A day in Segovia

A day in Segovia

Segovia is only a 30-minute, 20-Euro Renfe ride from Madrid, and the three main sights can easily be seen in a day trip, although I would love to see them in the evening light and at night.

The Guiomar train station is a ways out of town, but only an 8-Euro cab ride. The taxi dropped us off right in front of the aqueduct, which seems to stretch forever up and in either direction. Bus #11 will drop you off there, as well, after a 20-minute ride.

After a quick lunch while we watched the high school students in assorted versions of togas wrapping up a field trip, we climbed to the top of the aqueduct, marveling at every view.

view - closeup

Emperor Trajan built the nine-mile aqueduct, which culminated at the Alcazar. Over 2000 years old, 2500 feet of the original aqueduct are visible above ground at the entrance to the old city. It was made from 20,000 granite blocks without mortar and has 118 arches. The aqueduct actually functioned until the 19th century.

From there, we wound our way downhill to Plaza Mayor and toured the cathedral. Dating from the 16th century, the Cathedral of Segovia is considered to be the last Gothic cathedral, with the beginnings of Renaissance style. As with other cathedrals we’ve visited, restoration is ongoing. That’s reassuring, and we’re more than willing to pay admission in order for that to happen.

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Then more walking until the Alcazar loomed in front of us. Magnificent views in every direction. We opted for the (very thorough) audio tour, but passed on the 162 stairs up to the tower. An hour later, and my tourist self was saturated and ready to head home.

front

What goes downhill must eventually go uphill, so we trudged back to the aqueduct, wandering along the wall through neighborhoods for a half an hour or so. We stopped in view of the aqueduct to enjoy a pitcher of sangria at El Secreto: a bit expensive at 16 Euros, but hands down the best sangria yet!

 

Island of bliss: Mallorca

Island of bliss: Mallorca

Getting there

The Alicante-Elche airport. The only place where Todd is excited to visit Burger King. Not that it’s faster than the other places – it isn’t. Not that it’s cheaper than the other places – it certainly isn’t. It’s just that it’s there. And it seems the thing to do.

It’s always exciting when we don’t have to traipse to the end of the terminal to board our flight. A great start!

In the jetway, we got to visiting with the woman behind us, who had a Yorkie-in-a-Bag. She was making 2 trips to bring her dogs back home from mom’s, then another flight back to Alicante to pick up her car and ride the ferry from Denia to Mallorca. It was too long and too cold for the dogs to have to ride on the deck of the ferry. So: to visit Mom in Alicante, 2 round-trip flights from Mallorca to deliver the dogs, then a flight back to ride the ferry so she could have her car. Then the whole process in reverse when she returns home to Mallorca.

The encounter reinforced our decision to remain dog-free while in Spain.

Hotel

Why wouldn’t we stay at Hotel Feliz in Mallorca? Our honeymoon hotel in Costa Rica was Si Como No.

Hotel Feliz reminded me of a hotel I stayed in once in Key West. I don’t remember the name of it, but it was touted as a hotel for avant garde adults. Maybe it was the purple rugs in the lobby.

It was old, but tastefully, if basically, updated. Easy-care laminate, festive artwork, 7-foot mirror at the foot of the bed. Okay, the 7-foot mirror was more than a bit disconcerting.

But the staff was great, and the common areas were quite fun.

And you have to love a hotel that takes Happy Hour literally: 7-8 nightly.

Our first evening there, as we were getting ready to head out for dinner, the power went out just as Todd opened the patio door. Total darkness in the bathroom, where I had mascara on one eye. Todd brought in his cell phone so I could finish my makeup, then we headed down the stairs for Happy Hour. The power continued to go on and off in the whole neighborhood until we left for dinner, but all was well by the time we returned. The bartender took it in stride, shrugging and pouring drinks with a smile – in the semi-dark!

After touring the Palma Cathedral, we paused for lunch at Bar c’as Caparrut, where we had lunch in the shadow of the cathedral while listening to classical guitar.

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Port de Soller

We missed the train to Port de Soller, so we took the bus, a whopping 4,35 per person. We were 3rd in line, which was good: the last dozen or so didn’t get on. What a ride! 2 lanes with cyclists – we were glad we weren’t driving. We passed enclaves that were not really villages, more like settlements. The whole landscape was terraced to make the land farmable. The white towns of Andalucia have morphed into brown towns: brown buildings with green shutters, except for the occasional rebel who has brown, blue, or red shutters.

 Dining

Dinner our first night was at the suggestion of the bartender: down the block and around the corner toward the marina at Ca’n Manolo. We ordered the salted sea bass. THE salted sea bass – there was only one in the cooler by the front door. It came out mounded in salt. The waiter carved the salt off and expertly filleted the fish. It was enough fish for four people, but we ate all of it, and the perfectly roasted veggies that came with it.

