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Madrid. What a city.

By Rob Pinkerton

DSCF4214After a long cramped flight….but what a fine thing …to be in Madrid. We arrived at 8 in the morning and rode the Metro with 2 train changes to the Plaza Sol which is the hub of Madrid. We sat, a little dazed while the city became busy around us and studied the map. Our hostal was only a few blocks…a small room above a busy street, (is there any other kind) Carrera de Gerronimo but very comfortable. After a zizz we woke feeling groggy but better. The afternoon we strolled away…through a maze of narrow streets, small shaded plazas and huge, hot and busy plazas. Snacked on expensive tapas and marvelled at the architecture of an ancient city and the civilized European way of living. Still jet lagged, we slept again and woke to the evening.

The afternoon siesta is used by the locals as a meeting time…food, wine and conversation. The evening is when thing really start to rock. The city is swarmed with people in the cool evening…eating, drinking, laughing. The building facades are lit with beautiful but tastefully muted colours. Again we walked and lost ourselves in a different area and finally settled on a funky tapas bar and gobbled blood sausage with roasted peppers, papas with a spicy sauce and paella . Wobbled to our room and slept for a solid 9 hours.

I will get this up to date soon. Internet in our room is not reliable and I am sitting in a very hot lobby. Today was fun and tomorrow we take the train to Toledo. Got to get some pics down loaded and get organized. Soon.

DSCF4205Soon is relative. We are now in Toledo. Back to day two. After a breakfast of potato omelet, café con leche and zumo de naranja we walked to the palace. The line up for tickets was ten miles long in the sun. We will get back to Madrid later and maybe see this. Everyone loves opulence and the palace is the third tackiest in Europe after Versailles and Vienna. They are built to assuage the egos of monarchs and leave me somewhat cold. I admire the stone work but endless spending on the backs of the people gets to me. So off we go to the cathedral next door where there is no line. Same thing. The building is magnificent, the tapestries, ornamentation, gold and jeweled artifacts and statuary beautifully done but soon it is making me angry. Obviously some angst here from my childhood religious experience. Tricia had a great time as it is just art to her.

DSCF4212Late lunch of a three course meal. This is the large meal of the day for the Spanish as they spend siesta socialising, eating and drinking wine or beer. Nap time for us after this. Can’t imagine what the productivity is like after siesta. Bought ourselves a electric kettle and some coffee.

Day three. Metro to the train station. 25 euros for two on the high speed train to Toledo. Thirty minute ride through dry fields, olive groves and industry. Cab to the Hostal Infantales…an even smaller room  but sounds like us. Toledo is on a hill surrounded by the river Tajo. It is a maze of very narrow medieval winding streets. Cars are not allowed except for taxis and officials. When one appears it is best to duck into a doorway or risk getting toes run over. Seems like lots to do and a jazz festival starts in a few days. Lunch was birds a yummy ragou and wild boar stew. Going to walk down to the river this evening.

The evenings here are the best. The majority of tourist have gone back to Madrid. We dragged ourselves back to consciousness after a deep siesta and went down to the river. The path winds among excavated Roman baths, olive and plane trees and many we have no name for. Oleanders bloom and fishermen drowse in camp chairs. A young boy had landed a carpa, about 5 pounds. Ducks, Great Blue Herons and unidentifiable birds hide in the tree tops. Families, dog walkers, joggers, all locals enjoying the green space. These cities are lovely but they are all stone and marble towering over and enclosing you. need some space.

Sunday, Sept.13.  Having trouble with the computer. Crashes and I lose my work. There was a post that is missing here. Oh well. A lost day in Toledo. I can’t even remember it. Oh yeah. We visited the Cathedral…best in Spain it is said. Surely remarkable. 250 years to build and such opulence I have never seen. T says I don’t have to do another cathedral. Yeah! We are tired of big cities teeming with tourists so it was a relief yesterday to escape to Antequera (pronounced Antikera). Metro to the train station and RENFE back to Madrid. 2 1/2 hr lay over in the wonderful, efficient station with tropical gardens and lots of shops. Bought light lunch for the train. RENFE (high speed train) took 2 1/2 hrs at 250 to 300 km/hr to Antequera. Olive groves as far as you can see. Cab into town to a fun hotel with a sports bar. Wandering we chanced on men & women going to a wedding. Women in magnificent outfits and 6 in spikes tottering through the gravel parking lot and up flights of stone stairs in 30 deg heat. Saw a band forming in a parking lot. It was a procession that we had lucked into. The town dignitaries and the band escort the huge statue of the virgin DSCF4384 Mary through the streets. Good photo op.

