Motorcycles and beer.

Part 1, Part 5, or part 10.

I’ve been dreading this post for a while. Sharon and I took a lot of pictures. Almost 1000. Pruning out the out of focus, badly exposed, just plain ugly ones left us with almost 800. This is the day that we went to Granada and the Alhambra and between the two of us, we took 172. It’s just that kind of place. I’ve had to be exceptionally ruthless with my pruning just to be able to put up a sensible post.

First of all, a little background. Granada is a university town. I don’t remember the exact numbers but of a population of 300+ thousand, there are something like 60 000 students from all over the world. There are more Nobel prize winning professors teaching in Granada than anywhere else.

Granada is also the home of the most popular tourist attraction in all of Spain, the Alhambra. Not to take away from wikipedia but parroting a bit of the interesting info conveyed by our tour guides, the Alhambra was the home of the last Moorish Sultan to live in Spain before the Reconquista. At its peak, as many as 5000 people lived in its walls. The irrigation system to bring water from the Sierra Nevada mountains was built in the 11th century AD and is still functioning today. When Ferdinand and Isabel were marching on Granada, the Sultan sent word to them that if they would spare his city, he would leave voluntarily. They were monarchs of their word so we have the Alhambra to visit today. This wasn’t the last time it was nearly destroyed either. Apparently it’s only because a soldier was willing to sabotage the explosives that Napoleon had ordered set up that it wasn’t completely blown up. Apparently Napoleon was a dick. Wasn’t it his boys that blew the nose off the Sphinx too?

Our friend Andrew had recommended that we book tickets before going to Europe but we foolishly assumed that we’d have time while we were there. No such luck. They only allow 3300 visitors per day in morning and afternoon sessions and there were no openings until the week after we we supposed to leave. Fortunately there are bus tours so the hotel’s concierge was able to secure us seats and the next morning at 7am we were on our way to Granada. The upside is that I didn’t have to drive for a day but the downside is that buses are slow so it made for a long day by the time we got back.

Since we were booked for the afternoon session, we had some time before lunch to explore Granada. Sharon got to shop and I got to do some street photography. Granada is a beautiful town, named after the pomegranate trees that grow in the plazas and squares.

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A lot of graffiti artist use stencils.

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One of my most enjoyable memories of this trip came on the lunch. We had paid for the lunch included with the tour which, to my mind, turned out to be a big mistake. First of all, Sharon and I were stuffed with churros and chocolate, and second, the meal was a very bland chicken dish with no Spanish flavor at all. Sharon was enjoying practicing her French with a real French couple at our table so I decided to skip the meal and go wander about. I saw a yellow motorcycle parked on a back street which looked interesting with the yellow lines going off into the distance so I tried to capture a good picture of it. I’m not sure I succeeded but that’s not the good part of the story anyway.

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A fellow in the window of the pub in front of which the bike was parked, Taberna VII Lagunas, asked me why I was taking the picture. I explained that I thought it would look nice and asked if it was his bike. He told me that it was his business partners and that they ran the pub. “Well then perhaps I should have a beer then,” I said. I pulled up to the bar and got my beer and started talking with the owner. After a bit his partner came by and I showed him the picture I had taken. While we were talking the first fellow was cutting some ham and tomato and bread and put in front of me a plate with a nice ham and tomato tapa with just a drizzle of olive oil. “Is that for me?”, I asked. “Comes with the beer,” he said. Delicious and just what I wanted. We had a great conversation about Canada vs. Spain, talking about motorcycle riding, insurance and housing costs, alcoholism (booze is very cheap in Europe) and I totally lost track of time. Eventually I had to leave as the tour was moving on so I got in a bit of trouble when Sharon couldn’t pay for her drink and tip because I had all the money. Oh, and my beer and sandwich? €1.50. That’s the kind of experience you go traveling for. Doing the extraordinary stuff like the Alhambra is great but I love doing simple, ordinary things with local people just as much. Gives you a taste of the flavor of life in that country.

The bus wound it’s way up the hill towards the Alhambra and our tour director explained that we would be divided up into smaller groups and taken through by guides. As it turned out, we were divided on the basis of language. There were enough English speakers to form one group and the other was German, French and Spanish. These tour guides always speak so many languages, it’s quite impressive.

