Twilight view of the Alhambra at the Mirador de San Nicolas in Granada
23-May 2015 to 31-May 2015:
We were back at the car park at about 2:35pm. Then, we promptly paid our 1.05 euro to the machine to validate our ticket before returning to our car. As we were all loaded up, I drove up to the machine controlling the barricade, inserted the ticket to open the lever guard on our way out, and then suddenly when I pulled forward, we heard a brief crunch, then next thing we knew, the right passenger mirror was dangling!!!
"What happened?!?!" both of us said and thought together...
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Day 1: IMPROVISATIONS
...eventually the boat would finally dock at around 1:50pm, but we wouldn't be out of the boat with our luggage until about 2pm. After rushing our way past more corridors and another passport control, we then finally learned that we had to hail a taxi to get to our rental car office in downtown Algeciras.
Well, we hailed the taxi at 2:10pm, but then the driver warned us in Spanish that we need to call the rental car office because they were closed at 2pm. And when Julie tried to call, no one was picking up. When we got to the Europcar office five minutes later, we saw that indeed the office was closed and we were pretty much SOL.
It was just our luck that the ferry was well over an hour delayed and that caused us to miss our rental car pickup. In hindsight, we should've spent a night in Tangier, then ferried over to Tarifa (like the tour operator suggested) before shuttling over to Algeciras. Even then, who knows how much delayed that ferry would be, but at least we would've had the option of taking an earlier ferry had we spent another night in Tangier, Morocco.
Now, we were in a bind. No rental car, possibly stranded in Algeciras, and therefore there were no options for the moment. Our Spain part of our trip already started off badly, and we'd have to figure out a way to make things work given the blow that we were dealt...
So after a minute of two of assessing the situation, we realized that we were pretty much screwed out of trying to rent a car out of Algeciras (which would've allowed us to drive right towards Ronda to enable us to spend the rest of the afternoon there). Clearly, that's no longer an option as the phone number shown on their window was only the EuropCar Madrid office and the number on Julie's confirmation was of this office here in Algeciras but no one was picking up because no one was here.
Then, Julie thought quickly and called the Auto Europe office (who were the brokers or consolidators we went with). And when Julie managed to get a hold of some operator by the name of Austin, he then helped us rearrange our car rental to pick up in Malaga. In my mind, I was thinking we were going to show up in Ronda much later than we wanted and it was going to cost us a lot of money to go there by taxi, but at least we wouldn't be stranded in Algeciras without our own wheels.
And so at 2:40pm, we were back in the taxi and we were promptly whisked away from Algeciras to Malaga (which was over 100km). But the taxi driver was jamming on the autoroute and he knew where the speed cameras were so by the time it was 4pm, we ultimately made it to the Maria Zambrano Station (as opposed to the airport), which was where they were able to accommodate our last minute change request.
We paid the taxi driver some 140 euros, which Julie was going to file with the Travel Insurance to try to recover this lost cost from the ferry delay. However, getting back the time was something that was not going to happen.
Next, we had to look around to see where the Europcar office was. We actually went across the street towards the Europcar sign, and even asked inside a supermarket when we realized that this didn't seem to be the right place. Then we went downstairs to the garage and saw that the office was back at the train station. So once we went back, we would finally see the Europcar office at 4:20pm.
It took some time to get settled, but it wouldn't be until 4:40pm when we'd finally get the rental car. Then, after looking for damages, getting the car seat set up, figuring out how to use the voucher to get out of the car park without paying some 6 euros, and then figuring out how to do the reverse on stick shift, it wouldn't be until 5:20pm when we were finally leaving Malaga.
Now we were backtracking on the carretera all the way back to the turnoff for the mountain road leading to the southern approach of Ronda. The drive was actually quite scenic though it was getting late in the day and we knew that our time in Ronda would be very limited thanks to our late arrival.
Nonetheless, our top priority was to check out the waterfall by the New Bridge and Tajo Gorge. And at least do this before it gets dark.
It wouldn't be until about 7pm when we would finally arrive at the Hotel San Gabriel. It took us some trouble to figure out how to even find this place (maybe some 30 minutes or so), but when all was said and done, we managed to unload our stuff at this very charming hotel, and then we would eventually park the car near a different plaza further down the hill in town at 7:45pm.
From there, we meandered about the Moorish Quarter of town, which was pretty quiet and quite touristy given that there seemed to be many more foreigners and locals in this part of town. There were plenty of churches and cathedrals that we superificially checked out from the outside as we continued walking towards the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge).
Then, we walked a little further down the hill before finding another plaza with a nice panorama to the west of Ronda. Someone was playing live music here, and despite the many people enjoying this spot, it had a quaint ambience about it.
Next, we hiked down a well developed but fairly steep path winding down beneath the cliffs towards a handful of panoramas. Once down there, we finally got to see the waterfall flowing well as it plunged beneath the arches of Puente Nuevo. Not since Cascade de Salins
in France did we encounter suched an arched bridge by a waterfall, but this one seemed to have a dramatic flair about it.
We spent a lot of time just trying to capture the scene with the fading light of the day. The shadows were already covering most of the gorge, but the sun was hazy enough behind some patchy clouds to help keep the contrast to a minimum.
Julie and I noticed that there seemed to be some kind of aqueduct running beneath the cliffs and to the side of the falls. We weren't sure if they were genuine aqueducts or if they were more modern things to be used for some degree of water diversion. There was also some hydro scheme down below, suggesting that the river behind this falls should be quite reliable.
Eventually by 8:30pm, we had our fill of the gorge and we started making our way back up to the town. By 8:40pm, we were back on flat land, and then we promptly walked over the Puente Nuevo (checking out the other vistas from there both upstream and downstream) and into the more modern part of town.
It was about 9pm when we stumbled onto the Plaza Socorro, which was quite a happening and neat place as locals were all around and it had a bit of a festive atmosphere. I guess the evening paseo had already begun as this plaza seemed to consist of mostly locals.
Julie was trying to find tapas eateries, and she wanted to go to Tragatapas. Unfortunately, their credit card machine was not functioning, and we had only 20 euros in cash left (the taxi took the rest of our reserve). And since it was too late in the evening, there was no cambio that would be open at this time. Plus, we didn't trust the ATM machines. So in the end, we had to forego this place and settled on Nueva 13.
We had some rabo de toro and calamares, but in the end, the tapas here wasn't as inventive as what Julie was hoping for. Well, at least they took credit card, and it was intimate enough that we could have a sit down dinner before it started to get a little chilly as the darkness of night was over us when we left at 10:05pm.
We were back in the room at 10:30pm, but not before taking a few more views of the gorge over the New Bridge with night lighting. And so ended this very drama-filled and exhausting day. Indeed, it seems like no matter which trip that we go on, there are always moments of drama, and perhaps today's events were just that.
Hopefully, we wouldn't have to go through more of these on this trip as we have another 4 more weeks to go...
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Day 2: RAIN FOLLOWS US WHENEVER IN EUROPE
It was about 6:30am when I awoke to Julie's alarm. Given that yesterday we had such a late start to our time in Ronda, I thought that I might spend this early morning paying the Tajo Gorge another visit to fully experience what there was to that place. And that I would be doing this while Julie and Tahia were getting ready for the breakfast at the Hotel San Gabriel (which costed us 5 euros a pop).
At 6:55am, I went out of the hotel. It was actually a little bit chilly and the lights were still on as the sun still had yet to breach the horizon. Plus, I had noticed that there was some light sprinkles, which caught me by surprise. All this time, I was thinking that Southern Spain had been dry for the last couple of months so surely the long dry Summer had to have already begun in these parts.
But as I made my way back to the familiar overlook, I could see out in the distance that indeed, there were rain clouds above and some of the places further out did have streaks of dark clouds coming down (signifying rain).
Anyways, I continued down the descending cobblestoned walkway, which was starting to get slippery due to the light rain that was starting to come down a little bit harder. Eventually, I'd go past the last turnoff that we took to get the views of the waterfall beneath the New Bridge, and I'd end up at a different turnoff where there seemed to be old walls with arches in them.
It was at this spot that I managed to get a more direct view of both the waterfall and the arches of the New Bridge above it. When I looked out in the distance towards the farm lands and hydro facilities below, I managed to notice an impressive thin arch on the opposite side of the gorge practically beneath perhaps the Plaza de Toros part of Ronda.
I also explored a little bit below the overlook as I noticed more trails descending further into the overgrown depths as that trail started hugging the walls.
When one of the side trails deposited me near an audible (but not photographable) part of falling water channeled by a diversion ditch, I decided that I had probably hit a point of diminishing returns. And so I headed back up at 7:25am. Now, the sprinkles were quite persistent. And eventually by 7:45am, I had returned to the room, where sure enough Julie and Tahia still weren't ready.
During the commotion, I walked with Tahia to the brekkie room, and helped her to the continental-style brekkie. It was pretty minimalist, and I wondered whether this was worth the 5 euros. Anyways, we had met a seemingly large group of seniors and middle-aged folks from Florida. Apparently, they were on some sort of self-organized tour ('cause I couldn't imagine a full-on tour group coming to Ronda or even staying at the charming Hotel San Gabriel).
Nonetheless, we eventually figured out that we were supposed to spread tomato "jam" on toast and put cured ham on top, then eat them together for our quick pick me up breakfast. And with that, we were fed and retreated to our room at 8:50am.
Then, when we knew that our check-out time wasn't until 12pm, we decided to wait out the opening of the Ronda Bullring (since we had lost out on it yesterday thanks to the unforeseen delays).
And then, by 9:35am, we started the walking. And now as we were out and about, the rain was a little heavier but it was on-and-off.
At 9:45am, we were back at the Plaza de Toros, but there seemed to be a lot of Herbie-like cars motoring around Ronda, and a lot of them were gathered at the Plaza de Toros for what appeared to be some kind of race or something called the Trans Iberia III.
Since we were still a few minutes early to the opening of the bullring, we then checked out the overlook of the gorge from the garden in the backside of the bullring. That was a good distraction, because by 10am, we finally had a chance to check out the bullring.
Instead of going through all the exhibits, we just cut straight to the chance and proceeded to go right into the bullring. It was an impressively large circle, and we were busy trying to find ways to get up to the upper terrace where we could take better contextual photos of Spain's oldest bullring.
Looking in the other direction, there were lots of modern buildings in the background which meant a kind of anachronous juxtaposition of old and new.
By about 10:35am, we were done with the bullring, then proceeded to take a few more photos of the matador statue on the outisde.
Then, we walked back to the hotel to finally do the checkout. We'd be back there at around 10:55am, but not before getting a bit wetter from the rains that were now coming down a bit harder.
At this point, Julie and I started to think the same thing... Without fail, whenever we go to Europe, it always seems like we get hit with bad weather. We haven't had one European trip that wasn't adversely affected by rain, and we hope that in this case, it would just be a short passing rain. But given our luck, we weren't holding our breaths.
At about 11:10am, I had fought the rain and made it back to the car, which was parked a few minutes walk away. The intent was to drive back to the Hotel San Gabriel so we could lug our belongings into the car right in front of the hotel.
Then, at 11:20am, we were finally heading out of town. The first priority was to see the Cueva del Gato, which was something I was interested in visiting more for its waterfall than for the cave itself (which by the way looked like a pair of eyes above an open mouth).
We would arrive at the Cueva del Gato car park at about 11:45am after deviating from the A374 to go on the MA-7401. Most of the short drive was during some pretty substantial rain.
nyways, while Julie and Tahia were getting ready, I continued on the trail, which descended some kind of driveway that led to a cafe or hotel. The road was a bit on the slippery side thanks to the rain. After I got down to the hotel, the pavement then gave way to a more conventional dirt footpath as it passed what looked to be a kiosk before going onto some wooden bridge that traversed a river. The bridge itself looked like it was damaged as some parts were so tilted that they also presented slip hazards.
Anyways, after crossing this bridge, the trail then went beneath the railroad tracks under an arched bridge before getting to a spot where I could see the Cascada del Cueva del Gato and its clear pool with a partial view of the cave opening behind and above them.
As I was busy taking photos, there was only one other couple that was coming back from the cave itself (which gave me the idea that we ought to be able to at least get to where they went). Then, Julie and Tahia showed up.
Since the returning couple decided to take photos, we then decided to go up the rocky and slippery (thanks to the rain) path that led right up to the mouth of the Cueva del Gato. There seemed to be some degree of man modification around the falls (making me wonder whether the falls itself was legit) though we couldn't argue with the fact that the cave did indeed yield a passing creek that just so happened to descend in a waterfall beneath its mouth.
However, when we would finally get to the mouth of the cave itself, we couldn't proceed further as the official trail was gone. The signs here did seem to indicate that with some prearrangement with the folks working in or around this area, that it could be possible to go spelunking here.
Upon returning from the mouth of the cave, we started to notice there was another group of folks. And after waiting patiently for one group of four to finish taking photos of the waterfall fronting the cave, Julie, Tahia, and I finally got our turn.
Then, when we finally took off at around 12:30pm, we made our way back up to the car, which we would get to in ten minutes. But as we looked back at the cave (especially from a mirador or lookout just below the car park), I saw a train of people on the trail leading to the cave. I guess we had just beat the rush. Plus, their timing was such that the rain had stopped at this time. In fact, the weather had calmed down when we started to return to the car.
At 12:45pm, we started the drive towards Sevilla. Since we were staying in an apartment in the city, Julie had to call and let the hosts when we were showing up. But aside from that, we would eventually make it into the city of Sevilla and find underground parking at Avenida de Roma at 2:30pm. It felt much warmer here than it did in Ronda plus it wasn't as rainy at the time.
Once we got up from the parking garage with our stuff, we then found ourselves in some kind of plaza that was bustling with activity from tourists and locals alike. Once we got oriented, we found the apartment (Sevilla Central Suites) and finally checked in to our room at 3:05pm. The room was nice and spacious and further confirmed that apartments were the way to go when it came to finding accommodations where we'd spend multiple nights in one location. In this case, we'd have two nights.
Then, after dropping off most of our stuff in the apartment, we then headed back out ten minutes later. But not before we picked up some cold water and some sandwiches with jamon (these cured charcuterie-like meats seemed to be ever present in Spain). Since Tahia was both thirsty and hungry, we briefly had a picnic lunch in the middle of the square.
Finally at 3:55pm, we got back in the car and headed to the Cascadas de Huesna (or Hueznar). I figured that since we still had to visit this waterfall, which was the nearest one we could identify within the vicinity of Sevilla, we mind as well do it on a day like today where rain was off and on. Besides, it was Sunday and most things (including the Cathedral) seemed to be closed on this day or had shorter hours (in which case we were too late).
