I ordered another beer and the free tapas was fish, pickled, very good. Total price for two beer and three tapas was eleven dollars.

Most people are standing at the bar.


A young man with a metal instrument case walked by. I asked what he had in his case. A violin. He was an American busker. He sat with us and counted his change, there was a lot of it, he is making at least a few hundred Euros a day. I did not realize it could be so lucrative.

We walked around, picked up some souvenirs, and the day was over.

Tomorrow, 13 December, we go to Seville.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 20:09 Archived in Spain Tagged alcazar spain granada espana castle andalusia fortress alcazaba tapas alahambra azulejo Comments (0)

Seville Spain - Flamenco, Guitars, Budget Palace

sunny 16 °C

Seville is the capital of Andalusia in southern Spain. It was under Moorish rule for 800 years and the magnificent Seville Cathedral is built where a mosque once stood. By volume this is currently the largest church in the world. By area it is the third largest.

The bell tower, La Giralda, is accessed by ramps not stairs and was originally the minuret.
The series of ramps is wide enough for two guards on horseback to pass each other.
The ramps made it easier for the Muezzin to deliver the call to prayer five times a day.
Seville Cathedral and the Torre Giralda are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The church was built between 1402 and 1506.
Christopher Columbus is buried here.
The Cathedral of Saint Mary by the Sea and the striking Giralda are the most visited sights of Seville. The tower dominates the city's skyline. The Renaissance style top was added to the original minaret:
We arrive by bus from Granada.
We are staying at Hotel Zaida which I recommend if you enjoy a days gone by vibe and do not need five star status.
Our room was clean and comfortable and the lobby and common areas are a reminder that this hotel was once a Moorish Revival style palace built in the 1700s!!

It cost thirty Euros per night through Booking.com - less than fifty Canadian.
The lobby was spacious and the snacks and drinks available for purchase were cheaper than many stores.
Of course this is low season but for a budget hotel Zaida has an excellent location, an elevator and an abundance of charm. Tick. I have slept in a palace.
We are only in Seville for one night. As we walk to the Cathedral I recall my previous visit. It is lovely in the old town, very walkable, fairly flat.

The Archivo de Indias houses extensive documentation of trading with Latin America during Spain's Golden Age. Seville was the hub of receiving goods for over two centuries. The Archivo is a World Heritage Site.
We stop for coffee. It costs more to sit outside so, cheapskates to the core, we opt to perch on stools inside. Since it is a gorgeous sunny day and the patio faces a pretty square this was a mistake. Uncomfortable, dimly lit and no ambiance.
We have arranged for tickets to a flamenco show and are headed to Santa Cruz, the old Jewish Quarter. It is a maize of narrow lanes but we found our way.
We stopped for tapas and hit a bar that did not offer free tapas with drink. We're not in Granada anymore. I have seafood paella and it is good.
We are early to the Casa de la Guitarra but the manager welcomes us graciously and shows us we have reserved seats right in the front row. Since our seats are reserved we wander the neighbourhood and pick up souvenirs. I bought black and red flamenco shoes for my granddaughter (she is three).
I watched flamenco when I was here in 2012 (Backpacking a Continent on Fifty Dollars a Day). I do not expect to be as amazed this time. There are some once in a lifetime experiences.
The venue is different and so is the format.

This one is highly rated on Trip Advisor and has more guitar and less dancing. The performers include one Spanish guitar player, a singer/human percussionist and a female dancer.
The theatre is also a guitar museum, with the largest private collection of nineteenth century guitars in Spain.
The above picture is only a small example.

