A Travellerspoint blog

June 19

Cordoba, Grenada and Gypsy Night

sunny 24 °C

June 19, 2007
Today is a little cloudy which is good as the temperature will be again in the 70’s, perfect for walking.

Today we are going to Cordoba to see an 8th century Arab Mosque and a 12TH century Roman Catholic Cathedral with in the same building. Let me explain.

In Cordoba in the 8th century the Arabs built a Mosque under the first Caliph of Cordoba. The Mosque was expanded in the 9th century and again in the 10Th century to cover a full 5.5 acres under roof. The Mosque, facing east toward Mecca was the largest Mosque in all of Europe.

In the 12th century the area was invaded by the Catholics who under the King Ferdinand III converted the Mosque into a Catholic Cathedral. This is the only Catholic Church built by Arabs and is contained entirely within the walls of a Mosque.

The building is only 400 sq meters smaller then the Vatican, the largest church in the world. Holding the ceiling is 835 columns, formerly over 1000 columns held the roof but 200 or so were removed to build the church.

The facility is absolutely incredible, light, airy and beautiful in decorations. It simply must be seen to really experience it.

We also went into the Jewish quarter very near the Mosque. We visited a 9th century synagogue. It too was converted by the King into a Catholic Church. Some once again we have a Catholic Church built entirely by Jews. The building was very simple and small as there were over 100 small Jewish temples during the 9th century. Today there are not enough practicing Jews in Cordoba to hold a simple minion (10 men) so there are no active synagogue in operation.

Our local guide was very informative and helpful as we walked the old city of Cordoba. Our last stop we found our first Gelato store. Three Gelatos were quickly served up and we headed back to the bus for our trip to Grenada and Gypsy night.

Grenada
I was amazed at the size of the city of Grenada. It has a population of 350,000 and a University so there is shops and bars and people everywhere. Cathy and I walked around the city looking at the small shops and such as Chris took a nap.

7:30 Dinner
Dinner in Grenada was at a local Restaurant in the center of the new city. This is a major metropolitan city with high end shopping and night life. The restaurant was a very nice local shop. As we walked in we were handed a glass of Sangria before we went to our table. We dined on local fare tonight which consisted of chicken in olive oil, snap peas in a sweet tomato sauce and French fries!

Each table had a bottle of wine and mineral water for a group of four. Cathy sat with another table only because we arrived last in the group and the tables all set out for four so two families were split up. It was OK as Chris and I sat with two younger people and Cathy say with their mom.

Chris opened our bottle and poured each of us a glass. I tasted the wine and it was a little like vinegar! Chris also felt it was a little bitter but we kept drinking. Soon I asked at the next table to see if their wine was also bitter. It was not. Our bottle turned. Quickly a new bottle was brought out and the rest of the meal went very well.

Tonight we enjoyed Gypsy night. After dinner those of us who paid for the optional entertainment went into a small bus for a ride up into the mountains. Here we left the city for the hills where we stopped at a hill top location where the Gypsies lived.

We entered into a cave like room literally made to look like a cave. It was white walls and ceiling with lights and kitchen ornaments hanging from the walls and ceiling made of brass and copper. The room was about 25 feet long and 8 feet wide. We sat on red painted wooden chairs along both sides of the room providing a dancing floor of 5 feet by 18 feet. Talk about close to the action.

The Gypsies were dressed in reds, whites, black and other bright colors. One singer, one Spanish guitar 4 beautiful women and two handsome men assembled to provide the entertainment.

They performed a series of traditional Gypsy Flamenco dances. They were so close to us that literally the breeze from their swirling dresses and flashing hands cold be felt as the music and dancing provided a pounding beat that made you move your feet back for fear of being stepped on.

Flamenco dance is rapid feet movement with highly stylized hand and facial movement. The feet provide tapping akin to River Dance steps with “music” coming from the feet to accompany the harmony and beat provided by the guitar. The entertainment was amazing.

We departed at 11:30 to return to the hotel. We still had to pack and get ready for a 6:30 wake up call in the morning. It was after 12:30 before we were ready for bed. When do we start the resting part of the vacation!

Posted by pfarina 14:11 Archived in Spain Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

My Spanish Birthday

Toledo to Cordoba

sunny 23 °C

June 18, 2007 My 54th Birthday
The day begins early as we get our wake up call at 6:22 AM. The day is bright, sunny and the temperature will be in the 75 range all day. A perfect day to see Toledo….Spain.

