Thursday, February 27, 2014

Southern Spain, Gibraltar, and Morocco

What a trip! Nolan had mid term break, so we planned a week traveling around southern Spain. Also, we wanted to see Gibraltar, located in southern Spain. Then as we researched, we added a day trip to Tangier, Morocco. It was a lot to see, but we tried to make it reasonable with the kids. We flew in to Malaga out of necessity, but left as soon as we landed.

Ronda

First we stopped in Ronda on our way to our hotel in Gibraltar. Ronda is a hill town with a large, well-known bridge connecting the old and new towns. Even though we had mapped to a parking lot ahead of time, it was still hard to find. We had 4-5 hours to walk around and eat. Our first site was Spain's oldest bullfighting ring. While we didn't tour it, this is our one regret as we didn't even try. It is pretty small compared to what we have seen previously. We peeked in a few shops in the area and took our first look over the Puente Nuevo bridge. It was just incredible!

After buying a couple treats, we walked out to the viewing area of the hillsides. From there we could see the hike down to the viewing point of the bridge and it definitely looked reasonable. We walked across to the old town and stopped in a few more shops along the way. We made our way to Santa Maria la Mayor. We decided to pay to walk around inside for a bit, and then sat in the park for a few minutes outside. Then, we did the hike down to the viewpoint for the Puente Nuevo bridge. Just as we started taking pictures, the sun popped out! It was quite a view!

So eating dinner with kids in Spain while traveling is hard. We couldn't find anything open serving food for quite a while, but finally found some little touristy restaurant next to the bullfighting ring that was good enough. We got on the road for the 100 minute drive to Gibraltar in the dark.

Pictures from Ronda can be found here.

Gibraltar

I had read horror stories about the border (due to UK/Spain tensions), but I figured going south at night would be quick. I was correct; there was no line and neither side cared much about us possibly we were American. It was late by time we were ready for bed at the Queens Hotel, but the itinerary allowed for sleeping in the next day.

After english breakfast, we walked to the cable car for our ride up. Great views! We had perfect weather for the day too. At the top, there are several good viewing platforms to look different directions. Also, the apes hang out up here, and tried to grab Nolan's bread (we didn't know they were this high up away from the trees). We made the hike to St. Michael's Cave next. These are pretty small, but included in the Nature Reserve ticket, and Nolan liked it. We decided to skip the Mediterranean Steps to conserve energy; we were already enjoying the views.

We walked next across to the Great Siege Tunnels (skipping the Ape Den). Nolan enjoyed stopping and playing with the hundreds of iron hooks attached to the rock. The lookout near the tunnels provided great views of the frontier, aka the airport runway. We saw it blocked off while one plane landed, and another took off. It was interesting, and something extremely unique. The tunnels were interesting, packed with information about their creation and use. Next we walked down to the Moorish Castle. This is basically a tower with views similar to the free ones above, so we didn't climb it. Nolan had fun playing next to the pond for a few minutes.

We took the well marked short-cut stairs down to Main St. It was full of pubs and english shops. We ate lunch at the Gibraltar Arms and headed to the car for our drive to Tarifa.

Pictures from Gibraltar can be found here.

Tarifa

Tarifa is a little sleepy surf town with a big port. The ferries to Tangier city leave out of this port, so we booked a room for the night prior to our departure. The town was pretty inactive this time of year; most places didn't open in the morning until 8:30 or so, and on Sunday afternoon when we arrived, most things were closed. (A nice culture, but not when you are a tourist!)

Pictures from Tarifa can be found here.

Tangier, Morocco

Originally, we were planning on taking the 9am ferry and returning at 4:30. But, on Sunday, we decided to ease up a bit and catch the 11am ferry. So I bought tickets early Monday morning and upon arrival, we learned there was no 11am ferry this time of year! Boooo! So, went back to the travel agent and he arranged a one way ticket at noon on one ferry line, and another one way ticket back at 4:30 on a different ferry line. So, we rolled with the punches and accepted that ~2.5 hours in Tangier would probably be enough to soak it in.

We arrived and knew approximately where to walk and which way to get there. We headed toward the Bab Elmarsa gate to walk up to the Grand Socco. We kind of missed the gate the first time, but found the other smaller gate to walk in to the old city. We stopped in some shops along the way. The shopkeeps were all very nice, and most spoke english well (we heard they would not). We enjoyed talking with a few guys for a while! We made our way to the Grand Socco. We took a few minutes to take it all in.

