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Highlights of Cordoba and Sevilla

19 Jun

Here are some photos from a recent trip my son, Michael Marlen-Starr and I took in Cordoba and Sevilla. I highly recommend Cordoba, with its beautiful flowered patios; Roman, Muslim and Christian history; small town feel with friendly people and great food; plus live music and dance venues.

Patio of our Cordoba B&B

Roman temple at Cordoba

Mezquita: Cordoba

Narrowest street in Cordoba: Michael and me

Organ: Mezquita Cordoba

Roman bridge: Cordoba

Mezquita: Cordoba

Mezquita: Cordoba

King Alfonso: Alcazar Cordoba

Garden at Alcazar, Cordoba

After a short trip via train, we arrived for a short visit of Sevilla. Here is one view of the Cathedral of Sevilla

Stained glass window: Sevilla cathedral

Tomb of Christopher Columbus: Sevilla Cathedral

Former minaret at Sevilla cathedral

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Historic and Tasty Jijona: Costa Blanca Day Trip

18 Dec
Jijona (Xixona)

Jijona (Xixona)

Another great day trip in the Costa Blanca area of Spain is a day in Jijona, a short drive in the hills northwest of Alicante. Jijona, also known in Valenciano as Xixona, is famous for its Turrón, an almond-based nougat.

 

Turrón is particularly popular at Christmas time in Spain. Jijona has a yearly four-day Christmas festival, which obviously features turrón, along with other Christmas- and winter-oriented gifts, like hats, scarfs, toys and more.

Jijona Christmas festival

Jijona Christmas festival

 

Turrón is typically made from finely ground almonds, egg whites, honey and sugar. It comes in a variety of textures and forms. There is one with a soft paste-like consistency, which, to me, had a gritty, not pleasing texture. There are soft and hard turrón bars, with pieces of almonds. I saw chocolate-flavored turrón, turrón-flavored gins and liqueurs, and many other non-traditional additions. Samples are generously provided from the Christmas parade of wooden stands located in the central market. There are also other Christmas-related exhibits, and food/tapas booths with adjacent seating where people can rest their feet, and enjoy a snack and beverage.

 

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

The Moors brought almond farming and turrón to Spain during their occupation of the area. During the 16th century, King Felipe II praised turrón, which increased its popularity. Historically, there were a few main families who dominated the turrón market. These decaying family mansions feature beautiful architecture and are visible on one of the main streets in Jijona: Monerris Planelles family home, Rovira family home, and Aracil family home. Only turrón made in Jijona and Alicante can receive the official seal of authenticity, “Consejo Regulador de Jijona y Turrón de Alicante.” There are tours available at the turrón museum and factory. Several other areas have a similar type of nougat like turrón, including Catalonia (Spain), France and Sicily.

 

Snow well

Snow well

There are other interesting things to see in Jijona including historical churches and a convent, the remains of a castle (destroyed in the Spanish War of Succession), “and snow wells” (thick walled round buildings located in the cool Carrasqueta mountain range which came into use in the 18th century to store snow for making ice cream.) In August, there is a Moros y Cristianos festival, which are very popular in the province of Alicante. Parking is typically a fair distance from the touristic areas, but are well-marked and on an easy, gradual incline.

 

 

Taxi Travel Perils and Moros y Cristianos in Altea Spain

9 Oct
Moros

Moros

“The taxi driver wouldn’t follow the directions you provided. He said, ‘Moros y Cristianos’ and ‘impossible,’ then stopped, unloaded our luggage and told us to get out. We don’t know where we are.” This was the first comment from my friend who had just arrived in Altea from California. In addition, the WhatsApp wouldn’t work for her, so I hadn’t gotten any of her prior calls. Having not heard from them at the expected arrival time, I then called her via regular (expensive) international mobile rates, which is when I received her panicked statement.

 

Camels with Moros

Camels with Moros

In anticipation of the arrival of my two girl friends from California, I fretted over possible, or should I say probable, problems with the cab driver getting to my apartment during the annual Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christian) festival. This was not my first problematic experience with Spanish cab drivers. My fear was realized, in spite of spending several days providing a map and writing out the directions in Spanish (and English so my friends could see if he was going the right way.) At the beginning of the directions was the admonition in Spanish (which my friend read aloud) not to go the usual way due to the Moros y Cristianos festival. In response, he simply entered my address into his guidance system, and drove to the starting spot of the parade, at which point he dropped them off on the highway (Carretera 332) that runs through Altea.

 

Christian fila party across from my apartment

Christian fila party across from my apartment

After eventually figuring out where they were, I found them near the start of the Moros y Cristianos parade route. With luggage in tow, we then proceeded to the seats on the parade route a local friend had saved for us. Although I had told them they would be in Altea during the Moros y Cristianos festival, they had no idea of the magnitude and pageantry of it. The festival commemorates the Christians reconquering the areas of Spain that had been conquered earlier by the Moors.

