Thursday, May 10, 2012

Adventures in Cordoba

It's no wonder Seville comes to life after dark - laughter, relaxed dining, strolling - it's way too hot in the daytime to do much of anything! Unfortunately we were only able to immerse ourselves briefly in the soul of Sevilla night life because we had a 6 a.m. wake-up call for this morning!
The early rousal was hard on us vacationers, having fallen, as we certainly have, into the rhythms of life-in-Spain, but we were so glad we did! We caught a taxi at 7 and got ourselves to the train station for an 8 a.m. train to Cordoba and found ourselves at the Mezquita shortly after 9 - and quite ahead of the crowds that by 11 were pressing through the narrow streets, entrances, and assorted venues of the city!

What an awe-inspiring place! From the moment you enter, you feel drawn into something sacred... And the longer you stay, the deeper and deeper the draw (until it becomes so peopled that it loses that sense - but we were early, and could breathe in the vastness of its space and feel ourselves getting lost in it, absorbed by it...).

Although it is a Roman Catholic Cathedral, with multiple side chapels, and even a Mass going on (broadcast throughout, and the music quite beautiful) the Christian presence seems dwarfed by the Muslim... In fact" being here (in Southern Spain) we feel surrounded by ghosts: the remains of a Visigoth church beneath the foundations of the Mezquita itself, and the Catholic imposed on the Muslim, converting minaret to bell tower, and erecting altars in prayer spaces...

We spent the afternoon wandering the old Jewish Quarter, visiting an 11th century synagogue and a Sephardic museum, as well as superstitiously touching the foot of Maimonides for a measure of wisdom (I touched twice, like Elisha wanting a double portion of Elijah's spirit!)... More ghosts... And, of course, they are resident in our hotel as well: Las Casas de la Juderia... What happened to the owners of these Casas, I ask myself?...

Sangria time... And then a rest in our room in the appropriately-named "Casa de los Escribiantes" - the House of the Writers! - before we move languidly into the streets for a last night of Spanish soul!

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We felt enough like locals to be huffy when we found our favorite Granada cafe still shuttered this morning when we needed our cafe con leche and tostada mixta before we headed for the station. By 11:30 our train was whizzing through olive groves at 85 mph, the scenery growing drier and the olive trees giving way to almonds and wheat as we neared Seville.
We're staying in a hotel created from some of the remains of the old Jewish quarter. Las Casas de las Juderia is an elegant warren of courtyards, twisting underground passageways and tiled stairways. We neglected to bring crumbs to mark our path. Official photographer Carolyn hasn't yet captured the scene, we've been lost only twice so far - and that's in the hotel! Dinner was in a plaza with swallows performing aerial stunts as we people watched. Tomorrow we board another train for a day in Cordova. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


After a leisurely breakfast T our Granada-favorite-coffee-place, Kitty and I went SHOPPING! Give us a map and sufficient motivation, and we can find our way anywhere! We even bought our train tickets for tomorrow's journey to Sevilla...

THEN: indulgence! We went to the Hammam, the Arab Baths (no. Photos allowed)... Paying our money (a very reasonable 49E) we were led into a whole different world: pillared rooms, lantern-lit rooms and connected by arches and passageways, high curved ceilings, tiled walls and floors, rooms of pools (hot, cold, and medium), sequestered corners where you could drink tea, sounds of running water and soft Arabic music... We luxuriated, moving from one pool to another, and then were summoned into yet another area where we lay on slabs of marble and were scrubbed- and-massaged... Then showers, more pool soaking, tea... We feel wonderful!

Shortly we are going to wander once again into the streets for a Moroccan dinner... Ah, the rough life of vacationers!

On another note altogether: a question! What does it say about the state of religion in Spain that Sagrada Familia in Barcelona has no baptismal font - and the Capilla Real in Granada has no Resurrection?! (When I asked, I was told that "it's really all about the Passion"!). Here is a picture of the reredos at the Capilla...

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No longer lonely in Granada

First of all, We're feeling much better since so many of you responded to our plea for comments. Mysteriously, several of you protested they had sent long responses that we hadn't credited - but they haven't shown up in the comment section. Lost in translation?
Here's how we spent Monday:

- We climbed a shady green road up to the great fortress of the Alhambra. Most of our visit was spent in the enchanting Nasrid palaces, an architectural paradise of extraordinary stone, tile and plaster decoration

We decided that, even with the wonderfully cool and verdant courtyards, we would rather have been servants or craftswomen than the sequestered women of the court, who spent their whole lives inside the walls of the palace. After our leisurely tour, we skipped the not so wonderful palace of the Christian king Charles V in favor of the baths where we speculated on the hydraulics

Then we walked to the Parador where we recuperated with a pitcher of Sangria and a plate of olives and local cheeses as we sat on a tree shaded terrace with a view of the Generalife summer palace gardens.

