23.02.2013 - 10.03.2013
Serves me right for getting behind in the blogosphere, now if I write at the current one-per-week pace and have new adventures every weekend I will never catch up! Perhaps I will be able to do some serious catching up after Easter. Until then, let´s hop in the time machine to the end of February and the arrival of my family!
They arrived on the 24th of February ready to get out and conquer... bedtime. Jet lag is a very real thing and the only real possible fight is to stay awake until night falls. So I dragged their yawning selves on my favorite walk in the city: up to Castle Montjüic. Very much to their credit, after a while admiring the views and a good Turkish dinner, they successfully retired at a reasonable bedtime.
I needed to work the following day and most of the days during the week, so each night we outlined some sightseeing activities during the week and then met up for lunch and/or dinner, so they can certainly tell you about their sightseeing adventures (which included a tour of FC Barça's stadium with Alex). I am more excited to talk about our family adventures in Southern Spain over the next weekend.
They left for Sevilla on Thursday, and I followed on Friday, at which point we hopped in a rental car and headed south, first to the southernmost point in Spain, which is actually not Spain. Gibraltar is an independent colony of England and the people there will be quick to explain that they don´t really belong to England either (although they´d be quick to ask for military help if necessary I´m sure). I really didn´t know too much about ´The Rock´ as it´s called before arriving, but we parked the car at the hotel and walked toward the border crossing. After a very cursory glance at our passports, the gentleman in the customs uniform waved us through and we found ourselves back in English speaking territory! Knowing little about the size of the territory and everything, we were approached and cajoled into hiring a guide (with a van) for a couple of hours to show us around the territory. In hind sight it was a good idea, as his 24 years of experience were great to explain the most important thing on the territory to us!
An interesting note about Gibraltar: there is actually an airport in the territory, but it completely blocks off the only road in and out of the peninsula. Therefore, if you are unlucky enough to arrive as a plane is landing or taking off, you could be waiting ten minutes or so to enter the city of Gibraltar! (Plane is the little white dot in the center of the following photo) Aside from that, the day was awesome; the weather was great, we all got to hold monkeys, we investigated about one mile of the tens that were constructed during the World Wars inside the rock itself, we saw the northern coast to Africa, and Alex and I hiked up to the highest point on the rock!
The following day, we hopped back into the car to head to the small Spanish inland town of Ronda. We decided to take some minor roads to pass by an interesting cave along the way, and I was surprised just how minor this road was. It reminded ma and pa lots of some roads in the backcountry in Colorado, weaving in and out of the hills, sometimes well-maintained, mostly just some pavement. The most interesting thing, though, were the trees along the side of the road that had been stripped of their bark up to above head height. After much speculation within the car about what was going on, we finally happened upon some roadside placards that explained that this region in Spain is one of the world´s largest supplier of cork! Stripping the bark does not kill the tree- it simply regrows every 6 years- and it even helps to avoid devastating forest fires. So next time you pop a bottle, consider that your cork could easily have come Spain!
The aforementioned cave, called La Cueva de la Pileta, was also a wonderful adventure. It´s highlight is some of Europe´s oldest cave art, some originating to 30,000 years ago!! Again, 28,000 BC! We had a guided tour, before which the guide asked me if I could translate the Spanish for my parents. I figured I could give it a shot, but much of the cave and history vocabulary stumped me, and by the end he was repeating everything in English too. I guess I know now my language limits! It was incredible to stand in some of the same spots as some of the first intelligent beings on the planet. Of course the owners of the cave are not interested in photographer´s flash, so I do not have any good photos, but a quick google search can provide some context. We only got to adventure through a quarter of the cave, too, since it is the only portion that is navigable by foot. And as I go through these I am learning that I don't have photos of the caves and cork trees! Another good reason to talk to the rest of the family!