I’m a little shaky on the details since there was a lot to take in but I believe the first part of the tour was called the Generalife which was a huge garden with fountains and buildings and housing underneath. Walking along the walls you could look out over the rest of the city and other parts of the Alhambra. Here’s one Sharon took. I took a similar one of this arch but her composition is nicer. It’s interesting that we often took the same or similar pictures and her little point and shoot performed just as well if not better than my SLR. Like they say, “it ain’t the arrow, it’s the Injun.”

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Besides, I tend to go for too many artsy fartsy shots and sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Sometimes it pays off I think though.

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Here’s a Sharon vs. Kris shootout. Mine tries to establish a strong diagonal line through the picture, hers has the perspective symmetry and dynamic water. I think she wins this one too.

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More views from the walls.

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After the Generalife we passed by the ugly palace. I don’t know what it was actually called but it was built by the Spanish after the Moors left. Some ruler hired his buddy or cousin or some such who happened to be a crappy architect to design this palace. I think it sucks but not everyone’s taste is the same. Here’s a composite shot of the palace, surroundings and some details. This is how I save space – by conglomerating a few pictures together. You’ll definitely want to click on this one for the full size view.

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An interesting thing happened at this palace however. The main attraction is the Nasrid palace and your ticket gives you a half-hour window to get in. We were running late so we skipped the ugly palace but some British ladies on the tour had been looking around inside a bit while we were waiting for some others to catch up. When they found out that we were skipping ugly palace, one of them freaked out and started yelling at our guide and demanding that we get another guide and so on. Real bitch in my opinion since our guide was a cute little old Spanish lady who had been doing a fine job of showing us around and telling us stories. Either way, I stepped in and told this lady off and said, if you want to go look at that palace, go ahead but we’re going to the next one because if we miss our window, we don’t go in. I hate bullies.

This is the way into the Nasrid palace. They gather the groups of people here to wait before sending them in on the half-hour.

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The entryway had some nice arches, carvings and tiles. Also had some really neat wooden inlay detail on the ceilings. I’ve got a composite picture of detail shots that will be posted further down.

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Everywhere you go throughout this palace, you’re confronted by a grandeur that is hard to take in and yet an attention to detail that requires close inspection. Huge sweeping arches and ceilings carved with the 99 names of Allah in repeating patterns. Since Mohammad lived in a cave for some years, it was considered fortunate to live in a cave as well so many archways and ceilings were carved in such a way as to resemble stalactites. It was an incredibly difficult place to photograph. Wide angle helps capture the size, closeups help capture the detail but nothing can really replace going there. I can honestly say that almost everything else of an architectural variety pales in comparison to this.

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Here is an example of clever Moorish design. This courtyard was a place for the Sultan to relax with his ladies and was deliberately set up so that each of the four corners would be optimal for a particular time of year. Breeze and shade in one corner for summer, sun and wind shelter in the opposite for winter.

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Some more views around the outside.

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We both took pictures of this fountain but hers is way better.

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Here’s one Sharon took:

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And here’s one from me. Big expensive camera often equals pictures not as good as little cheap camera.

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One more of Sharon’s well composed shots around the grounds.

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Finally, here’s the detail shot. These are from both of our cameras so we’ll take equal credit for them. This is another big file that you’ll probably want to click on for the full size view.

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After a long day, it was really nice to get back in the bus and relax on the way back home. As promised, here’s a picture of the bug antennae that these buses have to keep from losing mirrors down narrow streets.

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And here’s a view of what we saw during the drive back. Taken through the window of a moving bus but I think it gives an idea of the beautiful countryside.

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When we finally got back we were exhausted. It had been a 14 hour tour and to be honest, I don’t even remember what we had for dinner. The next day we were going to need some rest and relaxation.

Kris

Into the mines of Moria

Part 1, Part 5, or part 10. Start where you like but don’t complain about a lack of content.

It’s hard to believe this would be possible but Benalmadena made us long for the simple, non-touristy town of Albufeira. This place was the Miami Beach of southern Spain with big hotels and boatloads of tourists. All we wanted was some nice Spanish food and all we found were curry shops, Irish pubs, English pubs, shawarma shops, etc. etc. It actually turned out that if you take the boardwalk down by the beach towards the marina there are a lot more interesting places to eat but we didn’t discover that for a day or two.