IMG_0651The second night, we followed the hotel chef’s recommendation and took a taxi to the Mercado Gastronomico San Juan, a food court in an old market with a grocery store and movie theater surrounding an outdoor plaza. We made one pass through, then divided to conquer. Shrimp sautéed with lots of butter and garlic, sushi (the best yet in Spain), oysters, assorted tapas, then sushi again. We liked it so much, we went back the next night and repeated the menu.

IMG_1325Our final dinner, again at the recommendation of the hotel chef, was at Rififi Restaurant. The owner took us on a detailed tour of the cooler, then served up oysters, grilled whole peppers, and risotto with lobster.

Mallorca was paradise – and we left much undone – we will return!

 

 

up the coast: Jazz at the Parador

up the coast: Jazz at the Parador

After debating about it all week, we decided Friday morning to make the trip to Javea for that week’s Jazz at the Parador program.

Some time spent online, and tickets for the performance were booked. It was a little expensive to stay at the Parador, but breakfast was included, and we wouldn’t have to taxi to and from the concert. There was a bit of concern because the tram line was under construction from Calpe through Denia, so we would have to use the bus to get to Teulada, then taxi to the Parador in Javea.

A quick packing of backpacks and a bag of snacks and we were off!

Tram 1 from our own Plaza Luceros – running uncharacteristically late. A ticket purchase in El Campello to get us the rest of the way. Change to Tram 9 in Benidorm. Switch to bus in Calpe. Dropped off in Teulada at a roundabout. No taxis to be seen:

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We wandered down the street until we found an open restaurant, where we had wine and beer and had the waitress call us a taxi. 20 euros later we arrived at the Parador.

A quick bite in the café/bar, then a quiet half hour or so in our room before we headed downstairs for the concert.

After visiting with a couple from Belgium – retired and spending winters in Benissa – we sat where Todd could watch the base player. Actually, the keyboard player, Richard Busiakiewicz,  had more of the too-cool-for-school persona usually associated with bass players. But the most interesting character was definitely the drummer. He was definitely in his own world, and the audience was irrelevant to him.

The leader of the group, Enric Peidro, was Spanish, and the drummer was French. Okay so far. But the guest tenor sax player, Ray Gelato, and the keyboard guy were English – somehow, that doesn’t make sense to me for a jazz combo playing American jazz.

But they were great!

Back to our room for a beautiful view of the bay. The recent storms had done significant damage to the beach, so they had brought in a truck load (or more) of sand and were spreading it. Kids were playing on the giant sand pile while a bull dozer scooped and spread sand.

After breakfast, we reversed our trip to get home: taxi to bus stop, bus to Calpe station, train to Benidorm, transfer to Tram 1 to home.

 

a Monday in Cordoba

a Monday in Cordoba

Upon arriving in Cordoba, we followed the GPS instructions to our hotel and ended up, after roaming through narrow streets, with side mirrors tucked in, at the wrong NH hotel. With annotated map in hand, we wound our way back out and into relatively spacious public parking under the medieval wall.

We dragged our bags out of the parking garage back through the wall and through the narrow warrens of the Jewish quarter to our hotel, where they showed us the back door that would take us directly through the wall about a block from the parking lot. Vale!

I think this part of Cordoba was my favorite of the whole trip: Muslim meets Christian in the Jewish quarter.

But we made an inadvertent miscalculation: We arrived on Sunday afternoon, with Monday as our sightseeing day. Most sights were closed on Monday.

But we caught the synagogue just before it closed, and we were able to stroll through the gardens of La Mezquita before it closed Sunday.

We returned to La Mezquita first thing Monday morning for tickets and the audio tour. To our delight, they were harvesting oranges in the garden. Oh, the smell! And what an awe-inspiring sight – the years and layers of worship that have occurred there: Visigoths, then Muslims, then Christians. Mass has been said there every day since the Christians took it over in the 13th century.

We window shopped throughout the Jewish quarter, admiring the silver filigree. We strolled across the Roman bridge and marveled at the intact history before us.

As warned in the guide books, we were frequently met by (typically) older woman trying to sell us rosemary. Not as ubiquitous as we were expecting, and truly no worse than the folks selling wooden apple baskets in Alicante.

Dinner Monday night was at a lovely Italian restaurant just outside the wall. Seems you can find only Spanish wine in Spain, not French or Italian. When we asked the waiter if they had Chianti, he was quite confused: seems he had never heard of such! So we enjoyed a great Italian meal with a lovely red Spanish wine!

 

 

 

 

bar tales

bar tales

As Texans, we are always appreciative of a good margarita. The best one we’ve found in Alicante so far is the one at the Gourmet Experience at El Corte Ingles. Expensive by Alicante standards at 6 Euros, it is nonetheless excellent! And when Darin, our favorite waitress, is working, we get sample mango margaritas with la cuenta.

I’ve already posted about the disappointing pina-rita at Tia Juana’s. Last week, we stumbled onto Cactus Alicante, where the kitchen was not open, but the margarita was excellent, if a little sweet.