The drive out of Sevilla was initially on some surface streets (one street was called Avenida de Kansas City?) before hopping on the fast-paced autoroute. It looked like this route headed towards Cordoba, but we'd be doing that town a few days later on this trip. Then, after getting onto the A457 near Carmona (where we left the autoroute), we then headed north on the A455 passing through the towns of Lora del Rio, then Constantina, then finally San Nicolas del Puerto.
It was only after passing through San Nicolas del Puerto did we finally see a sign for Cascadas del Huesna. As we passed through the small town, there was a turnoff onto the SE7101 just to the north. Then at 5:35pm, we finally saw a sign leading to a car park for the Cascadas del Huesna. Even though there was a pretty rutted access path to get to the signed car park, I couldn't believe how busy the car park was (as it was full of cars).
Once we got out of the car, we then started to look for where the trail was. However, it didn't seem to be that well-defined. I had seen that there were more cars and people further down the hill, but there didn't seem to be an official trail linking the two spots. Then, I just decided to follow the paved path towards a power pylon. I wasn't sure if this road belonged to some local company providing power or cell reception, but beyond the pylon, I saw a somewhat defined trail of use through a field then leading to some folks chilling out by a creek.
We asked these folks where the falls was, and they said the best way was to cross the creek. I guess the main waterfall was the first one on the left, but it appeared we would be only at the top of the falls. Anyways, we followed their advice, got to the other side, then passed through (along with other people) a field with an opening in the fence that said something to the effect that passage through there was prohibited. But that didn't deter any one of the people that were here.
Eventually, we found a somewhat decent descent towards another fairly defined trail of use along the creek before reaching a rocky spot that yielded an obstructed view of what turned out to be the first of a handful of Cascadas de Huesna at 5:55pm. Some folks were leaving just as we showed up so we had the spot to ourselves, but we didn't want to change Tahia and Julie getting wet or risking a slip-and-fall to cross the creek to get a better more open view of the falls.
So I did it myself taking advantage of the Gore-tex waterproof properties of the hiking boots. A little after 6pm, I had had my fill of the falls then continued to follow some more trails of use further downstream. It seemed like the trail branched where I first went left, which ultimately led to a second waterfall just downstream of the first falls.
I'd arrive at this second falls at 6:15pm. Though this one was smaller and had some broken stone walls to climb on to get there, there were still a handful of people still enjoying this falls and even playing music.
After this falls (I convinced Julie and Tahia this one wasn't as worth it as the first one when they finally went down the steep hill to get to the access "trail"), Julie and Tahia headed back to the car while I did a little more exploring of the remaining falls here.
At 6:30pm, I managed to scramble to yet a third waterfall, which appeared to be a cascade with lots of young folks chilling out and taking pictures on it. And after leaving this falls around 6:30pm, I then found yet another path leading to a fourth falls whose access was near a picnic area full of folks. While exploring one of the side tracks to see where it went, I managed to scrape myself on one of the sharp branches protruding onto the overgrown path. Not good.
Anyways, the fourth falls (which was upstream from falls 3 and both seemed to be on a different creek than falls 1 and 2) wasn't very impressive though there was an interpretive sign by it. That was kind of the first sign of any bit of "officialness" to this excursion as the rest of the hiking was more like scrambling and following use trails as opposed to more formal trails.
At 6:45pm, I was finally back at the car where Tahia and Julie awaited. Julie and I thought this falls was really more of a place to swim and cool off from the heat of Southern Spain in the Summer. But aside from that, the falls weren't all that impressive.
The drive back was a pretty straightforward affair. We'd eventually get back to Sevilla at 8:30pm, but Julie and I argued over where we should park - the "free" parking near some University as suggested by the hostess, or the Avenida de Roma underground parking which would cost us 18.50 euros per night! Well, we opted to fork over the nearly 40 euros for parking just so we could have some piece of mind that our car wouldn't be broken into even though we could've taken everything out of the car and to the apartment to save that kind of money.
At 8:45pm, we were finally back in the room. Then, shortly after 9pm, we decided to do our little evening paseo, which we could clearly see a lot of people were out and about doing at this time of night. Eventually, we'd be passing by the impressive Cathedral in Sevilla (which was so grand it was overwhelming), where we settled on this place called Alminanta, which was not on the hostess' suggestions list for tapas.
But we settled on this place at 9:25pm because it started to rain fairly hard and we just sought the shelter here rather than go tapas searching elsewhere in the rain late at night.
Well, it turned out that the tapas here were pretty decent, and the price was on the order of 22 euros or so with a 4% tip included (mandatory I guess). Anyways, all of us ate (including Tahia who seemed to enjoy some of the foods that we got), and by 10:15pm, we were out exploring the area around the cathedral in Sevilla.
It was still quite happening all around town here at this time, and though the weather calmed down, it was a good opportunity to experience the evening ambience for ourselves before retreating to our apartment. The tour was dominated by the cathdral though we saw a bunch of pretty happening arcades full of cafes and restaurants. Just wandering about with no real purpose seemed to be the thing to do to capture the magic of the moment.
Then, after seeing the square fronting the main entrance of the cathedral, we then headed back for some late night gelato before finally returning to our apartment at 11:05pm. At this time, all of us were exhausted but we still had to shower, brush and floss, then settle in. So it wouldn't be until well after midnight before we'd finally go to bed.
But there was one last bit of drama in that my portable hard-drive complained of some corruption when the computer was woken up from sleep mode as was the HDD. So from that point on, I just switched all the power management settings for both devices to prevent sleep, and I ran some kind of check disk overnight, which pretty would took all night. And with that, I had myself a worrisome sleep given that I wasn't sure if I had lost all my photos from the trip or not!
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Day 3: THE SEVILLE HIT PARADE
It was 6:45am when I awoke, which was a little before Julie's 7am alarm. Worried about last night that my portable hard drive was corrupted and that I potentially lost all the trip photos taken to this point, it didn't take long for me to shake off the cobwebs and get back on the computer.
Boy was I relieved when I saw that the checkdisk routine that took all night found no bad sectors. And when I rebooted the computer, I could see that I did indeed get back my photos. But just so I didn't take any chances, I also made a backup (on the same HDD though).
Most of the morning was spent dilly-dallying in the room. Julie was busy trying to read TripAdvisor and figure out what were the places to eat tapas. So it wouldn't be until 9:45am when we finally left the apartment and immediately aimed for the Real Alcazar as the first attraction of the day.
Unfortunately, we weren't really oriented and missed the opportunity to get further oriented last night so it turned out that we made a pretty long loop passing through the Barrio Santa Cruz after walking alongside some urban gardens on the northern side of the Alcazar. Eventually, we'd finally get to the Real Alcazar by 10:15am though truth be told, it should've been no more than 5 minutes to get here (not 30 minutes as we had done).
Once we were inside the Real Alcazar, we pretty much saw a crowd of people browsing about the various gardens, quarters, hallways, and courtyards that made the place the attraction that it was. Indeed, it was pretty grand, but the thing that struck Julie and I most was that it pretty much reminded us of a riad on steroids.
Then, it dawned on us.
The thing that made our visit to Morocco feel so exotic was that we actually got to stay in homes that were kind of like smaller scale versions of the Real Alcazar. In fact, we saw so many things about the Alcazar that reminded us of riads such as grand atriums, tiled floors and walls, elaborate arches, etc. that the cultural similarities between Morocco and Andalucian Spain was especially apparent to us given that we had just been in Morocco just a few days earlier.
Indeed, we thought we were in a grander version of places like the Ben Youssef Medersa or the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss all rolled into some elaborate and grand palace that also had all the resource concentration of a Versailles Palace.
The complex itself was quite extensive and it could've easily consumed the better part of a half day just to take in all the rooms, gardens, hallways, etc. that we were allowed to tour. There was even a part of a garden where there was an attractive pool fed by some kind of pipe that poured out water like a waterfall while being backed on two sides by some ornate walls with windows and patterns.
It was a spot where we wanted to chill out and not move for a while, but with all the people around and the fact that we had a lot of stuff to do, we didn't linger for too long. So even though we could've spent at least two or more hours here, our visit ultimately wound up being only an hour long.
At 11:15am, we left the Real Alcazar complex, and then as we headed to the exit, we got a few more attractive looks at the imposing Cathedral next door. And as we looked for the entrance to the cathedral, we saw that there was quite a long line to get in. It made Julie and I balk at doing the cathedral at this moment, but the hours were short enough (from 11:00-15:30) that we mind as well bite the bullet.
And so at 11:25am, we started queueing up to get in. At least half the wait was in shade so it wasn't too bad. Plus, while we were a captive audience, Julie seized the opportunity to exchange some more cash into euros so we wouldn't feel as handicapped as in Ronda by having insufficient cash. It seemed like they gave an exchange rate of $1.20 USD for every euro, which wasn't that great, but at least it wasn't the rip off of $1.33 USD per 1 euro at the airport in Madrid.
Plus, the last part of the queue was at the grand entrance where we got to gawk a little more at the gargantuan scales of the doors and the statue fronting it. It wouldn't be until about 11:55am when we would finally be inside the cathedral, but the overall imposing grandeur of it prompted both Julie and Tahia to say "Wow!" when they first got in.
Tahia was starting to feel both hungry and tired so I caved in and let her ride the child carrier. Then, as we just ambled about the grand interior of the cathedral, I guess the novelty of how big everything was kind of wore off.
In a way, we got the sense that since we had seen many other cathedrals in other parts of Europe, they all started to feel the same way. And this was despite the fact that Rick Steves said the Sevilla Cathedral was the third largest one in Europe.
There were a few hidden little nooks and crannies that the cathedral had let us explore, including the treasures. However, when we were about to leave for lunch at around 12:30pm, we then noticed that there were people going in and out of a corner of the cathdedral near the signpost for Giralda Bell Tower.
It was a good thing we noticed that because we were about to leave the premises without having done this!
So we promptly went up what turned out to be 36 turns (they were numbered, which Tahia started counting them aloud as she saw each numerical sign at every turn). The passageway was wide enough to accommodate bi-directional traffic (unlike most other cathedrals or duomos that we had been to), and that the ascent was really up ramps as opposed to steep stairs. So this setup was good because there were many people going in both directions.
Plus, carrying Tahia up these passages wasn't easy but the layout definitely helped with letting us even take her up there to the near top.
The last turn and ascent was on a single flight of steps so that one had a small queue since it was narrower, but when we finally made it to the top, we could see that the Giralda Bell Tower was packed with people as well as being well named for it had numerous bells hanging above us. Not only that, but it was so busy that just about every opening of the vistas were overtaken by people trying to snap pictures through the cages (to prevent people from falling out of the tower). Thus, we had to wait our turn at every opportunity in order to get in and get our own shots.
The views were quite grand from up here though admittedly, once you get the flavor of the birdseye views, the pictures start coming out flat and uninteresting (or at least they weren't that much different from say the vista over Siena, Firenze, Toronto, etc.
Finally at 1pm, we were out of the cathedral. And since I had been carrying Tahia all this time, I definitely needed a break.
Fortunately, the exit of the cathedral took us onto the street called Hernando Colon, which just so happened to be the street that contained this tapas restaurant that Julie wanted to try out called the Albarama. About ten minutes later, we would finally find the restaurant though we did have some reservations considering that it looked like we were the first ones here.
Still, we just settled in and immediately started writing down the tapas that we wanted to try. As we were ordering then waiting for our food to arrive, we saw that other groups and people started to trickle in. So I guess we also happened to beat the rush.
This place turned out to be the first creative tapas experience that we had had on this trip. We had things ranging from some kind of caviar-topped sea urchin (which we liked so much we got two of these) as well as some kind of fall-off-the-bone pork cheek among others that it was a pleasant lunching experience. The fact that we were able to try so many things without feeling overstuffed or overpaying that it brought us back to the Jose Andreas experience when eating at the Bazaar in Beverly Hills.
In fact, the whole tapas concept really suited the way we like to eat (by trying different things out and being surprised at what we were getting) that it was pretty easy to get caught up and repetitive about having tapas for every meal as each restaurant had different things and did their food their own way.
No, we couldn't do the whole tapas hopping experience since we were less mobile and flexible with Tahia in tow, but even staying put at one restaurant and trying different tapas was good enough for us.
At 2:10pm, we were finally done eating. Next, we would continue to walk northwest as we pursued the mushroom-shaped Parasol Metropol. We had to walk through more charming alleyways flanked by many different clothing stores though one stretch in particular seemed like it was one shoe store after another.
At 2:25pm, we would eventually arrive at the Parasol, which was an impressive canopy if you will that was wavy and held up by columns. Tahia and Julie started to feel a bit tired so they just chilled out under the shade of trees nearby while I did a little more exploring of the small complex myself.
I went up the stairs opposite the street where cars were going back and forth beneath the Parasol. Then, I saw a bunch of kids playing some kind of keep-away using their feet like they would playing soccer. Meanwhile, I just took the opportunity to try to compose more photos of the Metropol given its unusual architecture while providing shade from the pretty warm sun.
At about 2:45pm, we were done visiting the Parasol. Julie wasn't that impressed with this place given that it seemed pretty modern. But it was still an unusual place that drew our camera clicks, including family shots using Julie's selfie stick.
Eventually at 3:20pm, we were back in the apartment. Just as we arrived at the room, I went to the bathroom as my stomach hadn't been feeling too well. And it turned out that I would have another bout of diarrhea. So I was confined to the bathroom while Julie was busy trying to reconcile the confirmation of a flamenco show that we were going to attend at the 5pm showing.
Anyways, once that was done, Julie conked out and Tahia was busy messing around (refusing her siesta). Meanwhile, once I got out of the bathroom, I immediately resumed the touring of the Plaza de Espana, which we knew was a film location of one of the newer Star Wars movies. But since it was 3:50pm when I had got out the door, I was a little concerned about doing the place justice while still getting back in time to leave for the showing.
So as I was out and about, it turned out that I wasn't as oriented as I thought I was and I took a slightly more roundabout way of getting to the Plaza de Espana by walking near the river before realizing my mistake. But eventually, I'd arrive at the Plaza de Espana by 4:10pm, and that was when I knew right away that both Julie and Tahia were really missing out!
Indeed, the square was very grand and semicircular. Inside the massive square was a lot of empty space with patterns on the floor. In one concentric half-ring, there were small little basins that curved with the curvature of the imposing buildings behind. There were also mosaic-tiled railings surrounding the basins as well as some impressive towers at both ends of the semicircle as well as a grand palace-like building in the middle. And in the middle of all of this empty space was a large fountain.
Indeed, I could totally see why this place was the stand-in for the Republic in those Natalie Portman Star Wars movies. The resemblance was uncanny, and it was clear where George Lucas got his inspiration rooted in reality.
