Madrid and the Costa del SolAuthor: Bob W. (More Trip Reviews by Bob W.)
Date of Trip: May 2008
Grenada, the Alhambra and the Generalife
On Sunday, we took a bus tour to Grenada to see the Alhambra and the Generalife, two surviving 13th century palaces of Moorish kings. Normally, buses would take express roads around the commuter-jammed city of Granada. Because most businesses were closed on Sunday morning, we were able to drive through the beautiful center city.
The Alhambra is a large and stunningly beautiful complex, displaying the finest of Arabic architecture and artistry. Fine woods, colorful tiles and exquisitely sculpted stones, graceful arches and pillars, courtyards, sculptures, fountains and garden-fringed reflecting pools dazzle the eye. The incredible details, whether accomplished by carpentry or stone carving, give an almost fairy tale appearance. The Alhambra is located on a hill overlooking the city of Grenada. Within view on the far hills are remains of the old walls (fortifications) and cave dwellings (many of which are still in use). One can only imagine what this palace complex would have looked like when it was furnished with fine and colorful carpets and pillows.
The Generalife is an adjoining smaller complex of beautiful gardens and pools. Between the two complexes is the unfinished palace of Emperor Charles V, a roofless, cylindrical, two-story, Roman style building. Open to the sky, this structure has such amazing acoustics that it has become a choice place for performances. A whisper in the center of the open atrium can be heard clearly anywhere within its perimeter. The Alhambra is well worth the trip for anyone visiting this area of Spain.
Sunday evening we attended a discussion on "Andalucian Culture & the Flamenco," including demonstrations of the graceful footwork and hand movements of flamenco. During one evening that followed, together with a group of friends, we purchased a combined package of door-to-door bus transportation, supper, wine and a very impressive flamenco show at the Hotel Torrequebrada casino outside of Torremolinos. Tickets for this package were purchased from an area business, with guidance from our hotel.
We passed up the opportunity of a two-night, overnight trip to Seville but wanted to find an interesting one-day trip. We teamed up with another couple with the same interest and decided that Cordoba would be an interesting city to visit. Our hotel had a schedule of trains running from Malaga to Cordoba. We had only to take a train or bus from Torremolinos to Malaga which cost only one Euro each way. We traveled with morning commuters to Malaga by train.
Once in the Malaga train station, we lined up before a sign marked "information." In time, we had worked our way up to the agent who informed us that we must first get a number from a machine in back of the station before he would help us. When we did so and finally worked our way up to the agent again, he informed us that, to buy a ticket, we had to acquire a number from a second machine before purchasing tickets from yet another agent. Given the high number we were issued, and the schedule of the train we wanted, we were afraid we'd miss our connection. Then we noticed one agent who seemed to be accommodating people. She sold us tickets just in time for our connection! A round trip on the bullet train from Malaga to Cordoba cost 124.4 Euros for two -- a shock after the inexpensive commuter train on the first leg of our trip. But traveling at 175 mph, with reserved seats in a clean, quiet, smooth-riding train, was a pleasure and cut our travel time to 54 minutes each way.
Once in Cordoba, we found a tourist information booth adjacent to the train station and got maps that described area attractions.
The most impressive site was the mosque/cathedral less than a mile away. We walked through park areas and narrow streets until we reached the Mezquita, a superb example of Islamic architecture. This great mosque, which covers 16 acres, dates from Moorish times. When Christians regained the area in the 15th century, an impressive cathedral was built in the center of the mosque. Sixty small chapels ring the cathedral. Somehow, the beauty of the many interior arches of the mosque has survived. Intricate carved and painted panels and ceilings in the mosque sit near the gold-embellished opulence of the cathedral. The whole complex is impressive.
After exploring the mosque/cathedral, we wandered through neighboring squares and down interesting streets where we happened upon the partially restored ruins of a Roman temple, located next to an archeological museum (closed for siesta break). Later we discovered a cylindrical Roman mausoleum in the lovely Diego de Rivas gardens. After stopping for refreshments in a cafe, we headed back to the station for our return trip, much pleased with our day in Cordoba.
After breakfast, on Wednesday, we traveled by bus to the picturesque "white village" of Mijas set high in the Sierras with a grand view of the sea. En route, we stopped briefly at an overlook with a grand view of the sea. Standing by the overlook was an artfully shaped and photogenic Buddhist temple -- gleaming white with a gold spire. Strangely enough, Mijas is not known to have any Buddhists. The temple appears to have been built as a tourist attraction!
Mijas is known for its white buildings, fine shops, donkey cart taxis, lovely flower-bedecked central square and a grotto carved in stone -- a lifetime project of a monk in honor of the Virgin Mary. The small grotto was interesting and attractive, but packed with Spanish tour groups just as we entered.
