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Andalucia and Gibraltar

Countries:
Great Britain and Spain
Dates:
Thursday February 4th, 1999 to Wednesday February 17th, 1999
Author:
noah

I arrived in Sevilla in mid-afternoon, and booked a room at a cheap but very nice little pensione(?), complete with garden courtyard, located among the narrow streets of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the city's old Jewish quarter. I set out to explore the city, and soon became convinced that Sevilla is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

For 3 days I simply walked the streets, sometimes alone, sometimes with the German and/or the Canadian that I had met in Lagos; I was constantly amazed. Sevilla's centrepiece is (arguably) the largest cathedral in the world, which may or may not contain the tomb of Christopher Columbus (no one seems to be sure if he's really in there or not). The cathedral's interior is a conglomeration of Moorish, gothic, and many other, more recent, styles. Next to the cathedral is La Giralda, a 12th century minaret(?) that is all that remains of a mosque that once stood where the cathedral is now. I climbed to the top of La Giralda, which offers a panoramic view of Sevilla, and a glimpse into the gardens of the nearby Real Alcázar. One of the most memorable aspects of Sevilla is the orange trees, which seem to be everywhere; the oranges are too sour to be eaten, but apparently trees on the grounds of the cathedral are used to make marmalade for the Queen of England.

Beyond the ancient buildings at the centre of the city, other highlights include the very impressive Plaza de España, the Torre del Oro (literally, "tower of gold"), and the abundant manicured parks. In the evenings, usually after a dinner of tapas(?), I had a unique opportunity to sample some true Spanish nightlife; my German friend had a Spanish friend who he had come to visit, and I accompanied them and a bunch of their friends to some of the city's most famous establishments (from what I could tell, going out in Spain involves having one drink at each of many bars, rather than many drinks at one bar — this ensures that there are always plenty of happy people wandering the streets on their way from one pub to the next). On another night I participated in a ritual in which hundreds of people bring their own alcohol to an open square and drink until they're ready to go somewhere. All in all it was a very relaxing, very enjoyable, time.

On my last night in Sevilla, everyone I knew had moved on, so I left our private room for the pensione's dorm, where I met a French Canadian who had just returned from Morocco. He was from a small town on the Gaspé, and I think he was a little overwhelmed by the whole travelling experience. He had left home a couple of weeks previously with several thousand dollars in the bank and had planned to stay in Europe for a number of months. In the 2 wks since he'd left, he'd spent almost 3/4 of his money, and had only been to Paris, France and Tanger, Morrocco. Although I felt sorry for him, I couldn't help but laugh when I heard about how he had fallen for every known scam in Morocco (i.e., he paid several hunderd dollars for a carpet, and then gave it to a beggar). I'm sure he ended up home much sooner than he had anticipated, but maybe it was worthwhile for the great (and extremely amusing) stories he had to tell.

After 4 nights in Sevilla, I headed east toward Córdoba. After a fairly long wait at the side of the road, I was picked up by an American couple and their 2 dogs. They were travelling musicians (they even had matching outfits) who had just bought a van and were now touring Spain busking. I helped them to do some shopping, and they picked up some more hitchhikers (French Canadians on their way to Madrid), but we eventually made it to Córdoba, where I found the hostel and checked in. Although the city is not much to write home about today, it was an important provincial capital in Roman times, and is said to have been the most beautiful city in Europe when it was a Moorish capital during the 9th and 10th centuries. I spent the evening exploring the town and making plans to have a more thorough look around the following day.

