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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.
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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)

Ancient Dolmens near Antequera Spain

sunny 17 °C

In July 2016, UNESCO named the Antequera megalithic dolmens a world heritage site. Dolmens are ancient burial sites and Megaliths are massive stones used in prehistoric construction.

We took the high speed train from Barcelona Sants Station to Antequera on December 6. The trip took 5.5 hours, average speed, 250 km per hour.

The Antequera Santa-Ana station is actually 17 kilometres from the town. Thank goodness there is a bus into town about every half hour. Buy bus tickets in the information office inside the station for just a few Euros.

We walked from our hotel in Barcelona to Sants Station. We were hoping to get a coffee but were held up at the entrance. Bags, jackets and purses go through a scanner at train stations.
There was an issue with my suitcase.
'You have a knife!' Rhea and the agent advise me. I squinted at the screen. The paring knife in my suitcase looked like a dagger. 'You can have it, no problem,' I volunteered.
No I had to go into a private side room with a different guard. I opened the stuffed suitcase, praying the knife would be near the top.
Whew! I pulled it out and handed it over. 'This?' he sniffed and handed it back. 'You can take it. Now show your passport and sign this paper.'
Just like that I am a free woman boarding a train with a knife in my suitcase. I had knitting needles in my purse and, as I pointed out to Rhea, I could probably gouge somebody's eyes out. People travel with pens all the time and they could inflict a bit of damage. Not to give anybody ideas.
I was baffled the knife wasn't confiscated. It is pretty dull but the guard never even tested the blade. Handy for cutting off a bit of cheese as we travel or saw off my arm if I fall into a crevice with my suitcase.

Antequera is a pretty ancient town in the fertile district of Andalusia. It would be an easy day trip from Malaga but we have booked two nights here.
High speed train tickets were seventy five C each - a good deal booked online.

We have double booked hotels for the first night. This happened because of free cancelation - Rhea had booked a room for one night too and her email said cancel by Dec 3 but it meant cancel on or before December 2.
When she casually mentioned her booking (morning of Dec 3) it was too late for either of us to cancel.
She tried to argue her case but no luck. We decided to take a cab from the bus station to my hotel which we had for two nights and we would leave her big suitcase in my room.
The Hotel Toril is not fancy but it is clean and the room I was assigned had three single beds and was huge. It was also very quiet. Wifi was terrible but you could get it in the lobby.

Around 3 we walked to the tourist office which was a block from Rhea's hotel. Many shops were closed for siesta.

Her room was not as big as mine but was cute and clean and very well located on San Sebastián Square where the hop on and off bus starts.
She decided it would be easier to stay at my place since I am navigationaly challenged and needed to be guided home.

Antequera has a population of 42000 and has a 5000 year history.

La Pena de Los ENAMORADOS, a limestone hill, can be seen from almost everywhere in the town. It is known as Lovers' Leap and has a legend.

It appears as a man's profile, the sleeping giant.

The Pena de Los Enamorados has a significant connection to the Menga dolman: on the summer solstice the rising sun shines over the peak of Enamorados and straight across the entrance to the chamber.


The Menga Dolman is almost 30 metres long and is the largest in Europe. It is about 5000 years old. The heaviest upright stone weighs over four times more than the heaviest stone at Stonehenge! The Menga Dolmen is unusual because of its alignment with a natural monument, Enamorados.

Nearby is the Viera Dolmen which is, in customary fashion, positioned towards the sun.

A bit further away (and due to lack of transportation we did not visit) is The Tholos of el Romero which is positioned towards el Tocal Mountain.
The three megaliths and two mountains were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in July 2016.
We visited the information centre on site first to watch a video portraying an educated guess of how the huge rocks were moved and put in place in pre historic times (lots of manpower). Then we viewed the Menga and Vierra Dolmens.

The hop on and off bus stops here for 20 minutes. We actually stayed longer and took a later bus around to see the dolmens again.

Following our two full circuits on the hop on and off bus we visited the municipal museum which was closed until 430 pm.

It is a large museum with displays of the prehistoric dolmens, Roman tombs and statues, including a first century bronze Ephebe (considered the most beautiful Roman sculpture in Spain), paintings, church silver and a nice gallery of the works of Christobal Toral Ruiz.

Contemporary artist and home town boy, Christobal's gallery had a suitcase theme including a huge interpretation of Valesquez' Las Meninas where suitcases represent people.
I liked this painting, she only has a carry-on:

The Museum of Civilization, Antequara, is worth a look. It is closed on Mondays and closes every day at 2 - plan a morning visit.

