Darlene Foster's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Spain

After spending a morning at the amazing Mezquita, enjoying a delightful lunch and checking out the cute shops we ventured to the Alcazar, a medieval fortress of the Christian Kings, rebuilt in 1328 by King Alfonso XI. The word Alcázar means palace in Arabic. It was the residence of the Christian Kings when they stayed in Cordoba and was one of the primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Significant historic events were planned in this palace including the discovery of America. It was also the headquarters of the Inquisition and later served as a garrison for Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops in 1810. This intriguing place with a colourful history is now a World Heritage site.

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Battlements surrounding the Alcazar

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King Alfonso XI greets visitors to the Alcazar

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The round tower is the Tower of the Inquisition, added in the 15th century. The Main Tower in front was a place for the Inquisition to carry out its public executions.

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The gardens are a relaxing place to wander, with a wide variety of plants and trees overlooking stone fountains and large ponds

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Well kept gardens

The Moorish style Royal Baths are situated in the basement and are thought to have been built by Alfonso XI. The skylights in the shape of stars provided light and ventilation. The walls were made from hardened clay and some of the original marble floor slabs are still visible.

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Outside entrance to the Royal Bath House

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Entering the bath house in the basement

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Star shaped skylights for light and ventilation

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Inside the bath house. I may be touching a wall Queen Isabella touched.

Interesting 16th-century frescoes hang in a hall which housed the former chapel of the Inquisitions. A collection of Roman mosaic art and a sarcophagus from the 2nd and 3rd century that once belonged to a wealthy Roman Mansion, discovered under Corredera Square in 1959, are also on display.

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Interesting 16th-century frescoes

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2nd or 3rd-century sarcophagus

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Roman mosaic art discovered under a square in Cordoba

The Alcazar was yet another remarkable place to wander around and take in the history as we stepped back in time. Seeing places like this makes the history we learned in school come alive. It is no longer just stuff from textbooks but actual events and places. Queen Isabella walked these hallways, touched these walls and probably bathed in the bath house while deciding whether to fund the voyage of Christopher Columbus, which ultimately changed history. This is why travel means so much to me.

More to come as we visit the Jewish Quarter and a cool museum in Cordoba.

Thanks for travelling with me.

 

We read in the local paper about an artisans market, in a small town not much more than an hour away from where we live. Since we both love markets and small Spanish villages, we decided to take a drive and check it out. Alcalali proved to be a delightful, traditional Mediterranean village including original dry stone walls. The name, Alcalali, is an Arabic word meaning place where pots were made.

Pottery in the place were pottery is made with the old dry stone wall behind

Pottery in the place where pots were made, with original dry stone wall behind

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Pottery faces

The market was small but unique in that everything sold had to be hand made and by the person manning the stall. Local potters, weavers, wood carvers, almond candy makers, jewellers, leather and iron workers, and ladies who make lace were willing to chat and demonstrate their work. Some even gave lessons to the children. Throughout the displays, old fashioned table games and traditional delicacies could be found.

Wood carver

Wood carver at work

Lace makers

Traditional lace makers

Mortar and pestle to mash sugar, almonds, zest of lemon and cinnamon for making almond candy called turron

Mortar and pestle to mash sugar, almonds, zest of lemon and cinnamon to make delicious almond candy called turron

Pottery lesson

Pottery lesson

Playing a medieval game

Playing a medieval table game

In the centre of the village, a medieval tower built in the fourteenth century served as a watchtower and stronghold to protect the town from pirates and robbers that frequently attacked the village. It is now a museum with incredible views of the town and surrounding valley from the top floor. What I found very interesting was the medieval graffiti on the walls, most of it drawings of ships and weapons. Since Alcalali is an inland village, historians think the drawings were made by sailors imprisoned in the tower at one time.

The village church from the tower

The village church from the tower

View of the town and valley

View of the town and valley from the tower

Roofs from the tower window

Clay roofs from the tower window

Ancient graffiti

Ancient graffiti possibly drawn by prisoners

Alcalali is in an agricultural area, well known for its olive, grape, citrus fruit and almond production. The Arabs occupied the area for over five centuries and were masters in utilising the fertile ground of red clay, developing a thriving agricultural base. Many houses still have the large doors that allowed animals and carts inside, with rings in the entrance to tie up the mules. We enjoyed a visit to the old oil mill that has been turned into a museum displaying some of the original machinery for making olive oil,wine and raisins.  Pictures of when the mill was in operation helped to explain the process.

Museum in the old oil mill

Museum in the old oil mill

Olive picking tools

Olive picking tools used to knock the olives from the tree

Typical Alalali street

Typical Alcalali street including a house with large doors to allow animals and carts inside in the old days

Original dry stone wall

Original dry stone wall

No visit to a traditional Spanish village would be complete without sampling some of the local tapas in a friendly bar, which is just what we did before heading home. Another great day!