For now, all we wanted to do was to go find a nice place to see some sights and relax so we head up the coast, past Malaga towards a place called Nerja that was reputed to be one of the nicest beaches in the area. It seemed to be pretty nice as we got closer but we were only getting closer because we had already walked for about 15 minutes from the only place we could find a parking spot. Nerja was crowded and tacky and the beach looked like it had way too many people so we decided to bail out. Looking up the coast, I thought I saw some beaches in the distance so we figured we would just go explore and see if we could discover something for ourselves.

Here’s a shot of us posing along the road to Nerja.

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Here’s a snapshot of Nerja. It really is gorgeous but we just weren’t in the mood to fight crowds and traffic and such. Nerja actually got into our list of ‘Hardest Places to Leave’ along with Portimao. We got lost and went in circles several times before finding our way out.

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As we drove through some of the small towns along the highway, we went through a town called ‘Maro’ and we saw a sign that said ‘Playa’ with an arrow down the road. Since we knew that a Playa was a beach, we followed it down a steep, narrow road with a couple switchbacks down the cliff to the water and found that there was, in fact, a beach. We later learned that this was one of the premier snorkeling beaches in the area and was generally only frequented by locals. Here’s what it looks like about halfway down the road along the cliffs.

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From the beach it looks like so. The umbrellas on the left are from a little restaurant where a couple of guys will cook you dinner and make you Sangria.

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The beach was nice sand but in the water was more rocky than sandy. This was fine, however, since the water was beautiful and clear and had a very steep drop-off so you were swimming almost immediately after entering. We saw a number of people with snorkels and spears going in from the beach and swimming out to the reefs and cliffs surrounding the area.

After a nice relaxing time of swimming and lounging, we wanted to get a bite so we went to the little cafe to see what they had. Well, what they had was some of the best sangria we’ve ever tasted with some sort of spicy liquor like ginger or nutmeg giving just a hint of exotic flavour. The waiter brought out a big tray with a bunch of fresh caught fish on it to show us what had been caught that day and we picked out a nice one to share. Let me tell you, this fish was grilled to perfection. Just one of many wonderful meals but all the more sweet because you don’t expect to find such good food at a tiny beach front cafe in the middle of nowhere.

After that it was time to do some more sightseeing. If you know Sharon and I, in spite of having no kids, we have an unnatural attraction to childish amusements. The highlight of our Niagara trip was African Lion Safari and we were very disappointed to have not made it to Sea World. The kids section of our guide book mentioned that Nerja also had some interesting caves that one could take a look at so we decided to do that on our way back.

I have to say that interesting does not even cover it. The caves at Nerja were unbelievable. It’s very hard to capture a sense of scale in a photo but these caverns were hundreds of feet high with huge limestone stalactites and stalagmites. There were walking paths through them that let you do a walk around the several caverns that were open to the public.

There I was, waiting for a long exposure to finish with my camera mounted on my trusty tripod when Sharon turned to me, “A tripod!! You fool! You’ll waken the beast of Helm’s Deep that has slept under the Mines of Moria all these centuries past.” Sure enough, even before my 30 second exposure was finished, a Balrog was charging, red eyes glaring, wearing his tour guide uniform. “No tripod,” he roared, belching fire and smoke from his gaping maw. Promising to put it away, Sharon and I ran, ran like the wind, not looking back, deeper into the heart of the cavern, always with the sound of drums…drums in the deep….

I know it’s hard to believe but every word is true. I swear. In the end, I still used the tripod but I kept it all the way down so it was very discreet and Sharon kept a lookout for any more Balrogs. I managed to sneak off a couple more shots before we escaped back into the light but we’ll always remember the horror of that day.

To get the picture of the size of this place, first consider this picture. It’s taken from a walkway above a set of bleachers that are about half way down the side of this one cavern.

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Now consider this picture. It’s taken from the next cavern looking back through a tunnel at this one. I’ve given a zoom that shows the bleachers in the middle.

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On our way back we stopped in Malaga. Coincidentally enough, Sharon’s parents had been in Malaga that day too on account of their cruise ship stopping there but we had no way to meet up with them so we likely passed within a couple kilometers and never knew it.