Nuns in habits were selling special Christmas cookies from convents but we bought ours at a bakery. Polvoron cookies are a type of shortbread, very crumbly, flavourful, melt in your mouth. We bought a dozen for 12 euros, the nuns were selling them for seven dollars a kilo - these are very light cookies.
The convent cookies are interesting: there are two shuttered windows. The first one is where you place your order and the second one is where you receive your purchase.

Antequera is an ancient town, as the name suggests. The dolmens go back to the Bronze Age. Then there was the period under the Roman Empire until it was conquered by the Visigoths who were invaded by the Moors in 711 AD. The Moors held power until the 15 th century when Ferdinand 1 of Aragon drove them out.
We saw Roman ruins, the alcazaba and numerous Catholic Churches. A very historic town. Pleasant, slow paced, sunny and warm.


The hop on and off bus was open air and the other tourists were Spanish.

Nothing seemed very commercialized, the hop on bus cost 6 euros (Seniors rate) and the dolmens were free. Unbelievable.

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On December 8 our bus to Malaga left at 9 am. We decided to walk as the depot was only a ten minute stroll from our hotel. We stopped for a coffee at a corner bar. Very good coffee for one Euro each. There were 2 Irishmen having a shot with their morning cuppa and one was very talkative. This was our first encounter with native English speakers - it is Dec 8, we have been in Spain for a week!

The hotel clerk had given us directions, the Irishman gave us directions and the bartender escorted us out and pointed the way. Ten minutes. Half an hour later we got directions from a restaurant waiter and thirty minutes after that we rolled into the bus depot.

The sleeping giant dominated the skyline as we headed south to Malaga:

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:39 Archived in Spain Tagged museum spain espana tapas megaliths dolmens polvoron pre-histórico Comments (0)

The Coast of the Sun - Malaga Spain (Costa del Sol)

17 °C

Malaga, on the southwest coast of Spain, is one of the world's oldest cities. Phoenicians lived here 3000 years ago. Greeks, Romans and Visigoths followed. The Moorish alcazaba sits where a Phoenician fortress once stood.

Today Malaga is the transportation hub of the Costa del Sol tourist industry.

Bus tickets from Antequera to Malaga, less than an hour away, are five Euros. Taxi fare from the bus station to our seaside hotel was ten.
La Chancla, our hotel, is right on the beach.
December 8, 18 degrees C, a glorious sunny day.
There were torrential rain storms along the Costa del Sol on the weekend, a lady drowned in the basement of a strip club in Malaga. She used her cell phone to call for help but the rescue team failed to save her. Media pictures of the water in the streets were really disturbing. You would never imagine such an event had taken place today.
This is Thursday.
Our hotel cannot be reached by car, the restaurant and some rooms face the beach and the lobby is on a very narrow street. With no traffic the area is quiet and easy to walk.
There is a roof deck overlooking the Mediterranean right outside our room.
We were too early for check in but the front desk looked after our luggage and we spent the next few hours having coffee, walking on the beach and watching dogs and kids play in the sand.
A drum band was performing. Dec 8 is a holiday in Spain. There were two holidays this week so hotels have been in high demand. Constitution Day on 6 Dec and Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the eighth.
We have only heard one native English speaker since we arrived in Spain.

People do not pick up after their dogs on the beach where owners allow them to run off leash. Needless to say you keep a close eye on where you step if you venture out on the sand!!
The government in some cities is attempting to educate the public about poop scooping. The theft of a giant inflated dog turd commissioned by the municipality to remind pet owners to 'pickup' made international headlines.
However I digress because this was in Torrelodones near Madrid, not in Malaga.
Apparently in the summer months more of an effort is made to keep dogs off of beaches in the Costa del Sol.
The name of the beach in front of our hotel is

It is a popular city beach, six coves, a playground and fine sand.
There is a view of the harbour, very pleasant, with a good mix of locals, students and tourists. For me it is lovely in mid December. It must be wall to wall people in the summer when you can actually swim. Great for kids. The dog poop worries me though.
There is no shortage of restaurants. What is not apparent is a souvenir shop. Nice to be at a place where tourists are not so abundant!!
The hotel La Chancla terrace restaurant has a wonderful view of the sea and lots of tourists and locals stop in for a drink or a meal. We enjoy cafe con leche and churros - everyone receives a small glass of tester juice, fresh juice.
Churros are like fried dough that you dip in sugar - a type of fritter. Cafe con leche is coffee with scalded milk.
Most people who come to the coast pass through Malaga on their way to somewhere else. We are in what was once an old fishing village. Several people are fishing. There is a rowing club and a boat yard for sardine-fishing boats nearby.

