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Entries about mediterranean

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)

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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