Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Spain II, Back With A Penchant.

We're a bit behind on our blogs at the moment.  We're currently at Frankfurt airport and we're homeward bound (via Sri Lanka & Malaysia). Since Spain (detailed below), we have been to Düsseldorf, Cologne, Marburg, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague Dresden & Munich. At our current blogging pace you won't hear about these places until we're already home!
Below is the next installment of our journey - the last bit of our Spanish saga.

Voted by us as one the top stays in Spain, Seville is a big, beautiful city with all the trimmings. Not checking the forecast beforehand, we booked a cheap room sans air-conditioning, so in the 45C midday heat it was actually cooler traipsing through the shady narrow streets than taking our usual afternoon siesta. One local was so incensed by our heat-of-the-day wanderings that he almost forcibly took us to a number of typical "patios" in nearby houses to demonstrate where sane people spend their time. We were hopeful that he'd let us rest in one but alas he had to get back to the shop he'd abandoned to play tour guide.

The 3 most notable sights were the largest cathedral in the world (Guinness book of world record certified), a giant waffle (see picture), and Miriam's favourite - Alcazar, a fantastic palace & surrounding gardens.

Sanlucar de Barrameda
Having enjoyed all the festivals that we had attended over the past few months, we were keen to see if there were any more nearby that we could gate-crash. Lo & behold in Sanlucar de Barrameda there was a horse racing festival, which is held on the beach. We stayed at a homestay kind of place where the proprietor insisted we rest first and fed us olives and the local wine - manzanilla. Thus fortified, we headed "to the races".

It was very much a local affair with families stretched out along the 2km of "track". Children set up small betting stalls with odds displayed and pencils and balloons as prizes, incredibly fun to watch but probably not politically correct enough to take off in Australia.

After watching a few of the races, we settled down at a beach café for a drink and to watch the beautiful sunset. Once dark, we headed into town which contained a fantastic plaza, ringed with tapas bars. The warm evening, live music and great tapas were an excellent finish to a great day.

If you want to go to Cadiz ever, please book ahead. We learnt the hard way by struggling to find anything in our price range (eg dirt cheap) and settled on a hostel that had one bed space left, but as it was publicly accessible by day, we could not use it until midnight. This warranted a night out and after a swim at the beach, listening to a local folk song competition and a nice chat with some Portuguese tourists, we set up our fold-down bed & got some much needed shuteye.

This is as close as we got to Africa if you don't count our 1 hour stop over in Cairo in June. Whilst hazy, we could just make out the Moroccan coastline over the Suez.  We were here to do a spot of whale watching but as luck would have it the weather was too rough and the only tours were for dolphins. Having seen them plenty in Australia, we figured we'd pass on that option and instead sampled the local tapas...oh well.....

An oddity in more ways than one, Gibraltar is a large rock outcrop on the coast of Spain. As far as I can tell it is a "British Other Territory", locally governed but under British protection. Spain want "The Rock" back but the local Gibraltians voted against that 12000-odd to 50, a few years before.

Because we were too stingy (a common theme for us), we stayed on the Spanish side and walked over both days. We enjoyed our first experience of Britain, traipsing all over, through (via tunnels) and below the rock. Much focus was also on the non-Spanish cuisine including meat pie, fish & chips, full English breakfast and also sampling the local beverage or two.

Another town visited for its festivities, Marburg has a local festival in which the flamenco, local food & wine are celebrated wholeheartedly. The festival comes in two parts - during the day the city centre comes alive with many locals dressing up in flamboyant flamenco outfits and roaming bands keeping the festive mood alive. After a short siesta, it was time to head to the fairgrounds for the evenings entertainment. It covered a huge area but after some overpriced and substandard food our enthusiasm waned and it was only salvaged after visiting a tent with some great Latin live music.

"Ahh Granada". Seriously, that's what everyone said about the place when we said we were going there. "Great tapas & it's free!" was all we had to hear to put this place on the itinerary. It lived up to it's reputation too. There were so many great places to go and not enough mealtimes to fit them in. When we weren't stuffing our faces, we wandered the winding streets until it was time for our visit to Alhambra, arguably the best palace in Spain.

We rented a budget apartment and were once again excited by the prospect of cooking for ourselves and doing laundry. After deciding that the kilometre-long lines for the 2 big museums were a tad long for our liking, we visited an exhibition at the CaixaForum instead.

With a number of friends contacting us from Germany and with limited time left on our trip, we decided to head north sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, flights to Germany were horrifically expensive, so we gritted our teeth and booked the 27 hour, Madrid-Dusseldorf bus. We now had only 1 day left in Spain.

For our last day we decided to head to Toledo, a small, historic town about one hour from Madrid. It was quite pretty and we decided to hit all the tourist sites at once. 10 km's later we were done and had a rest before going out for dinner.

The next day was a transit stop in Madrid before beginning our epic 27 hour bus trip to Dusseldorf, Germany. But that's for another post....