First we begin with a hearty buffet breakfast consisting of yogurts, fruits, juices, breads, meats and of course Spanish café. As we dine our luggage is loaded into our luxury coach and by 7:50 we are ready to drive the hour to Toledo.

I must admit Toledo Spain was simply magnificent. The views from across the river are breathtaking as can be recalled by the El Greco painting of the “View of Toledo” Our first stop was the actual view painted by El Greco. We saw why he immortalized it in his work.

We pick up our local guide and head into the city itself for a walking tour and some shopping. Toledo is noted for it’s Swords, Knives, Damascene jewelry and beautiful art.

Toledo was first built by the Arabs, inhabited by Jews and Arabs, conquered by the Romans and finally settled by the Christians. Unfortunately most everything we see today in Toledo is built in recent times. You see most of Toledo was destroyed by the bombs of several wars and was nearly destroyed. This beautiful city was entirely rebuilt using the original plans so it looks today much as it did 400 years ago.

We enter through the Jewish quarter which is modeled after the city of Jerusalem and resembles the city in architecture. The one Jewish temple was changed by the Christians to a Church, leaving the outside but Christianizing the inside. The church itself is very bare with columns down two aisles. There is a small altar at the center but otherwise the walls are unadorned.

Outside the temple and around every corner are shops. Lladro, Toledo steel and gold Damascene abound. I stop to buy a beautiful gold hand made letter opener in the shape of a sword: the only Toledo steel I could afford but it is genuine and it is my birthday after all.

We tour throughout the city stopping at the Arab Mosque, now a Christian Church. We also stop at the Church of the Virgin Mary of the Holy Chalice. Legend has it King Ferdinand had a vision where he met the Virgin Mary and was given the gift of a golden Chalice. He built this church to commemorate the event. He and his wife, Isabella, wanted to be buried here but instead are buried at the Alhambra Palace which we will see later in the tour.

All too soon we must say good bye to the sister city of Toledo and head south to Cordoba where we will have dinner and spend the night, but not without a little adventure first.

You see as we depart Toledo our guide, David, has a surprise for us. He is going to take us to a place where they actually make the fine Toledo steel blades the area is famous for. The factory also makes the Damascene jewelry renowned throughout the area.

We see a demonstration of forging the steel, then move on to the Damascene work shop with a final stop, of course, at the factory store! Cathy buys a beautiful set of earrings and I buy for Rick a Toledo Steel letter opener. I decide to head back to the bus a little early to explore the area, when things go slightly awry.

As I approach the bus I spy one of our fellow travelers basically trapped in the hot bus. You see he decided to stay on the bus while we shopped. The bus drive went off for a walk and a smoke, I am sure, and closed the bus and shut off the A/C. Now even though it is relatively cool out, a closed bus in the sun can get HOT. Well my fellow passenger looked a little hot and I saw him trying to find a way to open the door from inside the bus.

As I stood there I saw a red dial labeled OPEN/Emergency. Well open was good right? So I turned the dial and the door opened. Our friend was freed from the bus. Now the door was open and I wanted to walk away. So I figured if turning the handle left opened the door, then turning the handle right must close it. Right? Wrong!

It seems turning to the right engages the Emergency part of open/emergency and shuts the bus down completely so NOTHING WORKS. The ignition is locked, the doors are open but can not be closed and basically the bus is DEAD. OK, not my best move but I did get the guy out right? So how about a little credit for that.

So here we have 28 people, a Tour Guide and a rather pissed bus driver and one big dead bus. There has to be a way to reset the damn thing. Unfortunately no one knows the way.
Ok I got us into this I guess I have to get us out.

While the bus driver seems to be getting less happy with me by the second I point out that there is a key hole in the dial so there must be a key. He says there is no key. GREAT. There has to be a key so he looks around and finds a key. I begin to feel a little less like I am going to die on my birthday when the driver puts the key into the key hole and turns it to reset the switch. Unfortunately nothing happens and 28 pair of eyes begins to look in my direction.

I know this will work I just do not know how to make it work, but after several tries I get the doors to open and close, progress. The bus will still not start but the doors work. Ok so now we are half way there and with much twisting, turning and I am sure cursing on the part of the driver, the alarm turns off (oh yeah I forgot to mention during all this time there is an alarm in the background going off in the bus) and the ignition responds.

