Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Andalusia Spain

Day 1 - Málaga

Even though Málaga was the least interesting among other destinations in Andalusia, it served very well as the point of entry as it took only 20 minutes by express bus line A to travel from AGP airport to Málaga María Zambrano Railway Station where luggage storage lockers were available at just a few euros for a day. Just 15-minute walk away northeast was Mercado Central de Atarazanas, a market where we had some refreshing fruit juices as pre-lunch beverages. It was a pity it closed at 14:00, otherwise we would have fancied another glass the late afternoon before departure. With constraints of time as well as the summery weather, pieces of churros to share made a satisfying quick lunch. Worth noticing were the different look, texture and taste of these Spanish churros, at least those in the south, and also the way locals enjoyed them - dipping churros into one's choice of flavor/version of hot chocolate, contrary to the ones with chocolate coating or cinnamon sugar sprinkling found in the UK, for example.
A half-day visit of 6 hours from midday was just right as there were not very many to see. Must-see attractions were Palacio Episcopal, a Renaissance-style palace painted in the colors of the Spanish flag; Málaga Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church planned on the site of a mosque which represented eight centuries of Muslilm power; Plaza de la Merced, a walking plaza surrounded by colorful trees beginning to blossom just in spring; and the most important Roman Amphitheatre, Alcazaba Fortress, and Gibralfaro Castle. Several viewpoints up both the Fortress and the Castle offered panoramic views of Málaga. Unfortunately one must climb up to Alcazaba, descend the hill, and then climb up the opposite direction to Gibralfaro. How wise of us to have taken some sorbets to cool down and fuel up right before the relatively demanding second climb! Courage to rise to the challenge was rewarded with nice shots of Plaza de toros de La Malagueta, a 19th-century bullring with a museum housing 6 centuries of bullfighting history and memorabilia, and Malaga's town hall, a neo-Baroque building completed in 1919 and built on land originally submerged under water.
After a 1.5-hour drive from María Zambrano Railway Station to Ronda, where tapas were the most popular among other destinations of the trip, we managed to be seated at a nice local bar called Entre Vinos just before 21:00 for a tasty diversified meal, with some sangria of course.

Day 2 - Ronda

This day in Ronda was very much about not missing any single best viewpoint of Puente Nuevo, El Tajo Gorge, and the Old Moorish Town as a whole. We could not have been able to stand walking for a full day if it was July or August, no matter how smooth and optimized our walking route was: Plaza del Socorro, Plaza España, Parador de Ronda, Puente Nuevo, Mirador de Aldehuela, Jardines De Cuenca, Puente Viejo, Fuente de los Ocho Caños, Iglesia de Padre Jesús, Felipe V Arch, La Casa del Rey Moro, Puerta de Almocábar, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, and finally the bullring - Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda. Except for Palace of the Moorish King and the Water Mine, also known as La Casa del Rey Moro, where visitors descended steeply into the valley and then climbed back up, none of the walks was strenuous. The cafe just over the palace offered excellent views over the gorge as well as delicious 100% natural fruits smoothies, as opposed to other "yoghurt smoothies" or diluted ones in town.
We saved the bullring for last, not because it was the best, but it was less important in our book compared to those around the Gorge. Ronda is said to be the home of modern day bullfighting. Probably the first and last bullring we had ever visited, the Real Maestranza bullring built in 1785 is one of the oldest and most picturesque in Spain.
Getting back on the road we headed Northeast to Granada. Unlike Ronda, tapas were not as easy to be found. We ended up sipping some mojitos, both classic and strawberry version, accompanied by a sharing platter of finger food with fries.

Day 3 - Granada

This morning we had to wake up very early in order to arrive at ticket office at Alhambra for collection of online prepaid tickets well before our timed entry at Nasrid Palaces at 08:30. Surprisingly there was not a separate queue for this purpose. Staff directed visitors with online confirmation to the front of the queue as they saw fit. Notice of "tickets of the day have been sold out" was just up. Those like us who stayed only one day in town but did not realize the need to purchase tickets in advance had no choice but left what the came to Granada for, to great disappointment.
In spite of poor site management and endless crowds throughout the morning, and probably the day, within the entire complex, this UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site was definitely worth a visit. This visit included the areas of the Alcazaba, Charles V Palace, the Nasrid Palaces, the Generalife, the Mosque baths and Gardens. The Alhambra was the residence of the Moorish rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty for 250 glorious years, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, and is a veritable museum of Islamic architecture. Surrounded by ancient walls, the Alhambra appears from afar to be an impenetrable fortress. That was why we walked back down the hill after the visit, devoured a declious lunch with some classic seafood paellas, before climbing up the hill opposite Alhambra for the best panorama. Included in the itinerary up there within the historic Arab quarter were Iglesia del Salvador / Church of San Salvador, Iglesia de san Nicolás and Mirador San Nicolás / Church of San Nicolas, Arco de las Pesas / Arch of Weights, Cuesta de Alhacaba, Puerta Monaita / Monaita Gate, Puerta de Elvira, Mirador de la Lona, Palacio de Dar al-Horra, etc.
A leisurely stroll back in the city did not take long at all. After brief stops at Carrera del Darro, Plaza Nueva, Catedral de Granada, Royal Chapel of Granada, and Calle Alcaiceria, we departed for Córdoba for rental car return at Córdoba Central Railway Station, less than a 20-minute walk away from accommodation of the night, and then enjoyed the best gourmet tapas and sangria of this trip at Restaurant Taberna Gastronomica Los Califas.