Malaga became one of our favorite towns in southern Spain. The downtown had a great area where it was all closed streets with little shops, cafes, bodegas, etc. along with some lovely churches and an old Alacazaba left over from Moorish times. We spend more time there another day but this day we just settle for stopping in at a nice little tapas bar for some snacks and sherry. A lovely cap to a great day and back to our hotel. Our room would be the one on the bottom right.

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Not a lot of photos today but believe me, the next posting will make up for it. We’re off to Granada to see the Alhambra.

Kris

Tilting at Windmills and Eau de Poo

Part 1, of this tale? How about Part 5? Believe it or not, this is part 10.

The tour of the bodega wasn’t until 10:30am so we had a leisurely morning although we knew we were going to have to rush back from the tour to make checkout time. The famous Osbourne Bodega was just a block away so we figured we’d have time. So why is Osbourne so famous? The bull. Their corporate symbol is a black bull silhouette that happens to have been declared a national symbol as well. So as you drive around Spain, you’ll see these huge bulls standing on the top of hills advertising both the bullring and the sherry. Talk about a sweet deal for Osbourne though.

Outside the bodega. They have a tower too.

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If you mess with the bull, you get the horn.

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The plaza inside the bodega. Who photographs the photographer…hmmm?

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The tour started off with the showing of a corporate video which describes their various facilities such as vineyards and bodegas. It was a fairly funny one with all the corporate speak in a booming voice, “Osbourne is…the quality…Osbourne is….the excellence…Osbourne is….the tradition…” etc. etc. Fortunately it wasn’t too long before we were off to the actual aging building. If you don’t know how sherry is made, it’s quite an interesting process which I won’t detail here since Wikipedia does such a good job. Enough to say that it was fun to walk around the dark halls with barrels lining the walls, the smell of sherry so thick in the air you could almost get drunk breathing it. Afterwards they took us to a tasting room where they had some olives and potato chips as well as 4 different varieties of sherries from a dry fino to a medium oloroso to a sweet cream. Unlike most tasting tours I’ve done in the past, there was no careful measuring of portions. They just opened up a bunch of bottles, left them on the table and said, “Enjoy.” Very nice. The only downsides were that a) it was only 11:30am and b) I had to drive 400km that day.

Inside. The casks are stacked so each time that bottling happens, some is taken off the bottom and then cascaded down from the ones above with the new wine being added to the top barrel. This is why sherries have no vintage. The are a blend of many years of sherries aged in the barrels over many years.

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Another view of the barrels.

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Sampling/testing area.

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Our tour guide providing a selection of the quality, excellence and passion that is the Osbourne.

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We rushed back to our hotel to make checkout and got on the road. We didn’t really have a set plan but as we saw interesting things we made snap decisions on whether to stop or not. The first such thing was a very good example of what they call a “Pueblo Blanco” or “White Town.” These are very old towns where the buildings are generally all painted white, possibly to keep the houses cool in the summer. This town was called Vejer de la Frontera and was a lovely little village up on the top of a hill overlooking the valleys around it. I took way too many pictures here but I couldn’t help myself. Incidentally, white buildings in sunlight = tricky exposure so I was pretty impressed with the job my camera did.

Really steep, narrow and winding road gets you up to the top. The steep hills really showcase how little torque a 1.2 litre engine has. Here’s the view from about 3/4 of the way up.

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A view down a street where some workmen we doing repairs.

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Walking down the streets. No cars allowed but scooters and motorcycles, no problem.

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Nifty plaza with a cool fountain.

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Fountain detail.

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Isn’t this just the cutest little place?

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Church in the center of town.

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After that we had to do our traditional beach stop so we went for a dip at Tarifa which is the southernmost tip of continental Europe. This is the point where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet and is the closest that Europe gets to Africa with only about 30km across the straights. It was around this part of the southern coast that we started noticing windmills. I would never have imagined that there could be so many windmills in one area but every ridge of every hill was covered in massive windmills all turning in the constant breeze blowing in off the Atlantic. The same wind that makes this part of Spain so popular with windsurfers and kite boarders also must generate a massive amount of energy.

The beach was nice but very flat and not especially photogenic but this map shows where we were looking down at the island of Tarifa in this photo.