I did what I could to try to capture the experience, but I was running out of time and had to leave by 4:25pm. And even that felt like I'd be cutting it close.
But knowing what I knew now, I then took a more direct approach back to the apartment. Along the way, I saw the open-air parking for free that the lady working the apartment told us about. And that was too bad because I saw what a big lot it was, and we could've really saved ourselves nearly 40 euros in parking.
Oh well, it wouldn't be until 4:40pm when I arrived at the apartment just when both Tahia and Julie started to come out of there. Apparently, Julie was freaking out that Tahia had come out of the apartment by herself as she was asleep. We were very lucky not that she wasn't abducted!
Now, it was time to go find the Museo del Baile Flamenco for our reserved 5pm showing. It turned out that it took some time to find the place once we got past the cathedral. And when we finally asked for help as it appeared that we had overshot it, we'd ultimately make it to the museum at 4:55pm.
And we were pretty much just in time for the showing despite our brief moment of getting lost.
Well, as for the show itself, perhaps the most compelling part of the traditional flamenco performance was the first act when both the man and lady were dancing together. There was a singer dressed in black in the background as well as a guitar player with some nifty fingers both providing the background music to the dancing.
The rest of the acts consisted of a guitar solo as well as solo flamenco dancing performances by the lady herself then by the man by himself. There wouldn't be a combination of the two until the very end, and even that was pretty brief.
But since I had done some reading so I knew what to expect out of a traditional flamenco performance, I knew all along that flamenco dancing was more about the facial expressions, the movement, and the stomping of the feet, snapping of fingers or castanets, and clapping or vocal injections to act as musical instruments to complement the story that was trying to be told. Some of the foot stomps were so frequent and so fast that it was like they sounded like machine guns. In a way, it kind of reminded me of how the gestures of hula dancing in Hawaii was like though flamenco certainly had its flair.
I don't think Julie nor Tahia was that into the show since they didn't seem to understand it (or at least it wasn't quite what they were expecting from the stereotypical flamenco performances that might have led us to believe it was one thing when it really wasn't). And Tahia was already asleep after the first act.
At 6:15pm, the show was over. Indeed, the performance was intense, but now we could be out and about and after telling Julie how much she missed out on Plaza Espana, that was where we were headed next. It looked like there was already a queue for the next showing, and we also noticed some strange sign next to the entrance saying that this place was "Chinese Friendly", whatever that meant.
But first, Tahia was really fussy since she complained that she was tired. She insisted that we carry her, but we didn't have the carrier with us. So we briefly pacified her with an helado (ice cream), and we were back at the apartment at 6:45pm. That was when I realized that somehow I had lost one of the key cards to the apartment.
I didn't know how much we'd be charged for this, but there wasn't much we could do about it now. Anyways, we then promptly went back out the door and proceeded to walk to the Plaza Espana where we'd finally be there at 7:15pm. The whole time Tahia was complaining once again that I didn't carry her, but that wouldn't be until afterwards since we knew we wanted to have family shots at the grand plaza.
Indeed, once Julie finally saw the Plaza de Espana, she too was drawn by the imposing grandeur of the large semi-circular square.
At the time of our arrival, the late afternoon sun was hiding behind a patch of clouds so the reddish colors didn't come out of the buildings as much. But eventually as we were busy just taking this place in, the sun did manage to show itself as it was approaching sunset.
That was when we had our most compelling photos, and it was also when we made use of Julie's selfie stick to take some memorable family photos. Eventually we would leave at 7:45pm (now with me carrying Tahia in the carrier again), and this time we were headed to the Torre del Oro, which was the last of the sights we wanted to see before calling it a day and going to dinner.
Well, it wasn't until about 8:05pm when we did get to the Torre del Oro (which was not far from our apartment). But it was kind of a "meh" kind of attraction. I guess we showed up too late to take advantage of the Monday free entrance thing that the lady at the apartment had told us about. I'm sure that could've yielded some decent elevated views of both the Cathedral and Alcazar.
Anyways, we took our shots, then crossed the street again, and proceeded to look for a dinner spot. Julie had raved about wanted to eat tapas at Casablanca, but it looked like they were just setting up for dinner when we got there. So Julie decided to keep going to this Italian place with good reviews, which we knew that Tahia would eat something considering Italian food tended to be children friendly.
But as we were passing by the north end of the cathedral once again, we noticed this place called Don Juan de Alemanes that caught Julie's eye. It turned out that they not only served pretty creative tapas, but they also served spaghetti so Tahia would eat it.
Sold. So we decided to eat here at 8:25pm instead for our last night in Sevilla. And it turned out that we would order about 7 different tapas as well as a sangria. Perhaps the best dish of the lot was a foie gras with truffle-infused potato underneath it. That was smooth and it was worth the wait as it was the last dish that came out. It was also the most expensive dinner that we had to date at around 40 euros (or $50 USD), but we thought it was worth it in this case.
At about 9:35pm, we had left the restaurant and then headed back to our apartment. On the way back, Julie and Tahia noticed some kind of outdoor art gallery that contained a bunch of black and white photos of places that seemed familiar to us from around the world. I believe they were by Sebastiao Salgado, and from what I could tell by the Spanish sign, these works were meant to explore the genesis of our natural world as well as make us aware of how fragile it is.
All of us were quite tired from such a long day of touring. So we ended up crashing after showering and tending to our dental hygiene. Of course, we still couldn't find the missing second key card, and that was disconcerting because we weren't sure how much we'd be charged for it. But if we can't do anything about it now, there was no use crying over spilled milk.
Indeed, our Sevilla Hit Parade finally ended, and now we had Granada to look forward to tomorrow...
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Day 4: OF TAGINES AND SOUKS
It was 5am when I awoke. There was a buzzing mosquito inside the room that went by my ear and woke me up. So I spent the time getting caught up on stuff that I meant to do last night but couldn't because I was so dead tired.
Eventually at 7am, Julie got up and she tended to her hygenic needs before wrapping up her packing. The rest of the early morning was spent cleaning up the apartment in addition to the packing. We figured we shouldn't be charged for the cleaning fee, but we might get charged for losing a keycard.
Ultimately at 9am, we checked out of the room. The lovely receptionist wasn't there, so we followed the instructions and left the keys on the table in the apartment. At that point, I went straight to the car park, loaded up the car, then waited for Julie and Tahia to come down to the car as they were getting breakfast on the go.
By 9:25am, we were finally leaving the car park and headed to Granada.
The drive out to Granada was mostly uneventful and smooth thanks to the relatively sparse traffic on the highways (carreteras). We made a couple of restroom breaks because Tahia was constipated.
And while Julie and Tahia were doing their deeds on the first restroom break, I snapped a few pictures of the rows upon rows of sunflowers as we just so happened to be stopped near a large field of them. We had actually seen many more of these earlier in the trip both between Ronda and Sevilla as well as on the way to and from the Cascada de Huesna. They were clearly farms (we weren't quite sure what was being produced - sunflower oil? seeds?), but it prompted Julie to think that these were the REAL flower fields as opposed to the more contrived one in Carlsbad, CA.
Julie noticed the same thing when she got out and braved these annoying swarming gnats to take a few more photos on her camera. I had to retreat and stay in the car with the doors closed to keep them from covering my face.
But eventually at around 12:30pm, we would drive into the centro of Granada. Now, given the parking situation at our place, which was the Arte Vida Suites, we had to follow their instructions carefully, which involved us driving into camera-enforced restricted zones.
Ultimately, after making one loop (from missing a particular confusing turn), then inadvertently pissing off one of the local tram drivers from apparently preventing him from passing me as I was slowly trying to get to where we needed to go, we'd ultimately get onto Calle Recogidas, then Calle Angel Gavinet, then Calle San Matias, then finally onto the narrow Escudo del Carmen, where we'd eventually arrive at the Parking Gambo at 12:55pm.
This was where we were supposed to park for the accommodation which was just a few minutes walk from this parking spot. However, the attendant told me that the Arte Vida parking was the next level down. The top floor was for the larger hotel that shared parking spaces with Arte Vida. That said, I could already see that parking was really tight down there, and even maneuvering between columns and other cars was pretty tricky.
At 1:10pm, we checked into the Arte Vida Suites and Spa, where the manager had pretty good command of English and he had his recently hired receptionist explain stuff to us while showing us the room. Once we got that done, I had to go back downstairs and follow the receptionist back down to the car park where she'd guide me towards my assigned parking spot (210), which was one level below just as the attendant had said earlier.
As I vacated the spot belonging to one of the patrons of the other larger hotel, I tried to keep to my lane then make an extremely tight turn down to the lower level. However, there was a hideously positioned column that made the left turn extremely difficult with the car that we were driving. It might have made it in one or two shots with a smaller compact car, but our intermediate sized one was hard to maneuver here.
It ultimately got to a point where I managed to slightly scrape the left side of the car against that hideously-positioned column. And then it was suggested by the attendant to back out and go against traffic on the closer lane, which was easier to clear. That would be something to consider the next time we would have to re-park the car tomorrow (when we drive out to Las Alpujarras and back).
It was 1:45pm when I finally parked the car, then I followed the receptionist back to the suites. While doing this walk, we made small talk, and I learned that she was from Barcelona. I joked that "oh, so you are not Spain" since that seemed to be the motto of Catalonians based on what I had read going into this trip. She also explained to me that speaking Catalan is more similar to Spanish than say Euskaran or Gallego.
It took us some time before we started to set out. The reason why was because Julie was trying to figure out how to use the laundry machine since we desperately needed to do it. I was also having difficulty trying to recharge the battery on my laptop, which the default plug was struggling to do. I wasn't sure if it was the adapter that was having problems or if the power pin inside the laptop itself was having connection issues. Regardless, I needed to at least rule out (or use) the switching the power adapter option.
So a different receptionist that we happened to encounter at 2:35pm was willing to show us El Corte Ingles, which was a department store that was sure to have an electronics section. And so she patiently walked us a few blocks back down Calle San Matias towards some more modern part of town before we saw El Corte Ingles. At that point, she was out on her way while we entered the department store hoping that we might pull a rabbit out of a hat on this one (once again, drama always seems to rule on our trips).
Eventually after asking around and trying to convince people in Spanish that we weren't looking for a plug to switch to European plugs, we'd eventually have some kind of solution with different-sized plugs. So we bought that, and then we headed over to one of the blocks where we knew there were tapas restaurants.
Ultimately at 3:25pm, we would up eating at the Nuevo Restaurant in Calle Navas. It was pretty much a random place that we picked out as walking by one restaurant after another started made it difficult to tell one restaurant from another let alone figure out which ones we could remember.
So it turned out that we might have gotten a little bit too much food at this place for such a late lunch (maybe 5 different dishes). The food was descent though honestly we were starting to get tired of tapas at this point.
At 4:25pm, we left the restaurant then promptly headed back up to our room. That was when we learned that the laundry was still going on because when we left, we took the keycard with us so the machine stopped working. So I guess the plan of doing laundry while we were out wasn't going to work unless we left one of the keys in the room.
I also took this time to try out the power adapter bought from the department store Corte Ingles. It turned out that one of the plugs did work, but I had to position the plug in such a way that it would make contact to complete the circuit (and thereby charge the laptop). That was worrisome because it suggested the problem was with the power pin on the laptop side and not the plugs. Fortunately, the replacement one we bought had a thinner outer shell so there was some wiggle room to try to complete the circuit. Hopefully, this would do for the remainder of this trip, in which we still had nearly another four weeks to go.
Anyways, it wouldn't be until 5:40pm when we finally started exploring town and getting oriented. We began by walking towards the Plaza Nuevo, which was an interesting-but-subdued public square. We then followed the creek towards some random lookout with a statue.
When we looked at our maps, we saw that we had overshot the recommended walking path towards the San Nicolas Viewpoint, which was the most famous one given its view of the Alhambra backed by the mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
It took us some time to figure out the correct alleyways, steps, and narrow passages to walk, but ultimately at 6:30pm, we would finally make it up to the Mirador San Nicolas.
It was quite busy up here because I'd imagine a large majority of the folks here would wait it out until sunset to get their view of the Alhambra. Keeping people occupied were a group of buskers trying to keep the tourists entertained enough to get them to give them propinas (tips) for their entertainment.
The view here was nice, but it was hard to capture in photos given how wide the palace of the Alhambra was, and given how there were many heads from other folks sitting all across the barrier marking the edge of the mirador (which was really a small square in front of some convent).
Now there were a lot of benches occupied by trinket sellers so even though the views from the ground were somewhat intruded upon by buildings and heads below (so the view was never really totally clean here), there were limited chances to stand on a stone bench and try to improve the view provided one was opportunistic about competing for a spot on one of these benches with these trinket sellers as well as other tourists looking for the same thing.
I guess from a photography standpoint, it really required being selective on what to capture. There was absolutely no way to capture it all without things getting in the way despite the temptation to try to do it.
After a while, we figured that there were only so many ways to compose a photo of the same thing with the same obstacles over and over again with slightly different lighting or clouds backing the scene. So that prompted Julie and I to think that we couldn't sit around here until sunset, and by 6:50pm, we left.
Next, we followed the Rick Steves route in reverse, which involved going down more narrow streets and stairs. We started to wonder if we'd ever get to the part of the Albayzin Quarter that earned it UNESCO World Heritage Status, because so far, it just seemed like any other set of narrow streets in Spain. At least there were some partial views of the Alhambra along the way.
Then, at about 7:15pm, we then entered what appeared to be the familiar souks that we had been accustomed to seeing in Morocco. However, in this instance, it wasn't as bustling nor as crowded as the ones in Morocco. Nor was it priced like the stuff in Morocco (indeed, in euros, we wouldn't be getting the deals that we were getting before). Well, at least these souks indeed had the visual feel of what we had seen in Fes and Marrakech, and to a lesser degree Chefchaouen. Moreover, there weren't touts or agressive folks trying to get your attention and get you into their shop.
By 7:30pm, we ultimately decided to eat at this Moroccan restaurant called Teteria Kasbah. Julie and I were getting tired of tapas and we were missing Moroccan food and tea. And once again, we had no disillusions about getting Moroccoan prices (where some of our meals were able to feed four people for just roughly $6 USD).
In the end, we had the familiar chicken tagine and chicken b'stilla (pastela) as well as a couple of cups of Moroccan tea.
Unfortunately, the tagine was not the fresh fall-off-the-bone types we had been spoiled with in rural Morocco. And the b'stilla seemed to be mushier than the crispier contrasting one we had in Morocco.
This prompted Julie to say that we should really stop comparing this experience at the Albayzin to Morocco. I guess nothing really compares to the real thing when you think about it. But then again, I guess it kind of showed to us how much we were missing the Moroccan experience.