Little huts are set up along the beach for the purpose of grilling sardines.
Although we have not come across native English speakers tourists (until today) most people can speak English. 'Hola do you speak English?' Shyly, 'A little' and off we go. The girl at the desk speaks excellent English and is very helpful.
It cools off after 430 but it does not get dark until 630. I post pictures on Facebook and announce it is 18 degrees on the Costa del Sol. It is minus 27 in Calgary - we just missed the bad weather - we picked the right time to get out of Dodge but it will be a shock going home.

It is relaxing to sit in the sun listening to the waves. The view from the roof deck and the restaurant is stunning and the narrow streets quaint and charming.

Breakfast at the hotel is included in our room rate. We ordered the same thing every morning although you can order anything from the menu. An omelette with ham and cheese, a dish of fresh fruit, bread, cherry tomatoes, juice and coffee. The juice is wonderful, all fresh, and the coffee, only one cup, is one third espresso and two thirds scalded milk. It packs a punch.

On Friday we decided to do laundry as there was a laundromat about five blocks away. I had been looking for my room card (key) but had not yet gone into panic mode.
Case solved.
On Saturday we took the bus to the old town.
Fabulous churches, gardens and statues and a lady singing Silent Night as we passed by:

Near the Roman ruins, just past the alcazar, a lively choir was singing folk tunes. Some people got up to dance. We spent an hour enjoying the sights and sounds of Teatro Romano Square on a sunny afternoon in the south of Spain.
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Booths were set up in the square selling items to raise money for charity. Entertainment, shopping and history all in the same place. I bought a cute doll, new and made in Spain for a quarter of what the store price would be, a steal really. There was a cute blanket, bunting bag to go with it for an extra two euros and, kicking myself now, I was too cheap to purchase it as well. The follies of a shoestring tourist!!

Near the bus stop there were more booths selling Christmas items.
Poop is one of the decorations. These have imitation flies on them:
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I know they sort of look like doughnuts here but they are plastic. We saw poop in Barcelona Christmas markets and I didn't want people to see me taking pictures and acting like an ignorant foreigner. Be respectful of the host country's customs. I didn't want to draw attention to myself in Malaga when I took a picture of the poop either!
I cannot find anything about the poop replicas on Google -there is a lot about the pooping log and the pooping figure placed in Spanish (Catalan) nativity scenes though. I think poop signifies fertility to the land, prosperity and good health in Spain so it has an accepted place in their Christmas traditions. Apparently there are cookies made to resemble poop so why not plastic poop.
In Catalonia children are given a pooping log to look after and on Dec 8 the parents keep the log under a blanket while the children encourage it to poop out candies.
On Sunday our bus to Granada left at 130. We had a leisurely breakfast and enjoyed the violin music. Every morning there is a different musician - very pleasant and civilized.
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We decided we could take city transit to save a bit of money. We did save 4 Euro but it was a hassle dragging our suitcases up the bus steps and we forgot to get a transfer so paid for both buses.
We passed by the Christmas market again and noticed a display of dream catchers - invented by North American indigenous people - we saw them in China too.

We had time for hot chocolate and churros. The hot chocolate is so thick, it is like drinking chocolate pudding!!

We enjoyed our seaside vacation so much we decided to stay on the beach in the Algarve for two days.
For now we are off to Granada to visit the Alahambra.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:33 Archived in Spain Tagged beach spain espana mediterranean malaga sardines azulejo seat61 Comments (0)

Barcelona Spain: Cheap Seats at the Opera

sunny 17 °C

Barcelona, the Capitol of Catalonia Spain, is located on the north east coast of the Iberian Penninsula facing the Mediterranean Sea.
Our seats on KLM flight 0678 are near several families and one child or another cried continuously from Calgary until we changed planes in Amsterdam (8 hours). I watched three movies and hardly slept.
Tip: stick with the regular meal service. I ordered kosher just to see if it was better. I was served twenty minutes before my companions, the dinner roll and cake were still frozen and the main course was mashed potatoes. I ate it all starting with the cake. This is what makes me a good traveller, I am not a picky eater.
We arrived at Barcelona El Prat Airport on December 2. It was a gorgeous sunny day, about 17 C. The blue sky melted into the Mediterranean, dazzling.
The grass was green, flowers still bloomed, a bit humid.
The first thing that struck me in the airport was the garbage. The floor was littered with paper, garbage cans were overflowing.
Who are these litterbugs? I was disgusted and kept stopping to take pictures, it was fascinating and shocking. Millions of travelers pass through this airport.
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We later learned the airport cleaners had been on strike for a few days.