First the guitar player performs a few tunes alone. His fingers fly over the strings. I am reminded of birds. He gives an introduction to each piece in both Spanish and English, these are folk tunes.
He is joined by another man who coughs and drinks water and shouts Ole as the guitar is played. He taps his feet and starts clapping in time, some softer, others like cracks of thunder. He is providing percussion and it's pretty effective. The audience is encouraging, Brava, Brava.
The dancer shows up wearing a long skirt with combs in her hair and beige flamenco shoes. The percussionist gives her his chair and moves to the other side of the guitar player.
She appears to be getting into the mood of the music, nodding, snapping her fingers, and tapping her feet. After a time she livens up and stands, the percussionist starts to sing, it seems he is imploring her, she seems to be rejecting him, her fingers and arms move, sometimes her feet are moving so fast they are blurry.
Her face is contorted , anger, fear or defiance, maybe all three, maybe none of the above. We are so close to the stage I can see the beads of sweat on her forehead.
This is a real workout. She is adding percussion with her intricate footwork, the singer is sweating profusely as well so here is an idea for couch potatoes who like to sing, no excuse not to work out now!!
Brava, Brava the audience puts in their two bits.
The guitar player is cool as a cucumber, there is a lot of eye contact and nodding among the three on stage, it does seem kind of spontaneous and there is a definite connection and collaboration going on up there.
The dancer is almost violent in her moves, she does a few kicks towards the audience, first to her right and then towards the centre, it's not very ladylike, we catch glimpses of her white underwear.
I am worn out when the number finishes, Brava, Brava I chime in. Sweat is pouring down her face, her hair is damp. She disappears off stage, for a shower I presume, and the singer and guitar player do a few more tunes, they are both very good.

For the finale the dancer shows up, sits, taps, claps and then performs a happier, more light-hearted dance.
She has tidied herself up and is wearing a different outfit. This dance is not as strenuous as the last one. I enjoyed it more as I was not so distracted by the sweating.
However, the first dance had so much passion and strength it was really the show stopper.
We clap, shout Brava, eventually throw in a standing ovation, but these performers , who are beaming and bowing, do not volunteer an encore. It is not their habit.
They have a second show shortly.
I feel a bit invigorated. It is still warm outside, I decide to buy the flamenco dress that matches the little shoes.
We lined up for a cab and scored a van. The cab driver spoke pretty good English and advised us to walk as he could not maneuver the narrow streets and had to take the long way. We opted to ride and he pointed out sights of interest along the way.
We passed the University which is the old tobacco factory and was the setting for the opera 'Carmen.' Some day I will watch that Opera since I have heard the story.
Flamenco was invented in Andalusia, possibly Seville. It has evolved over centuries to be a Spanish art form but seems to credit its roots to gitanos, Spanish gypsies who migrated from India. It includes Moorish and Jewish influences.
The word flamenco was a widely used term for Gypsy/gitano. Roma is usually considered the politically correct word today.
It was the song and dance of the lower classes. They expressed their passion and anguish and since they were illiterate the old tunes were passed along orally.
The guitar was not introduced to Flamenco until early in the 1800s. It is similar to a classic guitar but uses thinner strings and cheaper, thinner wood.
I was disappointed that our dancer did not wear the bata de cola for one of her numbers. This is the name of the dress with the frilly long train or tail we associate with Flamenco.
It takes a talented dancer to maneuver the train to be a partner in the dance. It was only introduced in the mid to late1800s, possibly as a jest to high society as trains were not fashionable at the time.
The next day, December 14, was a dreary, rainy day, but it was not cold. We had a relaxing breakfast and coffee in a bustling cafe a block from our hotel.
The streets are narrow and jammed with bars, cafes, souvenir shops, it is a touristy area, so we picked up a few more souvenirs and walked to the bus station.
It has been a short but satisfying visit. I was in Seville for several days in 2012 - if you have the time take a look at the stunning architecture of the Metropal Parasol, completed in 2011.
Although difficult to read because of the yellow letter this sign speaks to me:
Don't wait for the perfect moment. Take this moment and make it perfect.
We have been in Spain for 13 days.