Sheepishly I get back in the bus. I did save a guy remember and the bus does work. So now we are driving to Cordoba in the south of Spain. Everyone in the bus is asleep including Chris and Cathy as I write this alone in the back of the bus. OK I came here of my own accord but nobody complained. I do hope the older folks on the bus have some level of Alzheimer’s and they forget the alarm incident soon or this is going to be a lonely trip.

7:00 PM June 18, 2007
Well it seems I have been forgiven for my adventure above. At the last rest stop even the bus driver told me “no problems”. So I guess I survived that one.

We checked into our 5 star hotel in Cordoba. It is magnificent. Rolling gardens, beautiful pool and nicely appointed guest rooms. We have now confirmed that Chris will enjoy a single room for the entire trip, lucked out again!

Cathy and I enjoyed a quiet hour at the pool doing a little reading and a little swimming and just plain resting. Dinner tonight is in the Hotel.

Before dinner we have to decide on the “extra trips” offered by Trafalgar as added excursions to our tour. We heard all about them on the bus trip over. Of course we will do all but one. I will describe each as they occur so you can follow along with the same anticipation as we have.

Showers and dinner awaits.

8:45 PM
Dinner at the hotel was a delicious buffet of pasta, fish, chicken, pork and a variety of potatoes, salads, breads and fruits with dessert. Delicious. A fine bottle of Rose wine to round out the flavors. It is 10:00 PM and we just finished.

We actually get to sleep late tomorrow with a 7:00 AM wake up cal for an 8:00 AM departure on route to Grenada and more adventure

Posted by pfarina 13:07 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Madrid

Our First Day

semi-overcast 18 °C

ARRIVAL Madrid
We touched down at 8:04 AM into Madrid exactly on time. The weather, however, was less then perfect. It was deeply overcast, a little wet and very COLD. We expected to see and were prepared for 85 degrees but we were greeted with 60 degrees. Cathy is frozen with any temperature below 75.

We breezed through customs but had to wait more then an hour for luggage. Europe is very slow for services. Finally the luggage came and we headed to meet the Trafalgar tour guide for a bus ride to our hotel.

Our tour guide David, a very handsome young man of about 30 years old, escorted us to the bus then onto the hotel Rafael in the heart of Madrid. On the way we learned that tonight is the final game for which Beckham will be playing for Real Madrid. The stadium is within a 10 minute walk from the hotel, so we expect to see a carnival atmosphere if the win, and a sad crowd if they lose.

We checked into the hotel and once again found out Chris will not have a roommate! Let me explain. Trafalgar tours allow singles under the age of 25 to book a room with a roommate provided by Trafalgar. This reduces the cost of the trip by nearly $1000. If a member of the same sex also books a similar fare, Trafalgar with pair them up.

Well we calculated based on previous trips that there is less then a 3% chance Chris would get a roommate. Sure enough, for the last tours of Europe Chris enjoyed a single room at shared room prices!

Our hotel is beautiful. The rooms are large, well appointed and bright. The bathroom has the bold look of Kohler about it. The shower is unique for in all of Europe there are no shower doors or curtains to keep the water in the tub. Instead there is a 1/3 glass door that keeps in about 1/3 of the water, the rest of which hits the tile floor.

After check in and shower, we leave the hotel for a walk about town. Yes it is overcast and cold but not raining so when in Madrid…. Our first goal is FOOD as we are starving.

First lesson, do not arrive in Europe on a Sunday. Almost everything is closed including most restaurants. All the stores are closed and traffic is almost non existent except for near the stadium where there is already a queue at noon for an 8 PM game.

So we begin a search for someplace to eat. We tried a pub, a pizzeria and a cafeteria. The pub was closed; the pizzeria was open but was very small and filled to capacity with people puffing on European cigarettes creating a smoke filled room. Second lesson, they still smoke in Europe….everywhere. We finally settle into a VIPS café.

Now this place is a little unusual. You enter into a storefront selling books, toys, groceries, wine, liquor, and a host of other items. You pass through all this to the back of the store and there is a nice little café seating about 125.

Third lesson came fast. The menu is in Spanish. (Duh, of course it is) The waiters do not speak English and we had to rely on Cathy’s Spanish from 25 years ago, I though we would either starve or be eating something really strange. We were starving so we decided to give it a try.

Cathy and Chris decided on a Bikini which turned out to be a cheese and ham sandwich on toast served with orange-pineapple juice. Very good. I went with an Iberico which turned out to be Iberian ham with olive oil served with a tomato spread on a delicious bread. Excellent. Apparently they feed the pigs almonds which give a delightful flavor to the meat. I also tried a local beverage which amounted to fruit juice and wine, we used to call it sangria! For 12.5 Euro, no tip required, we were well fed and ready to go.