The second thing that struck me about Barcelona was graffiti. If you close your garage door someone will tag it. Oh, it turns out to be street art, and Barcelona is famous for it!! World class graffiti artists!!
We are staying at the Ayre Hotel on Gran Via. The airport bus (5 Euros ninety, you pay at the bus) stops at Placa Espanya, less than a block away. The old bullring now a shopping centre is a landmark. Barcelona does not have bullfights any more. We are staying in the Sants-Montjuic district because our room is under one hundred dollars a night and TripAdvisor gave it an excellent review. It is only three subway stops from La Rambla and the subway station is five minutes from our hotel.
Hotel rooms in Barcelona are expensive and we have scored a good deal.

A four star hotel with an inauspicious lobby, our executive room is on the fifth floor and faces Gran Via. The window opens to allow fresh air and traffic noise, but once closed our room is quiet. Such a lovely day, we slept.
The hop on and off bus stops at Placa Espanya, We purchased two day tickets for 35 Euros.
We had a light breakfast at the hotel but the lukewarm coffee con evaporated milk was a disappointment.
We got off at 92 Passieg del Gracia. La Pedrara: sculpted building by Barcelona's favourite son. Antoni Gaudi. It is another lovely blue sky day.
Casa Milla of the undulating curves and wrought iron balconies twisted like seaweed was controversial back in 1908 but was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. Nicknamed la pedrera, stone quarry, it is a moderniste masterpiece.
Passieg de Gracia streetlamps have curved stonework benches in a Gaudi-esque style - I may try to copy this look with cob. They were designed by Pere Falqués I Urpi in 1906 and are inlaid with broken tile. Now I wonder about who inspired who - both architects were modernists, art nouveau.

Since it is December the streets and store windows were decorated for Christmas. We found the Hermes window with snowmen and ladybugs amusing:

We watched for street signs on the sides of buildings and were soon walking along the most famous pedestrian promenade in Barcelona.
La Rambla was fairly quiet at 10 am Saturday December 3. We enjoyed a proper cup of cafe con lache and bought cookies before hopping on the green line at Catalunya Square.

Palm trees line the boulevards and the parakeets are squawking vigourously. I never saw one though they make their nests in the palm trees. Originally from South America, brought in as pets, they are now a wild population of 10,000 in Barcelona. In 1975 the wild population was estimated at 50!!

The harbour area was sun drenched, people walked, jogged and cycled near the beach.

I like the Old Customs House situated near Port Vell:

Barcelona has an Arc de Triumph. It was built as the entrance of the 1888 World's Fair to welcome the nations.


Casa Batlló is another Gaudi work in central Barcelona on Passieg de Gracia. It is actually a renovation/remodel of an existing apartment building. We can be assured it looks nothing like the original!!

The Torre Agbar skyscraper (33 stories above ground, completed in 2005) is the third tallest building in Barcelona and has a number of nicknames. Here it represents high tech architecture in Barcelona.

I liked the metal sculpture that resembles the Olympic Rings but is meant to depict waves. The Onades (waves) stainless steel sculpture on the seafront is elegantly simple. Designed by Andrew Alfaro the lovely arches grace Placo del Carbo at the breakwater, greeting visitors who arrive by sea.

The Sagrada Familia, the church of the sacred family, designed by Gaudi, is a massive construction site. It has been under construction for 133 years and is a cacaphony of turrets, elaborate chimneys and sculptures rising high above the nearby park where senior men play a ball tossing game.

The little park is shady and peaceful just across the road from the hullabaloo around the massive building site where tourists flock to see what the fuss is about.
I will tell my kids to come when it is finished, maybe in 20 years. It is good to travel in late middle age, things take on a different perspective. Lifelong learning and all of that, walking around, finding your way in a strange city has to be mind expanding. See new things with new old eyes. An enigma.
The Roman Catholic Basilica, Sagrada Familia, could be finished in eleven years. It is the most visited monument in Spain.