Day 4 - Córdoba

We made this trip in late May just in time for a glimpse of the beautiful Córdoba in full bloom during the Concurso de Patio, a popular competition among residents for the prize awarded for the most impressive display of potted plants and colorful flowers. Gorgeous patios bursting with vibrant blossoms could be seen everywhere while walking from one attraction to another by simply following our itinerary.
After wandering around the northeast with brief stops at several little churches and squares, we continued to Plaza de la Corredera, and then on the way back into the center enjoyed a good serving of pure watermelon juice freshly made to order at competitive price at La Bicicleta, before proceeding to the top attractions such as Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Puente Romano and Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs. Sadly, to great surprise of many, the Cathedral closed at 14:00 this day. We got to admire the magnificent complex only from the outside. Not only was the Roman Bridge photogenic on its own, it also offered different shooting angles of major monuments around, including Torre de La Calahorra located at the other end at or behind which some iconic postcard shots could have been taken.
Not being able to visit the Mosque Cathedral, Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs became a highlight of the day. Known as the castle of Cordoba, the Alcazar, which served both as a fortress and a palace, is a perfect illustration of the developement of Cordoban architecture through the ages. With its thick defensive walls, and Visigoth ruins lain side by side with Arabic remains, it was once the favorite residence of rulers in Cordoban history and had fullfilled a variety of fucntions over the years, such as Headquarters of the Inquisition, and a prison in the first half of the 20th century. Following a lovely walk on the castle grounds, we made our way out for some more sightseeing - Los Patios del Alcázar Viejo, Murallas y Puertas de Almodóvar, Calleja de las Flores, etc.
Train from Córdoba Central to Sevilla Santa Justa departed at 19:31. On arrival at 20:51 it was a 15-minute walk before checking into Novotel Sevilla Marques de Nervión, highly recommended for its value for money and comfort, standard of service, proximity to a big mall, bars and restaurants, EA bus stop for airport, and Santa Justa Railway Station.

Day 5 - Seville

After enjoying 4 lovely days in the sunshine under perfectly clear blue sky, we were unlucky enough to be in the city we had longed to see the most when the sun hid behind thick layers of dark clouds and the rain finally struck. Waiting for the sun to wake up took a great deal of patience, but it was a good idea to stop by major attractions anyway this morning - who knows if the sun would come out at all! Tapas lunch at Almiranta Tapas Restaurante near the cathedral was a quality one yet overpriced. We had almost got used to the English illiterate Spanish, but did not expect to see one in a restaurant in the very center of Seville.
While weather turned around, we began our visit at Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a medieval fortress and landmark Morrish royal palace built in the 10th century with fountain-filled gardens, ornate arches & 16th-century tiles. Beautifully manicured grounds of the gardens filled with leafy palms, sweet orange trees, and colorful roses are exactly of traditional Andalusian style which features courtyards, decorative pools, and distinctive fountains. Out of the palace it was nearly 17:00. Under the azure sky we hurried to savour the well-known Plaza de España, before arriving at Museum of Flamenco Dance for the performance at 19:00. The show was not as satisfactory as expected, and more precisely as that of Corral de la Morería in Madrid. Guitar solo was definitely too long. Also, we would have preferred a veteran singer. Bar Estrella just around the corner was where we had our last gourmet tapas experience of the trip. Their sangria was however not that good.

Day 6 - Seville

Ticket of Palacio de las Dueñas at EUR8 per person was relatively expensive for an attraction of such scale to the regional standard, but the palace provided an excellent shelter from the heavy rain this morning. Built in the late 15th century in the Renaissance style with Gothic and Moorish influences, the palace's most photographed spot must be the courtyard which was well embellished with flowers and small trees. It was just luck that we completed the visit at the right time when rain clouds started to fade. We then walked southwest to reach Metropol Parasol. Said to be the world's largest timber-framed structure, this extraordinary, flowing structure, known locally as Las Setas, "the mushrooms", consists of six huge linked parasols made of waffle-type criss-crossed wooden beams. Ticket at only EUR3 to The Walkway overlooking the city's skyline could be exchanged for a good whole glass of wine to be enjoyed on the terrace also featuring some amazing views. Certainly a must-do!
We could not resist picnicking at Plaza de España this last afternoon in Spain especially in great weather. It was also a pleasant walk on the way while searching for some delicious Spanish stuffed pastries takeaway, as walking past main attractions one last time against a dramatic azure backdrop was a superb idea.

It was a bit of a rush but it was well worth it. Journey on Bus EA from Luis de Morales (Luis Montoto) to Aeropuerto de Sevilla (Llegadas) took only 20 minutes.  We said our sad farewells when the plane took off at 18:25...

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