Category Archives: Spain

Spain

 

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The first two months of our European year were spent learning Spanish and exploring Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. Melissa’s sprained ankle slowed our pace, giving us time to savor the mingling of Christian and Islamic influences that make this area special—from the glorious Moorish architecture of the Alhambra to the solemn and penitential processions we saw during Easter Week.

 

 

 

 

Impressions of Malaga

Impressions of Malaga

From Edinburgh, we flew to Malaga (MAH-lah-gah), on the southern coast of Spain, in search of warmer weather. What a contrast in a few hours! Like Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the old part of Malaga has narrow stone streets and tall old residential buildings with bars and restaurants on the ground floors. There’s a great stone… Read More

Malaga — The Basics

Malaga — The Basics

We spent three days in the city’s centro historico in January 2008 getting introduced to the ways of Andalucia (sights, smells, food, language, history). Where we stayed: Hostal Derby on Calle San Juan de Dios (next to the McDonalds on the north side of Plaza de la Marina). A large room with a double bed… Read More

Malaga — Sites We Visited

Malaga — Sites We Visited

Cathedral: The interior of Malaga’s cathedral is a wonderful soaring space, full of gilding and carved wood. The many side chapels offer a mini course in the history of religious art, featuring altarpieces from the 15th to 20th centuries. It’s cool and quiet and awe inspiring. What is most striking about the exterior is that… Read More

Impressions of Granada

Impressions of Granada

Granada–one of the centers of Muslim-ruled Spain from 711 to 1492–is an amazingly beautiful city. But you wouldn’t know it at first (at least not in the winter, when we visited). It’s easy for American eyes to get hung up on the ever-present graffiti, the dog poop littering the cobbled streets (no scooping here), and… Read More

Granada–The Basics

Granada–The Basics

We studied Spanish for two weeks at the not-quite-beginner level at a fabulous school: Escuela Carmen de las Cuevas. Most of this time we just went about our daily lives: studying, managing groceries and laundry, exploring the upper Albaycin neighborhood where we lived. Then we hung around for another week seeing all the big tourist… Read More

Budget Travel Tips for Spain

There’s no question that Europe is expensive, especially for Americans (the exchange rate stinks). But here are a few tips that, so far, have helped us stick to our budget—80 euros per day for the two of us—in southern Spain: -What the Spanish call a “hostal” isn’t a youth hostel in the traditional sense of… Read More

The Alhambra

The Alhambra

The Alhambra: everything you’ve ever heard or seen about this 12th- to 14th-century complex of fortresses and palaces is true. The views from the walls and the interior of the Nazrid Palaces are stunningly beautiful. The detail of the wall carvings (Koranic inscriptions and geometric patterns), the tile mosaics, and the plaster and wooden ceilings… Read More

Some of Our Other Favorite Spots in Granada

Some of Our Other Favorite Spots in Granada

    Upper Albaycin: This district (a long-ago Roman settlement) was the first area of Granada settled by the Moors, starting around 1030. It sits on a hill opposite the Alhambra and predates it by several hundred years. The cobbled streets and alleys are narrow (some barely one meter across) and wind up, down, and… Read More

A New Sound

A New Sound

Never before have I lived someplace where I could doze in the midafternoon on a sunny terrace, lulled by the cooing of doves, when across the torpor cuts the sound of a muezzin calling in the distance: Aaaaaaaalla-hu-akbar, Aaaaaaaalla-hu-akbar. I’ve read about that sound for half my life but never heard it before. Magical.–Chris Read More

Cooling Our Heels (Well, Ankle) in Cordoba

Cooling Our Heels (Well, Ankle) in Cordoba

Cordoba is an ancient city: one of the capitals of Roman Spain and later the center of the first Moorish caliphate in Andalucia (starting in the 900s). Our time in Cordoba started interestingly enough, as we happened to arrive in town on the one of the final days of their Carnival festivities. (These happen all… Read More

Limping Back to the Alpujarras

Limping Back to the Alpujarras

Southeast of Granada lies the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the highest in Spain, providing the city with a (nearly) year-round snowy backdrop. The high peaks are best left to skiers at this time of year, but the steep, arid, terraced valleys along the southern flank–known as las Alpujarras–are a tourist/hiker destination at any time of… Read More