We have been going on some amazing day trips lately as we explore the countryside in our part of Spain. There are markets in all the towns but I prefer searching out the more interesting markets. In this pursuit, we found a medieval market in a place called Benissa, one of the oldest towns on the Costa Blanca.

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Colourful spices to savour

Teas for everything

Teas for everything

An assortment of cheeses

An assortment of handmade cheeses

Making candy apples

Making candy apples

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You never know when you may encounter a knight

You never know when you may encounter a serious knight

or a jester

or a not so serious jester

or a monk and a lady

or a monk and a lady

The market is for all ages

The market is for all ages

The Moors and Christians are both represented

The Moors and Christians, both represented

Another day trip took us through the Jalon Valley, passing gorgeous scenery, quaint villages, beautiful almond blossoms and stopping at a bodega where we sampled the local wine.

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Stunning scenery in the Spanish mountains

Almond blossoms

Almond blossoms everywhere

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A local Bodega offering free wine samples and wine for sale of course!

Buildings with character

Buildings with character

Water fountains

and interesting water fountains found in quaint villages

One sunny Sunday we went on a quest to find some large guns we had heard about near a place called Mazarron.  The guns were built in 1926 to defend the port of Cartagena and were disbanded in 1993.  The road leading up to the guns, once we found it, was somewhat treacherous but well worth it. The barracks, although built in the 20th century, are very medieval looking. The huge guns facing the Mediterranean were imposing but I was pleased to hear they had never been fired in anger.

The guns of Mazarron

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Barracks built in 1926

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One big gun beside a watchtower.

Protecting the Meditereanean

Protecting the Mediterranean

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The guns of Mazarron

I hope you enjoyed our day trips with us as we look for out of the way and unique places.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.

Helen Keller

Our trip to the province of Asturias in the Northern part of Spain was most enjoyable. We discovered this part of Spain is quite different from the Mediterranean coast where we live. As the plane descended we were amazed at the green rolling hills, scattered with red-tiled roofed, farm houses and dotted with cows in the fields. I thought perhaps we had arrived in Switzerland. Asturias is also well known for its dairy produce including excellent cheeses and yoghurt. It is a province of  varied landscapes, from the imposing Cantabrian mountains to the beaches and seascapes of the Bay of Biscay, with verdant meadows, quaint villages and historic cities in between. It was a visual smorgasbord for me.

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Christmas tree in our hotel, made of milk bottles, representing the prominent dairy industry

We stayed in Oviedo, the capital city. Our hotel was an easy 20 minute walk to the down-town and historic centre. We fell in love with the city immediately. It was just before Christmas and the city was well decorated for the season. The friendly people made us feel very welcome and proved to be extremely helpful  when we got lost. I was intrigued by the many bronze sculptures scattered throughout the pedestrian shopping areas.

The Traveler

The Traveller

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Statue of La Regenta by the Cathedral San Salvadore

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The sign on the building says AÑO 1679

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Madonna icon inside a church

We drove to Gijon, a seaside town with a Roman history where we found a great outdoor market and hubby did some Christmas shopping.

Another day we drove through the Picos Europa, a majestic mountain range with limestone structures, jagged peaks and deep gorges. The scenery was breathtaking. We passed medieval bridges, old churches,  raised granaries called “horreos”, and stone houses covered with reed used as shepherds huts called “teitos”. Horses and cows grazed in the meadows and goats scrambled on rocks as we sped past.

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Teito

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Horreo

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We stopped to get a closer look at an old church with a stork´s nest on top of the bell tower, a sign of good luck for the local parishioners.

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I was not surprised when I found a  book store in Oviedo called Cervantes.

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I also discovered that Oviedo is the starting point of the Original Way or Camino Primitivo  which was the first Camino route to Santiago de Compostela, in the 9th century as most of Spain was under Moorish control. You can imagine my delight when I found the clam shells embedded in the streets showing the way, as well as this sign.

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It was fun to see another part of this unique and diverse country and we plan to do more exploring.

 

We started our wonderful Mediterranean cruise in Barcelona. Lucky for us, good friends from Canada were there at the same time, so we arrived a day early to spend time with them. We met our friends at a Starbucks right across the street from Casa Mila, one of Gaudi´s masterpieces. There I was treated to a pumpkin spice latte which made me very happy as I had been lamenting being left out this year. (there are no Starbucks coffee shops where I live.)

Who would have thought in 2015, I would be sitting across the street from an iconic building in Barcelona, sipping a pumpkin spice latte? Should this be a dream, please don´t wake me up!

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Casa Mila

Casa Mila designed by Antoni Gaudi

A short taxi ride took us to Park Güell. We had been to Barcelona once before and loved it. But we had not visited Park Güell, so we took the opportunity to explore this fascinating park created in 1900 by Antoni Gaudi. In order to preserve this heritage site, a limited amount of people are allowed into Monument Precinct, the main park area. Our ticket was for 1:30 so we had plenty of time to wander the lush gardens around the park and take in panoramic views from the top of the hill.