We take the bus from Seville to Albufeira Portugal on 14 December.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 20:03 Archived in Spain Tagged seville spain espana cathedral budget sevilla carmen flamenco tapas Comments (0)

Hello Again - Spain and Portugal

Where do you go for 3 weeks in December? If you live in western Canada Arizona, Vegas and California come to mind. Mexico, Puerto Rico. Hawaii.
I am attracted to Europe.
We booked flights through KLM. We start our adventure in Barcelona on Dec 2 and fly home from Lisbon. Lisboa of the seven hills.

I am an extreme budget traveller but at 67 my tolerance for climbing 50 plus stairs to my room and sleeping on beds where the sheets do not fit - let alone sharing a bathroom with strangers - my tolerance, sad to say, has diminished.

This will not be a fifty dollar a day trip. For one thing the Canadian dollar does not go as far as it did in 2012 when our dollar was on par with the US dollar. Today one US dollar takes C1.35.
One Euro costs C1.43. Americans are lucky travelers these days - one Euro costs $1.05 US. Big difference.
A hotel right on the Mediterranean in southern Spain is a great deal, 69 Euros per night including breakfast for two people.
69 E equals C98.23 or US72. Amen.
The Costa del Sol. Coast of the sun.
It is currently late evening, approaching midnight in Malaga, and the temperature is a balmy ten degrees C.
We are enjoying an exceptionally nice November in Calgary but I did have to scrape my car windows this morning.

Wait til you hear this!!! The prototype cell phone wrist cord I developed and wore for 28 days in Sept/Oct 2015 (see blog, Chinaforcheap) has been modified and is selling like hot cakes. What to do?? I take comfort in being an inventive genius.
Mine was made with ribbon and 2 pony tail elastics (stretchy) - it was great. I suspect the girl we met at Hello Chengdu who sold cell phone cases online. She took more than a passing interest in my gadget. Idea theft alert. Sure they changed up a few things. Shades of Melania Trump borrowing Michelle Obama's speech. The press still talks about it. Hey what about me?
Pretty handy gadget for travel:
My budget for 21 days, excluding airfare and travel between cities is 75 dollars per day. $1575.
Here is the itinerary:
Barcelona - Gaudi, Picasso, La Ramblas
Antequara - dolmans and megaliths
Malaga - Costa del Sol
Granada - the Alahambra
Seville - flamenco
Evora - dolmans and megaliths
Lisbon - fado and custard tarts
Tapas and tortilla in Spain, Port and Piripiri chicken in Portugal. Heavy on Picasso, Gaudi - art, architecture and ancient culture.
Let the journey begin!!
I take one small carry on suitcase and a purse. The suitcase will be checked for air travel. Even so I am taking more with me than my last two overseas trips. I will let you know how this works!!

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:55 Archived in Spain Tagged seville barcelona spain granada budget bargain lisbon portugal malaga affordable value evora cheapskate antequara Comments (0)

The Algarve: Albufeira, Portugal

semi-overcast 16 °C
View The Iberian Penninsula in December on CherylGypsyRose's travel map.

The Southern coast of Portugal is called the Algarve. It has a Mediterranean climate and is known for its rugged beaches.
The word Algarve is taken from Arabic and means 'the west'. Moors occupied southern Portugal for 500 years.
We have just spent two weeks in Spain. It is fascinating now to hear Portuguese. 'It sounds like Ukrainians speaking Spanish,' my sister remarked. Thanks to Brazil, Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language.
I know two Portuguese words: Hola and Obrigada. The first is also hello in Spanish and the second reminds me of Japanese. Arigato. Thank you.

The town of Albufeira lies west of Faro and east of Lagos. The name is Arabic and means Castle of the Sea.
There are over three thousand Arabic based words in Portuguese.
We took the bus from Seville. The first half of the ride was memorable for pouring rain. As we travelled west the clouds started breaking up.
It was sunny in Albufeira. Our hotel Sol e Mar, is right on the beach. Our room faces the beach and has a balcony. The room is spacious and there is lots of storage.
The sand has a reddish cast, the beach is almost deserted, it is low season. The bar is busy, lots of people on the patio enjoying the sun. Mostly from England and Holland.
We order a light meal and enjoy the view.