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We didn’t stay too long since we still had a lot of miles to cover but on the way up the highway we stopped at a little rest area for some ice cream and a look around. Here you can see some of the windmills. These are just the small, older style ones. The big modern ones are much more common.

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From the lookout at the rest stop you can see Africa. The day wasn’t very clear so it barely shows in the haze but that was the closest we got.

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The last stop we made on our drive to Benalmadena was Gibraltar. As I said earlier, the customs agent didn’t even look at our passports before waving us into the mayhem. We managed to park near a cemetery where many war dead were interred and take a photo. This was the last parking spot we would ever see before leaving Gibraltar.

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A little background first. Sharon needed to go to the bathroom. She had needed to go for quite a while but the place we stopped was very industrial with nothing but warehouses, car dealerships and a graveyard so there was nowhere for her to go. So we got in the car thinking we’d just go park somewhere nearer to the pubs and such so we could have a bite and look around a bit. Ha. Nice plan that was totally naive with regard to the madness that is driving in Gibraltar. First of all, the scooter/motorcycle to car ratio is about 10 to 1 and they drive like they’re immortal, zipping in front of you and between cars and into every space that is available. Second, there is no such thing as a parking space. Sure there are cars parked but it most people probably got a spot sometime in the 80’s and just left their car there so they wouldn’t lose it. We did a couple laps, nearly died several times, nearly ran over a few pedestrians and scooters, all the while with Sharon squirming in her seat desperate for a stop before finally pulling into a gas station. Gas was actually even cheaper in Gibraltar than Spain so this was a good thing and Sharon got a little relief but we still were no closer to having actually seen anything or had anything to eat. I’ll spoil it for you and tell you that we ate at a rest stop a few kilometers back into Spain because we never found a spot to park. We saw no Barbary Apes. We ate no fish and chips and drank no English ale. We took a picture as we were leaving.

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Later on we found out that you generally park on the Spanish side and either walk or take the bus across and then use public transit for precisely the reasons outlined above. Live and learn…we didn’t want to see Gibraltar anyway so bleeaah!

So we’ve reached the end of the photo segment of this issue but from the title, I imagine you must be wondering if there is more. I do, in fact, have another anecdote to share. The coast between Gibraltar and Benalmadena is fairly built up and touristy but still quite scenic. At one point along the road we ran into a traffic jam. Not speaking Spanish, there was no help from the radio to figure out why we were at a dead stop on the highway for about 20 minutes so there was nothing to do but wait. The breeze was nice so we could open the windows and relax and eat a few snacks we had brought along. Suddenly the cars started moving so off we went, wondering what it had been that delayed us so long. Up ahead we see some emergency vehicles and workers on the road and, as we drive by, we notice that they are all using hoses to wash off the road. Then the smell hit us. A trailer load of manure, most likely pig, had overturned on the road. Skidding through the slippery poo remnants on the road with our windows open imparted an odor that seemed to cling to the car with a tick-like tenacity and leaving the windows open for the next hundred kilometers did nothing to dispel it. In fact, it was a couple of days before the car didn’t stink, at least on the outside. Works great for appetite control and highly recommended for those who are dieting.

Once again we somehow magically found our hotel in spite of not knowing where we were or where it was supposed to be. We were used to this by then so it was fairly unremarkable as far as navigation goes. If you come back for the next post, we will go spelunking, deep into the caves of Nerja wary for the red eyes of the Balrog. Well, actually the tour guide but he kind of looked like a Balrog.

Kris

Finally…Some Tapas!

There are many pages before this. You could go all the way back to Part 1, or perhaps Part 5.

We wanted to go to Cadiz, the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, founded by the Phoenicians in 1104BC. We didn’t find anything inexpensive there but on the web we found and booked a hotel for the night in one of the cities of the ‘Sherry Triangle‘ on the southwest coast of Spain. The town was called El Puerto de Santa Maria and was at the mouth of a river on the Atlantic Ocean right next to Cadiz.

We got up early and hit the road. East to Seville, hang a right and south to El Puerto. Crossing from Portugal to Spain is about the same as passing between Canadian provinces or American states. “Look, a sign…well, looks like were in Spain now.” The European Union. What a fantastic idea. One difference we notice immediately was that gas went from €1.33 to €1.05. I can’t imagine that Portuguese gas stations within 20 or 30 km of the border have much luck selling gas at that kind of price differential.