Anyways, by 8:30pm, we left and proceeded to walk towards the Cathedral and Royal Chapel. By 8:45pm, we meandered in front of the cathedral, which was impressively grand, especially since it was now bathed in near sunset glow. It also appeared that we were able to go inside the cathedral, but it seemed like there was some kind of private function going on inside.
So we didn't linger for too long in there though we could see right away how grand the interior was given the towering arches. But from the outside, it seemed like a pretty nice place to take photos all around even from a block or two away from other neighboring squares.
At 9pm, we then arrived at the entrance for the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel). It was closed now, but we determined that we ought to go inside on another day (probably Thursday).
Next, we were ambling about some dining areas where it was one tapas bar or restaurant after another. It had a sort of happening ambience, and we could see there were a bunch of locals and some tourists joining in on the atmosphere. Little did we realize that we stumbled upon the Bib Rambla area, and it was here that we made a spontaneous stop at some churreria that had chocolate con churros.
We had another craving of it, and so we decided to sit down at a cafe that was titled "Alhambra" though there seemed to be more than one of these at 9:20pm. The churros looked more like sao-bing-you-tiao, which we would dip in this bubbly chocolate syrup, and after we all ate it up (including all the chocolate), it was finally time to go back to the room.
I had a feeling that I might pay for it with heartburn given all the fried stuff that we had had on this day, and sure enough, when we finally got back to our room at 9:55pm, my heartburn was definitely acting up. Meanwhile, Julie was brewing some tea for me to try to help loosen up the grease in my system and wash it further down my gut. And on top of that, we were trying to wrap up our multiple loads of laundry.
Indeed, it was probably going to be a long night with limited sleep given that tomorrow, we'd have to drive out to Las Alpujarras as a day trip. And so ended this scouting day of Granada. Next up, the white towns and the Sierra Nevadas...
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Day 5: SAN NICOLAS REGRETS
It was about 6:30am when I awoke (without Julie's 7am alarm again). This time, I couldn't go back to sleep because I was actually worried about how tight things were in the car park. So figuring that it was futile to waste time trying to catch more winks until Julie's alarm, I was checking on the clothes that were supposed to be drying overnight.
Well, it turned out that most of the clothes in this load were still not dry. So I just put in another 30 minutes for good measure.
It wouldn't be until about 7:55am when we were leaving the Arte Vida for our excursion for today, which was a visit to Las Alpujarras, which were picturesque white towns clinging to the Sierra Nevada Mountains (the very same mountains backing the Alhambra in Granada). Tahia was quite cranky when she woke up (as usual) so we quickly tried to pacify her with promises that she could sleep in the car or get some goodies to eat for brekkie.
Anyways, traffic was already getting pretty hectic this early in the morning, but the navigation through to the outskirts of the city were pretty straightforward with a GPS. And within about 20 minutes or so, we would ultimately get onto the A44 autoroute towards Motril.
Once on the autoroute, it was pretty smooth sailing. I even noticed how the Cadena-100 radio station seemed to follow us around (must be a national popular station though not really my cup of tea). Eventually at 8:30am, Tahia claimed that she needed to poo so we found the nearest roadside stop (I didn't need diesel at the time plus the prices were quite a bit higher than what we expected). Julie picked up some junk food because the cafe at this stop still was't open yet.
Five minutes later, we left the stop and continued smoothly along the A44 until we left la carretera and into the curvy roads of leading to Las Alpujarras and the Sierra Nevada. The drive was pretty uneventful as both Julie and Tahia were lulled back to sleep (to get caught up on sleep I guess) while I was concentrated on the turns. At least the road was wide enough to accommodate bi-directional traffic.
The sun was somewhat against me and the shadows were long. So we didn't make any stops along the way even though we knew that perhaps on the return, there would be some opportunities to make up for what we skipped this early on.
We were passing through towns like Olgivas, Pampaneira, and more. However, at 9:25am, I spotted what appeared to be some kind of mountain goat with long horns. Julie happened to see it too, and figured that we must be pretty high up to even see have this kind of a wildlife encounter. It somehow reminded me of bighorn sheep, but I knew those tended to have rounded horns. This one had long horns, and perhaps was some kind of ibex or something.
Anyways, the moment passed by too quickly and I couldn't capture it while driving. That was too bad.
At 9:35am, we finally made it to the Fuente Agria. It was just east of the town of Portugos. And we were practically the only ones there except for a backpacker who was walking about checking out the church right next to where we parked, then continued on his way (maybe he already saw the waterfall?). Nonetheless, it took me some time to figure out where the waterfall was in the first place as I went down some of the steps near the small car park and just saw some little bridges.
But then I saw a "Chorreron" sign and continued down past a small picnic area before going down more steps into the rather shady and secluded Fuente Agria, which was more of a tiny spring area with a small 5m waterfall, and lots of reddish-colored rocks probably deposited by the minerals of the stream itself. The shadows were still long at the time so we involuntarily took long exposure photos.
Still, Tahia seemed to enjoy the place and we did what we could to take people shots (Julie left the selfie stick in the car) on my camera as well as on hers.
At 10:10am, we were back in the car. Going up those steps made me realize that in our relative altitude, the air was still a little thinner here so I was momentarily out of breath.
Next, we drove another half hour before finally arriving in Travelez, which we determined would be our turnaround point for our little jaunt into Las Alpujarras. Admittedly, we went into this excursion not really knowing what the main sight to see was nor what was the main allure of the entire Alpujarras area. All I knew was that it was one of the top experiences of LP (Rick Steves made no mention of it), and that there was a bit of history with it as well.
So we randomly drove up and parked at the Barrio Alto (also had the choice of Barrio Bajo and Medio) at 10:40am. Tahia complained that she had to poo again so we walked around quickly and randomly stopped at this humble cafe with a handful of locals all watching Spanish daytime TV. We felt like intruders stumbling in on this place, but we came in with the intent to use the toilet.
Well, we also went ahead and just ordered a couple of raciones (the Spanish spoken here was a little harder for me to understand) just so it wasn't like we used the facilities and left. So we ended up with an impromptu late breakfast of local Travelez ham (I knew they were famous in this area) and local cheese with olive oil. The bread that came with all this was very tasty and it costed us a total of 10 euros, which was very fair compared to the prices we were paying in the cities.
Even Julie liked the ham (though she took the trouble to take off the fat) saying it was no where near as salty as the kinds of jamones we had before.
And with that, we then meandered about the town some more. I was determined to look for a mirador that would give me a view over the pueblo with a mountainous backdrop.
But Julie and Tahia didn't seem that interested in this town nor any of the Alpujarra region as she was jaded by the Chefchaouen experience where if nothing came close to the charm of that place, then other mountain villages and towns would be a fail.
So they went back to the car while I meandered about looking for the mirador on my own.
Eventually, after speaking with a local and asking about the nearest mirador. Eventually, I was pointed to the Mirador Era de La Fuente, which was about a 15-minute walk up a small cascade ON the walking path itself to a circular lookout with lots of tiny wildflowers growing between the gaps in the stone surfaces.
From there, I got my views over the upper Travelez, though I wondered if there were more miradores. Instead, I headed back down into town before rejoining the impatient Julie and Tahia. I guess they had had enough of the town and area so it was now time to return to Granada and see and do things in the city on a more relaxed pace. I decided to give up on finding Mirador de la Cruz.
So at 12:05pm, we left Travelez and started driving out. Along the way, we made spontaneous stops where it seemed like there were small pullouts or more formal miradores to check out the scene of white towns clinging to the tall mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
We ended up making brief stops just outside Travelez, then at Busquistar, then a quick stop at Mirador Portugos (which had interesting outdoor exercise machines that both Julie and Tahia enjoyed), a stop by some service station at Poqueira (sp???), then finally a stop at Pampaneira. In the latter two stops, there were gorgeous views of two white towns (Bubion and Capileira) looking up towards the last bit of snow at the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
Finally, we left Pampaneira at 1:15pm, and then it was time to drive back to Granada. By this point, I was starting to fight road fatigue. Fortunately, Julie noticed this and gave me some stuff to munch on (bananas and what was left of the not-so-good pound cake) as we got out of the curvy roads and into the autoroute headed back to the city.
There was quite a bit of traffic (mostly at the roundabouts) when there was way too much cross traffic going on at the off-ramp. So in the end, we had to use a bus (that blocked my view of oncoming traffic anyways) as a screen, then go out onto the roundabout as directed. Once we got off onto the Calle Recogidas, we then went up the familiar roads to Angel Gavinet then San Matias before getting onto the narrow Escudo del Carmen before finally arriving back at the Parking Gambo at 2:50pm.
Again, Julie helped me navigate through the parking area as well as parking in the narrow spot given how tight things were, but we managed much better this time than I did yesterday.
At 3pm, we were back in the room, where Julie tried to wrap up the laundry duties while I was in a state of constipation or diarrhea (my stomach wasn't appreciating me on this trip). Anyways, it wouldn't be until about 3:40pm when we headed back into town. The day was much warmer than it was yesterday, and we noticed there would be fewer clouds so we mind as well check out the San Nicolas Viewpoint and this time wait it out for sunset and the twilight magic hour thereafter.
But first, at 3:55pm, we had lunch back at Bib Rambla. This time, it was one of the random outdoor seating spots, where one place offered 9 euro pizza (to pacify Tahia) as well as six tapas for one drink all for 12 euros. I think it was called Restaurante Asador. I still wanted to do one of those things where you have a free tapa with a drink purchase, but Julie didn't seem that interested in it, especially if we couldn't sit down and eat given Tahia was with us.
The tapas were pretty good and creative, but Tahia's pizza sucked. And while it took Tahia time to eat, I was finding myself starting to doze off a bit. Maybe I needed a siesta myself.
Anyways, at 4:40pm, we left the restaurant and ten minutes later, we entered the Capilla Real. Since they didn't allow photos or videos, we could only gawk at all the wealth that they concentrated in this one place (which happened to be the final resting place for both Ferdinand and Isabella - the monarchs whose marriage essentially "united" Spain as opposed to remaining a bunch of disjoint regions).
At 5pm, we were done, and since we couldn't capture the experience, it was kind of disappointing (though Rick Steves liked it). I guess different strokes for different folks.
Next, we slowly walked towards Plaza Nueva where we went into the Tourist Info center for a better map, then took the C1 bus up to the Mirador San Nicolas. We'd ultimately get there at a little after 6pm as it was clearly too hot to be walking up.
Mirador San Nicolas always seemed to be a people magnet with tourists and hippies. It had the same festive atmosphere as it did yesterday. And most of the people up here weren't even speaking Spanish except for the buskers and a few locals lingering around.
We then made a reservation for 7:30pm at this restaurant called Estrellas de San Nicolas knowing they seemed to have the best view in the area since the restaurant was elevated above the rooftops and heads of people at Mirador San Nicolas.
Yet it was only about 6:35pm at the time so we decided to chill out over Moroccan tea at this place called El Huerto de Juan Ramas. Again, we were just vegging about, Tahia was being restless as usual, and in hindsight, we probably should've visited the Great Mosque nearby. Oh well, you live and you learn I guess.
Ultimately at 7:35pm, the doors finally opened for us to get into the Estrellas Restaurant. They seated us kind of by ourselves at a table next to a window. In hindsight, we should've insisted on sitting up at the terrace for the best views and just chilling there through sunset and the twilight hours.
The food was actually pretty good albeit pricey (we were definitely paying for the views here), and I realized the whole woulda-coulda-shoulda syndrome when I went up there to take photos myself. Then, when we were finally done eating at 9pm, it got busy up there and taking photos became awkward and kind of messing with other peoples' dinners and the waiters' routes.
We left the restaurant at 9:10pm then rejoined the chaotic ambience of the Mirador San Nicolas. From there, I had to once again contend with heads and crowds of people, and I was really kicking myself for not insisting on being seated at the restaurant's terrace so we could get the best photos with the best light. Argh!
At least on the flip side, Tahia was busy entertaining random folks who also happened to be at the mirador. In one instance, there was a group of young ladies (hailing from New York City, Philadelphia, and other parts of the east coast from what we learned) who really took to interacting with our little girl. I guess the Elsa shirt and socks plus her wanting to get attention from them while speaking kid gibberish about Elsa kind of kept everyone entertained until the sun was really setting.
Ultimately at 9:45pm, we were done with the sunset views and the twilight views (which happened after sunset) when the lights of the Alhambra got turned on, and we got the soft purplish light on the Sierra Nevada mountains backing the whole scene. Again, I couldn't take whole panoramas given all the other artifacts that got in the way at the free viewpoint.
Then, we quickly made our way down back towards the Bib Rambla part of town via the route recommended by Rick Steves through the Albayzin quarter. It was definitely getting dark so we were concerned about taking a wrong turn and subjecting ourselves to a compromise in our safety, but eventually we'd follow where most of the people were going, and we'd ultimately get through the familiar souks, then to the familiar happening part of Bib Rambla, before finally arriving at our room at 10:15pm.
And so ended this day where the original plan was to spend the day in La Alpujarra, but it wound up being another day fully experiencing the San Nicolas viewpoint. Thinking that we had done all there was to do without actually doing the Alhambra yet, we thought tomorrow would be a pretty easy day.
That was until Julie checked TripAdvisor and now wanted to add Sacromonte, La Basilica de San Juan, La Madraza, and that Great Mosque we could've visited today, all before going with our scheduled visit to Palacio Nazaries and the rest of Alhambra for the entire afternoon. Clearly, something would have to give as we couldn't do it all in a day. Why didn't we do some of these things today when we had the time?!?!
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Day 6: BEST FOR LAST
It was 7:15am when I awoke. I awoke naturally without an alarm, and I think Julie did the same too as I didn't hear her alarm go off. Even despite the relatively early wake-up, I felt like I had slept in last night though everyone was pretty much conked out from the time we had returned to our room at 10:15pm.
Most of the morning was spent folding clothes and packing. Tahia managed to get up pretty refreshed and not cranky since she had an opportunity to sleep in while Julie and I were busy doing errands.
Eventually, it was 9:40am when we finally left the room and proceeded to begin our busy day of touring. After about 15 minutes of walking, we would show up to the door at La Madraza (which Julie and I thought was equivalent to a medersa in Morocco). However, we saw on a sign that it wasn't open until 11am even though there was someone manning it near the entrance.
Seeing that was the case, at 10:05am we then decided to walk over to the Plaza Nueva where we then caught a taxi that took us directly up to the main part of Sacromonte. After paying close to 4 euro for our ride, we then tried to figure out where to go next.
The initial instincts would've said that we should take the steep stairs leading up past the white buildings at the front before continuing further up to the Museo de Cuevas del Sacromonte. Then, we asked a tourist who was making his way down whether we were going the right way or not. Well, it turned out that he made the attempt to go up earlier, but there was a section that was under construction, and that was what turned him back.