The Generalife was in full bloom: wisteria, pansies, poppies, iris, climbing roses and all sorts of Mediterranean plants we see in California gardens. Lots of pools, the sound everywhere of trickling, falling running water. Also feral cats, who spend their afternoons waiting for the goldfish to swim too close to poolside.

As we headed back we had a grand sight of snow covered mountains - again reminding us of our Sierras. Below is a photo taken in our local barrio.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Exploring Granada

We awoke this morning on "Spanish time" and left the hotel about 9:30 in a Granada-coffee-shop quest... What a beautiful city! The streets and plazas were virtually empty (quite a contrast after crowded Barcelona!) except for a very few people making their way to one of the many churches in town... we sat outside in the sunshine enjoying our coffee and the feel of the city and listening to the church bells... Suddenly: hoards of people! The plazas and streets began to fill with tourists! I'm glad we had the quiet, uncrowded time that we had.

The Granada cathedral is the least-favorite of the many cathedrals we've seen, but it is a good orienting point for our travels...

In our wanderings we happened upon a wonderful spice shop! Our noses drew us in, and we will definitely need a return visit!

We thought of Juana as we wandered into the grounds of the Cordova Palace... An interesting observation: in how many other cities are you entertained by the ground under your feet?! The streets and plazas all have the most interesting forms imbedded in their cobblestones...

The walk along the "river" on the Via de Los Tristes is spectacular, offering wonderful views of the Alhambra...

Ah... We have just passed a delightful afternoon, sitting on a plaza drinking wine and eating bread and Hesse and watching children chase pigeons, kick soccer balls, etc. now we're in the courtyard drinking coffee and about to "do our homework" by reading up on the Alhambra before tomorrow's tour...

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At home in Granada!

We (finally!) arrived in Granada - after a cab ride almost as expensive as our plane tickets! - and have settled in to our (very small but charming) room in a 16th century building (read: tiny bathroom with old plumbing and cramped shower and toilet appended to bedroom!)... We do have "open and airy" stairs (34 as opposed to Barcelona's 46!) and lovely courtyard with afternoon coffee, and our room windows open onto a courtyard. We are centrally located along the Paseo de Los Tristes right across from the Alhambra.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Spanish Time

We've slipped easily into the rhythms of the country - yesterday we people watched as we slowly sipped our morning cafes con leche at our favorite cafe, strolled the streets around the Barcelona cathedral, explored an imaginative exhibit on the Catalan language. We had left our cameras at the apartment, so no photos, but those of you with a little Spanish or French probably can puzzle out these quotes: "El veritable enemic es l'oblit" "Pa i circ, deien els romans. Poesia i futbol? I tu, que hi dies!". All the signs in Barcelona are in Catalan as well as Spanish. Franco suppressed the language and culture, but now children are learning it in school and Friday evening we happened on a dramatic production on the Cathedral steps about the death of Thomas a Becket completely in Catalan. T. S. Eliot in Catalan?
Saturday afternoon we flew to Granada in the rain. We're staying in a sixteenth century mansion, complete with courtyard. When we go down the cobbled steps from our front door we see the Alhambra in all its golden glory right up the hill from us.
We ate dinner at our now usual time, 10 p.m. And strolled home with the rest of the town - everyone, even the toddlers, out enjoying the cool post-rain freshness. Now it's Sunday morning and time to find a new cafe con leche spot where we can sit and watch the world pass.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Acclimated in Barcelona

We are finally getting acclimated to life in Barcelona! Last night, at the culturally-appropriate hour of 20:30 we made our way through the streets of the Gothic (our!) section of the city and actually navigated our way to our restaurant of choice: Cafe de la Academia - chosen as much for its name and location as for its food, although the meal was excellent!
This morning: only TWO modes of transportation (besides our feet, which are getting quite a workout!) as we made our way by Metro and train to Figueres to the Dali Theater/Museum/Masoleum... Arriving, we stumbled upon the weekly Sardana dance in the town square. Forbidden under Franco, they are now a weekly occurrence in cities in Catalonya (weekends in Barcelona in front of the Cathedral, and, obviously Fridays in Figueres). Participants, visitors welcome, hold hands in a circle and dance to the music of a band (in orange shirts, of course!)... The dancing can go on for two hours! It's a rather pleasant way to assert identity!

Everywhere the Catalyn language is present: all signs, although generally also in Spanish, and frequently English as well. It's fascinating to see how the French has influenced the Spanish to produce the Catalyn language!

The Dali Museum was - well, Dali! Provocative, interesting, and a fun excursion. (oops! I can't figure out how to re-orient this photo, so you'll just have to turn your head!)

