Sunday, November 21, 2010

Living Like a Spaniard

Mountains outside Alicante
The Calpe W

        We left Ronda and traveled six hours to the coast. The scenery changed--often times becoming the bland rolling plains similar to central Spain. At the coast, things changed. Jagged, bare mountains rose to the left of us, the Mediterranean rolled out to the right.                                            Calpe. Located on the Costa Blanca is landmarked by the giant Pinon Ifach--a Gibraltareque rock rising from the Mediterranean. Two sandy beach curve away from Ifach's peninsula creating a geographic W. Once explored, Calpe doesn't offer anything too exotic.
      We walked the beach. Daily we visited grocery stores--Spain has many on every few blocks as all the refrigerators we'd seen were tiny, apartment sized appliances. Our top floor apartment offered stunning views of the sea and the fishing fleets and the beaches, but we had no TV or radio, no Internet. We had each other and quietness.
      As we neared the end of week two, the desire to return home beset us. As Americans--and me--as a DeFord--we were used to going all the time. Used to rushing through lines, grabbing our "sippy" cups of coffee or coke and getting it done.
     Throughout Spain, if you took a cup of coffee it was served in a ceramic cup meant to be drunk in the establishment that sold it. If you nursed it for hours, that was okay. You had time. Time was free. Enjoy it.
     Somehow I slowed down. I found myself sitting at Spasso's, a seaside cafe, nestled in a leather chair. For a euro, I'd order my coffee (no refills), use their free wifi and enjoy "human" contact, sea breezes and sunshine.
     Slowing down, enjoying life, and appreciating my own person circumstances became three Spanish characteristics I don't want to lose.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Standing Upon the Rock

     As my ship glided past in the night, I strained to see the mighty British rock guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean. Darkness swallowed it and we sailed on to Cadiz. This time in Spain, I would not only see Gibraltar, or Gib as the locals affectionately call it, I would climb it.

First commercial Iberia flight lands at GibraltarImage via Wikipedia     A chance to speak English and the evocative power of the Rock of Gibraltar drew us to the tiny British outpost. The town itself crowds itself on the western slope of the giant rock. To get in, we had to go through British customs--more a formality than an actual inspection. We then walked across the airport landing strip and entered the town.
A can of Coca-Cola Light coffeine free.Image via Wikipedia     We took a cable car to the top. Here we stopped of a can of Coca Cola light and walked out onto the patio to catch a glimpse of the formidable rock. The sign out of the cafeteria said no food was allowed beyond that point. Of course that referred to food--not our drink. I brought my freshly opened, expensive can of Coke out onto the patio and placed it on the binoculars pedestal and pointed my camera.
     Before I realized it, a Barbary ape with her baby snatched my soda, ran to a clear space in the middle and took a sip. It turned out she didn't like Diet Coke and left the can and me not knowing if I should laugh or scream at losing my soda.  Didn't those apes know they were supposed to be living halfway down the mountain?
     The views were breathtaking. Neil and I explored the top, walked down, saw hundreds of apes and incredible views. We walked and walked and walked and walked. Came to a dead end, backtracked and walked some more.
     At Casemates Square we ate fish and chips, then wandered back across the landing strip and back into Spain. A delightful, British day.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

El Castillo de los Reyes Christianos

             The ILT (AKA GPS) got us to Córdoba fine. It’s very good with its gross motor skills. However, once there, it took us down "streets" that made the roadways of Arriate look huge. The tires of our tiny Clio scrubbed the curbs of these two way streets.
            We found a parking spot—somehow with few problems once we got to the real roadways and set off to find the Mezquita. I asked—people told me to walk through the arcos, turn derecho or derecha—two distinctly different meanings and voilà. Or I should say hay usted.
            We wandered through arcos and little streets and asked once more.
            “Vaya por los arcos…”
Those words were spoken at the speed of light, so I understood only the hands. I have learned the language of hands well.
We walked through another arch, and before us spread what I thought was the Mesquita. It cost less to enter than guidebook said the Mezquita should and it certainly didn’t match the descriptions.
Had we seen the Castle after the grand cathedral of Córdoba, I would have thoroughly enjoyed every square inch and lingered throughout the afternoon—but anxiousness to see the former mosque took away the glory of this old castle.
A fortress, today almost a perfect square, had sat here since Roman times—and it grew to serve the purpose of various dynasties. Its final design settled in 1327 under the reign of Alfonso XI.  However, the gardens demonstrate the Arab influence. They reminded me of the Alhambra, only more impeccably maintained. Ponds and fountains, flowers and trees, all made this an exquisite experience—one not to miss.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Córdoba—Introducing the Mezquita

             Leaving the mountains of Andalucía, we found the first “wetlands” of our trip. The land leveled out and the city of Córdoba rose before us. Here we visited two magnificent buildings: the Mezquita and Le Castillo des Reyos Cristianos (The Castle of Christian Kings).
            The Mezquita—no picture we have can do this justice. It was a church in Visigoth times, turned into a mosque and returned to a cathedral. When you enter the cathedral, 850 red and blue columns surround you, a visual forest—too dark and too grand to capture in a photograph. At one time, archways opened to the Patio de los Naranjos let light pour in. When made into a cathedral, beautiful windows filled in the archway.
            In the far corner (facing south, which is unusual) is the Mihrab, the mosque equivalent of a high altar. Muslims faced the Mihrab, a fixture in all mosques, to worship. Ornate as all Arabic architecture, the photograph doesn’t capture the beauty of three thousand pounds of glass and enamel decorate it.
            In the center of the room, sixteen columns were removed to make a chapel, fronted by the Royal Chapel—a burial place for kings—never opened to the public. However, Córdoba was kind, and the chapel is not entirely walled off. The dome and the walls can be glimpsed—stunning.
            In the Tesoro (Treasury) is a HUGE monstrance—the Christians wanted something glorious enough to hold the body of Christ. During the Feast of Corpus Christi, sixty days after Easter, they still parade this through the town.
            Then we come to the Cathedral itself. Glorious in gold and silver and carved mahogany.
            España—muy guapa.
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