So we took the temporary access path, which was a little further from the center, then it proceeded to go up switchbacks containing gardens and canopies. Eventually at 10:40am, we finally made it up to the Museum of Caves of Sacromonte. All throughout the hike to get up there, we were treated to nice views looking back towards the Alhambra.
Once we paid the admission and proceeded to explore the cave rooms one-by-one, we were also joined by the same tourist who we talked to earlier as well as an Italian group. I guess with fewer people out and about on this day, this little mosque felt like it was a pretty special occasion.
Since the Italian family took the vivienda (the first room), we proceeded to check out the other rooms, which showed off a stables as well as some kind of weaving room. It was really cool inside the caves given how hot it was starting to become on this morning. However, Tahia seemed like the size of the cave dwellings pretty much suited her. As for Julie and I, we really had to bend over to avoid knocking our heads on something bad.
Julie was appreciative of this visit because it showed what life was like back then, especially pertaining to the reconstructed furnishings of each of the cave rooms. Once the Italian party of four vacated the Vivienda, we then checked out that room ourselves. And upon looking inside, this was when we saw an interesting cave dwelling that prompted Julie to say that this was what was missing from all the past palace visits (not just in Spain, but also elsewhere in our world travels).
The size of these rooms were such that I really had to bend over on a few occasions to ensure I didn't hit my head or my pack on the low ceilings. That said, these tight quarters really seemed to suit Tahia well, which perhaps underscored the more minimalist conditions that people had to live with back in the day.
After we got through the rooms displaying way of life (vivienda, weaving, ceramics, metallurgy, etc.), we then looked inside a cave talking about the origins of flamenco, which was a very gypsy and moorish thing apparently.
Eventually, as Julie and Tahia were going through a restroom break, I did a brief walk through a small cave network of corridors and rooms displaying interpretive signs about other cave dwellings around the world. Even the looping interpretive in the last room video helped to make this a good chilling out spot since I could get a little more educated from about the signifance of Sacromonte versus other places around the world as well as take advantage of the seats that were provided to rest my legs (and my aching shoulder blades).
Unfortunately, Tahia pooped in her pants right after going to the restroom so Julie and Tahia had to return to the restroom. Fortunately, Julie thought ahead and brought an extra underwear for her. Then, when the undie was done washing, she used my biner to clip it to my child carrier to let it dry (knowing full well how arid the climate was here in Southern Spain).
So, it wouldn't be until a few more minutes later when we capped off our visit trying to take panoramic and selfie-stick photos of the Alhambra and the valley we were in higher up from the rest of the city of Granada.
Finally at 11:25am, we left the Sacromonte and headed back down the hill. I saw a gate and alternate path leading down to the main part of town, and it appeared that this path was the one we were supposed to take except for the work that was being done.
Julie insisted that we just go back the down the way we came on the temporary path, which was definitely much longer. And eventually after a few more minutes, we'd be back down where the taxi dropped us off. Now, it didn't look like many taxis would make it up this way, and while Julie and Tahia were waiting, I scouted out the main throughfare of Sacromonte, which seemed to have a pseudo-Chefchaouen vibe about it as homes clung to the hillsides painted white and in some cases painted blue (though with a darker shade than what we saw in Morocco).
It didn't take long before I would get to the part where passage was a bit rougher due to the construction or repair work going on. So I rejoined Julie and Tahia, and it wasn't much longer before the C2 bus showed up.
Once we got on the C2 bus, we then were driven a few stops until Julie wanted to get off near the San Nicolas Viewpoint again. I thought coming here was now a waste of time as we had gotten all we wanted to get from this area in the past two evenings, but now, Julie wanted to check out the Great Mosque (which we failed to do yesterday when we were killing time for sunset).
Well, it turned out that all we could do was to take photos of a tiny courtyard as well as the garden with a view of the Alhambra on the outsides as the inside was closed to the public at the time due to prayer.
So we wasted no time going back past the San Nicolas Viewpoint, then to the C1/C2 stop a short distance below. And sure enough, one of the C1 buses showed up and we were then whisked away to an area near the Plaza del Triunfo, which upon asking him in Spanish was where the driver said was the nearest stop to the Basilica de San Juan de Dios.
Eventually by 12:10pm, the bus driver dropped us off near the garden of the Triunfo, which appeared to be an attractive public space in and of itself. However, we knew that time was short on this busy day so we walked around trying to get oriented. Then, Julie asked a stranger where the Calle de San Juan de Dios was, and the local eventually set us straight.
From that point on, we walked a fairly bustling narrow street where lots of pedestrians flanked a narrow one-way street that appeared like only cabs could use. And within a few more minutes, we found ourselves at the Basilica de San Juan de Dios.
From the outside, the basilica didn't look like much, but we had already seen the TripAdvisor reviews raving about the inside of this place. We also skipped out on this because it wasn't mentioned in the Rick Steves book.
Anyways, we wasted no more time going inside, paying the admission, and then started checking out an entrance room before the main cathedral part. This time though, it seemed like everything around us was all blinged out with gold.
Upon closer inspection, it appeared the walls were painted in gold, but there was no denying that some of the idols and decorations were definitely the real deal. Plus, for one euro coin, it seemed to operate lights that made the altar shine even more brightly so photos would show up better.
We spent a good deal of time just trying to capture the grandeur of it all (the same kind of dilemma from all other religious site visits), and then at around 12:45pm while we were trying to take a selfie-stick photo, one of the staffers said that the door to the upstairs was open.
So we went ahead and did that, which again showed just how blinged out everything seemed to be as we walked up the stairs. Then, on the second floor, we got overviews of the main altar, parts of the chapel, and even got a closer look at some very blinged out decorations and lighting that was at the main heart of the altar.
Then, after going down the steps, we found ourselves back in the main chapel on the other side before going back to the main entrance area where we dropped off the audioguides, then exited into what appeared to be a hospital.
When we left the building at 1:05pm, we could see that the entrance to the basilica was closed! Then, we saw a sign saying that indeed the closing hours for siesta was at 1pm, so we were quite fortunate to have made it here before they closed! Whew!
That said, Julie and I were quite glad to have done this basilica because there weren't many (if any) churches or cathedrals that even let us experience the upper floors let alone take photographs. Plus, the bling factor made it quite a bit different from the other churches we had been to throughout Europe.
Then, we hailed a taxi, paid about 4 euros worth when we arrived at Capilla Real, and then proceeded to go back to La Madraza at 1:15pm where we paid the admission and checked out a pair of rooms. The first room was the humble prayer room, which was basically an empty room with one of the Arabic arches on one side.
Then, we went upstairs where there was a huge picture of Jesus surrounded by angels (Tahia was starting to see a pattern here as she was now identifying the "bleeding guy" though this particular picture didn't show Jesus bleeding).
Upstairs, there was the knights room, but it looked like the room was set up for some kind of conference. So we took some photos of this before heading back down the stairs, and that pretty much concluded our tour.
This was definitely not a Muslim medersa, but we could tell there were glimpses of the Muslim influence. Now, it had more of a Christian/Catholic feel, and something just seemed a bit off, especially having seen the real deal in Morocco. In fact, it could be said that the Moroccan experience probably ruined the cultural Andalucian experience (as far a sights go) in much the same way that Le Souffle in Paris ruined our souffle experience at home from that point on.
By 1:25pm, we were outside the basilica, then we were harassed by a beggar who was pretty persistent in asking for money. Eventually, he found someone else to harass when he wasn't getting anywhere with us, and by about 1:30pm, we were eating at the relaxing Bib-Rambla Plaza for lunch at this place called Gallio.
Again, it was the ability to try different tapas while one of them was a spaghetti that Tahia could have that really sold us on this place. Plus, the lunch special seemed to be a decent deal. Julie noticed that the restaurants surrounding the open square at Bib-Rambla was more family friendly while the more happening spots just a few meters over in a different and smaller square seemed to be more for locals or well-off folks as some of the prices there were quite over-the-top (think more than 10 euros a dish though we couldn't tell if they were tapas or not; maybe you get free tapas with a drink there?!?).
Speaking of Andalucian-style tapas, I still wanted to try having a drink at the counter then a free tapa with it. But it wasn't family friendly so I relented. I'm not sure if I'd be able to live down not being able to experience something authentically Andalucian here regarding tapas, but oh well.
We were done eating at 2:40pm. We knew that we could've already started visiting the main complex of Alhambra since 2pm, and so any moment we tarried now would be time encroaching on Alhambra visitation time. So instead of going back to the apartment, we headed straight for the Plaza de Isabella La Catolica, where we showed up just in time to catch the C3 bus right up to the entrance of the Alhambra. We got on at 2:45pm.
At 2:55pm, we were deposited right at the entrance of the Alhambra y Generalife, where there were lots of people and quite a few more folks waiting in line to buy tickets. We knew that we had bought tickets in advance, and while I was holding a spot in line, Julie did a little scouting around until she found a kiosk where she could enter the card that she had bought the tickets with, then the machine would dispense the tickets with the time slot to visit the Palacio Nazaries.
So with that bit of success, we then got through the gate, and we were now finally starting to tour what seemed to be the huge complex of Alhambra at 3:10pm.
Since we knew how big the complex was from seeing the maps (and from being told explicitly that it was a 15-minute walk from Generalife to the main Alhambra part), we visited the Generalife Gardens first.
Right off the bat, we could see there were beautiful basins and fountains flanked by hedges cut into archways as well as some arched trellises allowing some plants and flowery vines to form canopies.
Given that there were so many people out here at the time, it wasn't easy to get decent selfie shots or other people shots nor artsy shots without someone walking into the photo. And it would turn out that the rest of our visit would pretty much suffer from this given its popularity.
As we strolled through the long garden, we also managed to get views back at the Alhambra. Then, we were able to go into the Generalife Palace, which was white and impressive in its own right. Once inside, it was quite chaotically crowded thanks to the tour groups.
We basically took our time trying to get some of the groups pass by and keep going before us, but then there'd be other groups behind starting to make us feel crushed again. So that made it a little harder to appreciate some of the more decorative or elaborate rooms without the stress of too many people.
Anyways, the Muslim influence was definitely in effect here as we could see the elaborate decorations surrounding the familiar archways in the Arab style that we had see so much of in Morocco. But the sheer grandeur of just this the Generalife Palace was nothing more than a precursor of what was to come in the main Alhambra area.
At about 3:50pm, right when we were pretty much smack in the middle of touring within the palace, Tahia got tired so now I had to carry her as well. I was already starting to wear down even without her on my back.
It wouldn't be until about 4:30pm when we were done touring the Generalife complex. Now, we had to walk quite a bit to get to the main Alhambra area.
Along the way, we saw there were a handful of private vehicles as well as the Hotel America. I didn't know that you could stay here, but I guess given the size of this estate, it would make sense to stay overnight and have a more relaxing time.
And like the Generalife, it was just as crowded (if not more) here at the main part of Alhambra.
We first headed beneath another Arab arch fronting the Alcazaba. Then after getting through a courtyard of that part, we then entered the fortress walls and walked up to what would be the first of a handful of towers. The first one was the Torre del Cubo, which we got to at 5pm.
With Tahia on my back, just getting up and down the steps was a challenge. But anyways, we got nice views back towards Albayzin as well as further down the hill towards the general city of Granada. When we looked straight down at some of the homes in the Albayzin quarter, we could see that a lot of these homes had courtyards or atriums. It really started to make me wonder if the tiled rooftops above these homes could've been green at some point like in Fes.
Nonetheless, we suspected that these homes could've been riads in a past life. Indeed, Granada in general was kind of like our last taste of Morocco becoming we'd become even more immersed in Spain as we'd continue to go further north during the course of our trip.
As we continued touring the Alcazaba, we would be walking between impressive fortress walls then out onto the another courtyard that had a maze of what appeared to be either old quarters or an old medina. It was hard to tell since all that was left was the wall fountains that were no taller than our knees.
On the other side, we then went onto the next tower, which again had more views. Plus, there seemed to be a large Korean group that was here as well, so that made things a little more crowded (but not as crushing as Generalife) in this part of the tour. We also noticed some people walking along the interesting ramparts atop the fortress walls, and I wondered how they managed to get there.
After having our fill of this tower, we then climbed up stairs (passing by the entrance of the Space of the Month, which we opted not to do), which ultimately led us up to the highest tower in the Alhambra. Again, with Tahia on my back, it was not an easy climb. Plus, I had to watch her head given how some of the arches had a little bit of a lower clearance.
Up at the top of the highest tower, we were then able to not only get views back down towards both Albayzin and the general Granada area, but we were also able to look back towards the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, which was just clinging to its last bits of snow fallen from this past Winter.
There was some orange building with domes in the foreground in which we weren't quite sure what that was for.
Anyways, this spot had a nice breeze, and we got an interesting perspective of people down below looking like ants moving along their predetermined path for their tour (unlike the chemical trail that we saw normal ants would do when self-organizing to do their tasks to help their queen).
Nonetheless, we took our obligatory photos before trying to make our way back down (squeezing by some folks from the Korean tour group which now made their way up here).
After that, we went past a small garden before leaving the Alcazaba. Now, I really wondered how it was possible to get up to the ramparts like they did, and I wondered if the Space of the Month had something to do with it. Oh well, that was that for the Alcazaba.
Next, we chilled out for a few minutes as now Tahia had finally woke up again at around 5:40pm. We bribed Tahia with strawberry ice cream so she could get off my back again. Meanwhile, Julie and I had a refreshing granizada, which was the same as the sugary iced-lemon drinks they sell in Southern Italy as well as Magic Mountain. Quite refreshing on a hot day like this.
When the break was over, it was getting closer to the 6:30pm entry time for the Palacio Nazaries. But we weren't sure how much longer it would take to visit the Charles V Palace so we went ahead and went straight in there while huge tour groups were leaving the palace and headed to the Palacio Nazaries.
Once we were in the circular palace, it almost felt like we were back in a bullring ala Ronda. But this time, the middle was just an open courtyard instead of sandy dirt patch. Still, the surroundings was full of arches, which seemed to be a recurring theme in all the historical sights we had visited through Morocco and now Southern Spain to this point.
It didn't take long before we had our fill of this palace. At 6:10pm, we showed our ticket to the lady managing the entry point for Palacio Nazaries, and she was quite strict about us coming before 6:30pm. So she sent us back, but not before reminding us that we needed to drop off the child carrier at the locker (consigna).
So we promptly did that, took another restroom break, and then found ourselves in a much longer queue by about 6:15pm for the Palacio Nazaries.