A Week of Quiet Home Life in Orgiva

A Week of Quiet Home Life in Orgiva

Our first HelpExchange, spending a week in February with an older English couple who’ve been in Spain for many years. In exchange for room and board, we’re helping with the cooking and cleaning, working a bit in the garden, forging a few Spanish documents on the PC (the bureaucracy here is amazing), and varnishing/painting a… Read More

A Weekend Oasis

A Weekend Oasis

Our first HelpExchange was a mixed bag, but immediately afterward we had our first experience with Couch Surfing, which was fabulous. Couch Surfing is an online network whose members host each other in their homes while traveling. It can be a great way to meet local people and (of course) to stretch your travel money… Read More

Arriving in Ronda

Arriving in Ronda

You mustn’t think that our traveling life consists entirely of touring old churches and interesting museums, then sitting in a sunny plaza with a mountain view and eating good food while a guitarist plays softly in the background. But our first day in Ronda did. Ronda is the most famous of the pueblos blancos (white… Read More

Ronda — The Basics

We spent four days living in the old quarter (La Cuidad) and exploring old and new Ronda. On our last day, Chris hiked a little; Melissa, whose ankle was still recovering, spent a pleasant afternoon sketching by the edge of the gorge. Where we stayed: Baraka Bed and Breakfast on Calle Ruedo Dona Elvira, next… Read More

Perched in the Mountains

Perched in the Mountains

Grazalema is a magical little town. It’s big enough that you can wander the streets for a few days and still find new spots to explore each time. But it’s small enough to feel quiet and genuine when the bus trippers and car visitors leave for the day. There are three hotels, which range from… Read More

Grazalema — The Basics

Grazalema — The Basics

We spent four days in this pueblo blanco (white village) on the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema nature reserve, 25 km west of Ronda in Cadiz province. We explored the town, took it easy, read and wrote a little, took some photos, and washed our dirty jeans (thank goodness for a third-floor room with… Read More

Surprising Seville

Surprising Seville

We didn’t expect to like Seville–being tired of the noise and dust and crowds of cities–and we very nearly skipped it. That would have been a great mistake. Seville (pronounced Seh-vee-ya), the urban heart of Andalucia, is wonderful. The impressions you get on a balmy March day are of an open, airy, bright city, with pastel-colored… Read More

Seville — The Basics

What we did: Spent four days and nights (March 4-7, 2008) exploring the southern half of downtown Seville and getting a dose of culture unavailable in small towns. As usual, we focused on history, architecture, and art. But this city being what it is, we also spent more time than usual strolling through public gardens… Read More

Seville–Sites We Visited

Seville–Sites We Visited

Cathedral and Giralda—Seville’s 15th to 18th century cathedral is one of the three biggest in the world (along with St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London). The interior doesn’t feel so huge, because the space is broken up by altars (which are in the middle rather than at the end, as in Northern… Read More

Foodie Heaven

Foodie Heaven

Our second Help Exchange was a great experience. We spent 10 days at Finca Buen Vino, a farm and B&B near the town of Aracena, about 75km northwest of Seville. It’s run by Sam and Jeannie Chesterton, who moved from Scotland to Spain about 25 years ago to raise a family (three young-adult children who… Read More

Easter Week in Southern Spain

Easter Week in Southern Spain

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is an amazing time to be in Andalucia. In every city and small town, there are nightly processions in the streets. Brass bands play doleful march tunes in minor keys. Large ornate floats (pasos), decorated with flowers and candles and sometimes silver canopies, bear statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.… Read More

Quirks of Southern Spain

Quirks of Southern Spain

Little things we’ve noted with interest during our travels in Andalucia: –Traditional meal (and restaurant) hours: breakfast between 10:30 and noon, lunch sometime after 2 p.m. (often as late as 4), and dinner at 10 p.m. or later. As a result, you can show up in a nearly empty restaurant at 9:45 and be asked… Read More

Hiding Out for Easter

Hiding Out for Easter

During Semana Santa, Spanish hotels tend to be booked up far in advance and cost a fortune (especially in the big cities). So we were grateful that, a month or two ago, we found a Couch Surfing host for this period. She lives in Vejer de la Frontera, a white hilltop town near the coast… Read More

A Telling Moment in Vejer

Some things are not really talked about publicly in southern Spain: Official plaques, tourist pamphlets, and the like make no mention of the Civil War, Franco’s long dictatorship, or the Spanish Inquisition. But of course such things live in the memory of townspeople. By the main plaza of Vejer de la Frontera, there is a… Read More