The gas stations were of similar quality to the Portuguese ones with very nice looking restaurants attached. One difference was the amount of ham. They do love the ham in Spain and you will see whole legs of cured ham hanging from the ceiling above the counter so that they can always hack off a slice for a sandwich.

We got to El Puerto and found our hotel. Finding the hotel was easy enough but getting to it was a bit harder and we wound up doing a few laps on one way streets and back alleys before we got turned in the right direction to park. The hotel was very nice with a rooftop pool so we went up to there to catch a look around and get our bearings. The city was on a canal that was very busy with many fishing boats and commuter ferries that take people back and forth to Cadiz. We went out for a walk walk that led us past a castle, through the market and out along the canal out to the ocean. You can definitely tell that you’re in sherry country when you can walk past 2 or 3 bodegas within a couple of blocks.

View from the roof of the hotel.

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Castle a block away from the hotel.

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Bodega. This was a block away from our hotel. The windows are left open to the sea air to let the sherry age at a uniform temperature.

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Marina with spiffy new condos and a sailing ship of some ancient vintage.

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We didn’t have a lot of time in the area and we wanted to see Cadiz so we hopped in the car and hit the road. We did a quick tour around El Puerto to see the marina where they have, believe it or not, a bodega and then took the highway to Cadiz which to completely appreciate you almost need to look at the map. Picture a long island or peninsula with a main street splitting it in half with huge hotels and office buildings lining the coast on both sides. When you get out to the end, you pass through an arch in a wall that leads into the old city which is as ancient as the new town is modern. We did almost a full lap around the old town before finding some underground parking.

Looking back from the old city to the hotels lining the coast of the new city.

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We went to the Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral) so named because it was only built in 1776 on the site of the older cathedral after it burned down. Those darn modern architects with their crazy new fangled ideas.

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Sharon took a couple nice pictures inside the cathedral:

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I took a few too. Dummy that I am, I went to a cathedral but forgot my tripod. Placing the camera on random objects to do time lapse shots occasionally gives good results but sometimes not. All in all, I think Sharon did better than I did that day. We may get the same number of good shots but I have to take three times as many to get the same number of keepers.

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One exceptionally interesting part of this particular cathedral is the crypt. Down some stairs beneath the altar leads you to a circular room with little passageways off to the sides where various people of import are entombed. The ceiling has an interesting curved arch to it. “How neat,” we thought, and wandered around the room looking at things. Then we walked across the middle of the room. “tickatickaticka…..” “tickatickaticka…..”. Sharon: “What the heck is that?” Kris: “Wow, they’ve used the parabolic shape of the roof as an amplifier to repeat and echo the sounds of your footsteps. How clever yet creepy.” Sharon: “Parabolic nothing, this is a crypt and that’s freaking me out. Let’s get out of here.” Actually, even knowing how it works, it was a pretty freaky effect.

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Before going any further, I’d like to talk about towers. Cadiz is ALL about the towers. I think they still have something like 160 of them and at their peak, they had over 300. Every merchant’s home had a tower so they could keep an eye out for incoming shipments. Not sure why this was so critical but either way, lots of towers. Here’s a really nice one. Many of them are quite a bit more simple.

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We wandered around a bit more and made our way to the Tavira Tower where we got a guided tour with a camera obscura. This is the best way to tour the city since the bird’s eye view is displayed on the screen in front of you. You get to see everything but there’s NO WALKING!!! Woohoo! Our sore feet were very happy. The fellow running the camera obscura was a nice young fellow who spoke a zillion languages. There were only two couples there so this tour was done in English and Spanish although he was occasionally lapsing into German because he had just had a few sets of German tourists earlier. Afterwards, when we went up to the roof to take pictures, he came up and we had a little chat. It turns out that we were the very last presentation that he would ever do because he was off to Algeria to be a language teacher since he spoke fluent Arabic as well. He told us how dry Cadiz was and that he remembered a time when he was young and it didn’t rain for over two years.

Looking back to the cathedral. On the right you see the coast with the hotels. On the left is where all the big shipyards are.
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Count the towers puzzle. I’m pretty sure there are at least 8 in this picture but it’s hard to tell. Some are just simple square towers, some have a ‘step’ and some are round or octagonal.