We were waiting in the hot sun before the line finally started moving at 6:30pm, and by 6:35pm, we were finally past the entry filter and into the palace complex itself. It was too bad for the folks who had to be turned away for their tickets didn't include the Palacio Nazaries, but we had read the Rick Steves book during our trip planning and knew that we had to take care of this stuff several weeks in advance.
In our case, it was four weeks in advance, but even then, the desired time slots were all taken up (mostly by tours we'd imagine). It was a good thing we had booked for three nights stay in Granada, because without this flexibility, we would've been SOL when it came to the most important part of the Alhambra visit. So in the end, we had to save the best for last.
The Palacio Nazaries consisted of many rooms and courtyards containing more elaborate wooden mosaics and patterns filling in the spaces that weren't let open by Arabic arches. There were also tiles in the lower parts.
In short, it was like going from one Ben Youssef Medersa to another. But then the courtyards were also quite grand. And that was like going from one Moulay Idriss Mausoleum courtyard to another.
The main rooms were huge. The wooden tops either had stars on the ceilings or there were plaster "stalactites" as Rick Steves liked to call them.
The main courtyards consisted of a Taj Mahal-like basin reflecting the arched exteriors on either end with fountains bubbling at either end. Of course taking photos of these things in the most desirable way was difficult due to the mega tours. There was always a crush of people no matter how long we waited. There was only pockets of tranquility between mega tour groups.
That said, the crush was probably the most intense at the Courtyard of the Lions. There were even more protruding and elaborate arches packed tightly together on either end of the rectangular courtyard while the lion fountain was in the middle. There were also grooved water channels spilling towards the fountain from all four directions.
Indeed, this was where most of the people were at, including those with huge tripods. With the growing shadows, I'm sure Julie's photos didn't turn out too well, but I put my ambience lighting on my Canon into "shade" mode to get some of the dark spaces filled in.
After the Lion Courtyard, there were a few more rooms to check out before exiting to a garden with one last view towards Albayzin, then down into the cooler gardens. And then, we'd eventually find ourselves right onto yet another large garden upon the conclusion of the Palacio Nazaries visit at a little before 8pm.
I think the very last garden at the exit was called the Partal Gardens. While out there, I noticed there was one more basin with one end of it having another structure (turned out to be the Palacio del Partal). This yielding some interesting reflection shots though I could see that this late in the afternoon, there were insects nesting or doing something in the still water.
This was kind of the last real photo op (though looking up at some impressive tower as we were leaving the garden was also nice) before we left to go recover the child carrier. Indeed, we were all pretty Alhambra'd out at this point, and Rick Steves wasn't kidding when he said we needed at least a half-day to tour the entire grounds.
Indeed, the Alhambra was one of those things where all you see of it is postcard photos or web photos of it, but they really don't do this place justice.
For the entire visit would really be more of an experience that can't be captured in photos. And it's no wonder. For a visit taking over a half-day packed with so much to see, it was definitely something that just can't be conveyed in photos.
Besides, we weren't the only ones totally pooped. We saw other tourists were also eager to leave as they were totally exhausted from their long visit to the Alhambra.
So at 8:05pm, we got the pack back, then at 8:10pm we were at the C3 stop. Unfortunately, the buses were delayed and we soon found out why...
Each bus that showed up were packed like sardines (keeping with the "everyone-wants-to-leave-now" theme)! We ended up crowding into the second bus we saw and had a bit of an adventurous journey back to the City Center. In hindsight, we should've stuck with taking a taxi and eating the 4 euros or so. Oh well.
We were back in the center at 8:35pm, and the rest of the evening was spent having a dinner at this place called Platitos Alhambra. It was the only affordable spot in the really happening square just adjacent to Bib-Rambla, but it turned out that the food was quite on the disappointing side.
We tried caracoles (the Spanish version of escargot except it was much smaller and there were many more of them to fill us up) as well as some other tapas that weren't memorable. They didn't even let us have agua del grifo and the bottled water was both warm and small (plus overpriced).
At least we were entertained briefly by an impromptu flamenco dancing street performance, where a young girl was going the singing, a man (probably father) was doing the guitar-playing, and one man and one woman was doing the dancing. It was really the woman that drew most of the applause and tips.
However, I don't think they earned as much as they would've liked because they started the performance at 9:15pm and they ended it at 9:25pm before moving on.
It wasn't until about 9:50pm when we were done with dinner. And five minutes later, we enjoyed one last go at ice cream.
By 10:05pm, we were finally back at the Arte Vida. Indeed, we had a very long day, and we pretty much crashed into bed after a shower and brush thereafter...
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Day 7: BROKEN MIRRORS
It was 6:45am when I awoke, but this time I awoke to discomfort in my bowels. So the first thing I did was go to the toilet. Thinking it was just the standard emptying of the bladder in the early hours of the morning, it turned out that I was also running out the other end as well at the same time! Clearly having another case of diarrhea, I was starting to wonder if there was something more substantially wrong with me on this trip because it now had to have been well over a week since my gut last felt somewhat functional.
At 7am, Julie awoke to her alarm. And not much longer afterwards as I had finally vacated the bathroom, apparently Julie also had the case of the runs, too. We both suspected that perhaps it was the snails that we had eaten last night that somehow didn't sit well with us.
It wouldn't be until another couple of hours later before we were finally all packed up and ready to go. At 9:20am, I went ahead and lugged almost all of our luggage by myself all the way down to the car park so I could load up the car. Afterwards, I had rejoined the family, and then we went down together to do the final checkout. We didn't see the general manager down there, but we did see the lady from Barcelona at the reception desk as well as the lady that helped us out to get to Corte Ingles on the day we checked in.
They helped us get through the checkout formalities. Then, we went down to the car park, where Julie helped me to navigate between the columns and avoid hitting anything. Eventually by 9:45am, we were finally in business and on our way out to Ubeda.
After having done mostly historical and city center stuff for most of the last week, today was supposed to get back to Nature and mix things up a bit. The original plan was to head straight for a waterfall before going to Ubeda or Baeza to check in, but we ultimately decided that since we were staying in an apartment for the next two nights, we were better off checking our stuff into the apartment, getting the keys, and getting a little oriented before continuing on.
The drive out was mostly uneventful though Julie and I were quite amazed at how many olive plantations were flanking the A44 motorway. In fact, these olive fields stretched pretty much as far as the eye could see, and I guess olive oil really was big business in Spain. It was clearly surpassing anything we had seen in Italy (maybe we didn't go south enough over there?).
At about 11:45am, we had finally found the Plaza Primero de Mayo, which required quite a bit of city driving before it degenerated into driving in narrow alleyways. Ultimately, Julie called up Jose (one of the managers of the apartment we were staying in), and so we put the emergency blinkers on and parked illegally momentarily so we could drop off the luggage and get the low down from Jose about getting oriented in Ubeda as well as the apartment.
At about 12:05pm, we were back in the car. Then, under the instruction of Jose, we then took a route through more alleyways until we reached the car park hidden in a garage a couple of blocks from our apartment (overlooking the Plaza Primero de Mayo). Once we got through and into the car park, we then descended all the way down to the bottom level, where we were assigned either spots 6 or 7.
At 12:15pm, we would finally be in business and on our way to begin our waterfalling for today. We had a choice of doing Cascada de Linarejos or Cascada de Chorrogil. My original intent was to do Chorrogil because it appeared to have better volume and might be more reliable. However, Linarejos seemed to be the closer of the two and it appeared that we might be able to make a stop in Cazorla for a quick lunch (as we hadn't had a significant meal so far on this day).
Jose said Linarejos was quicker to get to by car. He hadn't heard of Chorrogil, but he did hear about Salto de los Organos, which was perhaps the most famous of the falls in the general area, but we would be looking at over 20km of walking in each direction.
It was ultimately decided that we would do Linarejos due to the distance and due to the fact that the hike was said to be much shorter than the one for Chorrogil. Unfortunately, I was very worried that Linarejos might be dry or trickling since Jose warned us that it hadn't rained here in over a month.
Eventually at 1:20pm, we arrived in the town of Cazorla. At first, there was a bit of confusion where the tourist info center was. So after making a roundabout way of seeing the Cazorla town with the impressive mountains in the background, we'd ultimately find a parking structure at 1:30pm, where we would leave the car and look for a quick bite to eat in town.
Cazorla was a steep and pretty vertical town. The initial thought was to head towards the tourist info center, but when we followed one of the signs showing the "i" and it pointed up a road, we eventually followed it to a large car park where there were a handful of buses parked. Proceeding further on the road then took us on a very narrow street that seemed like it was pedestrians only unless you were a local.
So we turned around, then stopped momentarily at the car park at for a quick photo of the upper part of town, where there was also the ruins of a castle perched above some of the uppermost buildings. And all this was backed by some jagged mountains. It was quite scenic to say the least even without the snow and without the sun given that there was a bright hazy cloudiness.
We saw from a map by the car park that the info center would be quite a walk all the way from this part of town towards some plaza further along. That seemed like a lot of work for what we were hoping would be a quick lunch stop since Julie and Tahia were looking for a place to eat before continuing on to do a waterfall hike.
So five minutes later, we then drove back the way we came and towards the center of town. This time, we could see that street parking was going to be hopeless. So instead, we would look for the next structured parking, and we'd finally park the car at 1:30pm, which was pretty much right below the roundabout at the center of town.
As we left the car park on foot, Julie was pretty picky about which place to eat. Eventually, she'd settle on this somewhat smokey locals bar with a handful of tables outside (I think it was called Cafe Club) because she was doubtful about the other two cafes she saw. It was right next door to an heladeria (ice cream shop).
Once we were seated at Cafe Club, we looked at the menu and there was an interesting looking carne con tomate racion. But when the bartender (who also served as our waiter) said it was a kind of cured meat, that prompted Julie to go with chicken instead. I guess Julie got a little sick of having cured meats at this time.
At about 2pm, we got our food, and it turned out to be fried chicken instead of rotisserie chicken as she had hoped. Well, I guess that's what happens when you make assumptions and you don't roll with what the Spanish do best. At least she got a sandwich from the heladeria next door so Tahia could have something to eat.
We were back at the car park at about 2:35pm. Then, we promptly paid our 1.05 euro to the machine to validate our ticket before returning to our car. As we were all loaded up, I drove up to the machine controlling the barricade, inserted the ticket to open the lever guard on our way out, and then suddenly when I pulled forward, we heard a brief crunch, then next thing we knew, the right passenger mirror was dangling!!!
"What happened?!?!" both of us said and thought together.
And upon seeing that the window was dangling, we knew now that we were in trouble.
So instead of leaving Cazorla for a waterfall (and after staying longer than we wanted to in Cazorla), it now became an emergency in which we had to pull over somewhere then figure out what to do next.
Apparently, when I was inserting the ticket to get out, I wasn't paying attention to how close I was on the other side to the narrow opening of the car park. That was what did us in, and finally after all the close calls we had in driving about the cities of Spain, now it looked like it had gotten to us.
The next thing we did was then to go back up to the main roundabout, where we spontaneously found a temporary parking spot (mostly for commercial purposes for the businesses here). Even though there were cops monitoring the roundabout, they seemed like they were socializing with a few locals and didn't seem to mind what we were doing (illegally parking and all).
That was when we assessed our situation and could see that the mirror was dangling by its electrical cord wrapped in rubber. Clearly, there'd be no way we could drive the car with the possibility of losing this mirror.
So then Julie went walking on her own looking for a place to get some duct tape. When she returned a few minutes later (completely bypassing the cops who might've been a help to us), the cops had left and Julie came back empty handed.
Next, I went back to the Cafe Club where we had just had lunch. Julie stayed behind to watch Tahia and the car. After a little bit of difficulty trying to explain the problem we were having to both the bartender and the locals who happened to be there (my Spanish wasn't proficient to the point I could say exactly what was wrong), I managed to show one local who was game to let me show her, then she returned to explain it to the bartender, who then went out and saw the issue himself.
Inside his restaurant, he looked at their toolbox and all they had was plumbing tape. No duct tape. He then gave his holy-cross gesture from forehead to chest, then across the chest (it was a deja vu moment since first time we saw this on the trip was from the taxi driver upon realizing that we were trying to get our rental car from Algeciras after 2pm on a Saturday when the Europcar there was just closed).
Fortunately, he then gave us his local knowledge by telling us that there was a Chinese-owned shop just past the Dia supermarket. He directed us to go straight down the hill to our right as we faced the roundabout for about 500m. He was worried that we couldn't understand him and offered to literally show us the way, but that was when I told him, "Vamos a encontrarlo" (We're going to find it).
Eventually after making one turnaround (because we saw that we were now back in a familiar part of town that we had been to earlier), we finally found this place that Julie just happened to notice had a Chinese person inside it. This must be it! It was called Bazar Cazorla, and we quickly found an awkward spot to park alongside the road.
Julie then went in and happened to converse with the proprietor in Mandarin Chinese! I'm sure Julie was glad about this because her Spanish was worse than mine, and I wasn't confident about explaining the need for duct tape in this circumstance. And so by 2:50pm, we had finished doing a makeshift duct-tape job on the mirror so it wasn't dangling anymore.
Now, the mirror was up and covered in duct tape, but I had to hunch forward while driving before I could see the blind spot and adjacent lane (I had to look over my shoulder anyways for that though).
Finally, we could at least move, and we were momentarily relieved about what we thought was a wasted lunch at the cafe turned out to be an unexpected help in terms of him helping us to get to the Chinese place, which was still open during siesta hours! Julie did say this place was busy while everyone else was closed, so I guess there was something to be said about the hard work she (the Chinese proprietress) was putting in.
Next, we drove further up Cazorla and La Iruela and into the mountains. The roads were narrow to about 1.5 lanes or so, but the roads were paved and in good shape. However, the signs for Cascada de Linarejos wasn't well signed. There was even a part where there was a fork at a sharp left turn, where the GPS didn't tell me whether to take the first right (going higher up the mountain) or second right.
On a lark, I took a guess and took the first right up the mountain. Then, we followed this road past another intersection (the one going below to the right said something about the Birth of the Rio Guadalquivir), where we kept going straight. As we kept climbing, I was having doubts about whether we were on the right path since waterfalls tended not to be at the tops of mountains.
Anyways, we then saw a sign that said "Linarejos" and it pointed us further up the mountain before encountering another junction. This time, we took an unpaved road down to what looked like a pretty empty lot with some closed up snack bar. There also happened to be a family trio who were camping here, it seemed.
When I got out the car and saw that the signs here weren't helpful, I then spoke with the family about Cascada de Linarejos. This time, my Spanish got us a little further with these folks though the lady (mother of the daughter who was the third in the group) took the opportunity to practice her English with me (it was probably as limited as my Spanish was to the bartender at Cafe Club).