We then walked around behind the mosque to possibly see the park, but we ended up in a market buying tagines. They were cheap, so we bought some extra! We decided it was time to start meandering back to the port. We stopped at a couple more shops along the way and by the last shop, we realized we needed to walk kind of quick back to the boat.

We were excited to have the chance to visit Africa; a culture so different than anything we had ever seen before, yet so close to Europe! Except for a few pushy people wanting to be tour guides, people were very nice! The arts, crafts, and clothes for sale were interesting and beautiful.

Pictures from Tangier can be found here.

Arcos de la Frontera

Kacey had come up with the idea to stop in this little white hill town for dinner on the way to Seville. So we squeezed our car up to the Plaza del Cabildo, took in the view, and found dinner at Don Fernando. It was pretty good food! (Except that I think the first course made me sick that night) I also found the coolest light switches here; I want them some day!

Pictures from Arcos can be found here.

Seville

We stayed at the Hotel Petit Palace Marques Santa Ana, which was our first car elevator experience! We had two nights and one full day here, which would have been perfect had I not been ill. But, I was in bed until 1pm so I had a bit of a late start. Kacey took the kids out for breakfast/lunch and shopping. We all met at the bullfighting ring at 1:50 for our tour in english. This bullfighting ring was similar to Madrid where we toured a few years ago, and I think the tour was better in Madrid. But, Seville had some interesting things in their museum.

Next we walked to the cathedral, the world's largest gothic cathedral, and the world's third largest church. By the way, the streets are lined with orange trees in this region! Anyway, this church also contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus! We spent a lot of time walking around, taking it all in. Unfortunately, the world's tallest High Alter is closed off for renovation. Some areas were well lit from windows, and some areas were very dark. The Christopher Columbus tomb was very dark, so the pictures are dark, but it was cool to think about its history. I didn't climb the tower due to not feeling well. The church also had an orange grove, quite cool!

Next we walked across the street to the Alcazar, or palace. We had about an hour before closing, and it was trying to rain, so we ran in and started walking around. We didn't follow our guide very much, we just kind of walked around and enjoyed. As we left, the sky cleared up giving beautiful views of the cathedral. We then searched out and found nun cookies! So there are a few places where nunneries bake cookies and sell them, and one of here (one was also in Arcos, but we missed it's open hours). The shop for this one is not run by nuns, which means you see the person selling you cookies (others where the nuns run them, they are hidden from site). We went to the room to rest for a bit before tapas later that night at Restaurante Cinco Jotas.

The next morning I went back down the street to Los Angeles Bakery. It was so good! One of those places you wish you could stop in and visit each morning.

Pictures from Seville can be found here.

Cordoba

Our plan was to drive to Cordoba for a few hours, then continue on to Granada to our hotel. On our way to Cordoba, we saw the Gemasolar Thermosolar power plant. I am sure most foreigners would be confused as to what they saw, but I knew what it was. We found a lot near El Mezquita and walked over the verify its hours. We then grabbed some tapas for lunch at Bodegas Mezquita. The meatballs were amazing! We were pretty happy with lunch, except the aubergine never made it out. I was feeling much better today, so I got Liana up on my back and we headed for El Mezquita.

We had heard this is quite the site, but we really didn't know what to expect. It is such a mix of two different cultures, it was neat to investigate and walk around. It is about half muslim and half Christian, and the history of how it came to be was intriguing. This church also had an orange grove. After about an hour, we walked outside to the Roman Bridge and Islamic water wheel. The islands in the river now inhabit many birds, instead of the old flour mills from centuries ago. We then walked around the Jewish quarter for a while, snacking on some pastries. By 5:30 we got on the road for the ~2 hour drive to Granada.

Pictures from Cordoba can be found here.

Granada

We arrived in time to park the car and walk down the street to one of Rick Steve's top rated restaurants in the area, Bodegas Castañeda. It was awesome! Our hotel, Hotel Anacapri, was in a great location with very helpful staff.

When we got up, our plan for the day was Alhambra. I had heard it could almost take all day, but in actuality you really need about 4 good hours. Booking tickets here is a little tricky, but being off-season, our hotel helped us book the night before. We got up there around 10am, and our Nasrid Palace ticket was for 11:30. We first walked around the Alcazaba, which has awesome views of Granada, as well as Sierra Nevada.

After bathrooms and a snack, we went to the Nasrid Palace. This was a very unique place; so many different architectures not seen before. It wasn't huge, but everything was very detailed. Some of the ceiling textures were amazing and unique; I tried to capture it with the camera, but it's three dimensional nature (looks like miniature stalactites everywhere) made it difficult.