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Couple more views.

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We wandered around the streets a bit more on our way back to the car. Here’s an example of some of the streets we drove:

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The sunset was nice so we stopped to do a portrait. No one will mistake us for professional models.

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This is what we were looking at.

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More street kitties. There were big clans of them living in the breakwall rocks on the water down below the wall.

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Back to El Puerto and out for dinner. El Puerto is not at all a tourist town so when we found a nice tapas bar, there was no english on the menu and none of the staff spoke it either. Believe it or not, after a week in Europe, this was the first time we had encountered this situation. Using our phrase book and menu reader we managed to order a bunch of dishes and a few different types of sherry and had a great time. Dessert at a Ben and Jerry’s of all places. Why? Why not. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Tune in next time for a tour of a bodega and a coastal drive.

Last day in Portugal.

Not sure what number post this is.  You could go all the way back to Part 1, or perhaps Part 5. Note that this is the second post of the day so if you missed the one before this, you might want to check it out.

This may actually be a fairly short post for a change since after a number of very busy days we decided to be a little less ambitious and relax a bit. We got up early on Saturday to go to Loulé which, we had heard, had a very nice market on Saturdays. Once we got there, I had to stop for a bica and some pastéis. Actually, I had a couple bicas since after the adventures the night before, it was that kind of morning.

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Some scenes in and around the market.

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We tooled around the market and got some fruit and cheese and vegetables and pastries. All the usual market things. A little more shopping around the town and it was off to the beach.

Nice beach.

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Nice boats.

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Nice couple.

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We had been discussing the fact that we had 8 days in Portugal and 5 in Spain and were feeling like we really wanted more time in Spain. We made the decision to bail out a day early so we booked a hotel in Spain and went out for pizza. After the meal the night before, we just wanted something simple, homey, cheap and good. While we were there we saw another stray doing something cute.

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Tune in next time when we head off to Spain.

Kris

So THAT’S what a burning clutch smells like

If you missed some of the earlier episodes, you could start at page 1 or page 5 and navigate from there.

After a very long day, we decided to do a more relaxing one with very few planned activities. Beach it is. We went to Portimao, the ‘Hotel California’ of Portugal. Once you get in, you can never leave. Very easy to find your way into town and to the beaches and such but getting out is an adventure. We never did find the way to the highway through Portimao but after we wound up back downtown several times, we eventually made it to one of the nearby towns along the coast and made it to the highway and home.

In spite of all that, Portimao was really nice. Huge hotels and shops lining a street along a cliff with beaches down below.

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Relaxing on the beach.

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These two dogs kept touring the beach. Every now and then someone would try to shoo them off because this was one of those rare, ‘No Dogs’ beaches but they just ignored everyone and kept doing their laps.

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And finally, a couple treats for the boys.

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No, that’s not Sharon….but it was a pretty lucky shot.

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I’m sure we did some other stuff besides the beach but I don’t think it was of any particular consequence. It got more interesting when we decided to go out for dinner. We were starting to get a little tired of trying to find a good restaurant because they’re so hard to distinguish between. Everyone’s menu sounds the same. So we were driving around in the old town trying to find somewhere to park so we could look around. The streets were narrow, the pedestrians were thick and the parking was scarce. Somehow we wound up making a transition from a street that cars are allowed on to a street that cars are not allowed on. We’re still not sure how it happened but somehow we were going down a couple streets so narrow and steep that they had staircases along the side for pedestrians. There was no where to turn around and we wound up going through the tunnel under the wall that I described earlier. Fortunately at that point I managed to turn around because while I’m a pretty good driver, there’s no way I would have been able to make my way back up there in reverse. In the end I had to ride the emergency brake and rev the crap out of the engine just to be able to get up and out of there. It’s not just that it’s steep. It’s steep and narrow with 90 degree turns and cars parked in awkward places. Burning clutches don’t smell very good but at least we made it out.