Little slices of life…a young girl crying, sobbing on a Metro platform…sitting at a table in a street, lingering over our dinner at about 10PM watching hookers and clients come and go from the apartments across the street.

DSCF4381Today. Sunday, we changed hotels. No, we didn’t get kicked out of the last one. Then we toured the fortress where the one of the last sieges took place in the 1500 where the moors where defeated. Great vistas and a cool breeze. Then lunch of fried eel and cold tomato soup. then walked the deserted town (Sunday) and back to our hotel for siesta. And I am caught up.

Antequera from the fortress Tomorrow we pick up our car and lose ourselves in the wilds of Andelusia. Off to Olvera for a week. Tiny town.

Picked up Clio, our tiny Peugot and our amazing GPS (haven’t named her yet) guided us through a gauntlet of round a bouts to a curvy To Olveracountry road through farm country. Then we spied Olvera from a distance. Now the fun began. Followed GPS instructions as we entered town. The roads got narrower and narrower. Got to a place where a dog was barking from an eye level window and a car was parked that I could just squeeze by with mirrors folded in. No way I could turn the next corner. Had to back  down past the barking dog and parked car. (Manual transmission) The owner of dog and car came out and shouted instructions in Spanish. Clear of him, I continued in reverse until an intersection where I parked in a handicap spot so I could figure out WTF. On the up hill street was a bread truck honking his horn and selling to las senoras. Then an old guy drove up and berated me as he wanted my parking spot. We made him pay for it by giving us directions to our hovel. Drove the way we had just backed down to a Y where we (GPS) had gone wrong. Yeah. Our street!  Parked in another handicap spot and unloaded our gear. Rosario, who lives next door let us in. Drove down the hill and found a parking spot.DSCF4448

Lovely little cave of a house…street door opens into a  living room/dining room, hall to an OK kitchen (Tricia says) and bathroom  and out to an enclosed tiny courtyard with stairs up to a patio. Bedroom and another bathroom upstairs. Off to find the super market. Drove wildly around town and lucked onto it. Nice store. Stocked up and tried to find our way home through the maze of streets. We went round and up and down about 3 times until we found home.

Laundry done and hung….tapas on the patio and a napDSCF4452. Tricia is cooking our dinner and has blown the main breaker twice. We have our work cut out for us here. No English spoken at all and a lot to learn. People are nice but we have to speak first. Fun.

Tuesday, Sept 15      Lazy morning then explored the town. Of course climbed to the top of the old Moorish fort. I could get into the history of architecture. The methods of building are fascinating. The town cemetario was interesting. Of course the obligatorio cathedral is next to the fort.

Olvera and cathedral from the fortDSCF4469 After a tapa lunch we hopped in Clio and drove to a wildlife sanctuary about 15 kms. The twinning road through the Andelucian country is just awesome. Rolling hills and towering rocks with cows, sheep herds and goats. The sanctuary has a colony of Gryphon vultures that Tricia wanted to see. Of course they were circling over a massive crag and refused to sit on her arm. We hiked along a bike trail and through a kilometer long tunnel but could get no nearer the beasts. Back to the car and drove for miles on dirt roads and newly paved roads through magnificent country. Tiny towns where people looked at us like we were from outer space. Nice day.