Mijas protects its historic center with rules that require buildings to emulate the Andalucian style of tile roofs, wrought iron grills and whitewashed walls. We wandered up narrow cobblestone streets, many on steeply pitched hills. My wife and I joined many grizzled seniors at the town's senior center for a cup of coffee. If only we spoke Spanish! Next I purchased a few postcards, then stopped at a little a jewelry store where I asked my wife to select a necklace and earrings to celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary, which fell on that day. [Later, we pulled out the anniversary cards we had brought from home to Spain.]
After our shopping, we (along with a great many school children) entered the Mijas Museum. The museum, wrapped around a lovely courtyard, displayed life and working implements from the 19th century, including farm implements, grindstone mechanisms, wine barrels and wine making equipment. One room displayed paintings by local artists. Admission was free.
When we returned to the small, flower-edged park in the center of town, we were entertained by a couple dancing flamenco in an open pavilion -- a pleasant way to pass the time until our return to Torremolinos. After returning to our apartment, we lay in the sun and swam in the Bajondillo's pool. Three couples we knew joined us for dinner to celebrate our anniversary.
The next few days were spent relaxing, walking along the seaside promenade, enjoying the pool and climbing the steep and narrow cobblestone streets of Torremolinos where small shops, stands and restaurants line the streets. We had scheduled a trip to Ronda, a little mountain town that Ernest Hemingway described as "the most beautiful place on earth." Unfortunately, I managed to pick up some kind of rash and swelling on one leg. So, a visit to a doctor and pharmacy substituted for our planned trip to the mountains. Maybe next time we'll get to see and photograph Ronda. Our days of relaxation were topped off by a party hosted by the friends who had first interested us in traveling to the Costa del Sol. Their apartment was a spacious corner-front unit with wrap around balcony -- perfect for a party.
Antequera and Salinas
Two days before flying home, we took our final trip into the countryside. Grand Circle builds a home-hosted meal into many of its vacation trips. We had enjoyed lunch at a small ranch in Costa Rica and dinner with an exceptionally nice family in Mexico. This time, we would enjoy lunch in the small village of Salinas, Spain. En route we stopped outside of the town of Antequera to tour an olive oil museum maintained by the olive oil co-op. We remembered that every lunch we had ordered in Torremolinos had been served with a complementary plate of green olives, each split but containing its pit. On the drive up, we had passed seemingly endless miles of olive groves. A few old olive trees and flowering gardens stood outside the museum. Inside was a large reproduction of an old olive press (about 20 feet in length), large clay containers once used to store olive oil and small jars of oil used to demonstrate different colors and qualities of oil. Our guide carefully explained the difference qualities of olive oil and how they are manufactured. Today, large centrifuges have replaced oil presses.
Antequera was the site of a town where the Romans grew olives trees and extracted olive oil. Excavation is underway to restore Roman ruins, including a Roman mosaic tile floor located near the olive oil museum. Another excavation, predating the Romans, is thought to have been a 10,000-year-old stone dwelling. The town became the site of a fort when under Moorish domination. After the Christian re-conquest, many stone churches and convents were built along narrow, winding streets, interrupted by small squares. Some of these structures, dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, are still in use. Another building of note is Antequera's bullring, which has a beautiful exterior facade. We found this town to be appealing partly because it appeared to be off the usual tourist track.
From Antequera we continued on to the small village of Salinas. Our luncheon host was a woman living in what appeared to be very new housing. She had one of four side-by-side tiled-roof townhouse units. Her home impressed us with its high quality of construction, including the use of marble for the staircase, tiled floor and baseboards, a modern, fully equipped kitchen, two baths and three bedrooms. An awning-covered patio served as the entry. A second floor concrete deck looked out over rolling hills. The house was decorated with family photos, paintings (including good quality religious prints), flowers and very nice furniture. We learned that this home was only a few years old. This certainly was not the simple village home we had expected! Our program director, Natalia, later explained that the touches of opulence simply reflected the fact that Spaniards invest very heavily in their homes.
We had successfully managed to join a group of four friends, one of whom had emigrated from Bolivia and spoke good Spanish. With his help we were able to communicate with our hostess, Loli, who served a wonderful lunch. We feasted on a large salad with fruits, vegetables sausages, olives, chicken, meatballs, pasta, soup, roast pork in gravy, pan-fried potatoes and onions, dessert pastries, coffee, wine and "after-dinner" brandy and liqueurs. All this prepared for just six of us! Loli must have had at least a week's supply of leftovers!
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