Monday, September 30, 2013

Granada - Monday 9/30

Gloria, Mary, and Ed had some unfinished touring to do today, including the city's cathedral.  My aching feet left me with a "better" alternative - I accompanied them to the city center, took an outdoor table at El Kepab, read a magazine and nursed a couple of beers!

Returning to the B&B, I retreated to Rene's rooftop sanctuary and tried to frame the perfect photo featuring three Alhambras!

I was unwilling to chase another meal downtown, so I convinced everyone to walk up the cobblestone streets and choose a neighborhood tavern.  We found a suitable place (forgot to write down the name) hosted by a pleasant man named Juan.  For starters a ración of cheeses and meats, followed by pans of mixed and seafood paella that was pretty good.

Did you notice that half-full glass of Spanish Cava.   This light sparkling wine -- think "soft champagne" -- became one of my favorite local beverages, second only to cerveza!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Granada - The Alhambra - Sunday 9/29

Vacationing in Spain is a worthy trip, if for no other reason that to view The Alhambra ... savoring views of its massive presence overlooking the city, and witnessing the Moorish styling within its walls.  This is a small collection of photos taken inside.  (If you want to see more, let me know.  We've got hundreds of them!)

Finally, here's the view of our Bed & Breakfast, "Las Tres Terrazas", taken from the Alhambra's walls.

Granada - Sunday 9/29

René serves a simple breakfast at 9:15 AM.
It cannot be earlier because the bakeries open at 9:00AM!

Tea/coffee, homemade jams, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and breads provide a perfect starter for the day.  We hopped on one of the mini-busses that shuttles you downhill and headed "downtown".  The weather is overcast with some light showers.  We welcome this break from the heat, and look forward to a full day of sightseeing

Granada police posted this sign to warn George
to control his camera.

Traveler's Tips:
There's an Alhambra bookstore in the town center; they sell souvenirs but more importantly it's where you go to exchange your admission reservation for the actual tickets.  Ed says that the website issued special pass codes and warnings about what was needed to accomplish the exchange.  In reality, he only needed to present the credit card that was used to make the on-line purchase.

René recommended the audio guide from this kiosk versus the "official" one that's available at the Alhambra.  It's a two-day rental, and includes other sites such as the cathedral.  That sounded good to both Gloria and Mary, so they each paid the 15€ fee.
This audio guide was not without problems:  It frequently switched back to its default language (Spanish), requiring a reset.  And this device's numerical codes do not match the numbers posted at the attractions.  So when you want an explanation of a particular feature you enter a number from the special "This is Granada" map ... not the number that may be posted on a sign.

This "Turkish" place in the main downtown plaza caught my eye, we stopped here to munch on a very acceptable pizza before he heading to the Alhambra for our two o'clock appointment.  (See details in the next post).

Dinner was at a place in the downtown restaurant strip named "La Chicotā".  The waitress was nice, food was great.  We shared the famous Spanish mixed fish fry.

The Catholics of Spain are intensely devoted to Jesus' mother.  We were pleasantly surprised that today was a special celebration: the 100th anniversary of Granada's patron "La Virgin De Las Angustias."

Devotees paraded and celebrated until midnight!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Granada - Saturday 9/28

A young man from La Hospederia de Churrasco rushed into the Cordoba bus station, happy to find us in the waiting area.  He was carrying a battery charger that we had left behind.  Wow, that's some impressive customer service!

Original plans to rent a car for the "scenic" 2-1/2 hour drive to Granada were scrapped in favor of the inexpensive yet comfortable bus ride.  It was a drizzly day anyway, and there's not much to see from the main roads. 

A comfortable Granada taxi delivered us to "La Tres Terrazas", a nice bed & breakfast whose rooms look across the hillside to the Alhambra.  René, our host, took us for a walk in the Albayzin neighborhood.  Steep, cobbled, narrow streets wind through the hillside, giving it a lot of character.

René is from Switzerland; he had once lived in Granada and vowed to return.  Six years ago he purchased his nice residence on the hillside.  There are only two guest rooms; Ed, Mary, Gloria, and I filled it to capacity.

René recommended the restaurant next door, Aben Humeya.  His neighbor treated us well, and we were awestruck by the nighttime views of of the Alhambra.   The dining patio's awning structure created a frame that made it feel like we were next to a spectacular living mural.  Can't wait until tomorrow afternoon when we visit to the huge Moorish stronghold.

The Alhambra dominates Granada's skyline.  Its floodlit walls are breathtaking.

Cordoba - Saturday 9/28

Early this afternoon we will take a bus to Granada.  But there is time in the morning to visit La Mesquita, a huge mosque that was later converted to a catholic place of worship.  The high-ceilinged cathedral rises to the sky amid the sprawl of countless Moorish columns and arches.  The architectural contrast is striking, and reflects the contrasting philosophies of the two religions (which I will leave to others for discussion.)

Guide books told us that admission to La Mesquita was free from 8:30 to 9:30 AM.  We arrived about nine o'clock, and congratulated ourselves for being so smart.  Imagine our surprise when Catholic officials chased us out at 9:30 sharp!!!  (Actually, by that time I had seen enough.  Gloria paid for re-admission, returning to continue her self-guided tour.)
Gloria's application for sainthood was approved.