Linguistic Amusements

Linguistic Amusements

One of the most enjoyable parts of learning a language is always finding out the odd-to-foreign-ears idiomatic expressions. A few amusing idioms and words: (Spanish – literal translation – English equivalent) no necesita abuela – he doesn’t need a grandmother – someone who brags a lot salir de Guatamala y entrar en Guatapeor – leaving Guatamala… Read More

Flamingos in the Wild West

Flamingos in the Wild West

Our final stop in southern Spain, the town of El Rocio, turned out to be one of the strangest places we’ve ever seen. It’s sized to hold tens of thousands of people, but it has only about 600 residents. The streets are wide (think four-lane-highway wide) but made of sand. Lining them are low white… Read More

Palma de Mallorca

Palma de Mallorca

Much as we love Rome, we’re eager to work on our Spanish. So after our housesit in Rome ended, we headed for Spain. Thanks to a tip from one of Chris’s colleagues at CBO, we decided to explore the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca. The island is a huge summer beach destination, but in March… Read More

Valldemossa: Saints, Sinners, and Sheep

Valldemossa: Saints, Sinners, and Sheep

Often when we plan to travel somewhere new, it’s hard to know where to go because the guide books make so many places sound good. That’s been the case with the Spanish island of Mallorca (pronounced mah-yorka) in the Mediterranean Sea. Do we focus on the mountain villages of the northwest or base ourselves near… Read More

Mallorca Mountains

Mallorca Mountains

In summer, tourists flock to Mallorca for its beaches and bays. This time of year, we came to Mallorca for its mountains. The Tramuntana range runs for 90 kilometers (56 miles) along Mallorca’s northern coast, reaching heights of 1,445 meters (3,757 feet) above the sea. After staying in the village of Valldemossa, in the middle… Read More

“A Cold Country with a Hot Sun”

“A Cold Country with a Hot Sun”

It’s a spring morning in southern Spain. I’m wearing two shirts and a fleece and sitting under two blankets on the sofa as Chris tries to get a fire going in the fireplace. We slept on fleece-y sheets under two comforters last night. There is no central heat, only very feeble electric space heaters. This… Read More

Last Photos from Mallorca

Last Photos from Mallorca

Our last stops in Mallorca were the towns of Pollenca and Alcudia, which sit inland near the heads of twin bays in the northeast of the island. So strategic was the location that the Romans built a sizable city there, called Pollentia (whose ruins, confusingly, are next to modern-day Alcudia rather than Pollenca). The area… Read More

Returning to One of Our Favorite Places in the World

Returning to One of Our Favorite Places in the World

Nine years ago, with Melissa on crutches because of a badly sprained ankle, we came to the southern Spanish village of Grazalema in search of pretty scenery for her to recuperate in. We were charmed by this compact white village of 2,000 people, perched high on a shelf above a rolling green valley and ringed… Read More

Photos of Grazalema

Photos of Grazalema

Pictures from our two-week stay in our favorite village in southern Spain—mountain views, white houses, scampering sheep, fountains with faces, and Chris and Melissa looking goofy in various ways.       Read More

Battle of the Bands

Battle of the Bands

Our last day in Grazalema was a big day for the village—not because of our impending departure but because it was the 12th annual “Encuentro de Bandas de Musica” or, as we call it, Battle of the Bands. Town bands from Grazalema and two other local villages took over the main plaza in Grazalema to… Read More

Beautiful Orange-Scented Seville

Beautiful Orange-Scented Seville

OK, I know I said last month that Rome is one of the best cities in the world for strolling. But I think Seville may be even better. There’s plenty of history and good food and wine. Many streets in the center of the city are pedestrian-only, so you don’t have to dodge cars as… Read More

Seville in Photos

Seville in Photos

For more than 500 years, Seville was ruled by Muslim caliphs and emirs. Since 1248, it has been ruled by Catholic kings. The intersection of those two eras and cultures can be seen most clearly in the center of Seville. The city’s massive cathedral, the third-largest Catholic church in the world, is built on the… Read More

Layers of History in Antequera

Layers of History in Antequera

You know a place is old when the Romans named it Antikaria (ancient city). The current town of Antequera in southern Spain, home to about 40,000 people, is known as “the heart of Andalucia” for its position midway between the cities of Seville, Malaga, Grenada, and Cordoba. We spent the week before Easter there looking… Read More