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Entrance to the gardens

Gaudi´s Sagrada Família from Park Gruell

Gaudi´s Sagrada Família from Park Gruell

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Art and nature

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Once inside the Monument Precinct, we were instantly mesmerized. There was so much to take in. The colours and fantastical designs were mind boggling. A combination of greenery and art amazed us at every turn. We sat on the famous ceramic bench, which was surprisingly comfortable. I read later that Gaudi had one of the workers take down his pants and sit on it to make sure it fit the human derrière perfectly.

Brightly coloured mosaic salamanders, whimsical houses fit for elves and fairies, gargoyles, and a mosaic clad ceramic undulating bench held up by 86 columns are just a few of the delights of Park Gruell. Everyone who visits can´t help but turn into an excited child in a fantasy land! (or maybe that was just me)

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The ceramic bench

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This mosaic salamander is the most photographed item in Barcelona!

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Hypostyle Room with 86 columns

Inside the Hypostyle Room

Inside the Hypostyle Room

small peices of broken tiles and ceramics, often taken from demolition sites were used to create the mosaics in the park

Small pieces of broken tiles and ceramics, often taken from demolition sites, were used to create the colourful mosaics.

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The Monumental Flight of Stairs, the ceramic bench is on top of the Hypostyle building.

Trying out the ceramic bench (with our pants on)

Trying out the ceramic bench (with our pants on)

The last stop of the day before boarding the ship was Gaudi´s Casa Batllo. Another fabulous house designed by the master architect for the Batllo family. The roof top with its fascinating chimneys is something else.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

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Roof top of Casa Batllo

A bonus to see all this with good friends who brought us a year´s supply of Maple syrup. What a great start to our trip.

More to come…..

All photographs by Darlene and Paul Foster

There are many good restaurants in our Spanish coastal town but I find the best places seem to be tucked away in the country. We recently took a thirty minute drive with our neighbours to a small place called Rebate, for lunch. The food was delicious and the tranquil setting sublime. Indoor and outdoor seating was available. Of course we chose to eat on the terrace over looking Mediterranean trees and shrubs.

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The view from the terrace

Everyone else ordered the Menu del Dia (menu of the day) which came with a bowl of refreshing gazpacho and an amazing assortment of tapas for starters, which the others kindly shared with me.

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I forgot to take a picture of my main course but you can believe me when I say it was well presented and very tasty. I ordered the salmon with a mango sauce on a bed of bright green beans surrounded by grilled aubergines and yoghurt, from the a la cart menu. I ate every crumb. The others enjoyed their main course as well.

Dessert came with the menu of the day, and once again I was invited to share the exquisite assortment.

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We were treated to live music.

 

Rebate, formally a hamlet with a handful of residences and a little chapel, was taken over by the Van Iseghem family during the 1960’s where it became a citrus farm before they converted the original houses into the restaurant in 2002. The lovely chapel remains and is often used for weddings, the reservoir is now a duck pond and one of the out houses is a small gift shop. There are a couple of waterfalls on the premises and local animals can be seen wandering about.

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Inside the small church, often used for weddings

It was everything I love, good food in pleasant surroundings. We will return to this spot.

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There has been less than one hour of rain in the past four months here on the Costa Blanca. Temperatures soared to over forty degrees Celsius in July and August so we didn´t feel like venturing very far. Things are now back to comfortable temperatures so we decided to take a bus to Les Fonts de Algar and the charming village of Guadalest tucked in the mountains. The waterfalls were pretty and we enjoyed our leisurely walk around them. Some brave souls took a dip in the clear turquoise waters but we decided to stay on dry ground.

Les Fonts de L´Algar

Les Fonts de L´Algar

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Once back on the bus, the heavens opened and it poured rain. Not a pleasant little shower but a deluge. It rained all the way up the twisty mountain road to Guadalest. Not prepared, we got totally soaked running from the bus to a nearby restaurant.  After a nice meal, we purchased umbrellas and went exploring in the rain. To my delight, we discovered a Salt and Pepper Museum with over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers on display. A most pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon. Here are a few for you.

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Guadalest is home to six museums, all quite unique. Time did not permit me to visit all of them and a couple were closed. I stopped in at a miniature museum which was also very interesting and well put together. I didn´t however visit the Museum of Medieval Torture as I am a bit squeamish, but it looked cool. Maybe next time.

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Guadalest is a picturesque village with interesting streets and a castle overlooking it. Just as we were about to board the bus to return home, the sun came out!

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Castell de Guadalest overlooking the town

The streets of Guadalest

The streets of Guadalest

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Trust us to take this trip on one of the few rainy days. It was a good day in spite of it and we laughed all the way home.  Fortunately, we had visited this place a few years ago on a sunny day.

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Guadalest on a sunny day


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