Wednesday.   Off to Granada for Trina’s birthday. The Alhambra is a must see and there will be thousands of tourists from all over the world. We reserved for this in August and it was almost completely booked then. As it is, we could not reserve for the palace…sold out. A two hour drive on secondary roads to Antequera and then AutoVia (freeway) to Granada. The driving is great. No one drives in the left lane except to pass. It’s so nice not to have dawdlers who think it is there right to mess everybody else up. Very little speeding and limits are higher than ours. After Mexico, this is a picnic. The AutoVia into Granada was well signed and not too busy. You sure have to be fearless and aggressive in the round a bouts.

Our time in the Alhambra started at 2pm and we were early. There were long lines for tickets but a shaved headed security guy with baton, handcuffs, radio etc shouted at me, grabbed my reservation form and sent me to an empty ticket window. Tickets in hand, we escaped the mobs and went for lunch at a expensive restaurant. Food was superb (lentil soup and medallions of pork in a yummy sauce. Best flan ever). Sat among trees and flowers and were kept company by the house gato in a flower box.

DSCF4507Restored, we walked to the Charles V palace from the 1500s. Conquering king. Of course you have to have a palace. It is a fabulous building with a unique stone facing, bronze gryphon and loin heads with wreaths in their mouths and marble figures reclining over entranceways. Inside the square building is a round courtyard, second flour balcony supported by aggregate stone pillars. The 2nd floor is a museum of art and sculpture from the 1200 to mid 1900s. Couple I would like to have. A 6 foot X 10 foot early 1900 oil of a gritty flamenco scene.

 

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From here we entered the Alcazaba (fort). This fortress was the last  Moorish stronghold to fall to the Christians (1492) after seven centuries. During this time, although the Muslims ruled, they lived peacefully with Jews and Christians. What a concept. The fort looks impenetrable. Most everything was ruined inside by the Spaniards and Napoleon’s troops but you still stand in awe of the massive construction.  DSCF4517  The pic that looks like a maze is the barrio or foundation of sleeping/living quarters.DSCF4533 Of course there are amazing views of Granada and the Alhambra.DSCF4527

 

 

 

 

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We’re getting pooped but more to see. As I said, we can’t see the Palacios Nazaries where all the mosaic tile work is but maybe another day (life). We struggle uphill to the Generalife Gardens and it is well worth seeing. This is the area that Muslim royalty, the harem, strolled. It has been restored wonderfully. There is water everywhere. pools, fountains, streams. Mazes of cedar hedges and exotic and familiar flowers.DSCF4584DSCF4570DSCF4582DSCF4575  Enough. We straggle back to Clio and brave the traffic and make it out of Granada with only one wrong turn that involves about six traffic circles. Two hours home and early to bed.DSCF4562

Thursday. Day off. I was so tired. Read and dozed a lot of the day. The owner of this casa has very erotic taste in literature so that was fun. Laying on the couch listening to Spanish voices…women mostly, kids later in the day, The people are friendly but don’t approach us but respond warmly to greetings. Walking, found a plaza with a roaring fountain and had some tapas. There was a bullfight poster on the wall for a few days from now in Villamartin…a small town not far away. Sign me up.

 

 

 

 

Friday. Off to Ronda…one of the famous White Towns. Great drive…love this area. Easily found centro and parked in an underground lot and came up in a lovely plaza. Ronda is on the rail line so lots of day trippers and tours. Ronda sits on both sides of a gorge with a tributary of the Tija…same river that runs through Toledo and empties into the sea in Portugal. Wandered around the bull ring and scored a map from Tourist info. Nice plaza overlooking the gorge and the “New Bridge” built in the 1800s as the old one collapsed. Paid 2 euros to go down into the guts of the bridge (flashed my BC ferries retired card and got me in for free.) Of course we are hungry. Scads of places to eat but very expensive. Found a tiny bar with locals….prices 1/5. Tapas where good. Veal stew, salad, blood sausage. The tiny place has a stand up bar on the street where you can sip a glass of wine and chat to your friend. Very civilized.DSCF4666