It is more rugged here with the rocky outcroppings, hilly and really steep in places. Our hotel is built into the side of a hill so all of the guest rooms have sea views.
When the sun goes behind a hill it feels much chillier and one by one or two by two we guests drift inside.

There are numerous shops in the streets behind our hotel. After dark we went for a walk to explore the neighbourhood. The full moon was hanging next to the church steeple:

We are staying two nights.

The fifteenth is overcast. It is still warm 16 C.

We walk on the fine sand in our bare feet picking up shells. There are plenty to choose from and my pockets are filled.

An escalator transports people living or staying on the high level to the beach. There is a lookout platform at the top and the hop on and off bus stops here. We buy tickets and go around once. Not a very scenic tour and no commentary.
Back at the seashore someone is swimming.
It turns out to be a pensioner from Bristol, 76 years young, yes, yes it is something he likes to do. His 82 year old wife is with him, she didn't go in today because last time the waves toppled her over.
They are vigorous and peppy. Just like they stepped out of Coronation Street. Wow they set a really good example of how to enjoy life in your later years. I wish I had their picture, they looked good, interesting faces and their own teeth.
They are staying at our hotel, half board, breakfast and supper, for fifty Euros. We just have breakfast included for 31 Euros per night.
They have stayed here before, you can't beat the price, in the summer there are so many people you can barely find room to put your lounge chair or towel.
It is much more tranquil in low season:
We have a million dollar view from our balcony:

Breakfast is a buffet with lots to choose from, hot and cold foods. They have bacon, sausages, scrambled or hard boiled eggs, grilled tomatoes, catering to the tourists from England, their biggest customer group.

We take the bus to Evora on December 16 th.

The buses are clean and comfortable.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:53 Archived in Portugal Tagged beach budget moon portugal mediterranean algarve Comments (0)

Evora Portugal - Ancient Cromlech Older than Stonehenge

sunny 15 °C
View The Iberian Penninsula in December on CherylGypsyRose's travel map.

Evora is a historic 2000 year old city in the Alentejo region of Portugal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walled old town boasts Moorish, Roman and Catholic monuments, hilly cobbled streets, narrow lanes and spacious squares.

The Alentejo region is a major provider of the renewable resource, cork. All manner of cork items are sold including purses, shoes and hats. (Likely more necessary for the industry now that so few wines have actual cork stoppers!!)
The bark of the Cork Oak tree is removed manually with an axe once every 9 years. Bark cannot be harvested until the tree is 25 years old. The bark is only taken from the tree base to the branch line. The Cork Oak lives about 200 years.
The famous acorn fed pigs that turn into Iberian Ham feed off the acorns of cork oak tree.

There are numerous Neolithic stone formations in Alentajo but the ones not to miss are the 95 standing stones of the Almendres Cromlech about 15 km from Evora and 4 km from the village of Guadeloupe.

The term cromlech refers to a prehistoric circle of standing stones with a religious or spiritual overtone.

The Almendres Cromlech is older than Stonehenge and was in continuous use for 3000 years!

The dirt road from Guadeloupe to the parking area near the Cromlech is narrow, full of ruts and potholes. I was afraid the taxi driver would refuse to take his car further but he persevered and we did not get stuck in the muddy patches.

The one person in Evora who does tours was away for the weekend. The cab fare (and tour rates) on weekends is ten Euros more than on weekdays. The driver spoke German and Italian as well as Portuguese but no English.
Cab fare was 45 Euros because it is Saturday and we booked for 9 am
It was a fine sunny day, much nicer than yesterday. As I walked down the path leading from the car park to the stones I had no idea what to expect. The bright morning sun was shining in my eyes when the path curved and they came into view.

Beneath the shadows of cork and olive trees, a holy place, a message from an ancient people. It was larger and more expansive than I had expected, the placement of the rocks deliberate, their sizes and shapes purposeful.