After I had eaten and returned to the hostel to read, I realized that I needed to make a phone call. I remembered having seen a phone just outside the front door of the hostel, so I went out. I wasn't having any luck getting the phone to work when a guy walked up to me and asked me for a light — at least, I'm pretty sure he asked me for a light — in any case, I told him I didn't have one, but he kept talking to me. I didn't understand a word he was saying, but I realized that he was getting closer and closer; he motioned with his hand, and I noticed that he had a knife. At that point I made an educated guess that all the yammering meant "give me your money." I looked around and saw that there were actually 3 guys, one standing on each side of me (I was still facing the phone). I figured that I'd probably end up giving him what little money I had in my pocket (though considering how many layers of clothing I was wearing and how small the knife was, I wasn't sure it would actually make it all the way through anyway), but I thought I might as well stall for a bit in case somebody came by and I could get out of it. I pretended I didn't understand what he was saying, and pretended to talk into the phone (which was promptly taken from me and hung up). Just as I was resigning myself to not eating lunch for the next few days, a whole bunch of people came out of the hostel, about 5m away. I took advantage of the distraction to sort of lunge between the 2 guys behind me, and I walked quickly toward the hostel, fairly sure that they wouldn't pursue anything now that there were people around; they did not, though the guy with the knife shouted "coharde" — coward; unfortunately my inability to speak Spanish prevented me from pointing out the irony of this charge.

The following day, after a visit to the grounds of the 8th century mezquita (once the largest mosque in the Islamic world, but converted to a church in the 13th century) I wandered the streets of Córdoba. The city's Roman heritage is evident at several excavation sites, and the Alcázar de los Reyes is an impressive building, though it was closed to the public when I was there. It began to rain fairly heavily in the afternoon, so I spent some time in the Museo Julio Romero de Torres, which houses a significant number of the Córdoban artist's late 19th and early 20th century portraits.

After another night in the hostel, I hit the road once again, travelling southeast toward Granada. It took me quite a few rides to cover the fairly short distance, but I found the landscape quite appealing (in a barren sort of way), so I didn't really mind the hours I spent standing beside the road at various spots along the way.

I arrived in Granada in the late afternoon and wandered aimlessly for a little while before getting my bearings and locating the hostel. I checked in, but then left immediately to locate a decently situated and relatively cheap pensione. Although hostels provide the cheapest accommodation for a single person, for 2 people a reasonably priced pensione is actually more economical, and Hannah would be arriving the following afternoon. After locating a couple of promising pensiones, I had a cursory look around the town, but since we were planning on staying for a further few days I retired fairly early. The next day I checked out of the hostel, checked in to a pensione, and then wandered semi-aimlessly around waiting for Hannah to arrive. Neither of us had ever been to Granada when we made plans to meet; I had been pretty sure that there would be a cathedral, so I had suggested that we meet in front of it. Naturally, upon seeing the cathedral I immediately realized that this would not be nearly as straightforward as I had hoped it would be, so I spent the afternoon periodically walking around the cathedral to make sure that Hannah wasn't waiting at one of the other potential "fronts." When I wasn't walking around I amused myself by watching gypsy women shamelessly demanding money from uncomfortable tourists (whom they approached, prior to demanding money, chanting "no money, no money, no money . . .").

Meanwhile, Hannah was making a 31hr trip from Bangkok to Granada via motorcycle taxi, taxi, city bus, airport bus, plane, subway, and coach. She arrived around 5pm, and we hauled the vast quantity of stuff that she had brought back to the pensione, then went to a nearby bar for some tapas; the evening was a short one, as Hannah was pretty jetagged.

The following day we visited the local market (Hannah couldn't believe how sanitary it was compared to markets in Thailand), and then ate lunch in a small park before setting out for a walk through the hills of Granada. Much of the old city is actually built on the side of a fairly steep hill, which makes for interesting walking through the narrow streets, as well as some strangely arranged buildings. The views down into the rest of the town in the valley below are also nice, particularly at sunset. The ensuing day was spent in much the same way, except that in the afternoon we walked up Sacromonte on the outskirts of town to have a look at some gypsy caves; some of the caves are still inhabited, as they have been for centuries, but most are abandoned, so we were able to poke around inside a little.