We walked around Madrid for then next 2 hours. Madrid is a modern city with many tall buildings, apartments, pocket parks and wide streets. It looked like any large city in the US except for the shouting and car horns constantly keeping a beat on the street.

We saw shopping centers, closed; stores and bars, also closed and several tall glass skyscrapers and apartment buildings. Along the way we visited a park dedicated to Pablo Picasso and a statue of Juan Peron former President of Argentina and friend to Madrid.

It was getting cold and we were all a bit tired after our walk so we headed back to the hotel for a little nap. Our next adventure begins at 6:15 when we meet in the lobby with the entire tour group for our first welcome dinner. We can hardly wait.

6:15 PM
We finally meet our tour for the first time. (As Chris, and in the past Rick, calls it “the near dead” tour). Everyone on tour is over 60 at a minimum! We do have 3 younger people plus Chris so the mean age is down to 56.

We walk to our Tapas Restaurant for dinner. Tapas are Spanish appetizers. We dined on shared plates of sausages, calamari, mushrooms, salad with anchovies, fried potato, and tomato in a hot pocket, cheeses, meats and breads. All of which are washed down with a red wine (2 bottles) and Sangria (one pitcher). At our table only Chris and I drank wine, Cathy had one glass, so we were well healed by the end of dinner. The meal was excellent and a fine time was had by all.

As a special treat we learned that tonight just ¼ mile away at the Madrid soccer stadium Real Madrid was to play Majorca for the all Spain cup. Unlike in the US soccer is very serious in Madrid. The stadium was at capacity 90,000. The streets, the bars and the sidewalks were full. We tried, unsuccessfully to watch the game at a bar but there were too many for us to get in. So we headed home only to find the game on TV!

So resting in our warm beds we watched a nail biter as Madrid pulled out a win (3 to 1) and the celebrations began. Horns, sirens, yelling cars and revelry ALL NIGHT. Much of the activity was right outside our window so all night we “participated” in the festivities.

Tomorrow morning we are up at 6:30, this is vacation? Breakfast and off to the first day of travel where we will see Toledo and Cordoba.

Posted by pfarina 13:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

June 16, 2007

Travel Detroit to Madrid

sunny 9 °C

June 16, 2007
Well, we have begun, not without some adventure in the garage! Let me explain.
Chris packed the car for us and with everything in the car, Cathy and I and Chris got into the car and settled in for the hour drive to the airport.

As I started the car I heard a beeping from the luggage! Knowing this can not be a good idea to have some alarm beeping in the luggage, I asked if anyone had set an alarm. “Not me!” came the resounding reply, yet the beeping continued.

I turned off the engine to hopefully either stop the sound or better locate it. Chris put his ear to the task and located a bag where he believed the beeping originated. NOTHING THERE, yet the beeping continues. We search again in vain; no source but… there it is beeping at us.

Cathy decided to go to the back of the car and in so doing she hears the beep even louder. She make the source discovery, a very loud bird singing his farewell to us and wishing us a bon voyage!

Mystery solved we head to the airport.

We arrive at the airport, breeze through checking and security. Off to Quizno’s for lunch and the 60 minute wait for our flight to Chicago. The flight before ours is almost an hour late in boarding. This does not bode well!

Good News, flight to Chicago goes off without a hitch. We arrive in Chicago with 3 hours to the next flight which will take us overnight to Madrid.

June 16 evening to June 17, 2007
The flight on Iberia was on a HUGE plane. The loaded flight held 385 souls plus crew. They even had a tail camera which showed our plane’s take off and landing! We even had a view of the plane in-flight. Not much to see but very interesting.

The 7 hours flight was smooth, quiet and uneventful. We all slept even Cathy who notoriously does not sleep on a plane. Chris and I loaded up on Melatonin while Cathy hit the nighttime decongestant. No wonder we slept.

Posted by pfarina 13:02 Archived in Spain Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

The Night Before

T- 12 hours

sunny 25 °C

Well it is now the night before the big trip. We are packed, we hope, and ready to go. We depart home at 10:30 for an hour drive to Detroit where we head to CHicago. Here we layover for three hours then board the Iberia overnight to MADRID.

We just took the dogs for their last walk before we depart and so we are now just waiting for the adventure to begin.

Until tomorrow then the plan is to rest well... we may need it!

Posted by pfarina 17:13 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (1)

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