When complete it will be the world's largest and most ornate church.
Below is a picture of a picture - the finished product:

Enormous, elaborate, eccentric, extraordinary. Evocative. Gaudi's obsession - he worked on it from 1883 to 1926 when he was hit by a tram and died.
He was dressed in shabby clothing as was his habit in his later years and did not receive the best medical care. Twenty-four hours later when his identity became known it was too late. He had been living in his office at the Sagrada Famillia and is buried in a crypt there.
The Picasso Museum is free all day Sunday so we take the hop on bus there. You must line up to get a free ticket and then signs point the way through the exhibits. Picasso was born in Malaga but spent his youth in Barcelona. The art of these early years is displayed. His interpretation of Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas is here. Works by other artists and acquaintances include Diego Rivera and Matisse.
We roamed around the narrow streets, stopping for tortilla (egg and potato dish) and a wee glass of wine.
There was a Christmas market near the Gothic church and lady beggars with long black skirts lined the stairs leading to Barcelona Cathedral (The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia)
We sat in a side chapel for a bit, then looked around, the mass was shown on tv screens here and there.
Instead of lighting a candle now you put money in a slot and a battery operated candle in a glass enclosure flickers on. I guess the centuries old tradition of actually lighting a candle was a fire hazard, but this new operation has lost all charm.
Barcelona Cathedral is a striking example of Gothic Catalan architecture. Construction began in 1298. On this site had previously been a Roman temple and a Moorish mosque.

There was a Christmas Market set up near the Cathedral. Most items were decorative Christmas tree ornaments or nativity scene figures.
The famous Catalan pooping log was everywhere. The Caga Tió is put to work by Barcelona children on December 8 - it is suppose to be covered with a blanket and beaten with a stick until it poops out presents, often candies.
They also sell pooping figures, caganeres. There are pooping figures made especially for nativity scenes and then, I think, just pooping figures in general because people find it amusing and it has been a tradition in Catalonia for 200 years.

We took the orange line hop on bus, then the green line and finished after dark. We got our money's worth from our two day hop on and off tour. Sunday was cloudy with occasional rain so the open air top of the bus was chilly. We vied for seats on the main floor and I had a sleep.
The earphones with the English commentator left a lot to be desired, I either could not understand or hear half of what was said and most of the time was unsure of what we were seeing. The streets were pretty after dark with the colourful Christmas lights:

We had a light supper in the hotel bar, Rhea had a ham sandwich and I had a beer. We learned the difference between processed ham and Spanish ham. Get the Spanish ham, it is good. Jamon. York ham is like soft processed ham, icky. Spanish or Iberian ham is dry, salty and chewy, and can be sliced paper thin.
Monday. I slept in, we are going to the opera tonight. A city bus that goes to Placa Catalunya stops outside our hotel, two euros fifteen each. We sat on a bench on la Rambla and watched the people.
Another lovely blue sky day.
I admire the interesting bark on the trees that resemble sycamores, the London Plane tree. Such a common street tree in Europe fascinates me with its peeling camouflage bark.
What do you see in the bark? Perhaps it is like reading tea leaves - I see two horses, a rabbit and a ladybug.
We want to make sure we arrive to the Palau de Musica on time so check out the neighbourhood, find the venue, and look through the neighbourhood shops. The Palau is distinctive on the exterior, a moderniste design by Muntaneer, completed in just three years.
Across the street I found the perfect gift for my oldest son, a replica Salvador Dali melting clock. There were also nice souvenirs at the Gaudi shop beside the Cathedral.

The opera, La Traviata, starts at 8 pm, we booked tickets online for 27 Euros each (roughly 41 dollars). A guided tour of the concert hall is 18 Euros so the opera tickets are a bargain.
From the cheap seats on the third balcony we can see two thirds of the stage and the entire orchestra.
Our surroundings are opulent. Stained glass, intricate mosaic, elaborate light fixtures, sculptures, wrought iron, the huge and dazzling skylight with an inverted central dome, a ceiling scattered with plaster roses - wow.
The Palau de Musica, built in 1908 in the Modernista style, is the only concert hall in the world to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
We stopped by a Supermarcat to get juice for tomorrow.
The taxi back to Hotel Ayre was eight euros.
We leave for Antequera by train tomorrow at 830 am! We will walk to Sants Station.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:27 Archived in Spain Tagged buildings barcelona beach spain espana catalonia gaudi mediterranean catalan picasso caganeres seat61 Comments (0)

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