The entrance to La Alambra in Granada, Andalucia, Spain

On our last day in Granada, we visited la Alhambra, a Moorish fortress on the outskirts of the town. The fortress dates from the 11th century, though it continued to grow until the 15th, when the focus of the complex, the Casa Real, was completed. It is difficult to overstate the beauty of la Alhambra (though the Lonely Planet makes a valiant attempt, calling it the greatest Muslim legacy in Europe . . . one of the most inspiring attractions on the Continent . . . one of the greatest accomplishments of Islamic art and architecture . . . [and] simply breathtaking.); it is also difficult to overstate the irony of our camera batteries dying just inside the front gate. Despite the frustration of not being able to take any pictures, we could not help but be captivated by the magnificence of the place. Particularly impressive is the intricate decoration that adorns the various buildings and courtyards of the Casa Real; iconography is not permitted in Islam, so the architects and artists who built and decorated the palace used incredibly complex and beautiful patterns as ornamentation. The buildings themselves are very elegant, full of curves and rounded edges, and despite the amazingly complicated patterns all around, the place is by no means ostentatious. The Generalife nearby is also quite an impressive structure, though it is inevitably overshadowed by the fairy-tale-like Casa Real.

A boat abandoned by the Mediterranean, Andalucia, Spain

The following day we walked south out of Granada in order to hitch toward Gibraltar and Algeciras, where we were hoping to catch a ferry to Morocco. It was fairly slow going, though we got some interesting rides (from a bunch of smelly German tramps with a beat-up old car on their way to a nearby "heepy veelage," from an old Spanish guy who didn't want to stop but was made to do so by his young Czech employee — the latter spent our whole ride talking about the former's "matrimonial problems", and finally from a British man who was headmaster at a nearby school and who treated us to tea and cake at tea time). It soon became apparent that we wouldn't make it to Gibraltar that day, and, indeed, it was dark by the time we arrived in Málaga, on the Mediterranean coast, and about half way between Granada and Gibraltar. We spent the night in a pensione operated by a strange old woman who shattered our plans to take a walk around town by locking us in with the many deadbolts on her front door.

The cathedral square, Màlaga, Andalucia, Spain

The next morning, after a brief look around Málaga (the 16th century cathedral and the square on which it is situated are very nice), we started walking west along the coast. Our attempt to walk out of town in order to hitch soon proved to be futile, however, as Málaga lies at the eastern end of Spain's infamous Costa del Sol. From Málaga to Gibraltar the coast is defiled by an almost uninterrupted series of high rise hotels and time-share condominia that are extremely popular with British and German tourists (one hears very little Spanish being spoken along the Costa del Sol). After several hours of walking (and 1 very short ride), unable to find a reasonable place to hitch, we decided to walk down to a nearby beach for a quick swim. The water was cold, but we figured we had better take advantage of what might be our only opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean. Hannah was briefly traumatized by the sight of an old naked man swimming a little further up the beach, but otherwise it was a pleasant experience, and we returned to the road somewhat refreshed. We decided to give up on hitching, and caught a bus (3 buses, actually) to La Línea de la Conceptión, where we spent the night within sight of Gibraltar.

The Straights of Gibraltar, and Morocco

The following day we walked across the border and the airport runway and entered Gibraltar. The notion of Gibraltar is kind of cool: a tiny, windswept British colony sticking off the southern tip of Spain where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, Gibraltar is the foothold which helped the Moors to invade the Iberian peninsula in 711, and was later considered to be Europe's strongest fortress. The reality of Gibraltar, however, is somewhat different. We didn't have time or money to actually climb the famous rock, but we did walk all the way around it, out to the southern tip and back along the other side. The town of Gibraltar is a bit of a hole, but the walk wasn't altogether unpleasant; it was kind of cool to stand at the southern tip and look across the Straits of Gibraltar to Africa, and on the way back we walked through a very long tunnel and past an old Genoese fishing village on the opposite side of the rock from the town. Having completed the circuit, we waited in line at the border for a while (though there hasn't been actual armed conflict in Gibraltar for many years, the Spanish and British bicker about it regularly — the Spanish often show their displeasure by forcing people to wait a few hours to get out), then caught a bus from La Línea to Algeciras, where we bought a ticket on the ferry to Morocco. We arrived at the ferry just in time (we had guards cheering us on as we ran through the terminal), and thus did not have a chance to eat before we boarded. The real food on the ferry was reserved for truckers, so we had to settle for pocket cheese on crackers from the duty-free shop on-board.

You might wish to look at the Andalucia and Gibraltar photos in the photo album.

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