 

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King in the procession to the church plaza from my window

Nor did they anticipate the incredible level of noise associated with most festivals in Spain. In the early morning, there is the despierta (wake-up) when the local filas (brotherhoods) proceed up the hill toward the church plaza while their respective brass bands play and others fire noise-making guns and firecrackers, all the while drinking and smoking. (Having attended the festival for two years, I have only seen one Muslim participate.) Throughout the day, the many filas have parties at their individual sites, with food, alcohol and music. The fila Moros across the street from my balcony, Els Malvins, have a fabulous group of musicians, which I am privileged to enjoy without having to leave my home. In addition, there are many other adjunctive activities such as midnight fireworks, re-enactment of battles between the two groups,

 

Solemn religious procession

Solemn religious procession

The festival culminates with evening parades, first the Moros, the next day a solemn religious procession, and finally the Christians. After those parades, the filas return to their home sites where they continue to party until the early hours of the morning. In addition, there are live music/dance venues that start after midnight and go for many hours. I don’t know how they can stay awake that long, let alone, party that intensely. Tellingly, on the day after the festival ends, almost all of the local businesses are closed, apparently for recuperation and clean up.

 

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Quail with apple slices, grapes fruit compote

 

My friends were thrilled with the Moros y Cristianos festival, as well as many other aspects of Spain, including the friendly international locals, the many varieties of activities, day trips to other towns, fabulous food and the ambience of beautiful Altea.

 

 

Three Days in Enchanting Granada

24 Apr
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The Alhambra

 

As previously arranged, the last Muslim ruler in Spain, Boadbil, reluctantly handed over the key to the spectacular Alhambra to the Spanish monarchy on January 1, 1492. No matter how much I have read about the Alhambra, I was still gobsmacked by it, from its size and beauty, intricate carvings, water features, gardens and the overall grand, but tranquil, enchanting ambience. By 1238, with the taking of Cordoba from the Moors, the Spanish “Reconquista” had regained all of Spain with the exception of Granada. Under a peace agreement with the Spanish monarchy, Granada flourished. Under Moorish rule, the site of the Alhambra was used as a fortress, and in the 13th century the Nasrid Dynasty began building the Alhambra complex. Any attempt to provide an accurate portrayal of the Alhambra will be woefully inadequate in describing its unique architecture and beauty. The Generalife, the nearby country gardens and buildings on the Alhambra’s northern area are perched higher, resulting in a cooler, inviting respite for the Nasrid rulers and their associates. A view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, Spain’s tallest mountain range, can be enjoyed from the Generalilfe. I recommend the tour of both the Alhambra and Generalife, which takes around 4 ½ hours. Be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance as tickets are often sold out, arrive early, and wear comfortable walking shoes and bring shade from the sun.

 

 

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Palace of Charles V

 

After more than 250 years of rule under the Moors, King Fernando and Queen Isabel fought to restore Granada to Spain, which they succeeded in doing on January 1, 1492. The Alhambra was spared from the usual destruction and/or conversion to Christian buildings, which makes it a unique attraction. However, their grandson, Charles V, built a palace in the Renaissance style within the walls of the Alhambra, which makes for an odd, but interesting juxtaposition to the Moorish designs. This building houses museums of Spanish-Islamic Art and Bella Artes (Fine Arts.)

 

 

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Albaicín and El Sacromonte

The Albaicín is the Moorish old city, which faces and provides one of the many fantastic views of the Alhambra. The Albaicín has a jumble of narrow streets and historic homes called Carmenes, the latter which consist of external high walls to provide privacy and internal fountains, patios and inviting living spaces. The Albaicín church of San Nicolas is a popular destination, and its plaza affords panoramic views. In the hills just above the Albaicín is the El Sacromonte, the caves where gypsies live and perform flamenco shows.

 

 

In 1523, work began on Granada’s Cathedral, which is massive and opulent, featuring both Gothic and Renaissance architecture created by a series of several architects during the 181 years during which it was constructed. It is one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe. It has a gold and white interior and features a circular capilla mayor (sanctuary) with five naves and multiple chapels. Its stained glass dome, large chorale books, and huge pipe organs are also noteworthy. Adjacent and joined to the Cathedral is the Capilla Real, the Royal Chapel, which was built for the royal monarchs between 1506 and 1521. It houses an ornate grille enclosing the altar and the marble sculptures of Fernando and Isabel, their daughter, Juana La Loca and her husband Felipe el Hermoso. Their coffins lay in the crypt below the marble figures. Both facilities offer works of famous artists.

 

Plaza Nueva is the oldest square in Granada, and a good place for a beverage, tapa and people-watching. One of my favorite spots is Bodega Catañeda, a rustic, authentic tapas spot for local jamones (hams), creative dishes, and sherry. There are many eateries serving authentic Moroccan and Arabic food. Granada is fairly compact, so walking or taking a cab are the best options for getting around.

 

 

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Bodegas Castaneda

Since moving to Spain, I have happily taken advantage of the opportunity to explore the country’s diverse and unique attractions, including many UNESCO world heritage sites. For this special venue in Granada, I splurged and stayed at the 14th century Parador within the walls of the Alhambra. In Spain, a parador is a historic or scenic building which the Spanish government has converted into an inn or hotel. The parador at the Alhambra has been described as the best or one of the best in Spain. Queen Isabel and King Fernando were initially buried on the site, while the Royal Chapel was being built in Granada as their final resting place. The parador was a former monastery built on orders of the royal monarchs on a site which was originally a mosque. This parador provides an inviting, tranquil respite after exploring the Alhambra and the City of Granada, and its intriguing history and delicious local foods.