Next we checked out the Carlos V Palace and museum. I thought more would be here, but it is mostly just a big round arena-type area without much to see. If you buy the full ticket, you can go in the museum, but for us it was a quick walk through. We then walked up to Generalife, which we had to be in by 2pm. Generalife seems to be a palace built up the hill a bit to "get away" from the real palace. Garden spaces and fountains make this a more tranquil place. We enjoyed walking around and taking in the gardens, scenery, and architecture.

We headed to the hotel for a bit of a rest, then walked to the Cathedral. We first, unknowingly, went in the Royal Chapel. Then, headed to the Cathedral. This was massive, and reminded me somewhat of the Lesser Town St. Nicholas church in Prague. Nolan made a couple friends here; a family with two boys was also walking around, and they got a little loud at times running around. Apparently this family had been on the road for a month, so the kids had a bit of fun.

For dinner, Kacey found a Moroccan restaurant highly recommended, and only a couple blocks from our hotel. As soon as we walked in Restaurante Arrayanes, we smelled deliciousness and knew it would be good. I got a tagine with lamb, prunes, and almonds. It was all very tasty! And, the manager was very friendly, and Mustafa, the popular owner, even popped in for a bit.

The next morning, we walked to Plaza Nueva for some yummy pastries and then took the bus up to the San Nicolas Viewpoint. The clouds were in today, but it was great views of Alhambra (and I am sure Sierra Nevada too, but too cloudy). After taking in the view and letting Nolan play in the dirt, we headed back down for some lunch. Kacey found Los Diamantes in Plaza Nueva. It is mostly seafood tapas, but everything we ordered was lightly deep fried, so pretty tasty! Eggplant, calamari, and chicken; the aubergines were like little french fries, so the kids liked them. It was time for our scenic drive to Malaga, driving south to the sea first, then west along the coast.

Pictures from Granada can be found here.

Sierra Nevada

So funny story... I had no idea Sierra Nevada was just outside of Granada. As we drove in to Granada, we saw a huge snow-capped mountain sitting behind the city and said "What is that?!" So, we did a little research and learned about the road that goes up to the ski-resort town of Sierra Nevada. We decided to drive up there after Granada (we had some float time on Friday) and just check it out. Since this day was cloudy, once up there, we couldn't see down, but it made for beautiful views of the snow covered mountains once up there! Nolan and I even got out for a little snowball fight!

Pictures from Sierra Nevada can be found here.

Nerja

Kacey was doing some reading on the drive up Sierra Nevada and with our new route we would be passing by the only town recommended along the coast, Nerja. This town has a cliffside balcony walk, and some caves just outside of town with the world's largest stalactite/stalagmite column. So we checked the GPS and learned we could get to the caves an hour before they closed, so we adjust coordinates and headed there! The caves started off a little slow, but then we got in to the big room with the column. This thing is massive! Someone estimated that it took one trillion drips to form the column. The cave is a little expensive, we think because when it rains in the peak-season, everyone in towns comes to the caves for something to do. It was still cool to see, and there was a playground there as well, so the kids got some play time before we headed in to town for dinner.

We parked in the main lot close the shops and stuff in town, and walked out to the balcony as the sun was setting. It was a very pretty area! For dinner, we didn't want to wait too long and wanted something easy, so we popped in a pizzeria with a view. It was good enough, and we saved room for gelato. We got loaded up for the 50 minute drive to our hotel next to the airport.

Pictures from Nerja can be found here.

Conclusion

Here is a map of our driving route (http://goo.gl/maps/EgIRR). This was a good trip that wasn't too busy (per our standards). Seville is a town that one could easily spend an additional day in. Tarifa kind of shuts down off-season, making food a little tricky. Tangier is a day trip I highly recommend, but it can be intimidating to not-well seasoned travelers. I found the drivers in this area to be terrible, worse than any country I have driven in. Speeds vary widely (a 90kmh zone will have people going 50 and 130), no one signals for anything (especially in roundabouts), and roundabout cut-offs are quite bad (and people pass at night on blind corners). The roads were pretty good, though. The road from Granada to Malaga (along the coast) is fairly new, and coarsely cut through the mountains. Driving is definitely the way to get around southern Spain. The hill town Ronda is definitely worth a visit. It has a great feel, wonderful views, and interesting history.

2 comments:

Maggie Fetcho said...

I read it!

Maggie Fetcho said...

Very nice