Sunday, November 11, 2007


Welcome to the Third Installment of our adventures in Spain and Portugal.

Seville is quite a fascinating city. It is ancient--predating the Romans. Two Roman emperors hailed from Seville--Trajan and Hadrian. Both were generals in the Roman legions before getting the CEO job in Rome. After the Romans came the Visigoths and the Osteopaths (sic). The Moors took over in the 700's and built mosques all over the place. When the Christsians conquered it in the 1400's, they built churches on top of the mosques, rather than demolishing them. As a result, many buildings are of Moorish design with the add-ons of Gothic architecture.

For example, the great Cathedral of Seville, the largest in Spain, and containing the tomb of Columbus, is larger than the Vatican. I've been to both, but didn't measure them. This building was formerly a mosque. The lower levels are Moorish and the upper levels are Gothic. The Giralda Tower, attached to the Cathedral, is the tallest building in town, 294 feet high. We, along with hundreds of others, hiked the 36 flights to the top for the city view. The walking wasn't so bad because they were ramps, rather than steps, thus complying with the Spanish version of the ADA.
Going down is a skateboarder's paradise.

The famed Alcazar Palace, which is used by the royal family, is of Moorish design, with its multi-colored tiled walls and ceilings and beautiful gardens. The palace, like those in the other cities we visited, has so many rooms, ornately decorated, that one runs out of words to describe the beauty of the architecture.

We toured the old Jewish quarter of Seville, with its many small shops, and we stopped for tapas at one of the numerous small restaurants. Dianne is developing a taste for the ubiquitous CruzCampo Beer which is served everywhere in Spain. It is not exported to the U.S. because it has no preservatives.

Seville is the setting for the famous opera Carmen. The main character, Carmen, worked in a cigarette factory in Seville. The tobacco indusstry was a monopoly controlled by the King, and it was a key source of his income. The music from Carmen, by the French composer Georges Bizet, is very popular in Seville. Most people are familiar with the Toreador Song. In the opera, Carmen, a beautiful, but fiery tempered Gypsy lady has several love affairs with military officers and bullfighters, which eventually lead to her murder at the hands of a jealous suitor. The music from Carmen is especially popular with Flamenco dancers.


Sherry who? You may ask. Sherry, as in after dinner wine. Apparently, the English corrupted the pronunciation of Jerez and made it sould like "sherry". We had the privilege of touring the Don Sandeman winery which makes sherry. You may be familiar with the logo--a man with a black cape and sombrero. The tour guides (all female) wore that uniform. We viewed hundreds of wine barrels in various stages of the aging process. They passed out free samples. Fortunately, we didn't have to drive. Lunch consisted of tapas at the winery.

The other point of interest in Jerez is the equestrian school which is famous all over Europe for training riders and carriage drivers. We toured the stables, interacted with the horses and watched the students learning to handle and train horses.


As everyone probably knows, Gibraltar is a big rock overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the Straits of Gibraltar. It has great strategic importance.

During the War of Spanish Succession, a struggle for the Spanish throne between the French Bourbons and the Austrian Habsburgs, a joint Anglo-Dutch force took over the rock and a small surrounding area, in 1704. When that war ended, the warring parties signed a treaty, the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713 in which Spain gave the colony to England in perpetuity.

Almost immediately, Spain regretted that and laid siege (unsuccessfully) to the colony in 1727, and again in 1779, the latter lasting 4 years and causing great destruction. Spain has remained somewhat hostile to the colony, even in recent years. Several years ago, the 30,000 inhabitants voted in a referendum, and 99% voted to stay with England.

Essentially, Gibraltar is the rock with some landfill next to it, which contains the city. The whole shebang is less than 3 square miles on a peninsula. The culture is very British, although the inhabitants speak Spanish also and are mostly Catholic, as in adjoining Spain. The currency is the Pound Sterling and also the Euro. The red London phone booths are all over the place. One major difference from England is that cars drive on the right side of the road, as they have since 1929. The Rock was (and is) heavily fortified during World War II, and used by the Allies to monitor shipping and aubmarine traffic through the straits. There are numerous tunnels drilled into the rock for defensive purposes, with many cannons and fortifications. One interesting item: the airport runway crosses the main road into town, and when an airplane lands or takes off, they have to stop traffic on the road to allow the plane to pass.