Tonight: regroup, and get ready for tomorrow's departure for Granada and whatever adventures that city holds in store for us!
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pilgrimage by 4 transports

Today Carolyn and I set out on a pilgrimage to the Serrated Mountain - Monserrat - where La Moreneta, a small carved black wood statue of the Virgin Mary was discovered in a (now sacred) cave sometime around the 11th century. We pilgrims feel very proud of ourselves because we navigated the subways, the train, the aerial cable car up the mountain and a truly heart- stopping funicular down part of the mountain to hike to the sacred cave. This is the aerial cable car in flight.

- The weather continues gorgeous, the views from the mountain are breath-taking. We needed Larry Adkins as our photographer, but Carolyn managed very well.

The benefit of choosing to be a serious pilgrim: we had our choice of standing in a mob to wait and mill around inside the church and hear the famous boys choir sing, as they do daily, at 1:00 or of standing in A Looong line to pray before the Virgin at her tiny shrine behind the church altar. We chose the Virgin - and just as we approached her altar, from the church we caught a view of the choir better than the mob in the church could see plus our prayers in the chapel floated up on the transcendent voices of the choir

Then we hiked down to the Sacred Cave (Oof, we commit ourselves to more exercise from this day forward!)

I'm writing this in the little office back at our Barcelona apartment, with an open box of chocolates, a plate of cheese and a glass of wine in front of me. This evening we plan to eat in a restaurant modeled on King Solomon's Temple. We'll report on the food later.

Location:Carrer de les Beates,Barcelona,Spain

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Glorious Day at Parc de Montjuic!

What a glorious day! Sunshine, blue skies, a leisurely start to the day at our favorite (so far) coffee shop - and then more adventures on public transportation! It's like working a puzzle - you take the map, figure out going here (frequently either in the direction of the Trinity or Hebron!) and transferring there, and voila! We have accomplished our goal! Today we set out for Parc de Montjuic, a delightful mountaintop venue full of gardens and museums overlooking the city! We added two new public transport experiences to our repertoire as we went from metro to funicular to cablecar and then back... We disembarked at the castle at the top of the hill and wandered around enjoying the sunshine and the views and then finally made our way down to the museums.

The Museo National de Catalonia is a wonderful museum- light, spacious, with high ceilings, and vast, uncluttered rooms so you can really view the collection. They have a beautifully-displayed exhibit of 10 - 13th c. Frescoes "rescued" from churches which were being pillaged. Quite a delight...

Tired, we made our way down many, many steps to the metro station, heading in the direction of home before stopping for lunch at an outdoor cafe. We're finding ourselves on "Spanish time" - eating later ( today's lunch was about 4!)... Tonight - at 9! - we have concert tickets. Another full day!

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Location:Carrer de les Beates,Barcelona,Spain

Quest for the Perfect Coffee Shop

What does it say about us that we are on the quest to find "the perfect coffee shop"?! We have several contenders, but our current favorite is the coffee shop attached to the Palau de la Musica...

It doesn't hurt that the Palau has amazing finger sandwiches as well!

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Location:Carrer de les Beates,Barcelona,Spain

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Farther Afield

Hello from the Barri Gotic, that's the name of our neighborhood. Today it's Kitty writing. Carolyn and I started our morning with cafe con leche and croissants in the cafe connected with a gorgeous building designed in the early twentieth century to house a famous Barcelona choral society. The Palau de la Musica Catalana is full of light and flowery decoration and wonderful mosaic pillars and rose colored glass; we took a tour after breakfast and we will be attending a concert there Wednesday evening.

We continued our tradition of getting caught up in a demonstration on vacation: in Paris it was striking nurses and in Barcelona we stumbled on a grand street march, complete with police, red balloons, music, banners and shouted slogans - but of course, it's May Day! We were puzzled though, the marchers all waved flags imprinted with scissors with a red line through them. What could they possibly have against scissors? Finally Carolyn asked in her best Spanish and we were enlightened: they were protesting the cuts to wages and social services

Our big adventure was braving the metro - and we were successful! We used our passes and followed the signs and shoved ourselves into crowded trains and hung on straps like natives. That's how we found our way to the architecturally famous Gaudi cathedral. After nearly a century, Gaudi's building is still a construction site! We were reminded of Our Lady of the Angels when we entered Sagrada Familia, the amazing Modernist cathedral - lots of natural light and space. Carolyn asked a young guide where the baptismal font was and he seemed not to recognize the word. He finally answered that they hadn't had baptisms at the cathedral; hmm, this may explain the sorry state of religion in Europe.

Tonight we're eating at home, we've shopped in the neighborhood - whole grain baguettes, wonderful "partially aged "cheese (we chose it for the description) mystery chicken and empanadas. Tomorrow, the museums!

Kitty and Carolyn

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Location:Carrer de les Beates,Barcelona,Spain