After the cave, we continued on to the town of Ronda, notable for its existence, perched way up high over a gorge. Our accommodations there were interesting: the hotel was located right above a restaurant, and the front desk was attended to by the waiter and owner of the restaurant. We ate dinner there that night, which made finding our rooms pretty easy! The town itself is extremely picturesque, especially the old bridge straddling the gorge, which connects the old part of the city with the newer part. Ronda is also a very important place in the history of bullfights, and every spring there is a huge festival there at the beginning of the season. We declined a chance at a bull-ring tour in favor of a walk down into the old part of the city and to a gorgeous vista of the old bridge.
Next stop on the tour was Granada, but we elected to drive through Málaga and along the Costa del Sol to get there. After starting the day foggy and drizzly coming through the hills outside of Ronda, we were pleasantly surprised to be met with beautiful clear skies passing through Málaga and down the coast. Just outside of Málaga, the beaches were wide and long, with extremely dark sand. It was fairly fine and clean, with lots of sea shells and glass, but I have never seen such dark sand. As we continued, the coast got more and more hilly, and beaches were relegated to tiny, beautiful coves. Here, the beaches alternated between rocky and more stereotypically sandy. Although the views and scenery were anything but stereotypical. We stopped at one in particular that was incredible, tucked into an alcove. The beauty of driving ourselves was the ability to stop at these little hidden gems; the beauty of traveling in March was that we had the entire beach to ourselves. In one section of the beach the pull of the waves back into the water was so strong that it was grabbing rocks too, and they were making an incredible clunking noise as they were rearranged by the surf.
Finally we turned north, and arrived in Granada in relatively short order. Granada sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and even though this can absolutely still be considered Southern Spain, the Sierra Nevadas are high enough to get sufficient snow fall to be skiied on. The city itself is sprawled out beneath the foothills and spills rather unceremoniously into the plains. As such, it gives the impression that it is larger than it is-- actually only ranking 14th in the list of cities in Spain. The interesting parts for us tourists was actually even smaller. The main attraction in Granada is called 'La Alhambra' and is a royal palace which was converted in 1333 from a fortress that was originally built in 889. It is an imposing sight built up on a hill and looking out over the entirety of the city, but also is absolutely gorgeous lit up by the evening sun before the snow-covered peaks in the background.
The city itself is also magnificent, in particular the neighborhood of El Albayzín, an old Moorish neighborhood set into the hill immediately opposite La Alhambra. Tiny streets wind their way through whitewashed buildings, up the hill, to some which are even caves actually carved into the hill and made into homes by the less affluent residents. '
At this point in the journey, I took leave on the family on a train back to Sevilla and an airplane to Barcelona to work the next day. They, meanwhile, continued on to Córdoba, so you'll have to ask them about that!
There was one more great adventure to be had with the family. Upon their return to Barcelona, we decided to take the hour-long train ride out to one of the most iconic images of Catalunya: Montserrat. After the train, we hopped on a cable car to the base of the tiny village seemingly hanging precariously in a convenient crevasse in the mountain. (Tiny yellow dot in this photo)
Literally meaning 'serrated mountain', Montserrat is more important to people here than just for its stunning geology. The legend goes that a group of sheperds saw an image of the virgin mary in the maountain one day and seerched it out and attempted to carry it down the mountain. Along the way, it became too heavy to carry, so they decided that it was meant to stay in that place and they erected a monastery at the place. Now home to the famous 'Black Madonna', which is visited by millions of people every year, the monastery is an incredible feat itself.
Those who know me also know that if there is a mountain to climb, I will climb to the top, must know that if I left without summiting the mountain I would have left disappointed. Even though the day was drawing to a close by the time we got down, Alex and I made the final push to the top and were rewarded with some unbelievable views of central Catalunya. I have heard that on a clear day, even the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean is visible. Unfortunately there was some haze that day... so I guess I have reason to go back!
Finally a couple of unbelievable weeks with the family drew to a close and I took them to the airport to send them on their jolly exhausted way. Noone ever accused our family vacations of being relaxing, but we always manage to have a great time!
Few, another marathon! I am still struggling to catch up to current events, but I have a free day tomorrow, so you never know what might happen!