Living on the rock is a colony of small Barbary apes, actually macaques--the only such primates in Europe. These critters are about 3 feet tall and are wild, but friendly. They climb on cars and busses. One was sitting on a window sill of a house attempting to open the window. A female ape walked around, carrying its baby clinging to its back. Although there are posted signs telling you not to feed them because they may bite, people do so; and they'll grab things out of your hand.

The rock also has a natural cave, St. Michael's Cave, containing colorful stalactites (on the top) and stalagmites (on the bottom). There is a concert hall inside the cave which is often used. Compared to Carlsbad Caverns or Mammoth Cave in the U.S., the cave is small, but it is quite impressive and worth seeing.

John & Diane, from Connecticut. John is a well published psychology professor with a major university, who is also an expert on movies and baseball--a Yankee fan. Of Greek ancestry, he was the only person on the tour able to pronounce El Greco's real name (Domenicos Theotokopoulos, in case you're interested). Diane, a very sweet and pretty lady who shares a birthday with me (2 years younger) is a long time Realtor who became fast friends with Dianne and me. They shared a lunch with us at the Madrid McDonalds when we all were suffering from American food withdrawal. We were all in heaven!


A resort town on the coast of the Mediterranean with a 2 mile long boardwalk, this is Spain's version of Miami Beach. There's even a casino, but it's not on the waterfront, and we didn't go there. We encountered many souvenir stands, as well as sand sculptors who meticulously create elaborate sand castles, some the size of a hotel room. We spent a whole day there, which was our tour director's day off. Our hotel room had a balcony with a fine view of the Mediterranean. We wore our bathing suits and waded in the surf.

We did some shopping, but found that everything is expensive in Europe because of the weak dollar relative to the Euro. $100.00 American bought only about 65 Euros, although for Europeans, a Euro was like a dollar for what it would buy. So although the stores carried the designer brands we all know, the items, priced in Euros, are significantly more expensive in Europe than in the U. S.


Ronda is a mountain town, just to get there was an ordeal--a long slow trip on a narrow, winding mountain road with no guardrails in a big tour bus.

This is the bullfighting capital of Europe, with a famous stadium containing a museum
devoted to the history of bullfighting. Very interesting. There was no bullfight on the schedule, and we would have to wait until Madrid to attend one.

To us, the most impressive sight in town was the gorgeous gorge running through the center of town, approximately 500 feet deep. The road goes over an old bridge of stone block construction, with graceful arches, spanning the gorge. Although I had never heard of it before, this gorge is comparable to the Grand Canyon in its beauty, in its own way. The bridge, dating from the 1780's, and built on the foundation of an earlier bridge, is over 400 feet high. This was an impressive feat of engineering construction without using modern equipment.

The famous producer and writer Orson Welles was enamoured with Ronda, had a home in Ronda, and in fact, was buried--well, scattered there.

We had a fine lunch at the Don Miguel hotel, right next to the gorge.

Gladys, a young 80 year old lady traveling by herself kept everyone in good spirits. Her husband didn't make the trip because of health problems. Gladys has worked at New York's Macy's for many years in the china department. Although she probably has less energy than she had years ago, she kept up with the group, and several of us looked out for her. She had a wealth of stories about her travels and her years at Macy's. One was that her phone number was one number off from that of Macy's. At Christmas time, many people mistakenly dial her number to talk to Santa Claus. Gladys' last name is Kloss, which sounds similar. She told the caller in her sweet little lady voice that Santa wasn't home, but Bobby Kloss (her husband) would talk to them.


Grenada, as in Grenadine, featuring the Alhambra Palace, the Great Mosque of Cordoba, and sandy Consuegra, home of Don Quixote's windmills.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home