Across the bridge into the old town, winding down narrow streets to another treed plaza with a man playing Spanish music on a guitar. Here the trail starts that plunges to the bottom of the gorge. Tricia wisely says she will see me in an hour. The first part of the trail is paved with stone and lined with almond trees. Soon deteriorates into dirt and loose stone. I take the left fork that takes me away from the bridge to the old fortifications. Panorama of the country side..I can hear a bell. It’s on a horse grazing with three others. Olives, grapes and fallow fields. Back tracking to a point with a ruined tower and a pretty girl who will not talk to me. Dirty old man, she thinks. Good pic of the bridge. DSCF4610Now the trail gets a bit hairy…undercut cliff with fig trees clinging to cracks above me. Switchbacks, water running in cut channel all of a sudden, down to old grain mills. Across crumbling concrete paths, down swaying metal stairs, now under the bridge, under massive boulders, across a wooden ramp to an ancient weir and water gate, across a wood platform, grab the iron railing and swing down to the river bed of flat limestone. Crystal pools that frogs leap into and hide at my approach, the bridge and cliffs towering over me. Birds chitter and zip from side to side of the gorge. I seem so far away from the crowds above me but here I meet a group of young people from the States who are studying in Granada. Reluctantly, I start back. I am soaked with sweat when I get back to the plaza. I sit in the shade and chat to an Estonian man and his Polish girl friend.DSCF4622

Tricia finds me somewhat refreshed. She has bought herself a nice leather purse…a lot more fun for her than pretending she is a mountain goat. We sit in the shade and listen to guitar and sip wine and agua. Any energy left. Off to the Bullfight museum in the bull ring. That and a firearms collection. Driving home we took a detour around a reservoir and past El Gastor and the got lost for a while but found our way somehow. Good day.

Saturday. Sick today. Don’t know why. Allergies. Something I ate? More laying on the couch reading dirty books. Went shopping as we are entertaining an English couple tonight. Tricia cooked a great dinner, roast chicken, roast potatoes, ragout, salad…melon & ice cream. Fun evening. Mike and Avis. He has a place in town and a ruin he calls it, in France.

Sunday. Big day Off to Villamartin, a small agricultural town where there is a bull fight with three famous matadors. Don’t know how I am going to do with this. We arrived early and ate at a place in the middle of town that sold us tickets, gave us a poster and directions to the Plaza de Toros.  Still early but there is lots to see. It is Woman’s Day at the fair. Hundreds of women and girls of all ages dressed up in DSCF4697Spanish finery…dancing, eating, talking, in huge tents that serve tapas. Off to the bullring to get good seats…at the top…nice breeze. Behind us, the truck with the bulls arrives and a ramp is constructed into the ring. Soon all the actors come parading out.DSCF4716 Things are fast paced and the first bull comes thundering into the ring. The bandilleros taunt the huge beast and hide when he charges. Then comes the matador on a horse and the bull races after them. The horse keeps just clear of the bull until it tires. Then the pics are driven into the shoulders on repeated passes. The bull enraged but tired and weakening charges repeatedly and the horse (not the same horse. He has changed horses 3 times) dances just inches away from the horns. Then the sword. The matador misses twice and the third time drives it into the hilt. He dismounts and torments the exhausted, mortally wounded bull with short swords until one of the bandilleros finishes him off with a sword to the brain. The next bulls are fought the traditional way. Pics are thrust in by the matador and bandilleros on foot. The style of the matadors with the passes is heart stopping but the brutality is DSCF4756the same and as the final minutes of the beasts life are taking place and all are standing and cheering, I have tears running down my cheeks. DSCF4727We stay for four kills but I have done my duty and experienced this, I think to the max. This is not Madrid but a small bullring…like going to the Luxton rodeo instead of the Calgary Stampede. We watched the grooms brush and braid the horses, walked past the dead bull being pulled by a pair of mules to a truck with a Hyab, walked past a girl pissing under the stands. Raw stuff. Magnificent horsemanship and courage but savage and brutal. We are a strange race. Back out in the fair grounds, kids are going on rides, and the chicas are parading their stuff…so much fun and laughter and meters away another bull is facing his tormentors. Silent drive home. Scratch that off the bucket list. Never again.DSCF4780

Monday. Change of pace. A drive in the country. Of to Grazemela in the mountains. We drive through miles of cork forest and on narrow winding, climbing roads. Then Grazemela, another pretty white town tucked away in a fold of the mountains. We walk, eat lunch in the square, walk some more and decide to bolt as tour busses start to arrive. We leave by another roadDSCF4783DSCF4790DSCF4804. This one is for the record books. Switchbacking up and down with thousand foot drops on one side…a lane and a bit, mountain goat, top of the world vistas. It took a long time to get down. Drove through Zahara, another white town with a castle on a pinnacle. Yawn. Home.