The intimacy of the site was amazing. We were alone in the field, no other tourists, nobody but us. The stones were spread out in an oval shape, I touched them, hoping to leave a fingerprint, a bit of DNA.

Nobody knows exactly what this site was used for, possibly sun worshipers. Maybe they did ceremonial sacrifices here, I hope not since this is the highlight of my trip.

For thirty minutes I was completely engaged with mostly egg shaped stones, some taller than me. Words cannot describe, and pictures cannot capture, the beauty of this monument on a sun drenched December morning.

I reluctantly trudged back to the taxi. 'Wonderbar,' I said to the driver, 'magnifico'. My eyes watered as I climbed into the back seat.

It was a quiet ride back to Evora. We enjoyed a cafe au lait in the main square and were rewarded by the music of a folk choir along with a metal working demonstration.

The square I really wanted to see was the one with the Roman Temple. Pretty impressive for recent stuff. I am all about pre history now. Where did they come from and where did they go?

On this sunny day the Roman Temple ruins are stunning. The Temple of Diana has been here since 200 AD.

I like the saying painted on the fence, "Everything is a story".

We had lunch in the courtyard of an upscale restaurant with Moorish architecture, seems to be connected to a pousada. It was very pleasant. I had plum cake and Rhea had a Bifana. The Bifana is a just cooked pork cutlet on a bun and was Rhea's go to Sandwich.
We each sampled a bite of the others food. Biting down on the chewy crust of the bun I dislocated my jaw.
Ouch, throbbing pain and my teeth did not meet on the left hand side.

The Museu de Evora is located in the Bishop's Palace. Admission was about 3 euros, it is closed on Mondays and free on the first Sunday of the month. We were disappointed in the small display of prehistoric archaeology, the Roman tombs were more impressive:
We toured the museum, had a drink on the third major square, poked through souvenir shops and then stopped by the church with skulls and bones. The Chapel of Bones is located in Saint Frances Church. Very macabre, kind of a downer after this morning.

There is a museum in the church and stairs lead up to rooftop viewing points, Along the way I looked at their collection of nativity scenes from around the world.
A street fair was set up near the bones cathedral so we looked around and on the way back to our hotel stopped at an indoor market to buy cheese and fruit.

We are staying at the Moov Hotel just inside the old city gates. It is located in a refurbished bull ring but the hotel is ultra modern.
The room is not huge but very good value for money spent.

I asked for ice at the hotel desk and they helpfully scared some up. Back in the room I take an anti inflammatory and ice my jaw. The ibuprofen kicked in, I felt a bit better. We walked to a nearby wine bar "Winetime" for supper. I had a beer and dates wrapped in Iberian ham.
I recommend this place as the waitress was super friendly, the price really reasonable and there was some ambiance. My portion of the eight euro bill was 6.75 Canadian.

The next morning we had time for a coffee before getting to the bus station.
The main square, Placo do Geralda, is near our hotel. Back in the day, during the Inquisition, public executions took place here. Today it is pretty tame by comparison. We sat by the cafe window to enjoy the view with our coffee.

One end of the square features Santa Antao Church. Nearby is a marble fountain built in 1571.
Santa Antao Church is built over the old site of a Knights Templar church.
I cannot put any of my teeth together and can barely open my mouth. It seems less painful when I don't move my mouth so I resign myself to remaining silent except for emergencies.
We get two seats each on the bus so I am happy, lots of room.
We are going to Lisbon, our last stop.
On the one hour bus trip I go through my photos of Evora. I edit the rocks, enlarging areas that might have a picture or some marking.

Archaeologists have found faint markings and drawings on some of the stones and put forward some theories, but it remains pretty much a mystery. Why would a neolithic society take the time to move, modify and embellish large rocks?
The cromlechs are 6000 years old.

The scenery along the route to Lisbon:

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:50 Archived in Portugal Tagged budget roman stonehenge portugal neolithic cork alentejo cromlech megaliths pre-historic Comments (0)

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