As we’ve ventured beyond Alicante, we’ve had other alcohol-related adventures.

Note: in Andalusia, even the seco wines are somewhat sweet.

In Jaen, we taught the bartender how to make a Rus Blanco with a dusty bottle of Tia Maria. With that successful experience under our belt, we settled into the lounge area of our hotel in Cordoba one evening for Tia Maria and cream. When the waitress seemed confused, we were able to convey that we were wanting a coffee liqueur, glasses with ice, and cold milk. She returned with Kahlua (even better), the glasses with ice, and the cold milk. She was amazed at our creation, I think mostly at the use of cold milk.

We tried again the next night, with a different waitress. We asked for Kahlua. She insisted they didn’t have it. After several exchanges, we settled for Tia Maria. This time, she brought warm milk. Not the same, as the ice melted quickly, but yummy dessert drink nonetheless.

Our last evening in Cordoba, we followed the desk clerk’s recommendation for Italian. The food was excellent, but they had no concept of Chianti. We settled for a local red. When in Spain…

Vale!

a quiet stopover in Jaen

a quiet stopover in Jaen

We had high hopes for Jaen as a one-day stop between Granada and Cordoba. The cathedral was beautiful, but you can’t take pictures. The ubiquitous castle, which we opted not to visit in the rain as our choices were to walk up or take a taxi. Not much else.

I think part of the issue was that we chose a quiet hotel on the edge of town. The view of the castle from our hotel room was spectacular (see photo), and it was only a 5-euro taxi ride into town, but we’re used to being in the middle of everything.

We did teach the bartender in our hotel how to make a White Russian. He had to use a stepstool to get down a VERY dusty bottle of Tia Maria. Todd told him how much to pour. Then how much vodka – NOT gin. Then milk – NOT warmed. Vale! Rus Blanco!

Jaen seriously shuts down for siesta. The place we had planned to eat dinner didn’t open until 9:00, so we wandered until we ended up back at the restaurant where we had lunch, Columbia 50. The Caesar salad was so good I ate every bit of it. (For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a fan of vegetative matter.)

We left Jaen grateful we chose Alicante as our home. We have restaurants on every block, and something is always open, even during siesta.

the road (somewhat) less traveled

the road (somewhat) less traveled

I don’t remember learning how to read a map, but it was part of every road trip our family took when I was a child. It was nothing short of a miracle to be able tell what town was coming up next, how far we’d been, how far we still had to go. Map apps are not the same as the real thing! In Spain, I find it helps to spread out the map to get the big picture, as all roads lead to/from Madrid: Spanish highways radiate out from Madrid like spokes – sort of.

National highways, called “interurban motorways” are named with an A plus numbers. The six radial roads coming from Madrid are A-1 through A-6. Other highways have 2-digit numbers.

Regional highways are labeled with the first letter (or 2 letters) of the region. So, traveling through Andalusia, the regional roadways are labeled with an A, just like the national highways. But the regional signs are green or orange. Color matters!

On our way to Granada, we stopped in Lorca for lunch. We’ve added Lorca to the spend-a-day-there list: a great castle and an archaeological dig that you can apparently visit by appointment.

Back on the road through the Sierras in the rain. Passing rolling seas of olive groves, with each bend of the road revealing an even more stunning scene.

first-view-of-sierra-nevada

Our first view of the Sierra Nevada.

We covered 350 kilometers (160 miles) on that leg.

Driving in Granada itself (and in Cordoba) is not for sissies! Snug streets that shouldn’t have cars on them at all, let alone cars trying to go in both directions with pedestrians who have nowhere to get out of the way except to duck into the door of a nearby business.

And as we left the corkscrew parking garage in Granada, Todd had to park on an incline while I got out to pay at the window. Really odd – with cars stopped on the incline behind us and ahead of us, coming into the garage.

Leaving Granada, we cut across smaller roadways just for the experience. After our rainy drive from Alicante to Granada, we were glad for the brief sunshine on the way to Jaen.

lunch-with-gnocchi

We stopped in Moclin for lunch. The locals looked at us suspiciously – until Gnocchi discovered us. Once she had accepted us, we were met with smiles from all.

As we were loading up in Cordoba to head home, Todd realized that he had left the car keys in the hotel safe. I stayed with our bags while he trudged back to the hotel to retrieve the keys. And we were off…

Just outside Albacete on our way home, we were stopped by the Guardia in a random stop-and-search. Todd got breathalyzed. We were told that since we had residency cards, we were in violation by driving with a Texas driver’s license – we should have an EU license. Much conferring between the guardia, then we were told there would be a 500-euro fine – only 250 if we paid within 20 days. More conferring, then a call from headquarters let them know that we had 6 months from the date of the residency to change the driver’s license. Us: Muchas gracias, senor. Him: Please drive safely.

Vale!