We finally found a parking spot up the hill and started looking for a restaurant. Believe it or not we were somewhat tempted by a curry shop. There are so many British that we figured the curry would be excellent and this places menu had about 75 curried seafood recipes. We nearly stopped at a little hole in the wall with a very traditional looking menu and customers but we wanted to check a few more places and that’s where we made our mistake. A lot of restaurants have people outside who will call you over and describe their fare. We got sucked in by a smooth talking salesman and a very fancy looking restaurant and wound up paying way too much for a very bad meal. Overcooked, underflavoured and not particularly fresh. There’s no excuse for that when you live right next to the ocean. And don’t even get me started on the service. It takes a lot to keep us from leaving a tip but we had no problem that time.

So the lesson is that if a place looks polished and has a lot of tourists eating there, run away. The problem with resort town restaurants is that most of them don’t care about repeat customers since no-one ever would come back anyway. You’re better off to find someplace that locals go to because they have to be good or they go out of business.

Tune in next time when we go to the market and decide to make some changes to our itinerary.

Kris

Purple Bird

If you missed them, please see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

As per standard operating procedure, we got up, made some breakfast for ourselves and hit the road with the plan of seeing some sights in the morning and hitting the beach in the afternoon. We went to Faro which is the capital of the Algarve province and found it to be a lovely old town with very little in the way of tourist buildup like hotels and such.

Waterfront of Faro.

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Outside the Sé (cathedral).

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My attempt at an HDR image of the inside of the Sé (cathedral). It’s harder than it looks to get it looking good and I did a really bad job but I guess that’s why we practice.

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More shots in the Sé. Even the churches are covered in tiles.

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A couple artsy shots of the old town of Faro.

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After our whirlwind tour of Faro’s historic district, it’s off to the Rio Formosa Nature Park. Not the most impressive park we’ve ever seen. Fiddler crabs and purple birds. Actually, the bird, called a Purple Gallinule is rare and shy so it was pretty cool to get a photo of one. The park had a hide that let you get close to the pond where they would nest. I just happened to have the camera in the right spot when one walked by so this was the only shot I got.

rioformosa-08.jpgThis is the last working tide mill in Portugal. The mill sits at the mouth of a small reservoir and the tide flows in and out over some blades that drive mills for grinding various grains.

rioformosa-05.jpgHuge aloe vera plant. These are pretty common but this one was quite exceptionally large.

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Prickly pear bush. Kris: “Oh look, prickly pears….yum…(pick). Hmm…my hands seem to be full of very sharp and hard to remove spines.” Sharon: “Perhaps that’s why they’re called ‘prickly’.” Kris: “Well, the ones in the grocery store aren’t….” Lesson learned: prickly pears require more care when harvesting than ordinary pears.

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We saw a few other things like some olive trees (olives off trees taste BAD) and the Portuguese Water Dog kennels but really, the park kind of sucked. So as it turned out, we had wasted a bit too much time on the first two places so we got to the beach at Tavira fairly late. Tavira is at the mouth of a river and has a bunch of low, sandy islands just off the coast which have lovely long beaches. We took a ferry across and spent a bit of time sunning and swimming.

Very long and wide beach. Basically, there are many kilometers of coast with sandy islands much like this so I imagine having a boat would be most excellent.

tavira-01.jpgAfter the beach we toured Tavira for a while. It had a river running down the middle and the original Roman bridge is still there for pedestrians to use.

tavira-03.jpgAnother view of the river and town.

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Believe it or not, this is a road. How can you tell? There are posts….duh!

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Another artsy shot of a street animal. Everyone loves the puppies and kitties!!

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It had been a pretty long day so when we got back to the resort, we had dinner there. The restaurant had looked very nice and had an interesting menu plus, we had a 10 euro coupon from the hotel to use there and if you know me and Sharon, you know we LOVE coupons.

One of the best meal choices we made on the trip. The food was excellent yet inexpensive, the wait staff were outstanding and the atmosphere was classy. We had the Algarvian Cataplana which was clams, prawns, pork and various vegetables and seasonings. This is where we came to the conclusion that Portuguese cuisine requires that, if at all possible, food should always be looking at you. Fish and prawns are always cooked with heads attached. It’s nice though because you always have a severed head with which you can quote Shakespeare. My shrimp’s name was “Horatio”. He was a fellow of infinite jest as well as a most succulent gentleman.

Another fantastic day done. Tune in next time when we have our first bad meal and my only major driving mistake.

Kris