George was unanimously rejected!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cordoba - Friday 9/27

The four of us shared a taxi to the train station where we boarded an AVE high-speed train.  Next stop: Cordoba!

This is our home for one night: a very comfortable hotel, "La Hospederia de Churrasco".  We are in the ancient Jewish quarter, a perfect place to get lost in the town's winding streets. 

Two blocks from the hotel we found a sculpture which marks the birthplace of Maimonides.  He was a twelfth-century rabbinical scholar and philosopher, who fled the city with other Christians and Jews when life under Islamic rule became untenable.

Cordoba's narrow streets are punctuated with colorful bursts of flowerpots and foliage.

When a restaurant has a name like "Taberna Las Califas" you don't expect to see Italian items on the menu.  Surprise!  We shared a pizza for an appetizer, but then our server helped me to select a Spanish specialty for entreé .... Bull's Tail Stew.  Surprisingly not a bad choice, but that doesn't mean that I'll be ordering it again any time soon! 
Our waiter, Sergio, is a pleasant guy with a good sense of humor

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Back to Madrid" - Thursday 9/26

We returned to Madrid on Thursday evening.  A short taxi ride took us to an area near
Atocha rail station that is noted for its tapas places.  (Tapas are supposed to be inexpensive little appetizer treats that you point at to order.)  We are not very skilled at this; I don't think we chose well.
For instance, this place specialized in anchovies but I was the only one who tried them.

I think that Gloria and Mary were more excited by their visit to this chocolate specialist than they were about anything we saw in Toledo.

"I'll have one of each!"

Toledo (day trip) - Thursday, 9/26

Rail tickets for the comfortable 30-minute ride to Toledo cost just 10€. That's a great value when you consider that a taxi to the rail station costs 6€ !

I've got to admit that my expectations were low; but Toledo turned out to be a very approachable and enjoyable walled city.   Rick Steves says that if you're only going to see one cathedral in Europe, then make it the one in Toledo.   He is correct; this structure is gargantuan, the interior is a cacophony of chapels and shrines that compete with the main altar for your attention.  Generations of wealthy noblemen have funded monumental installations, thereby gaining a final resting place within the cathedral walls.  If you're going to choose your eternal neighbors, one of them might as well be God!

During parades on the feast of Corpus Christi, this monstrance becomes home to the body of Christ.  Artists worked religiously for seven years to complete this meticulous assembly whose components used over forty pounds of gold.

Mummified body parts are prized relics, disbursed by the popes to favored dioceses.  Saint Lucy's hand is housed in this trophy-like container.  


We had lunch at a cute outdoor cafe, "La Flor de la Esquina"...

... after which Gloria went exploring with Mary and Ed.  I rode the funky little tram which circles the city walls, providing many photo opportunities.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Madrid - Wednesday 9/25

Mary, Ed, & Gloria spent the morning searching for fabric stores.  George relaxed in the apartment with his ice and naproxen regimen.
Gloria leads Mary and Ed on a shopping expedition

Mary & Ed then went to the Reina Sofia museum; George & Gloria took a taxi to the Prado.  George walked across the street, taking command of a comfortable seat that overlooked the big fountain in the traffic roundabout in front of the museum.  There he relaxed, reading magazines and nursing a couple of beers until Gloria's art craving was satisfed.

Running low on post-museum energy, we returned to "Cafe & Tapas" in Puerta del Sol.  Gloria and I had eaten here upon arrival in Madrid five days ago.  It's also where she was introduced to her favorite afternoon Spanish beverage:  Tinto de Verano (a carbonated spritzer made with red wine).
Cafe and Tapas switched on the patio misters, and the rainforest atmosphere actually worked to cool things off.  But a tableful of British tourists couldn't handle the ambience, they left in a hurry!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Madrid, Tuesday 9/24

Today was a museum day for everyone except me!  Ed & Mary went to the Prado;  Gloria to the Thiessen.  I'm not a museum fan to begin with, but it was my aching foot that made this decision.
After treatment with ice and naproxen, I walked two blocks to a market where I bought ingredients to prepare this delightful salad for my lunch.

Mary selected a restaurant called Albur, in the nearby Huercas neighborhood.  

Albur was a great choice, especially when compared to this "Toxic Tavern"

Monday, September 23, 2013

Madrid - Monday 9/23 - Walking Tour part 3

Photos are not permitted inside the Royal Palace.  So don't look for any pictures here.
It's easy for Americans to forget that Spain has a Royal Family.  Juan Carlos surprised everyone when he rejected the opportunity to rule, empowering a constitutional monarchy in 1978.

Here's a view of Plaza Mayor:

This restaurant next door to our apartment is a real prize!  Featuring white linen tablecloths, great service, and better prices than those offered at mediocre tourist traps near Puerta del Sol, we highly recommend La Gloria de la Montaña.
Our own gloria poses with a menu from La Gloria de la Montaña

Madrid - Monday 9/23 - Walking Tour Part 2 - The Cathedral

If you like cathedrals, then Spain feels like heaven on earth!  Here's a look at the one in Madrid:

The central nave is refreshingly modern, with a less oppressive feeling than I expected. 

Speaking of oppression, this portrait reminded me of parochial school: