14.1. … Guadalupe

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What a great “entrée” – taking a right turn at the end of the “Avenida de Conde de Barcelona” being actually hit with the impressive and bigger-than-live beauty of the “Real Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe”. This is how the roman-catholic church has always managed to keep the believers in awe and in line. Driving up  “Calle Grégorio Lopéz” you know how pilgrims must have felt – after a long and exertive pilgrimage through the heat of the Extremadura up to the mountains of the Sierra.

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Directly opposite the “Monasterio” – there it was, the destination of our stage of the voyage today – the “Parador de Guadalupe”. This is the second time for Manfred and me – the first improvement we notice is the parking that the Parador offers (EUR 12 a day). I recalled the hassle finding a place to park the car during our first visit.

After having parked the cars, unloaded the trunks we entered the Patio of the parador which was exactly the way I remembered it – a place that invites you to rest and to contemplate. The little fountain as its center piece – quite “Zen” I would say. Even the group of German bicycle tourists gathered around a TV screen watching one of the EURO master football matches was not able to distort the peace and quiet of the place.

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The check-in procedure was the same as in any of the other Paradores we had been to on this trip – they offered us Superior rooms for EUR 20 more per night – we declined. The Superior rooms  have a splendid view on the “Monasterio” (we had one on our first trip), but we figured that we would get to see plenty of the building on our walk.

But the standard rooms were quite nice and absolutely sufficient for a stay of one night.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

Quite frankly… the long trip had taken its toll on us. We were tired – not so much from physical activity but from all the many and many beautiful impressions that our sub conscious mind had collected during our drive to Guadalupe and it was trying to process.

Even though it was already 5:00pm it was still extremely hot out there – what we all needed was a break and a shower. However we did not want to deprive M. and B. from a first walk and excursion of Guadalupe.

5:30 pm we met in the lobby to first take a comprehensive tour of the Parador. Guadalupe does not only have a wonderful garden,

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Courtesy: Manfred

but also a quite nice swimming pool.

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You, as loyal followers of this Blog – you may already have guessed that I have failed to mention an important ingredient of every day on the road. You are correct: “Where will we have dinner tonight?”. To me and my fellow travellers as essential a question as “What is the meaning of life?”

Manfred had done some research on the Spanish version of Tripadvisor: “El tenedor” (the fork), hoping we would get more Spanish evaluations than American or British (the Carmona experience still stuck deep).

There were two options mentioned:

  1. La Posada del Rincon
  2. La Hospederia del Monasterio

We never received an answer to our booking requests from either place – I guessed that these folks don’t really care about online bookings as they have plenty of walk-ins.

During our walk through Guadalupe we found that La Posada del Rincon seemed to be closed either for good or only for a certain period of time – one could not tell as there was no sign informing the potential clients.

You may recall that I wrote earlier: Visit Oropesa for the Parador and visit Cáceres for the city. Guadalupe is worth the visit for both aspects (including the Geo Park around the city).

But back to our walk:

Leaving the Parador you cannot help but to go to the cathedral which draws you towards itself like a giant magnet – and you start feeling like a pilgrim having been exposed to the heat and now being welcomed and overwhelmed at the same time by a mystical interplay of light and dark and being gratified for all the heartship with a merciful coolness.

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Courtesy: Manfred

The cathedral inside appeared quite differently from the outside – apart from the altar – the rest of the church looked quite humble, simple and quite small.

Opposite the altar there was the space for the common believers – citizens of Guadalupe and the many, many pilgrims – above all of them a gallery offered exclusive space for the friar to assist the service. God forbid they mingle with the common crowd.

We left the cathedral and got hit by a wall of still hot air even though the hands of the clock had moved after 6:00pm. I was really interested to take one of the guided tours to the actual monastery – unfortunately, the last tour of the day was given in Spanish – M. and B. would not have benefited much and neither Manfred nor I were good in simultaneous translation – obviously.

We started our tour around the monastery – the streets were still empty, only a few of the bar owners started to set up tables and TV screens (let’s not forget the soccer EURO Master was still on) – Spain was to play that night.

Since we hadn’t heard from “La Posada del Rincon” and we were clearly getting hungry, our next (well my next) priority was to fix dinner before doing anything else. On our way along the impressive walls of the monastery we passed by the “Hospederia del Monasterio” our second choice.

Manfred volunteered to make the booking, while M., B. and I waited in the shadows. We watched him climbing the stairs up the “Hospederia”, hoping that there’d be no issues getting a table for that night.

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All a storm in a tea cup – plenty of tables available as Manfred reported, we were good to continue our tour.

We took a right at the end at the next intersection and started a rather steep incline still alongside the walls of the monastery. There were some interesting attractions as we were informed by respective signs.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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We passed by the Parador – however decided to have some drinks in one of the bars at the “Plaza de Santa Maria” – which we did. No big surprise – Caña, mineral water (sin gaz) and olives.

You should have seen the look on the waiter’s face when I asked him if he carried “aqua mineral con gaz” – I should have known that outside bigger cities, sparkling water is just not available. The caña was good, the non-sparkling water at least cool.

So we sat there enjoying the afternoon, talking about what we had seen – the plaza started to fill up with people, and all the activities of a normal day started: delivery trucks driving through the small streets – fast. Others loading and unloading goods and supplies for the restaurants and bars around the plaza.

We strolled down Calle Sevilla – I thought I remembered a fountain down there – one I liked the first time we were here. It hadn’t moved and it was still there – patiently waiting for me to take a picture of it.

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Time to return to the Parador, to rest and to freshen up before dinner.

Manfred had made the booking for 8:30pm.

The “Hospederia” is great place to dine.

The tables were arranged in the arcades of the inner courtyard of the old monastery (now a hotel and restaurant) – the dimensions of the place were enormeous – all designed to make a man feel small: Ancient mass manipulation – and it still has its effects.

So we litterally took a walk (of 50 Meters or so) from the entrance over the courtyard to the dining area at the far end.

Claustro gótico del Real Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We were greeted friendly and shown to our table – and we knew that this dinner would be the “icing” on a wonderful day.

As starters we ordered:

  • half a “tabla de quesos” (cheese from the region)
  • half a “tabla de ibéricos” (the sampler of various ham and sausages from the region)

This was plenty – one serving of either cheese or ham would have been sufficient for the four of us. We were tempted by the bread rolls of impressive size, but smart enough to share one roll per couple.

The main courses were:

  • “Chulettas de Cordero” (Lamb Chops)
  • “Solomillo de Cerdo” (Pork Tenderloin)
  • “Cochinillo” (Suckling Pig)
  • “Filete de Tenera” (Veal Tenderloin)

We had a great red wine: Attelea Crianza and “Aqua mineral CON GAZ”

Check for the night: EUR 95.10

  • Food – 4 of 5 stars
  • Beverages – 5 of 5 stars
  • Location –  5 of 5 stars
  • Service – 5 of 5 stars

A close-to perfect experience. The location was great, the service fast, attentive and professional, the wine excellent and the food was of good quality and nicely cooked.

Now this was no “nueva cocina española”, but down-to-earth authentic extremaduran cooking.

My recommendation – when you ever go to Guadalupe, have dinner at the “Hospederia”.

After the lovely dinner in the “Hospederá del Real Monasteria” we felt like finishing all the red wine that we had bought in Rota but never managed to consume. M. and B. still had two bottles left – why not enjoy them in the Patio of the Parador.

While M. and B. went upstairs to fetch the wine, Manfred to get the cork screw – I went to the bar of the Parador and managed four red wine glasses. I set them out on one of the tables on the Patio – it was a wonderful night, quiet, still warm but the stuffiness of the day had gone.

When we were all gathered at the table we started to sacrify the red wines on the altar of happy holidays. We discussed the last two days, well actually one and a half – and it was a bitter-sweet moment to see the end of your little round trip coming to an end. Before drifting too deeply into depression we decided to cherish the moment – cheers.

14. Keep Moving…

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10 days of sun, wind, great day trips to the most beautiful places in Andalucia – I guess it was time to get moving again.

Time to say: “Good bye” to the “Hotel Playa de la Luz” after a good breakfast and after having loaded the trunks of our cars.

You may recall that we had offered M. and B. to take the road through the “Sierra Norte de Sevilla” on our way to Guadalupe to make a stop in Constantina to visit the “Castillo” as well as the city.

We’d be crossing the Sierra, Andalucia and the Extremadura on country roads – lots of nature to be seen but also a quite long drive.

We let the hotel behind us at 9:30am direction Seville – we have made this route millions of times and could drive it blindfolded.

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I had researched the “Castillo de Contantina” – we had seen it on our way to Carmona, but did not have the time to visit – and according to my sources the Castillo was open for visits this day as of 9:00am on.

Now, when we left we did not know that we were in for a little adventure in our attempt to visit the Castle. We entered the city of “Constantina” and followed the instruction of the Sat Nav (aka Google Maps) which led us into extremly narrow streets which also started a rather steep incline – a fact that made our blood pressure rise slightly and made us sweat despite the airco on.

Had I not been to busy helping Manfred to navigate I would have taken some pictures – so, just take my word for it.

All would have been OK, if – as a reward for the adventurous ride – we would have reached the Castillo. All of a sudden we encountered a car parked in the street, no way to pass it.

We stopped – I got off the car to find a gate to the Castillo and stairs leading up to it. The gate was locked and a sign explained to me that the site was closed.

Picture the situation: A narrow street – just broad enough for one car to pass – one car parked, two cars (ours) on an incline in the same street. (The view was great – though.)

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To cut a long story short. We had a challenging time turning the cars around – we succeeded though. As we could not visit the “Castillo” – maybe we could at least walk through the streets of Constantina, take a coffee somewhere, watch the inhabitants and just enjoy.

None of that happened that day – one might start to think that had been a conspiration against us. Litterally NO parking place was available for us to park the cars and to walk around. The streets were full with cars, people – actually one could start to think to be downtown Frankfurt at rush hour.

After 20 minutes of trying to find a place to legally park the car we surrendered to our fate and decided to leave Constantina – tough luck for them.

On our way out we got to know the reason for the busy situation down town. There seemed to be a market-day. Just outside the city, there was a space to park the cars. I asked Manfred to stop here and to take M. and B. back to at least get some pictures of the market and hopefully some other interesting views.

I volunteered to guard the cars.

It did not take long for them to return – quite disappointed. Manfred managed to take a picture of the “Castillo” but not much more.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Best to move on and not to waste more precious time here.

We have good memory of “San Nicolas del Puerto” – the little village with the public beach swimming area. M. and B. had seen water snakes and crayfish which they wanted to take better pictures of. But before we did that – I insisted in having a cup of coffee, that is why we stopped at the village church, looking for a bar to have something to drink.

“San Nicolas del Puerto” is a small village but charming – with the white church in the middle and storks waiting for us on one of the church towers.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

We did not have to look hard – as in most villages, all bars, restaurants, cafés are situated around the center of the village: the church.

The heat was sweltering again – we started to miss the “Poniente” – the wind that brought the cool to Rota, they could use some here as well.

The bar looked “closed” – blinds down, door shut – quite normal in this heat. We entered and appreciated the cool inside, well facilitated also by an airco humming from the wall. I ordered at the bar – the owner looked at us a bit surprised I suppose, “San Nicolas del Puerto” does not receive too many foreign visitors.

After 1 litre of mineral water (no sparkling water outside the touristic hubs), two café solo (Jesus, you could wake the dead with them) and a “caña” we drove down the road to the village exit/or entrance – depending from where you were coming – to look for water snakes and crayfish.

While Manfred, M. and B. researched the water where they had seen the water creatures last time I walked around taking some more pictures about the river beach.

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As I had said in my first blog entry about this project – I think this was money well spent.

Being the responsible tour guide I keep an eye on the watch and I remind my fellow travellers that it is time to hit the road again. M. and B. were unsuccessful in their picture hunt for water snakes and crayfish – I hope they will not hold us responsible for that, after the “Castillo” desaster this morning.

We leave the “Sierra Norte de Sevilla” and and also the autonomous region Andalucia to enter the plains of the Extremadura.

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Quite a change in landscape but that was the purpose. We would not have benefitted from this had we taken the highway.

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Passing by oceans of sun flowers and barrier lakes – a necessity to provide drinking water for the population in such a vaste space.

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Courtesy: Manfred

It was already 3:00 pm when we entered another Sierra, nested in which there it was the village of Guadalupe dominated by the Monastery and the Basilica.

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Courtesy: Manfred

13. Castellar de la Frontera

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Today’s trip took us to the south of Andalucia, visiting the beautiful castle of “Castellar de la Frontera”.

This was planned to be a “round trip”:

  • on the outbound leg we’d cross the country and pass by “Medina-Sidonia” and the “Parque Natural Los Alcornocales” down to the Mediterranean Sea,
  • and on the inbound leg, we’d be paying the “Strait of Gibraltar” a visit following more or less the Atlantic coast line home.

A great day trip and unlike our visits to Seville and Córdoba one we could take it easy and enjoy the beauty and the diversity of Andalucia – combined with a touch of history.

Travelling through Andalucia you encounter a lot of city names with the extention: “de la Frontera” (transl. on the border) –

  • Jerez de la Frontera,
  • Castellar de la Frontera,
  • Vejer de la Frontera,
  • Conil de la Frontera,
  • Chiclana de la Frontera,
  • Arcos de la Frontera.

This denotes that these cities actually have been demarkation lines between the moorish territory and the movement of the Spanish “Reconquista” in the 15th century.

We left the hotel around 9:30 pm – of course after a good breakfast – drove down the new A491 which now directly connects Rota with the highway to the south of the province.

It had been decided that we’d go straight down to Castellar – without stop in say: Medina-Sidonia or in the Parque Natural. M. and B. had visited this area in 2013 on a self-guided tour when participating in Manfred’s and my 25th anniversary celebration.

Leaving the “Parque Natural” behind us we could see the rock of “Gibraltar” to our right, but our first destination for today required us to take a left turn to the North-East.

The “Castillo de Castellar” is – as you may have guessed already – a more moorish than christian fortification and was declared Spanish Property of Cultural Interest in 1963. Manfred and I have already been there three or four times and we are enchanted by it every time we go there.

It is very well preserved – actually a little village of its own, with a hotel (I wonder why it has not yet been converted to a Parador) and people living inside the fortification complex.

One is not surprised to find that a good share of the village dwellers are artists of some sort: painters, sculputors.

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Source: Google Maps

There are actually three or four narrow streets – all inter-connected to eventually lead you back to the point where you started.

Standing on the thick exterior walls we took a moment to enjoy the beauty of the landscape around us. This region is very popular for “Senderismo” – hiking.

It does not really make sense to give you a blow-by-blow description of our movements here – that is why I decided to let the pictures tell the story.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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The only way in.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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The former donjon

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Trying to keep the place clean.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Even though I would consider the place a gem, in all the times Manfred and I had been here, we had never seen more than a handful of people roaming the streets – which, I think, is a good thing.

I guess what attracts me to the Castillo is the peace and quiet compared to the buzz and noises of Seville or other touristy sites.

As for food, we were to get something to eat in a charming restaurant at the botton of the hill on top of which the Castillo resides:  “Venta Jarandilla” . Unfortunately, – we were in bad luck that day – the venta was closed, so we had to think of something else.

When we came back from a rather disappointing day trip to Tangier in 2014 we had explored port “Tarifa” and had found a very nice bar/café with good food at a reasonable price. Quite unusual a combination for a tourist town such as Tarifa. We would take M. and B. there.

On our way to Tarifa we stopped at the “Mirador del Estrecho” a lookout point that offers – weather permitting – a great view onto North Africa – and the “Strait of Gibraltar”.

While it was sunny and cloudless “up north” in Rota, the Mediterranean part of Andalucia is defined by more clouds, strong winds and skittish weather. At the mirador we were exposed to really strong winds and the view onto the other side was somewhat “hazy” – not much to see, nothing worth taking pictures of.

Finally entering the city of “Tarifa”, blood sugar level had sunken to a dangerous low – we all needed food. We parked the car in a small public parking in “Calle San Sebastián”, crossing “Avendia Andalucia” and walked down the street to actually “enter” the former medina of Tarifa through “Puerta de Jerez”.

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Now what a difference to “Castellar de la Frontera”, the streets really looked, felt and smelled like a bazaar. Mainly young tourists – “surfer dudes” and “surfer girls” mostly – Tarifa and the adjacent Atlantic coastline are surfer’s paradise – the Hawaii of Europe.

Small shops and boutiques with hip young cloths and surfer’s wear, hip cafés offering all sorts of healthy, young food to the strollers.

We made our way down “Calle Nuestra Señora de la Luz” rather fast, to turn left on “Calle Sancho IV el Brave” to the “Parroquia de San Mateo”.

A little touch of history here – as promised in the pe-amble of the blog entry.

Sancho IV of Castille (aka Sancho IV el Brave) was king of Castilla in the late 13th century after the Spanish “Reconquista”. His link to Tarifa is that he rescued the city from the siege of the moroccan Sultan of Marinids – who, and that is the delicate fact – took the city by invitation of Sancho’s brother Juan trying to snatch the thrown from Sancho. (There had been an earlier attempt, which had failed – even though Sancho had forgiven his brother Juan, the bastard turned on Sancho again – this is the stuff, modern telenovelas are made of. Some themes never seem to vanish.)

Well, the Sultan was defeated by Sancho and his troops, which engraved his name in the city’s annals.

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While I was telling you all this – esteemed reader – our travel party had made a full turn in front of the Parroquia and had walked down Sancho’s Road to another point of (more) interest: the place I had told you about before – el Bar “El Francés”. And before you are misled – the owner Andrés Iglesias had worked in France for over 30 years – reason enough for his friends to call him “El Francés” (The Frenchman).

We were lucky and got the last table outside and were served fast by a native German waitress (certainly one that came down here to live in a more surfer-alternative life style – a late hippie if you want).

We had a couple of “cañas” and lots of aqua mineral con gaz – along with great food such as:

  • Salmorejo con Remolacha
  • Albondigas (you may guess, who had ordered those)
  • Gambas de ajo (you may guess, who did not order those at all)
  • Tortillas de Camarones

We finished up a delicious lunch with a couple of café solo and felt in peace with the world and strong enough to face the rest of the trip.

We walked down to the seaport, which is as well a yacht habour as the port of the Catamaran to Morocco,

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Courtesy: Manfred

and passed by the Castillo, where Guzmán el Bueno had lost his son during the siege by the Sultan (see above).

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Courtesy: Manfred

We then strolled down “Calle Guzmán el Bueno” to enjoy some a bit calmer – though not less touristy – streets.

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Courtesy: Manfred

In front of one of the boutiques waiting outside we met this little fella. The expression on his face  – I guess – says it all: I am tired of all the fuss and it is too hot.

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Having taken in what was to be taken in of Tarifa, we returned to the car just to admire the quite unorthodoxly way of moving around the parked cars to fee up space for leavers and joiners.

In no time we were on our way – headed home, decided not to take the country road along the coast but to follow the main road N340.

Shortly after we had entered N340 we could see the long and broad beach with white sand glistening in the mid day sun- predestined for all sorts of wind related sports.

No four star hotels could be found here… N340 is lined with camping grounds and low profile cheap surfer lodging. I guess when you are young, hip and a surfer you do not need the comfort and amenities of a good hotel – all you need is:

  • wind,
  • your surf board,
  • a couple of friends to have sex with
  • something to smoke in the evening

But maybe I am thinking too late-60ies here and these guys are all tucked into bed by 8:00 pm.

During one of our first trips down here, Manfred and I had enjoyed the Trafalgar Lighthouse. Why not stop there and share that experience with M. and B.

To cut that story short – no access anymore to the lighthouse. We could have walked some miles along the beach, but a) there was no parking and b) neither of us felt like walking in the afternoon sun.

So, we turned the car around, passed by “Vejer de la Frontera” – one of the white towns on the “Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos” – you can plan an entire vacation around taking this route connecting the White Towns of Andalucia. Manfred and I took part of this route during our very first trip to Andalucia and we enjoyed it immensely.

At 4:00 pm our car came to rest for today, safely parked on the parking of the “Hotel Playa de la Luz”. As it was Sunday – we had done our week end shopping the day before.

Taking it easy for the rest of the day – enjoying a Vino at the swimming pool (me) and the beach (Manfred), what could be better.

 

 

12. Sévilla

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Here we are, on June 16th – just one day after our trip to Córdoba. Originally we had scheduled one day of “rest” between the two trips but due to the train operators’ strike and a booking for the Cathedral of Seville we had to go today.

If you have ever been to Seville you know that the waiting lines in front of the ticket office (1) tend to become endless – especially in the mornings.

That is why I had booked four entrance tickets online at the Cathedral’s official website. Even though the whole booking process is far from what you might be used to from sites such as Amanzon or other booking systems – it is worth going through the process as visitors with pre-paid tickets get admission through a separate gate (2).

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We would be taking the car this time. It is a one hour drive “door-to-door”. Affordable public parking is available at 300 meters from the Cathedral and all the major sites. Feed your sat nav with Avenida Paseo de Cristiana. You cannot miss the Parking sign reading “Avenida Roma” – this is a bit unleading but you enter the parking from Paseo de las Delicias through Avenida Paseo de Cristiana.

Like Cádiz, Seville is a must-see when you are in Andalucia. Manfred and I visit her every time at least once, often twice. The city never gets boring and offers a lot.

If I am not mistaken, it is the city with the highest density of World Cultural Heritage Sites, but also beautiful museums, places just to stroll through or gardens just to get away from the heat of the city.

Like Córdoba, Seville can become VERY hot in the summer – if you are lucky or unlucky even you get hit by temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius. And the temperature is a common and very popular topic of conversation – actually in summer:

Oju, Qué Caló

is the most used expression in Seville. (Trans.: Gee, What a heat!)

Weather forecast for today though showed that we’d only be facing mild temperatures in the mid-20ies.

The heat is one reason why to visit Seville early in the morning.

This time we left the hotel at 8:30 – AFTER breakfast and took A4 from Jerez de la Frontera until the gates of Sévilla. Coming this way you leave the high way at Sévilla Oeste and after what felt like 2,000 roundabouts you hit Paseo de las Delicias which is the main entrance road and which gets you right in the middle of things.

M. and B. had visited Sévilla with us three years ago when Manfred and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. Back then we had visited the Alcazar of Sevilla, Plaza España, and General Archivs of the Indies and the Parque Maria Louisa.

We did not get a chance to visit the Cathedral in 2013 – so this was top on our list for today’s visit.

My suggestion is, dear reader: If you stay a week or even longer in this part of Andalucia, don’t try to pack too much into one visit to Seville. Manfred and I at least go twice, selecting one or two specific activities.

Taking the highway in Andalucia is delightful – wouldn’t there be the toll (EUR 7.20 one trip per car). We arrived around 10:00am and before entering the parking, I dropped my fellow travellers and asked Manfred – armed with the online booking – to head for the Cathedral.

The city was still quiet and in stoic (should I say Andalusian) anticipation of the masses of tourists that would swarm around the sites and streets. I guess a city that coped with invasions of Visigoths, Romans and Umayyads cannot be impressed by bus loads of Germans, French, Japanese and Chinese.

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Leaving the parking – there it was, “La Giralda”, the bell tower of the cathedral and a World Cultural Heritage Site on its own. You may have guessed, it used to be a minaret in muslim times.

Walking up the street, I admired yet another time the buildings,

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stopped at my good old friend, the General Arives of the Indies, to take a picture of the doves (yes they were alive)  on the fountain in front of the building.

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When I paged Manfred to find out their whereabouts, I learnt that trying to be “the early bird” will not exactly work, if one does not verify that it has the expected benefits. In other words, the Cathedral would not open before another hour.

Well, dear reader – I know – what kind of travel guide am I? Being smart enough to purchase the tickets online but not diligent enough to check the actual opening hours. Fair point.

I met the others in front of the main entrance, which was still closed and devoid the masses of tourists I had expected to line up there.

We had one hour to kill – so, why not prepone one of the “agenda items” for today and visit the “Judería” rather now than later. Said and done:

We immersed ourselves in the maze of small and narrow streets in the former Jewish Quarter of Seville which seems to have more significance here than in Córdoba.

While it was quiet in front of the Cathedral the “Judería” was swarming with groups of Japanese tourists – I guess they all killed the time until the Cathedral would open its gates to the public.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Quite an enjoyable walk – despite the tourists – and we made it back on time – well, 15 minutes to the hour and were the first, litterally the first to set food in the Cathedral that day. The glitch with the missed opening hours was forgotten and forgiven.

M. was keen to get up “La Giralda” as he wanted to be there “first” – my advice was to visit the Cathedral first while it was still empty and climb the Giralda later. Here is the logic behind it: Most people want to see the inside of the Cathedral, least of the visitors really feel like climbing up the ramps of the Giralda – in other words, it is never really crowded up there, but it gets crowded really fast in the Cathedral – and then you have hordes of tourists obstructing the views onto the precious altars and other sights.

Here is my advise: If you do have the luxury of being the first in the Cathedral – benefit from it and visit the Cathedral in realitve peace and quiet and take all the pictures you want rather undisturbed and climb the Giralda on your way out.

Well, there was no stopping M. – actually I have never seen him run this fast as long as I have known him. As a good travel guide I had to follow my “client”.

There are no actual stairs up to the top of the tower – as I said earlier, there are ramps rather that “back then” could be used on the back of a horse – approx. 104 meters high.

The way up allows interesting views through the narrow windows.

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And certainly the top of the tower awaits the visitor with some rewarding views onto the beautiful city of Seville.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy Manfred

While the tower originally was the minaret of the mosque, it became the bell tower in the course of the history. Different religions have different ways to call their believers to service – I suppose.

Manfred, M. and B. being busy taking photographs I climbed down. Arriving in the Cathedral it was as I had described earlier – groups of tourists congregated around the main attractions of the Cathedral, the altars and the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

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As an interested reader you have certainly been reading the entry about Córdoba and you most certainly recall how taken I was by the beauty of the Mezquita, now I must say – the Cathedral of Seville has the same effect on me, being the biggest Gothic-style Cathedral in the entire world, besides being a World Cultural Heritage Site.

I guess, it really does not matter where spirituality dwells and to which higher instance it is directed to – if one is a mindful human being.

I strolled around ignoring the buzz created by less mindful people around me.

As it became more and more crowded I fled into the Patio of the Cathedral, admiring the building from outside – it sure looked as impressive from here than from inside.

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Courtesy Manfred

When I got back inside I met the others, M. and B. captured by the beauty of “La Catedral” – if figured that it would take a while to release our fellow travellers from their trance-like state. I informed Manfred that I would wait outside in a café until our friends were finished with their visit.

We all had noticed  quite some noise outside the building, penetrating through the thick walls – drum beats, whistle blowing and the ear-piercing sound of horns operated on compressed air.

When I got outside I got confirmation for what I had suspected: A large group of protesters marching in the street along the Cathedral – the right place to draw attention to one’s cause.

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I must admit, witnessing demonstrations, seeing the crowds, listing to their rallying cries and all the other protest sounds, evokes strong emotions in me – a strange mix of feeling sympathic and aggressive… Well, being a psychologist I should be able to explain why I get launched on these things.

I decided not to pursue the thought but to get something warm to drink and a quiet place where I could wait for the others.

Now, when in Rome – I usually do as the Romans – forgive me the moment of weakness when I walked into a café belonging to a Seattle-based company and not into one of the local pavement cafés. I…

  1. …was longing for air-co
  2. …wanted standarized quality
  3. …wanted free WIFI to check mails and to plan our next moves (I needed to avoid that we ended up standing in front of closed doors again that day)

People, a travel guide deserves a treat every now and then (even though he did not get the opening hours of the Cathedral straight)… and here I was having an extra large cocoa with extra whip cream.

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My fellow travellers joined me half an hour later – M. and B. were very satisfied with their visit and their photografic quarry. I was pleased that they were and that they started to develop an equally strong attachment to the city as Manfred and I had.

It was around 1:00 pm and unlike me – my friends had neither rested nor did they have any carb intake since breakfast.

Opposite of “El Archivo” there was one of the restaurants that offered food and “bocadillos” with ham and cheese or a combination of both. Manfred and I – usually reluctant selecting food places too close to tourist attractions – had visited this place during one of previous trips and had rated it: OK.

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We went in and had a platter of various ham and cheese as well as a tostada (for me) – lots of aqua mineral CON gaz and cerveza.

Manfred and I speak Spanish well enough to place a simple order (Manfred had passed the DELE Intermedio) – the waiter – the insolent bastard, pardon my French – pretended not to understand us, and addressed us in English even though we had spoken to him in Spanish. What an Andalusian show-off.

In a previous travel journal I had devoted an entire chapter to Andalusian men working in the service sector – a sad chapter I should say.

But the day had worked so well so far that this rather poor service experience could not taint the overall experience. Food was good by the way and the price reasonable.

Over lunch Manfred and I discussed the next visit options:

We could either go to “Plaza de España” and “Parque de Maria Luisa” again, which they had introduced to during their visit in 2013, or take one of the narrow shopping streets down to Calle Alfonso XII on which we would take a left turn and visit one of my favorite museums of all times the “Museo de Bellas Arte de Sevilla”.

I love this place – not only because of great pieces of art being exhibited there, but more for the fact that the museum used to be a monastery before – with all the patios and the arcades inviting the visitors to rest and to contemplate. Makes the museum visit quite an intense experience.

The dice were cast – and the latter of the options were chosen by M. and B.

So leaving the restaurant we turned left and walked down “Avenida de la Constitución”  along the tracks of the Sevilla tram past the Gothic prodigy known as “La Catédral de Sevilla” admiring beautiful buildings along the street.

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In front of us the “Ayuntamiento de Sevilla” – the Seville Town Hall.

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Sevilla as a city is laid out very generously and spaciously. The Town Hall is located on a vast “Plaza” where a lot of city life can take place.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

As we were there a group of young and talented muscians gave a street concert which captured us and even made us donate some Euro.

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We dove into one of the narrower shopping streets with all the “tiendas” and pavement cafés, some of them covered with canvas to protect the strollers from the piercing Andalusian sun. (We were lucky this day. The UV index as well as the temperatures were bearable)

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

At the end of “Calle Sierpes” there is a real trap, called: “Pastelería La Campana”. Having eaten ham and cheese (OK, I admit I had a tostada) you could not really say that there had been too much carb intake really… well, I stop trying to make excuses – the will was strong, the flesh however was weak.

B. and I went in and got ourselves an assortment of “meringues” with various flavours – I had picked a cinnamon-flavoured one for me. Before I could protest, the “meringues” – which were meant for immediate consumption – found themselves professionally packed and wrapped with a properly knotted string around it. Surely very handy if one was to carry the delicacy home.

B.’s and my plan however was to actually enjoy them right now, right there and that is how we ended up like two addicts with severe withdrawal symptoms desperately trying to untie the knot without harming the fragile content.

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It took us more than five minutes to get there – very much to the amusement of M. and Manfred.

“Meringues” in Spain are much softer than in Germany where they are as dry as powder, so eating them while walking made somewhat of a mess, but they were delicious nontheless.

We arrived at the “Museo de Bellas Artes” by the time we were finished indulging and went in.

Now – in Spain, very often in museums that received or receive funding from the EU, European citizens get free admittance – provided they can produce an official ID.

Manfred and I – of course – had our ID on us. M. and B. did not. Tough luck, that is what I call it. Playing by the rules they had to pay for the entrance.

Here are tow important pieces of advice:

  1. When trying to pay with a Credit Card in Spain, produce your ID – they may not accept your card if you cannot

  2. Carry your ID if you plan on visiting cultural sites such as museums, exhibitions etc.

As I had mentioned earlier, this museum is a real gem. A bit away from the main attractions of Sevilla, in a former convent.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Beautiful outside – packed with significant art from the past. I am not an art buff, nor could I “read” any of the pieces in the exhibtion. However I do enjoy walking through the exhibition halls every single time we are in Sevilla.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

The real highlight of the visit though is when you leave exhibition hall IV and find yourself in the former central nave of the covent’s church.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Even though no longer a church you can still feel a certain spirit in it – the pictures being the altar today. I can wonderfully relax just sitting on one of the wooden benches admiring the things that surround me.

We “only” explored the ground floor with M. and B.- the entire art exhibition extends over two vaste floors of the building.

Outside again, we decided to go back to the car, so we headed towards the Guadalquivir to walk back to the parking along the river side.

However – a couple of “café solo”, “acqua mineral con gaz”, and “caña” needed to be consumed, which we did in a small pavement café close to “Plaza de Armas”, where we sat outside – the afternoon traffic on “Calle Marqués de Paradas” in our backs.

Time to finally return to the car. Walking alongside the river Guadalquivir passing “Torre del Oro” (Gold tower) which houses a small maritime museum. We had visited the Torre on one of our previous trips and have marked the museum as insignificant and not worthy of a visit – that is why it only appears as prop but never as a major agenda item. It has its roots in the era of the Almohads in the 13th century and was one of the defense mechanisms against the “reconquistadores” who were trying to “liberate” or “cease” (depending on your point of view) on the river.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Crossing the “Paseo de las Delicias” we entered the public parking, where the car has waited for us patiently. We had paid approx. EUR 6 for the parking (8 hours).

Reversing our inbound trip we arrived back “home” at 5:30pm – time enough either to put the feed up, to do some shopping at Mercadona or to pay the beach a visit.

11. Córdoba

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Even though the “Costa de la Luz” tempts the traveller to just hang out by the beach and do nothing, our little travel party was more determined to discover and to explore the cultural beauty of Andalucia.

Part of our travel arrangement was a trip to yet another gem in Andalucia’s tiara – Córdoba.

You may recall – dear reader – that I had suggested to always go to Cádiz by catamaran and not by car, my recommendation now is to always take the train to Córdoba and not the car.

If you are German you will certainly appreciate travelling by Spanish Railways – called RENFE – the acronym for “Red Nacional de Ferrocarriles Españoles“. They beat German trains comparing punctuality, travel comfort and the overall condition of the trains. Not so much – I am afraid – as far as their suspectability to strikes is concerned.

Let’s take a step back:

We had booked the train ride online and well in advance on RENFE’s official website. In combination with their mobile App we held the e-tickets for the four of us in Manfred’s phone. Quite straight forward and very handy – just like handling plane tickets these days.

As a rule of thumb for all visits – get there early. An early start repays you by avoiding the masses of tourists hitting the main sites from 10:00am on.

In the past years Manfred and I were lucky to catch one of these great, very sleek high speed and high comfort direct trains that would only stop in Sevilla. This time we  we had to get on one of the trains that transport the day-commuters from Cádiz to Sevilla instead. But even these trains are heaven compared to what you usually find in Germany. On our way back however – we were able to get on a high speed direct train. Have a look at our itinerary below.

But as mentioned in this blog on a couple of occasions – “The journey is the reward” – so we got to stop in small cities and villages that we only knew from the signs on the highway.

As I said earlier – tickets were purchased in advance and stored safely in the bowels of Manfred’s Android – what I have not mentioned yet: the trip was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, June 14th.

Yes, dear reader, do not be confused to find this blog entry under Wednesday, June 15th.

Here is what happend: On Sunday, Manfred received an email sent by RENFE to inform us that there would be a train operator’s warning strike on Tuesday, June 14th and that the scheduled trip was at jeopardy.

We were offered a later connection for the day but also given the opportunity to cancel or to reschedule the trip to one of the following days. Cancelling the trip was out of the question – of course. We decided to postpone it to Wednesday, June 15th.

To cut a long story short: Changing the booking online did not work (for some strange reason, I suppose the strike threat came on short notice and the respective booking systems could not be updated fast enough). Manfred got in the car and drove to the train station in Jerez de la Frontera and got it fixed. Sometimes – and even I realize that – you have to do the things “old school”.

So, here we are back on the 15th of this lovely June 2016, leaving the “Hotel Playa de la Luz” at 6:00am – without breakfast. Empathetic readers such as you feel for me, knowing how important breakfast is for me.

We said we would find something to eat in Jerez before getting on the train. We got to the train station right on time to only find that the public parking of the station was closed. Very weird, so we turned the car around and were lucky to find a place in “Calle Méndez Nuñez” – no obvious signs that we were not allowed to park here.

There were a couple of bars/caféterias already open around “Plaza de la Estación” to serve early commuters – though the food offering was not that great, we settled for a “café solo”.

Jerez train station is a beautiful building – I just love the Spanish tiles used to decorate the surface.

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8 stops and 1:11 later we got off the train at the “Sevilla Santa Justa” train station, the travel hub in Andalucia, connecting high speed trains serving the “Cádiz-Madrid” line with all the other connections into the region.

In fairness to Deutsche Bundesbahn – the Spanish railways network is by far not as dense and as frequented as the German network.

Changing trains – going to our connection to the high speed train on a different track. I looked at one of the station clocks, enough time left to get food into my system.

The sandwich I got in one of the cafeterias in the foyer of the train station tasted dreadful. Hoping for dinner was the only consolation at this point in time.

I used the analogy to air travel at the beginning of the blog entry – boarding a high speed train in Spain is like getting on an air plane… you have to pass your luggage through an x-ray, your tickets are being checked at the entrance of the platform.

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Having left Seville – the train sped up to 300km/h. No surprise we arrived at Córdoba 45 minutes later just as scheduled.

The barometric column had already risen above the 25 degree mark – Córdoba is one of hottest Andalusian cities.

We started to walk towards the “Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba” one of the most impressive contemporary witnesses I know.

But before we get there, let me contemplate a little on the city of “Córdoba”. History is not my field of expertise and I highly recommend that you do some research either online or by reading (old school) books about it – believe me, it will enrich the experience.

Let me share with you what I know: eventful history influenced by Carthagians, Romans, muslim conquerors, Jews and Christians. Ancient capital of the Emirate, later Caliphate of Córdoba, 500,000 inhabitants at a time and – I think it is fair to say – one of the first major cities in Europe.

Depending on what colour the glasses have, through which you see life – Córdoba was either the place that demonstrated that muslims, jews and christians lived in peaceful co-existence and hence are responsible and facilitators for a flourishing trade, culturual and scientific life, or – all that peaceful co-existence was only the result of a trade and a tax: “Dhimma” that secured the right or residence and was imposed by the muslim occupiers upon all non-muslims living in the Caliphate.

The Caliphate fell victim to the “Reconquista” – the reconquest of occupied regions on the peninsula – in 1236 – the “Mezquita-Catedral” is a living witness to that – if only it could tell us the story.

The building is – again, depending from where you look at it – either an amalgamation of islamic and christian architecture/culture or an atrocity to culture and architecture. Be that as it may – I see both, but accept that history cannot be undone, however we should learn from it.

We had started walking and had entered the park nearby the train station and made our way  to the Mezquita. Given the heat, Manfred and I quickly revisited the “agenda” and decided to eliminate two sites and to keep the visits restricted to the Mezquita, the Alcazar, Torre de Calahorra and the “Juderia”. While the area around the train station is predominantly modern development with all the major modern department store chains, there is great historic substance spinkled in and even more so moving towards the river Guadalquivir.

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And there it was – sourrounded by those thick and impenetrable walls – frightening almost from the insight but nonetheless granting access – through the four gates – to a courtyard with fountains and wells, with trees planted all in a strict geometric order as it seemed.

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While we were approaching the Mezquita, Manfred had left our little travel party to give us a head-start at the ticket counter. When M., B. and I arrived he had already purchased the tickets.

Even though I love the Mezquita, I skipped the visit inside as I wanted to head to the Alcazar to get the entrance tickets for there. As we were early all the sites were still relatively empty, Manfred and I knew that this would change dramatically in about 45 minutes when the masses of tourists unloaded from their tourist busses on the other side of the Guadalquivir would make their way across the “Puente Romano”.

So, Manfred, M. and B. went off to visit the inside of the Mezquita / Cathedral.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

It was a good call to come here so early – Manfred, M. and B. could take pictures from the inside of the Mezquita without having to avoid too many fellow visitors, and I could take some pictures from the outside of the Mezquita, the “Puerta de la Puente” and the “Puente Romano” itself.

But first of all – I walked the 500 meters over to the “Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos” to get the tickets. No lines – had the tickets within 10 seconds and had time now to walk back to the Mezquita, cross the “Roman Bridge” to double check the opening hours of the “Torre Calahorra”.

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These pictures were taken around 10:20am.

When our travel party crossed the bridge again at 11:00am – it was flooded with tourists swarming in from the other side of the river.

The “Torro Calahorra” used to be part of one of the many entry gates to the city of Córdoba – today it houses the “Al-Andalous Living Museum”. It is one of my favorite Museums as it portrays all the facets of Andalusian history. The exhibition is state-of-the art: media-rich, well structured, informative, educational and entertaining at the same time.

We were more in sightseeing mode today and a proper visit of the museum takes an hour’s time at least. So, we admired the tower and made our way to the Alcazar.

You may have guessed it – there was a long queue at the ticket counter of the Alcazar. Not for us: We showed our tickets and cut the line, it pays back to plan ahead.

If you ask me, Córdoba’s Alcazar is nice and most certainly worth a visit, however it is not half as impressive and breathtaking as the Alcazar in Seville.

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Even though its name suggests an arabic origin it has an equally eventful history as Córdoba: Visighoths, Umayyads and finally in 1236 the Christians. It served as primary residence of Isabella I and Fernando II. The center piece of the structure is the garden.

Climbing on one of the towers also offers a great view across Córdoba.

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Inside artifacts from past times and tennants can be admired.

At the time of our visit, the restauration of the old baths was in progress.

Even though it had become really hot, we felt pulled towards the garden as its attractiveness cannot be resisted.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

Moving on: The Alcazar in our backs, the Mezquita ahead of us, we took a left turn to walk towards the “Jews Quarter” with the remainders of the synagogue. Walking through narrow streets – though not quiet as there was this constant stream of groups of tourists from all over ther world. Each group trying to distinguish itself by a special telltale sign wrapped around a stick the guide wore like a sword, risen above his head as if he was to strike the competitors any time soon.

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Compared to the wealth of the muslim and christian legacy in Córdoba, the “Judería” appeared small and rather insignificant. Not so surprising once consulting the respective chapters in the history books of the history of the “Reconquista”. And I guess it has to be stated that the Christians were not much different in the take on who was “a believer” and “who was not”. The “Dhimma” kept the social system in peaceful balance under muslim occupation, I am not aware of any such concept installed by the Christian “reconquistas”.

Dear reader, you do (painfully) recall that:

  • I had to forego breakfast,
  • the substitute consumed in Sevilla was dreadful
  • I thought I could last until dinner

Guess what – the flesh was weak – in other words, I needed food – soon.

Manfred and I had never eaten in Córdoba during any of our past visits, in addition we were on unknown turf in the “Judería” – the worst that can happen to a travel party is to be without destinct course, almost like a ship with a captain who lost his bearing.

We continued north bound, kept to the right as we did not want to get back to the train station too soon. The streets were pleasant to wander and there was a lot to see – and by just wandering around the understanding and the appreciation of how ancient/medieval cities functioned grew.

All the narrow streets all connected like a neural network, opening out into small “Plazas”, where the social interaction of the inhabitants and tenants took place. Small self-sufficient urban units all forming the bigger whole. Fantastic.

Finally – at the “Plaza de la Trinidad” – I saw a friendly-looking cafeteria “O mundo de Alicia”. I left my fellow travellers no choice really as I had entered faster than they could watch.

We had lots of “aqua mineral con gaz”, cañas, coffee and serveral platters of food.

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Courtesy: M. and B.

Like a baby that has been fed properly I was happy man and ready to face the rest of the day. We stayed a while and as the time was nearing 2:00pm we got back on the street and walking again.

Above “Plaza de la Trinidad” we entered the “Plaza del Doctor Emilio Luque” – a small plaza, half-round with nice looking buildings  – and a bust of the “Doctor Emilio Luque”. As we were looking at the bust, a Córdobese woman explained to us that Emilio Luque is the local hero, a saint as he had helped the poor and had provided medical care to those who could not afford it.

Moving on we eventually reached the “Plaza la Tendillas” with its splendid looking buildings.

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Courtesy: Manfred

On our way to the train station we paid the local “Corte Inglés” a visit, looking for a leather bag for a friend of ours. We left the department store with no purchases made, took a right and entered the park we had already crossed this morning.

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We stopped at a quite unusual memorial – easy to be missed – commemorating “two good people, their humbleness and their sacrifises in life…”

Back at the train station we had to wait for “boarding” – the train arrived on time and brought us back to Jerez de la Frontera without having to change trains. We all were a bit tired and took a nap while the train made his way through the Andalusian lowlands at 300 km per hour.

5:03pm we stood on the platform of Jerez de la Frontera train station again headed towards where we had parked the car. Manfred and I stopped at one of the little “supermarkets” to buy essential supplies: mineral water and red wine. We were all in a really good mood with all the impressions, the great things we had seen, the train ride and all…

You, esteemed reader, should have seen the looks on our faces when we discovered an offically looking piece of paper squeezed behind the blade of the wipers of our car. Yes, you guess correctly: it was a parking violation ticket.

The thing though that really aggravated us was the amount of fine looking at us:

EUR 80

My adrenaline level rose in fractions of seconds and I started to see myself storming into the city administration with a pump gun – the headlines of tomorrows newspapers before my mind’s eye:

German Tourist Upset with Ridiculous Parking Fine Runs Amok at City Hall!

With my face to it in hand-cuffs.

Well, well – those of you who know me are aware of my melodramatic side – of couse I did not plan a blood-shed – at least not with a pump gun, but I had begun to draft an acid and baneful letter to various recipients.

By the time we reached the hotel, my mind had returned to normal and we did of course what grown-up people do: We asked for advice at the front desk.

As I had correctly assumed – they knew the solution:

  1. Go back to the street where you parked within 24 hours
  2. Look for the next parking meter in that parking zone.
  3. Enter the PIN given on the ticket along with car’s registration number,
  4. Pay the amount indicated
  5. Forget the ticket

Actually – and I am not ashamed to admit it: Had we read the ticket carefully while being in Jerez, Manfred would not have to return that very evening.

The procedure worked and we paid only EUR 8.89 which was OK and corresponds to the amount we would have paid, had we parked in the train station’s parking.

In retrospect I am impressed with this system compared to the bureaucracy and paper shifting a parking violation ticket causes in Germany.

Before dinner that night we took it easy – some sun on the beach, letting pass the day in our minds.

All in all another just perfect vacation day.

10.1. Cádiz = Havanna de Cuba?

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After having introduced “Cádiz” to you, dear reader – I would like to draw your attention to an analogy often drawn between the city of “Cádiz” and “Havanna de Cuba”.

Believe it or not – “Cádiz” had indeed served as “stand-in” for the the captial of Cuba and should be perceived as secret movie star.

Parts of the James Bond movie “Die Another Day” (2002) featuring Pearce Brosnan as Bond, James Bond, were shot in “Cádiz” on the “Playa de la Caleta”.

But also songs compare “Cádiz” with Havanna – it is up to the Gaditanos to decide whether or not they feel flattered by this comparison.

 

10. Gades… Cádiz

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The weekend was restful – the “Costa de la Luz” had already started to have the soothing and relaxing effect on me (and my fellow travellers).

Time to get busy again. Rota is the perfect “base camp” to explore this part of “Al-Andalous” also known as Andalucia.

This region like no other in Europe can look back on a colourful yet not always peaceful past, defined by visitors and invaders from the south and the near east of Europe and Africa. And while in modern times Andalucia was first seen as the poor house of Europe and then as the amusement park for bored central and north europeans, let us not forget that important chapters of European culture and history were written in this part of the world.

One of the must-sees is and will remain the city of “Gades” or – better known as “Cádiz”. Manfred and I go there whenever we are in Rota – at least once during our stay.

When referring to “Cádiz”, people – and I for that matter – refer to the “head” of the peninsula which forms the city.

While the residencial part of “Cádiz” is situated on a rather narrow patch of landmass the part interesting to visitors (unless you are an “aficionado” of ugly late 60ies architecture) is the “casco” – the head of the city.

While I am on it: Due to its location the city is rather difficult to be reached by car. As you can see, there are only three entry points by roads: CA 33, CA 36 and CA 35. The latter has only become a valid option only recently as a new bridge (“Puente de la Constitución de 1812“) was inaugurated in September 2015.

However there is a far better way to reach “Cádiz” – hasslefree, without traffic jams and the nuisance of having to find a parking in the “casco historico” – el barco.

The catamaran service from either Rota or El Puerto de Santa Maria is the best and the most convenient way to visit this marvelous city at the entrace of the “Bahia de Cádiz”. In not so many words: USE THE BOAT.

As the attentive reader of this travel blog recalls – Manfred and I have been coming to Rota for almost 2 decades – we had to use the car to visit “Cádiz” and we were there when the commuter service by boat was opened and we became fans of it immediately.

Currently (June 2016) round trip Rota-Cádiz/Cádiz-Rota cost EUR 10.10. The catamaran leaves from Rota Marina. The time table can be found online and can also be downloaded as PDF. All other current information about the service such as tariffs and others can be found on the official web site. Tickets are bound to the times you buy them for! We always plan the round trip; in other words: we know when we want to go and more importantly which barco we want to take for the return trip. I have never experienced that a barco was sold out – however there is a risk that if you do not plan your trip to “Cádiz” both legs you may end up waiting for the next available barco.

You, dear reader, may have guessed already – our little travel party used the catamaran even though M. tends to get seasick. Now, on this topic – as the boat is actually a catamaran it glides or even better “cuts” through the water and the waves. In other words it can drive a) faster than a usual boat or ferry and b) is more steady on the water.

The duration of one ride: 30 minutes. You cannot get to “Cádiz” any faster by any other means of transportation.

We decided to take the 9:55am barco to visit Gades, M. and B. had already been there once in 2013 during our 25th anniversary celebration and they had fallen in love not only with Rota but also with “Cádiz” and particularly with the sea fruit section of its market hall.

Being the strict and structure travel guide that I am – however I prescribed that we would walk the city first and then allow M. and B. to indulge in the visual and olfactory wealth of the market.

We got to the marina on time and purchased our tickets – time for M. and B. to hone their newly acquired Spanish language skills and ask for the round trip (ida y vuelta) at the counter.

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Courtesy: Manfred

As always there was already a crowd of tourists and locals waiting at the pier – some passengers we identified as guest of the “Hotel Playa de la Luz”. I was already sure that we would see the same people on our way back on the 2:10pm barco.

People! Crossing the Bay of Cádiz in a catamaran is a blast. I do enjoy it every time and even though I am more of an “air person” I could do this over and over again.

The deep blue sea, the wind, the sun.

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And as icing on cake you get a breathtaking and more-than-picturesque view on one of the major sites of “Cádiz”:

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Courtesy: Manfred

“La Cateral de Cádiz”. And if you are lucky (or unlucky – depending on how you look at it) you glide past one of the 4,000 passenger Luxury cruise ships you have seen on TV.

Taking the barco is like getting on a commuter train every morning and I do admire the routine and the professionalism the crew fixes and unfixes the boat at arrival or departure. It all takes seconds and works like a clock work. Kudos.

Outside the harbour on the “Plaza de Sevilla”  a giant “rainbow flag” greeted us, reminding us of “orgullo gay” or “Christopher Stree Day” which had been celebrated the week end before. It also reminded us of the assault on a gay club in Orlando as the rainbow flag had a black ribbon attached to it.

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This tour is merely a suggestion. You cannot get lost in the casto historico even though it reminds of a maze with all the narrow streets. If you stay longer in the region, do schedule more than one visit. On the first visit just walk zigzag and get your bearings and a feeling for the place. The next trip should then be more targeted including sites such as the ones you see in the map plus a couple of other ones, not featured on this map:

  1. Torre Tavira
  2. Puerta de Tierra
  3. The two castillos (Santa Catalina and San Sebastian)
  4. Oratorio de San Felipe Neri

In “Cádiz” the journey is the reward – as the visitor gets captured in the more than 3,000 years of history oozing from each single architectual pore of the casco historico.

Museum goers should definately visit at least the “Museo de Cádiz” and the “Museo Catedralico”.

Historians and those interested in Spanish history, pay the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri a visit – a church from the outside but a place of tremendous historical relevance – similar to “Paulskirche” in Frankfurt am Main. Only that Spanish constitution, la Pepa, was written and announced in 1812 in exactly this church, while it took us Germans 36 more years for a first attempt.

The “Torre Tavira” houses the Cámera Oscura which allows you to “visit” Cádiz in a way you can never experience walking through the narrow streets with obstructed views on the watch towers of the city. These watch towers – please, dear reader, take my word for it – are beautiful and worth to be learned about.

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Source: Torre Tavira Official Web Site http://www.torretavira.com/en/tavira-towers-history/

M. and B. had already been introduced to the Torre Tavira and as we were short in time we decided to skip the view and the Cámera Oscura.

We started to walk along Avenida del Puerto towards the Diputación de Cádiz – the regional administration building

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to continue to the monument that was erected in honour of the Spanish constitution which is a stone’s throw away.

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Surrounding the monument, which is situated in a very nice park, we enter the maze of narrow streets that offer shadow and cool in the onset of heat.

And here you could see examples of the watch towers I was talking/writing about earlier.

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Making our way through the maze of streets, which open – all of a sudden – to a plaza. It was still early enough to see the “Gaditanos” (the inhabitants of Cádiz) running chores, talking in the streets with their neighbours or scrubbing house entrances. A quite regular Monday morning in Cádiz I would say, so charming that I fall in love with it every time.

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One cannot get enough and even though Manfred and I had been here countless times we do discover something new every time. Now, though dangerous at times, but I recommened to not only keep your eyes on the streets, but to allow your eye to wander along the front of the buildings and to enjoy the many details.

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In the casco historico urban life with all its elements seems to be intact – you got the right mix of residential areas, places to meet, parks, small privately run grocery shops, bakeries, bars and restaurants as well as a reasonable network of public transportation such as busses, taxis, boats.

Of course I am not being naiv – the casco historico also falls victim to gentrification as sad as it is. I have never researched the opportunity to rent or the prices of property in the casco but my guess would be that they are unaffordable.

Engrossed in so many visual, auditory and olfactory impressions it was easy to forget track of time – especially keeping fellow travellers from taking 2,000 pictures regardless how beautiful the sites were. Time for me to crack my virtual travel guide whip and move the party along to the next stage: “El Parque Genovés” . Situated at the top of the casco historico aside of the promenade offering a wonderful view to the “Bahia de Cádiz”.

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The reason why M., B., Manfred and I like the “Parque Genovés” is quite simple to understand, looking at the pictures.

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The trees and bushes in the park all look as if they had become victim of a lunatic hair dresser – and in consequence were transformed into sculptures.

Besides the green, the park also exhibits a fair share of fountains and an artificial pond.

The right recreational mix – the park, the promenade and the Atlantic Ocean nearby.

Moving on – heading back into the casco historico towards M. and B.’s dream site – the “Mercado” passing by the “Gran Teatro Falla” adjecent to the campus of Cádiz Medical School. Named after the famous son of the city of Cádiz composer: Manuel de Falla

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

Walking down “Calle Sacramento” – the home stretch so to say – passing by the “Torre Tavira” taking a right and there it was the “Mercado Central de Abastos” on “Plaza de la Libertad”. The mercado is indeed impressive but not as impressive that I would have had to visit it again, nor did I feel like tagging along while M. and B. were exploring the astonishing diversity of dead fish and sea food.

I admit it I am so not a sea food lover and the sight and the exhalation of the merchandise in the sea food section make me sick to my stomach frequently.

Manfred and I decided to indulge in some Churros con Chocolate in the Café/Bar “La Marina”. As usual there were no more tables available outside, so we decided to go inside, not as nice as outside but still authentic.

The service in Andalusian cafés is somewhat abrasive and tweedy – something I had to get used to in the many years of coming to the south of Europe.

We ordered Chocolate and Churros for me and a “caña” for Manfred. Our beverages had just arrived when Manfred said to me: “Look outside… there are M. and B.” which caused me to turn around and indeed – there they were our two “passengers” strolling over to the café. “Something must have been wrong with the fish…” I said, just to learn a few instances later after M. and B. had joined us that my assumption had not completely been wrong. – There was no fish or sea food at all – No, the mercado was open all right and all other sections were full with happy customers – only the fish department was devoid of merchandise and customers.

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Courtesy: M&B

Now, dear reader you can blame the travel guide for a lousy job – rightfully so: There are no fish/sea food on Mondays full stop. No fishing on Sundays, hence nothing to sell on Mondays. As easy as that…

I felt indeed ashamed – I should have touched this. Darn. But being a pro I turned a negative into a positive and said: “Well, that is great, so you have a good reason to come back later this week and visit the mercado again – WITH sea food.”

As a consolation we ordered beverages for M. and B. and discussed our next moves. Manfred and I wanted to buy clothes for Manfred’s grand-children in a shop called Charanga on our way to the harbour. M. and B. said they would roam around the streets – we would meet each other at the harbour at 2:00pm to catch the 2:10 barco.

Shopping for children’s clothes in Spain is a truely satisfying task – Each time I am surprised about the selection of really good looking and yet affordable items. One could say we are regular clients at Charanga and we seldom leave without purchase under EUR 100 – I think that this is called: the Grand-Father Sydrome.

Shopping made us thirsty – so, leaving Charanga with two bags of boy’s and girl’s wear we turned left and headed towards the Cathedral, passing by without paying too much attention to it (OK – I took a picture of it for this blog)

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to cross the “Arco de la Rosa” (Roses Arc) to sit down in another establishment to which we have become regular customers over the years.

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“Porme otra” that is the name of the bar – just opposite the “Arco de Pópulo” a bit away from the tourist roads, very basic, no bells and whistles.

About time to get to the pier. Crossing the “Arco de Pópulo” to enter the “Plaza de San Juan de Díos” with the “Ayuntamiento de Cádiz” and its fountains. The habour was already in sight and 10 minutes later we joined M. and B. in the waiting area. No surprise there were many familar faces on that barco back to Rota.

Again a very enjoyable ride – with a slightly rougher sea than in the morning but as soon as I had stopped fighting against the movement and begun to be part of the up and down it felt like a merry-go-round.

Back in Rota we went to our favorite Supermarket “Mercadona” to stock up for the week – red wine, pistachios, sparkling water. M. and B. bought shrimps which they planned on eating when back at the hotel – all that was missing to complement the culinary experience was a loaf of fresh bread from the “Panaderia San Antonio” right next to the super market.

We got back to the hotel around 4:00pm – time for a belated siesta before the evening activities.

All in all a great day.

9. A Place To Stay

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When Manfred and I first visited Andalucia in 1996 we had split the stay into two sections:

  1. Fly & Drive by TUI: Pick up a car at Jerez de la Frontera and drive through Andalucia – The Route of the White Cities: Ronda, Córdoba, Granada, Seville. Drop the car at Jerez and
  2. take one week of “beach vacation” in “Sanlúcar de la Barrameda”

We immensly enjoyed part 1 and that is when I fell in love with the South of Spain. I must admit that I was full of prejudice but this trip proved me wrong. This week “Discover the place by car” with pre-booked hotels was the best entrance to a new territory one can think of.

The beach part turned out to be OK after a little detour. When we concluded the “Ride” portion we snatched a ride on one of the busses taking the new arrivers to their respective hotels.

So we drove in north-west direction, eventually hit Rota – which at this point in time we did not pay much attention to – and entered the parking of a really great-looking hotel – hazienda-style – painted white and blue. Unfortunately not the one we had booked.

We entered Chipiona before finally arriving in Sanlúcar. We were about the last passengers left on the bus when it stopped in front of a pretty plain, modern-ish hotel – ours obviously.

When we entered the lobby we knew… this was not what we had in mind. Even though the place was clean it was just not hospitable. It had the charm of a two star IBIS hotel – the “beach” was the estuary of the river Guadalquivir into the Atlantic Ocean- who would want to have a swim in there?

You, dear reader, know by now that food – especially dinner – is of utmost importance to us. Now, the comedor reminded more of a canteen with plastic chairs and tables, the food was mediocre.

The next day we summoned the TUI agent, described our dissatisfaction and asked her whether we could move to the other hotel that we had seen on our way to Sanlúcar. We were very much in luck as there were rooms available.

We rented a car and were out of the current hotel in no time. I must say that was real cool issue handling by TUI back then. We paid no surcharge and the change was really hazzle-free.

So we arrived at our new destination “Hotel Playa de la Luz” still a 3 star hotel back in 1996. The moment we entered its lobby we knew we had arrived.

We did enjoy the place so much that we have been coming back ever since – often twice a year. Some of the people we got to know back then still work there. One of the gardeners only retired last year. We befriended the staff at the reception, the waiters  and waitresses in the various restaurants and even the chamber maids having drinks at the various “fiestas” that we went to during our May and June visits.

We have seen the place grow and change but never corrupting itself – keeping its soul intact and offering vacationers just what the Costa de la Luz is about – “alegria” (joy).

The “Hotel Playa de la Luz” celebrated its 50th anniversary this year – owned by Belgium family De Clercq who were all there this year when we visited with M. and B. During our years we witnessed three changes in management – the place has been run since three years by one of the De Clercq daughters: Sofie De Clercq.

Being a privately held hotel – even though being part of a family of 5 hotels andaluz con encanto (HACE group) – makes it special to its staff and its guests. We have seldom experienced such great loyalty in staff towards its management – even though there had been clashes.

I recall one year – the year of the major strikes in Spain: Huelga General, when gaz stations were not delivered with gaz, trucks were blocking roads and hotel staff stopped servicing their guests – but not in the “Hotel Playa de la Luz”. Other than not having gaz in the car we experienced no negative effect in the hotel. Life went on as if nothing happened outside of the hotel.

The family does not seem to just milk the cash cow but seems much more to re-invest their profits into their asset.

We witnessed:

  • the promotion from 3 to 4 stars,
  • the introduction from serviced dinner to buffet and the various changes in diversity and quality,
  • the installation of solar panels on the roof tops to make the hotel winner of various awards for envionmental friendliness,
  • trash recycling,
  • the opening of the Beach Club and the Chill-out bar “April”,
  • the rather late installation of decent wireless Internet connection

But some things just do not change – and, quite frankly, do not need to change –

  • the friendliness,
  • the degree of hospitability,
  • the tranquility and
  • the spirit

The whole place undergoes a complete overhaul at the end of the year. Each year we are in a freshly painted room and all of installations are in top order. The gardens, the plants, the patios are subject to daily maintenance, footpaths scrubbed daily early in the morning.

The hotel is located in the almost ideal spot on the beach close to “Los Corrales de Rota”, in walkable distance from downtown Rota, close to Supermarkets and restaurants.

As this blog proves it is the ideal vacation spot for excursions and exploration tours as well as beach vacation. It is a launching pad to the discovery of Spanish history in cities such as Sevilla, Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera and Córdoba.

I have assembled some pictures which can be seen at the following link:

Some impressions of the Hotel Playa de la Luz

 

8. Wind, Wind, Wind…

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The “Costa de la Luz” (Coast Line of the Light) has welcomed us with what it is known for – gleaming light and bright blue skies. The sun burning laser sharply – though at temperatures of 21 degrees Celsius.

What a difference to the sweltering 30 to 37 degrees that our small travel party had to endure in the places we visited before.

How is this possible – “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind….! ”

The entire coast line (with the exception of the “Coto Doñana”) down to the city of “Tarifa” is basically wind-surfer’s and kiter’s paradise. The beaches are miles and miles long and sandy, the tidal range is impressive and the wind makes it all perfect.

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The region is influenced by two winds:

The names are derived from the directions from which they blow – the Levante from where the sun rises (levantarse=to rise, to stand up) which is the East. The Poniente from where the sun sets (ponerse=to lie down) which is the West.

The Poniente brings the cool air from the sea, which in June can be chilly and strong to the degree that you cannot sit outside in the evening or at least not without wearing a sweater at 20 degrees Celsius ambient temperature.

The Levante brings drier and hotter air from the North Africa – with is often a stuffy, sweltering heat and lots of insects.

If you ask me: The Poniente is my favorite wind – it gives you the North Sea feeling in the sunny south of Europe.

Another characteristic of the “Costa de la Luz” is the impressive tidal range of the Atlantic.

The tidal range often causes confusion and surprise with new arrivers at the hotel, which is situated directly at the beach.

Depending on the time of arrival you are not only faced a long beach but also with a “deep” one where you can barely see the water.

Or you arrive when the high tide is in action and you are looking forward to a nice swim the next morning to only realize that the sea has gone. Manfred and I have witnessed quite some interesting facial expressions.

The inhabitants of Rota have used the tidal range to their advantage for decades and decades. At the Punta Candor (a part of the beach 400 Meters from the hotel)  the socalled “Corrales de Rota” – can be found. They are man-made bassins that are flooded with the high tide, and slowly drain with low tide – leaving lots of seafood and smaller fish for harvesting. They also serve as habitat for crabs and clambs.

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Sometimes – at night – you get to see spooky and eerie images of lights in the sea – the solution of the mystery is sober: the lights belong to the collectors or harvesters wading through the “corrales” to sell their quarry in Rota in the morning.

There are many gems along the “Costa de la Luz” – the crown jewel however is the “Coto Doñana” one of Europe’s most impressive nature reserve with a unique biodiversity. The access to the area is restricted to guided tours. The main entry point is in “El Rocio”.

I highly recommend taking a tour . Manfred and I did it twice (in 2006 and 2013) and we were impressed every time.

An interesting piece of trivia: the “Coto Doñana” is believed to be part of the ancient “Atlantis” – go figure.

7.1. A Place, We Keep Coming Back To

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I know for a fact, each of you has it: A magical place – a place you like to be, were you can come down, forget the stress and be yourself.

Now, I do not want to sound too esoterical here, my place – well our place – is called “Rota”. M. laughed out loud, when I shared this thought last night over dinner. I was not sure if he was laughing about me or at me or because he felt awkward  – but his reaction supports my point exactly: everybody has his/her notion and definition of a magical place.

Since I have been a teenager I seem to be able to “connect” with places – or places with me, a link – not much about it – but the fact that I feel home where the link exists.

I got off the train at Gare de l’Est in Paris at age 16 and I knew that Paris and I would have a great love affair – and have had that affair ever since. I got off the plane at Tegel in the mid-80ies and I felt nothing but the urge to take the next flight home.

If you look “Rota” up on the Internet – you will not find anything particular attractive about it. You will learn that there is one of the biggest “Naval Bases” in Europe – actually occupying more land than the city of Rota itself.

If you “google-map” it, you will learn that it is located on the “Bahía de Cádiz” and within the so-called “Sherry Triangle” between: “Jerez de la Frontera”, “El Puerto de Santa Maria” and “Sanlúcar de la Barrameda”.

All things that would not particulary make you want to spend time here – until you get here. For me this place is:

  • charming
  • light and sunny
  • tranquil
  • windy
  • “joyous”

Most of it all – there is no mass tourism, well not to the degree you know from the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands or the Balearic Islands. (Nota Bene: The city of Rota depends on the tourism during the summer months).

Rota offers all you actually need – it has:

  • a “Puerto Deportivo” from where the Catamaran commutes several times between “Rota” and “Cádiz”
  • miles and miles and miles of sand beaches to a sea that shows a high water quality
  • dunes at the Punta Candor with protected landscape
  • a sea that deserves its name – the Atlantic sea with an impressive tidal range
  • a perfect infrastructure to get you to and from Rota to all the important sites within 3 hours maximum by either car or train (AVE included)
  • festivities (Noche de San Juan to only name one)
  • small restaurants and bars
  • great shopping infrastructure
  • a healthy mix of smaller hotels and impressive four star places such as the Hotel Playa de la Luz

Manfred and I had celebrated our 25th anniversary in the “Hotel Playa de la Luz” three years ago, with 17 of our best friends – one of which came to me after two days saying:

I now know why you love it here – it has only been two days I am here, but I am as relaxed as if I had spent two weeks in this place.

No significant highrise buildings – and the urban flair still intact . There are concessions made to tourism but they have not blown Rota out of balance.

We have been here in April – benefitting from the Semana Santa and all the local festivities related to it, mostly in June ahead main season, but also in October.

Irrespective of the season of the year , Rota has its charme and knows how to win the traveller over without currying favor.

The inhabitants of Rota have my respect – as all towns in Spain, it was hit by the economic crisis, it was affected by the Americans abandoning Rota because Zapatero did not want to play President Bush’s puppy (like Aznar did) – but through all those years in which I had seen depression, small shops closing – I have also seen a positive attitude.

“Rota” – well mostly its inhabitants did not seem to pity themselves – the city administration ensured that travellers would not perceive town as “lost cause” above which the vultures were circling. A variety of activities were initiated:

  • everybody had to paint his/her house white (this is a strategy that has made Lanzarote successful),
  • streets were cleaned even more meticulously than before,
  • the beach was kept in top condition
  • parks and green areas were kept green and colourful with flowers and plants
  • land was protected because it houses rare plants and animals

everything to retain and to attract visitors and to send the message: “even though the times are tough, we do something.”

When entering the city coming from Jerez, “Rota” greets you with an impressive “rotonda” with a huge and shiny “Villa de Rota” on it – a beacon sending the message “the glass is half full”.

I have prepared a picture page for those who would like to get an impression of “Rota”. Please note, that this is no comprehensive material, and only features objects along “our routes”.

You see new building development to your right (which actually progresses) and new streets making it even easier for the visitor to reach ones final destination – be it one of the hotels, or just the beach which if frequented by the inhabitants of “Jerez de la Frontera” but also by Sevillanos, who enjoy the week end by the sea.

All activies and investment seems to have paid back. There is a lot of city development activities in the outskirts of Rota. The Americans are back, there are new businesses downtown.

I think this positive attitude, not succombing to the “victim” – mode and to take things in your own hands – this is part of the “magic” of Rota.