 

 

DSCF4806Tuesday, September what?   Left our little casa in Olvera reluctantly and drove back to Antequera for one night. Renew our car rental and streak for Cordoba. We like Antequera and spend a happy day. Met some Brits who wanted us to come to a Karaoke bar… in their dreams.

Wednesday. Had a lousy sleep. drove 110 kms on the Autovia…great highways, not much traffic, 120 km/hr. Hortensia out GPS cow is not good in Medieval cities but we found our hotel with some hair raising streets. Then realized I had left my backpack in the rental office in Antequera. Arrrg! Dropped off our luggage and drove 110 back to A. Of course the oficina was closed for siesta so drove to a mountain viliage for tapas and back to A. and back 110 km to Cordoba.

Cordoba is flat. Yeah. I have lost about 5 pounds…my spare tire is almost gone and my calves look like Lance Armstrong’s. That is not all walking. We are learning to eat lightly. Tapas here and there, aubergine casserole, gazpacho, maybe a stew. Cordoba. A nice city. The Mezquita , a mosque that was not destroyed by the Christians is the only big draw. It covers about 2 square city blocks. DSCF4819The intricate designs of the tiles and carving is astounding. Inside hundreds of columns with red and white arches DSCF4883stretch in every direction. Of course the conquerers erected a cathedral inside. but actually the area was a Visigoth church before the Muslims built the mosque. A block from the mosgue, the river Guadalquivir divides the old and new city. The Roman bridge is a wonderful stroll in the evening with the floodlit old city behind.DSCF4828 DSCF4823  We catch an Andalucian horse show that is magnificent. Then we wander and hear flamenco so we go in and have drinks and gambas (prawns) in garlic oil and watch four young men…two singers, guitar and dancer. Cigarette smoke curling around, scurrying waiters and Spanish patrons clapping. Good raw stuff. Not polished but emotional.DSCF4833

The next day I nap a lot and Tricia goes wandering and buys a sexy hat. More wandering through the Jewish quarter and more naps. That evening we had a fabulous dinner…nice fresh salad with eggplant marmalade dressing and a lamb stew. Sliced orange with sugar and cinnamon and local sherry. We strolled the Roman bridge and walked the new city and made it back in time to catch a performance of two brothers playing a grand piano with a floodlit arch behind them, bats whizzing through the lights, police, taxis, garbage truck, buses rolling by and wiffs of sewer gas. Magic.

Friday.  Drove to the Mediterranean, bypassed Malaga to Nerja where Hortensia, bless her Limey accent directed us to a delightful casa that Tricia had rented for us in Capistrano. Beautiful gardens, swimming pool. gatos, koi pond, birds singing. Drove down to Nerja and walked the DSCF4905Balcon de Europe. Zillions of tourists but what do you expect? This is the Costa de Sol. Had dilish tapas and went shopping at the Mercadona (Supermarket chain) and carted a weeks groceries home and relaxed and read.DSCF4901

Saturday Sept. 26 (looked at my watch)    Slept in. So nice not to be in a hotel. Washed clothes. Drove to Nerja and found a fabulous bookstore. Sold some and bought a bunch. Lunch again on a patio overlooking the sea and the Balcon…a promontory that juts out into the Med and is dotted with palms and flowers and tourists and looked down on a tiny beachDSCF4935. Tricia was in Nerja 35 years ago with three girlfriends and we figured it was safe to go back. Wanted posters are long gone. Back to our casa and down to the pool. Siesta.DSCF4914

 

About the author: Allen McDermid

Most people know Allen as the Vacation Guide coordinator. She also handles all our special projects.