Anyways, I got the gist of the instructions (which was to backtrack, then turn right, and then continue straight until we'd get to a bridge where there was a cafe, which was the trailhead). And with appreciation for their help and friendliness, I got back in the car and started heading out. It just so happened that they were heading out too, and they patiently drove up to the return of the main road where the family pointed me to go right while they were going left.
I gave the thumbs up and thanked them once again. After a brief stop at the Mirador Linarejos (not a whole lot to see up here except a few peaks), we'd eventually get to the car park for the trailhead for Cascada de Linarejos at 4:05pm. It was quite warm and it took us time to park so we didn't protrude onto the road. Plus, it took time to get Tahia ready so we didn't start walking until 4:20pm.
The bridge was quite scenic in its own right as I could see there was water below (a good sign), and that we were hiking into a steep gorge flanking the Rio Guadalquivir.
That said, I knew from my trip research that La Cascada de Linarejos wasn't on the river though. So it was still in doubt whether the falls would have water or not.
At about 4:45pm, we heard a waterfall. But when we got closer, we could see it was water spilling over what appeared to be a dam. Just downstream of it, there was another family here playing in the water. We weren't sure if this was the falls or not, but I suspected it wasn't it given what I had recalled from the pre-trip research.
At the same time, we also saw a goat nearby. In fact, I couldn't believe how close this goat was to the family playing in the water.
Anyways, we continued walking a short distance further as we were flanked on one side by nearly vertical red cliffs. And that was when we finally saw an area where we could look across the gorge at a very thin waterfall coming down the mountain. It was now 5:05pm.
The falls was definitely visible to the naked eye, but it was hard to capture on camera (except by video where I could zoom in on the action). Meanwhile, we noticed what appeared to be condors gliding high on above the cliffs, and that was when we realized just how naturesque this place was.
So I couldn't say this experience was surprising. And for that reason, it wasn't as disappointing as I had anticipated. But for all the drama and trouble we had to endure to get here, that was the disappointing part.
Eventually at 5:35pm, we were back at the car. Now, there appeared to be a few more people parked further up the road by the cafe (I guess that would be where spillover parking would be). And then we were off.
At about 15 minutes we arrived at an attractive mirador with an expansive view of the valley below us.
Finally, at about 6:20pm, we were back in Cazorla again. This time, we pulled over by the Dia supermarket where we then took some time to call Roadside Assistance from Europcar. The plan now was to drive the car in the current condition until we could get it changed in Cordoba on Sunday. It would be a shame that we'd have to change the car because this car had a navigation system, a rear-view camera, and overall, we liked it.
So it took some time to get all this arranged and worked out with the company so there would be one ready in Cordoba. It turned out that we'd have to go to the bus/train station there for the replacement. I guess we'll find out how that would turn out since we'd be driving into the city.
Eventually, after Julie then picked up groceries at the Dia, we finally left Cazorla at 7:20pm. The weather was now sprinkling as the reaches of pop-up thunderstorms were expanding out over Cazorla.
It was after 8pm when we got back to the town of Ubeda. Now, there were a lot more people out in the streets than there were at midday when we first showed up. I guess it happened to be evening paseo time as people would get back from their siestas. I was also now much more sensitized to the narrowness (as if I wasn't before) of the alleyways. We'd eventually make it back to the car park at 8:10pm.
Once we got stuff out of the car, we noticed some of the duct tape had loosened so we reinforced it with a little more of it while in the garage.
After a brief walk from the car park and through the Primero de Mayo Plaza, we'd be back at the room at 8:35pm, where we passed through a bustling plaza with local kids playing in the square and some of the nearby cafes and restaurants starting to get busy. I had entertained eating now (but Julie insisted on checking TripAdvisor before going out).
It wouldn't be until about 9:25pm when we left the room. By this time, the bar that was reviewed on TripAdvisor happened to be the Misa 12 in the plaza (we had passed by it on the way back to the room). Now that place was crowded and there'd be no hope of eating there unless we acted like locals.
Maybe tomorrow, we'd try it.
Instead, we went next door to Cafe Moss. From that point, we would have a dinner of spaghetti, lamb chops, and some delicious orange-sauced pork. The dinner was decent but not great. Perhaps it was more interesting watching locals mingle here and there. There was also a lot of well-dressed people leaving some building next door. We weren't sure if it was for a wedding or not, but it was interesting to see people dressed in their best at this time while also out on a evening paseo.
Eventually, at 10:30pm, we were finally done eating. Now, it was dark and we felt some sprinkles from time to time. We had left a lot of stuff in the car (water, jackets, etc.) and we didn't feel like going back there (too much trouble). So we just made do with what we had.
Now, Tahia could go play in the playground in the plaza with Julie's supervision while I was busy exploring the main sights in town. It was only a couple of blocks away, and that was when I took photos of the Capilla del Salvador as well as the Plaza de Vazquez Molina. There was also the Santa Maria de los Reales Alcazares and Palacio de las Cadenas here.
It turned out that our apartment was in a pretty central location. Too bad that we didn't have a whole lot of time to enjoy it given what had happened earlier this day.
Eventually at 11:05pm, I was back at the apartment. Julie and Tahia had gotten in first, and they didn't hear me as they were showering. So it took a few tries until I finally was able to get back in.
Now, given a better perspective of how long things take here, and how much drama we were having, and how hard it was to drive within each cities (even if they're small), I decided that of the three waterfalls left to do here tomorrow (Cascada de la Cimbarra, Chorros del Rio Mundo, and Cascada de Chorrogil), it would be Cimbarra tomorrow and we'd have to forsake the rest.
And so ended this day where the locals were still out and about well past 1am, and we could hear a lot of it since we're situated next to the square...
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Day 8: DIA TRANQUILO
It was 6:45am when I awoke. Now, it was kind of a pattern that I could wake up naturally at this time prior to Julie's 7am alarm. This was probably the third straight day or so that this has happened despite the late night bedtimes.
At 7:45am, Julie took advantage of the fact that we had an apartment so we had ourselves a combination of a croissant and fruit breakfast with some tea. It was the first time while in Spain that we actually had the time to have breakfast as a family. Up until now, it was either we had lots to do and didn't have time, or it was on a day when we couldn't self-cook.
As we were busy having breakfast together, we ultimately decided that it was time to pick a waterfall out of three today. The original plan was to visit two of the waterfall excursions, but after seeing how long it really takes to get from place to place as well as to deal with the narrow lanes of city driving, I've now learned to pare back expectations to the point that doing more than one waterfall (that weren't exactly close to each other) in a day could be unrealistic.
So we had a choice between doing Cascada de Chorrogil (the one we skipped yesterday in lieu of Cascada de Linarejos), Cascada de la Cimbarra, or Chorro del Rio Mundo. We ended up choosing Cascada de la Cimbarra since it seemed to be the most accessible of the three. It was almost certain that we wouldn't be able to do both Cimbarra and Rio Mundo and then Baeza on the same day. So something had to go.
At about 8:50am, we were in the familiar garage and were in the car ready to go. Again, with the tight quarters, it wasn't trivial getting out. Plus, when getting out of this car park, it looked like I was faced with no entry signs (for going the wrong way on a one-way street) in all directions. But in any case, it wasn't busy enough this morning yet that I was able to just randomly keep going straight until I got to a familiar road leading to the autovia on the northern end of town.
Once we were on the autovia, it was pretty smooth sailing for much of the way though the GPS was pretty insistent that I take a more local approach for a long ways to get up to the town of Aldeaquemada, which was the closest town to Cascada de la Cimbarra.
Eventually, as we were headed north on the high-speed A4, we were making great time though the whole time I was keeping an eye out on the mirror we duct-taped together. This was especially the case since the drag would want to push the mirror towards the car, which was the weakest point of our duct tape contraption.
We'd ultimately exit the A4 at the A6200 leading to Aldeaquemada. From there, we were then on a pretty narrow road where the top speed was not supposed to top 50km/h but even that felt like it was too fast given how narrow the road was and that the road didn't have a shoulder and was frequently up against a cliff, a wall, or a dropoff.
Plus, the road was very curvy with blind turns, making this a pretty treacherous road.
Still, we'd eventually make it to the town of Aldeaquemada at around 10:30am, where we saw signs showing the Cascada de la Cimbarra. From there, it was pretty straightforward to get to the trailhead though for the last 2km or so, we had to drive on an unsealed road with a few small potholes and ruts.
That said, we got to the trailhead no problem at 10:40am, where we picked one of the few shady spots as this road seemed to be on top of a mountain or hill. Then, we got out of the car and started walking ten minutes later.
Already, it started to feel quite warm though it was considerably cooler up here than it was down in Ubeda. The signs here said doing the loop walk of 1.2km would only take 30 minutes, but I brought the child carrier anyways, just in case Tahia would be complaining.
And so we were on the pretty well-signed and well-defined trail. We could see right away that we were above the gorge containing the waterfall. As we were walking along the trail (we were the only ones so far as a man was going the other way), and then Tahia noticed a tortoise next to the trail at around 11am. It was alive!
I guess seeing wildlife like this was one of the perks of being the first ones on the trail. And being the first was something that we weren't really able to accomplish throughout this entire trip though this would usually be my MO when it came to nature touring (though all that tended to change for the later when we had Tahia).
The trail then curved around a head of part of the gorge containing the waterfall. The well-defined trail led us to a junction where we started with the trail branching to the right, which descended sharply over a few switchbacks flanked by blooming poppies (or poppie-like flowers). Tahia picked a couple, then we continued the descent, which went by what appeared to be an old ruin fronted by a couple of circular mortars.
The trail became a little rough but still defined and manageable all the way to a spot where we could look right at the waterfall and plunge pool.
At about 11:15am, we finally made it to the bottom of the Cimbarra Waterfall. There wasn't a whole lot of water in the falls, but at least it was more signficant than the Linarejos waterfall we had seen yesterday. There were some nice colors in the layers of rock backing the falls, and it looked like it might be possible to go behind it. I suspected that there might have been a scrambling trail that started from the ruins.
Anyways, we knew some people were coming when we started to hear shouts from young boys at the top of the gorge. It was only a matter of time before we wouldn't be the only ones at the falls. So we did what we could both documenting the experience as well as trying to take people shots before the falls.
At about 11:30am, the family with the boys making the noise joined us at the base, which was just when we were about to leave.
All in all, we enjoyed the experience, and when the family came down (it was a fairly large family of over a half-dozen people), we then went back on the trail and continued to climb up to the Mirador Cascada de la Cimbarra.
At 11:45am, we were at the mirador, which had a nice view looking down at the Cascada de la Cimbarra as well as the geology surrounding the waterfall itself. By this time, lots of other people had overtaken us and were already at the overlook when we arrived. I think most of the hikers on this day liked to interact with Tahia.
This overlook was quite hot and quite exposed to the sun. After all, it felt like we were on the top of a hill flanking the very gorge responsible for La Cascada de la Cimbarra.
At about 12pm, we were done with the mirador. There was a nice breeze at around the time that we left, which was a moment of relief as the heat of the day was just getting started. Next, while Julie and Tahia joined the other folks at a different mirador overlooking what appeared to be a different stream to the Cascada de la Cimbarra (either that or downstream of the falls), I went over to another mirador just 100m from the waterfall overlook.
This short side excursion was called Mirador del Desfiladero, which I believed had something to do with the geology of the bending layers of rock right across the gorge. Since waterfalls tended to be around hard layers of rock, this bending and warping of the rock layers that were clearly seen also demonstrated how waterfalls tended to be geology lessons in addition to the evidence of geologic events that must've taken place in the past here.
After having our fill of the falls and this mirador looking in the other direction from the falls, we then continued further on a trail that we thought was the continuation of the loop trail. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, we could see that the trail was rougher and more overgrown as well as steep on the way down, and after coming to terms that this sun-scorched side of the hill might not be the completion of the loop hike that I was hoping for, we turned back and returned the way we came.
At about 12:25pm, Tahia was complaining as we had made it back to the Mirador de la Cascada de la Cimbarra. So I carried the spoiled little girl for the remainder of the hike, which ended at 12:40pm. By now, the car park was a much busier spot than when we first showed up.
Finally at 12:40pm, we were back at the car. We noticed that our car was still in shade so we had parked in the perfect spot. There were a lot more cars in this lot now, and just about all of them were exposed to the hot sun.
At 12:45pm, we made the drive for Baeza. It turned out that the GPS had us go back the way we came via Aldeaquemada, then on the narrow and twisty A6200 road. It took us about 35 minutes to get back to the Monumento Natural de Los Organos turnoff near the top of the steep climb that started from the autovia exit.
The drive back was pretty uneventful as both Julie and Tahia were pretty much out and sleep. Meanwhile, we'd arrive in a public car park in Baeza at 2:20pm. And after the Cazorla experience yesterday, I made sure to try to stay away from the edges more so than before to the extent that I would be able to do it with reason.
Then, we walked along this busy stretch of restaurants on one side of the elongated plaza in the center of Baeza. We'd eventually settle in on this place called Pagos del Rey at 2:35pm. Since the place was so busy that it wasn't easy to find a shady outdoor spot, there was a series of indoor tables way in the back, but it appeared that no one was buying anything back there so it was pretty dead.
Eventually, when people were vacating seats closer or in the outside, we were able to get one of the outdoor seats (I don't think one of the staff cared for the musical chairs we were playing). That said, it was so quiet on the inside that we knew we'd be ignored back there. So moving to the outside was wise despite the cigarette smoke.
By 3:40pm, we were done eating. It was decent value for the food as we had one lunch special as well as a five-tapas package for one person. All this was under 20 euros which was reasonable. And now that we were finally done with the meal, we then started the tour of Baeza using our DK as a guide (since Rick Steves didn't cover this UNESCO town).
At first, we went straight for the lion fountain fronting some arches. There were some local kids there that wouldn't leave us alone and insisted on us taking their pictures. So we obliged then continued on our tour. But rather than following the DK street-by-street route explicitly, we just meandered about in the opposite direction.
As we went around some university (I believe it was the Andalucian International University), we then saw another arched fountain fronting some impressive cathedral. I think this was the place where some people took twilight shots as the intense early afternoon sun casted some shadows and we were kind of looking against the sun, which was practically on top of us.
Speaking of the sun, it was been quite hot (and we'd find out later that a sign stated it was 35C today!). Since it was pretty much siesta time, it seemed like nothing was open so we just checked out things from the impressive facades at the exterior of most of the buildings of interest. We did go inside the university, but outside of the riad-like courtyard near the entrance, there wasn't much more we could see.
Eventually, we'd return to the lion fountain where the kids had found something else to do as now it was vacant. So we took some photos of that before going back to the main plaza (near where we ate) since that was where there was a playground that we promised Tahia she could play in if she behaved.
And so while I was checking out this large square with an obelisk on the far end and the playground at almost the nearest end, Julie and Tahia were interacting with the same kids who were at the lion fountain though now they're at the playground.
Tahia was beside herself as she was busy playing around. The kids were trying to ask us questions about how you say certain things in Chinese (though I wasn't sure if they were doing it out of genuine curiosity or if it was so they could mock us). In any case, it was an opportunity to ask them some stuff about themselves and practice some Spanish (though the Spain Spanish was a bit different than what I was used to hearing at home so I had to think about some of the things said and not really react as quickly as they were expecting).
Finally, it was 4:40pm when it was time to go. I think the kids still wanted to take more photos of them (especially the two boys), but we were headed out and wished them well. It seemed like kids out here were more independent because this trio of kids (the oldest was 9) was roaming around without their parents.
We had one last ice cream break at 4:45pm before we recovered the car at 5:05pm. And as Julie and I recalled our Baeza experience (however brief it was), we could characterize it as nice and relaxing. In fact, for most of Andalucian Spain that we had visited so far, there was always a crush of tourists with hordes of tour buses and crowds from many different countries.
Yet here in Baeza, it was quiet (except for the buzzing restaurants during our late lunch). In fact, it was so refreshingly peaceful and relaxing that we wondered whether this UNESCO town was as quiet as it was because it wasn't reviewed by Rick Steves (so that probably knocked out a good chunk of the American market, I'd imagine). Though I did hear some American spoken so perhaps the DK or LP market revealed this place to those readers.
Finally at 5:35pm, we were back at the hidden parking structure in Ubeda. And ten minutes later, we crossed the pretty dead Plaza Primero de Mayo and returned to our room. I had a real bad urge to go to the toilet (again, my stomach had been unsettled) so the timing of this return was just in the nick of time.
It wouldn't be until about 7pm when we heard some church bells going crazy, which I thought might've signalled the end of the siesta or something. It definitely wasn't one of those bell chimes telling you what time it was on the hour.
Roughly 15 minutes later, all of us checked out the main square just south of the Primero de Mayo Plaza (I believe it was called Plaza Vazquez de Molina). It was the same plaza that I had visited earlier yesterday night (the day we checked into the apartment here).
Now, the churches and fountains were getting the benefit of near sunset lighting though the shadows were long. Plus, there looked to be some kind of wedding or something going on by one of the churches here. There were definitely lots of people dressed in their Sunday best even though it's only Saturday. We suspected that it was for a wedding as opposed to some kind of mass.
We meandered a bit more in another adjacent square near the Ayuntamiento before returning to the main plaza Primero de Mayo so Tahia could play in the playground there before we headed up for dinner at the Misa de 12 Restaurant.
The place didn't open exactly at 8pm, but we were patiently seated there anyways so we wouldn't have to contend with the rush that would surely come after 9pm.
Eventually at 9:40pm, we were done with the dinner and returned to our apartment shortly thereafter. We'd have to sleep early today so we could get packed up and ready to go first thing in the morning tomorrow. The idea was we had to get to Cordoba first thing in the morning to exchange cars and get through the unpleasantries of reconciling the damage that we had caused to the car in Cazorla.
Julie and I found it supremely ironic our original itinerary had us return the rental car in Cordoba near the train station before taking the bullet train up to Madrid before picking up the rental car up there a few days later. Well, on this go around, we'd have to return the rental car in Cordoba though this time it was to get another car so we wouldn't have to keep driving with a dangling or duct-taped mirror on the passenger side.
Oh well, the show must go on, and hopefully, we'll have plenty of time to experience Cordoba, and especially the Mezquita, after the rental car drama has passed.
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Day 9: LAS TRES CULTURAS
It was 6:30am when Julie and I awoke to her alarm. Last night, we didn't sleep until about 1:30am because it was still quite busy outside and downstairs as we were staying in an apartment pretty much next door to the action. So we were pretty groggy, but at the same time, we also knew that there were things to do before we would get the chance to explore Cordoba in the afternoon.
The first order of business was to get packed and load up the car. That would mean I'd have to go to the garage, drive out of the car park, then park illegally in the Plaza Primero de Mayo to enable us to load up the car in parallel with Julie and Tahia getting ready. Then, pay Jose and return the keys before we would be off, and do all this before 7:30am.
Well, we did pretty well though it wasn't until 7:50am when we finally left. Tahia had another pooping urge, which kept us in Ubeda a little bit longer than we wanted. But after that, we were off onto the autovias to get out of town and towards Cordoba, which was pretty much completely empty on the high speed freeways.
The drive went pretty smoothly, and the duct-taped passenger rear-view mirror stayed with the car despite the high speed and the drag from averaging 120km/h. So by 10:15am, we finally arrived in the Europcar car park in Cordoba. Though we could've been there a little earlier if not for a final diesel fill-up as well as making one long loop after making a wrong turn near the Estacion de Autobuses, which was where the car park was supposed to be.
Anyways, after emptying out the old car and getting our stuff together, we went upstairs and waited patiently for our turn at 10:40am as there was already a queue. There was only one guy working on Sunday and we could see that he was quite a busy guy.
In any case, after filling out the paperwork and getting through all the formalities, we'd finally be in our replacement rental car at 11:30am. It turned out that the replacement car was essentially the same make and model car, except it was now a red color instead of white. Hopefully, we'll have better luck with this car than we did with the previous one.
At 11:50am, we'd finally find the AC Cordoba Hotel though we embarrasingly showed up at a different Cordoba Hotel further up the Avenida de la Libertad. Nonetheless, once we were in the on-site car park, Julie had to help me out given how tight the parking was down here.
I don't know what the deal was, but it seemed like parking garages were the most treacherous environments for rental cars. After all, we damaged the previous car in a parking garage, and it was really scary trying to fit and park within the confines of this underground garage beneath the AC Cordoba. Fortunately, we wouldn't be driving for the rest of this day as we'd be back on the road first thing tomorrow morning.
After finally checking into our room and dropping off our stuff at 12:15pm, we then headed back downstairs for our tour of the main parts of the city by 12:45pm. The receptionist said it was only a 20-minute walk so we were game to give it a go (it looked pretty far on the city map he gave us) even though it was starting to get warm. The Europcar clerk I spoke to earlier had warned me that it would be at least over 40C (a little over 100F) today.
The nice thing about the walk to the general vicinity of the Mezquita (mosque) was that we got to walk within the cool and shady confines of the urban green park area sandwiched between major city roads going in opposite directions (ala Buenos Aires in Argentina).
However, we had to cross through about three of these significant elongated park areas before encountering an old town wall and an archway that led right into the real bustle of the Jewish Quarter. Once we were on the other side of the wall, we found ourselves within a maze of lanes flanked by restaurants and shops. It was definitely a happening and busy place, and I'd argue this medina-like take by the Spanish was more happening than the Albayzin Quarter in Granada.
So we meandered about in the general direction of the Mezquita. At one point, it seemed like I had lost Julie and Tahia. So for a few minutes, I just went back and forth near our separation point (learning from the Rome experience) before we were able to continue on our search for lunch. Tahia was also hungry.
As we continued to navigate the narrow lanes, the nice ambience, which stretched for several blocks, was really the pleasant surprise of the day. Our expectations of Cordoba were set low after looking at what the Rick Steves book had to say, but we were quite pleasantly surprised by this part. That said, all of the shops were made for tourists so perhaps that was his beef with the area since it wasn't like a working medina in Fes (though the Albayzin in Granada was also made for tourists, too).
Finally at 1:30pm, we found the Bodega Mezquita. Although it was hyped up on TripAdvisor, the food was quite good. I recalled the meatball tapa was different. There were other creative tapas that we tried as well, and one of the waiters really went out of his way to ensure that we were looked after (which was a rarity in our Spain dining experience).
At 2:40pm, we were done eating and then proceeded to the Mezquita, which was just a few paces from where we were at. The gate to the courtyard area was already open, but just as we were able to line up for tickets, as I was waiting for Julie to take some snaps of the Jewish Quarter, there were huge mega tours one after another that went straight for the Mezquita as well. So the place went from a fairly peaceful area into a zoo as quickly as they showed up!
There was already a line for the tickets even though the doors into the Mezquita wouldn't be open until 3pm, and we were fifteen minutes early. Fortunately, the line was moving fairly quickly and Julie managed to get her tickets by 2:50pm.
There was one tourist who decided to try to cut in front of Julie, but she was having none of it. And she made sure to create a scene so the guard who happened to be standing there tried to force him to go to the back of the line.
I don't know what the deal with that was, but perhaps he must've assumed that we were passive Asians who would've let it go and not say anything.
While Julie and Tahia were in line taking pictures, I was out of line busy taking more pictures of the courtyard and the huge tower that we were almost under. It didn't look like you could go up this tower, so it was pretty much like an ornament to the site.
Next, with tickets in hand, we then queued up at another line for getting into the Mezquita. This line was even longer and wider. Fortunately, it was mostly in shade so it wasn't too bad of a wait as the heat of the afternoon was really starting to pick up.
Once we got inside the Mezquita, we finally got to see for ourselves why the hype and the lines were justified. Indeed, after getting past a blinged out entrance, we were then in the great hall, which I'd imagine was where people would come and pray five times and day while kneeling and facing towards Mecca.
With the rows upon rows of Muslim Arches adorned with red and white blocks arranged in a near circle following the contours of each arch, Julie and I quickly realized that this could very well be the most impressive mosque we had seen on this trip (though there was one we had seen in Egypt that had really high ceilings and lights dangling way down from them in a circular fashion).
Indeed, it seemed like the rows of arches were surrounding a huge Catholic chapel. Meanwhile, the periphery contained smaller altars and relics (some of them blinged out), including a pair of rooms full of treasures or blinged out idols.
It was a strange mix of Muslim and Catholicism, and evidence of the Reconquista was clearly seen here.
Anyways, the beginning of our 90-minute visit was crowded and some parts were like a zoo. But as the visit wore on, it seemed like the tour groups thinned out, and the Mezquita was back to being relatively tranquil. Of course by that time, we were starting to get Mezquita'd out as Tahia was insisting that I carry her for the latter half of our visit.
As I was carrying her, my sore knees were getting increasingly more painful. And I was now concerned that my knee condition wasn't going to get better unless I somehow managed to get some rest. They were probably overworked from all the hiking, carrying Tahia, and city walking on unforgiving stone streets and monuments.
It was about 4:30pm when we finally left the Mezquita. And when we left, man was it scorching hot! The 40C temperature that the Europcar guy warned us about certainly was coming to fruition, and I even recalled he apologized about it.
So instead of going right to the Roman Bridge and the Alcazar, we decided to look for a place to chill out. But I think Julie was looking for a Teteria (Tea House) for a pick-me-up or an ice cream spot in an air-conditioned cafe, but neither of those were found on the streets that we had meandered about on.
With all this searching combined with me carrying Tahia as well as the scorching heat, it was really wearing me down, and my left knee felt like it was getting worse.
So we finally settled on this random Arabian place called Petra, and while there, the air-conditioned room was a relief though it felt like we had isolated ourselves from the action given it was rather hidden in an obscure lane.
Even despite the mint tea, I still managed to doze off for a few minutes. Tahia was still sleeping in the child carrier.
By about 5:30pm, we finally left Petra, then ambled slowly towards the Alcazar de los Tres Reyes Cristianos. We'd arrive twenty minutes later and really had to think hard about going in because we knew it wasn't nearly as impressive as the Alcazar in Sevilla, but it commanded 7 euros per person, which I think rivaled the cost of the one in Sevilla.
Anyways, we went inside, checked out the towers though only one tower allowed us to get the views over the Rio Guadalquivir as well as the Roman Bridge, the Mezquita, and even the extensive gardens with basins and fountains looking in the opposite direction.
The other tower was closed for ascending.
We didn't want to linger too much out in the exposure of the sun given the heat so we then retreated into other rooms and chambers in the Alcazar including a little hammam that reminded us of the one we had seen in one of the palaces in Marrakech.
Our visit was interrupted a couple of times by Tahia needing to poo and clear her unsettled stomach, and on the second go while we were visiting the extensive gardens, that was when she pooped in her pants again.
At least when Julie washed the underwear, she got to clip it on my pack, and we let the intense heat of the day dry it off in a few minutes of walking.
While the gardens were extensive and picturesque, I came to realize that the 7 euro admission price must've also included the sound and light show in the evening that we were encouraged to visit. That said, we just didn't have the time or the will to want to do it.
Finally at about 7:15pm, we concluded our visit then ambled over to the Roman Bridge while trying to stay in the shadows to avoid the intense heat.
When we saw that the Roman Bridge was totally bathed in the hot sun, we felt that it wasn't worth going across the bridge over the smelly Rio Guadalquivir just to get a view across the river back towards the Mezquita especially as the sun was right against the line of sight. So instead, we then ambled back towards the Jewish Quarter for a place to eat for dinner.
Julie's second restaurant of choice was La Flamenka, but it was closed at 6pm. In hindsight, we should've had this place for lunch then the Bodega for dinner since that place was still open. Even other backup options were closed like Luque.
So in the end, we settled on the Patio de la Juderia, which served up decent half-raciones, but they didn't let us have agua del grifo and we had to buy a couple bottles of water while they also mistakenly given us two cups of sangria, but we figured we both could use the drink anyways.
That said, the price of dinner (nearly 40 euros) was really for the entertainment value of the live flamenco show while we were eating.
And both Julie and Tahia enjoyed it as there was actually the guy and girl dancing together before the lady went solo. Actually, the format wasn't all that different from the one we saw in Sevilla, but perhaps the inclusion of this show during dinner as well as its intimacy was what made this entertainment feel like it generated good vibes all around.
At 9:25pm, we were done eating. While the waiter told us there was a second part of the show later on, we had to prioritize getting back to the hotel and sleeping early so we could get to Toledo on an early wake-up first thing tomorrow. So as much as we wanted to stay, we still had a long walk to get back to the hotel ahead of us.
Finally at 10pm, we were back in the room. It felt like the evening paseo along the Avenida de la Libertad was in full effect as twilight was upon us. But we couldn't linger. Besides, it was still 28C this late in the evening, and by the time we retreated to our air conditioned room (maybe that was what AC stood for in AC Cordoba Hotel?), we were dead tired and showered then crashed to sleep.
Unfortunately for me, my left knee really felt uncomfortably painful and the minibar drinks acting as ice packs didn't do a whole lot to help. I'm hoping this won't kill us while we tour Toledo tomorrow. In any case, I figured this concluded the Andalucian part of Spain as we continue north towards Central Spain with Toledo then Madrid up next...
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