Monday, 18 December 2017

Granada, Sierra Nevada, Altea and off to the snow in the Alps – Days 55 to 60

Happy Christmas from Elizabeth and Jackie!
Having finally warmed up, after the Alhambra with a mulled wine made of very cheap red wine with an Aldi Christmas teabag dipped in it, we felt ready to go outside again. The same restaurant, or group of restaurants, we had eaten in in our first night also did a plate of mixed fish, equivalent to the plate of mixed meat, which Brian really fancied. On looking on Tripadvisor however, it appeared we were lucky to live through the first meal, so tempting fate with a second, hmmm. I found a tapas bar (yes another one) that appeared to specialise in fried fish, which sounded great, decided we'd go and find it even though Tripadvisor said it should be shut. 
Brief visit to the snow in Sierra Nevada
This coincided with a message from Sue and Mike saying that they had read good things about it and every time they had walked past it had been rammed. They had eaten at lunch time as four hours of studying had made them ravenous, but they would meet us for a drink when they had finished their homework as long as we didn't expect intelligent conversation as they we frazzled!

Brian changing a bolt in very cold water
This turned out to be one of the traditional tapas bars, where you order a drink, which is accompanied with a tapa, and they were big portions and very yummy. Having had a plate of some sort of pink fried fish, and one of deep fried prawns we ordered a half portion of mixed fish. It was great. Sue and Mike joined us, so we ordered another beer and got a plate of small clams in olive oil and garlic, at which point we had to stop drinking as we couldn't eat anymore food! We had a lovely evening though, and finally said goodbye to Sue and Mike, really hope we get to catch up somewhere in the future.

Spot the difference
As we'd decided against removing the car from the car park we hadn't been into the Sierra Nevada as planned, so thought we'd do it on the way home. All the rain the previous day had obviously fallen as snow in the mountains which looked lovely. We got as far as the ski resort, which was as far as we could go without snow chains. We did have them, but didn't want to use them for the sake of it so we headed back to Granada and then on to the Costa Blanca arriving back at the house at 16.30. Elizabeth was at home preparing a fabulous salmon en croute while dad was at bridge, so we filled her in on our travels, before repeating some of it when dad got home.

Elizabeth posing by the pool (look at those earrings!)
Thurday night was a girls night out for Elizabeth and I with Carolyn, quite restrained, but thoroughly enjoyable, fortunately we were just about ready to leave when the two reserved long tables were filled by about 40 men, and one woman (who knows what was going on) and the ambient noise level rose dramatically. We called John and left while we could still be heard over the telephone. We got home where we still couldn't make ourselves heard as dad and Brian had had a boys night in of Iceland (the shop) curries, beer and an action movie, oh, and the box of licorice allsorts!

All looking!
Friday night was an evening of steamed mussels and prawns a la plancha, the final instalment of our fish preloading! There is a fish counter in the Carrefour at the ski resort, but the produce always looks a bit sad and the prices are all crazy, so we'll get home in May ready for curry and fish.

Brian joins the girls for a drink at the beach bar
Yesterday's eating extravaganza was a roast leg of lamb from the village, you order in advance, in this case for four, even though there were to be six of us eating, and collect an amazingly tender roast garlic lamb and almond mashed potatoes. We actually ate round at Jane and Michael's as Michael is struggling with painful legs and with the cold. We arrived singing carols and wearing Santa hats bearing crackers, so we could have a group Christmas meal. It was a lovely afternoon, Michael was on good form, no one had had to cook, except Brian who had suddenly been told he was making his fatless sponge, raspberry roulade again, while he was cleaning his teeth that morning. So he couldn't argue! And, because we ate in the afternoon we could go home to watch the Strictly Come Dancing final!

Elizabeth, Richard, Jane, Jackie and Michael
Apart from eating we've washed and shopped in preparation for moving north and chilled before packing yesterday so we could be up at 05.00 this morning with the aim of getting to the ski resort by 19.00 this evening. We are making good progress so far, though there is more traffic than I expected on a Sunday, but obviously the tricky bit, if there is one, will be as we approach St Jean in the dark and maybe the snow! As much as we are thrilled there is good snow for skiing we don't actually want it inconveniencing us as we drive in!

Jane and Elizabeth (with an annoying wasp just to the right!)
The only other bit of excitement? Brian had to go in the pool! Of the four screws despatched with the new handrail, only one had arrived, and the three replacements bought by father, it turns out weren't galvanised. It's amazing how quickly rust can develop and how far it can spread! Not a difficult job in itself, but it's jolly cold, and he got chilled to the core. Elizabeth and I got back from shopping to find him missing, the only thing he could think to do to warm up was walk, fast, uphill. That had sorted him out! He'd tried to sneak off to do the job unobserved, but sadly for him. We noticed, and there are pictures!

The very tasty garlic lamb brought in from the village
Just swapped back from driving, to finish this, looked up and it's actually snowing, hmmmm. Gone through a tunnel, and come out to light fluffy cloud and blue sky! Better go and put the last two episodes of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Thanks. Sarah, it's kept us occupied.

This is the view from Jane and Michaels balcony. R&E's house is in the centre, although its just hidden in this photo
It was a lovely day, but slightly cold

Christmas photo number 1. Elizabeth

Christmas photo number 2. Richard (Jackies dad)

Christmas photo number 3. Herself!

Christmas photo number 4. Brian

Last view from the Bernia mountains, looking down towards Altea, Benidorm and the mountains beyond. We'll miss that view!

The view from our window this morning in our snowy apartment in St Jean d'Aulps in the French Alps. It's -7C outside and snowing. Time to unpack, get out and buy our lift passes and start skiing!!!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Granada, Spain – Days 52 to 54

La Alhambra, Granada, early evening from the Sacromonte hill
The 182km journey from Ronda to Granada should have taken us 2 ¼ hours which, with a coffee stop and a relaxed cruise, it did to the outskirts of the city, then it all went very stressful! It was the Saturday lunchtime of a long weekend festival in Spain with heavy traffic and a sat-nav that for the second time wanted to take us along roads we shouldn’t be on. It may have been the most direct route through the centre of the old town but the no entry sign except for taxis and authorised vehicles, camera controlled, meant that we had to find another way.
Eco-friendly kids roundabout, he pedals, it turns!
Lots of cars, people and traffic lights and randomly turning down very narrow cobbled streets with Doris the sat-nav obviously trying to redirect us back onto the banned streets meant we were driving blind. After driving back out of the city and circling round the sat-nav eventually found us a route we could take and after a few further turn-offs to avoid police closed roads we eventually found our way to the square we were to meet our Airbnb host, some 20 minutes after our arranged time.
Cave houses on Sacromonte hill
She was still there waiting, jumped in the car and directed us along further narrow streets, some with ‘no-entry’ signs which she assured us was OK and eventually to the underground car park, directing us round sharp tight bends and to the most inaccessible parking space we have ever seen. Careful manoeuvrings past cars and pillars we were in (and decided to we would leave it there until we leave, abandoning plans to drive up to the ski area in the Sierra Nevada mountains until after we leave!). The apartment is very nice and very central so we’re very happy with our three nights here.

Cave house living hippies making music and singing
The hill of cave houses
So Granada is the ancient capital of the Nasrid kingdom, the last Muslim rulers of Spain. The Muslims invaded Spain in 711AD, filling the power vacuum following the withdrawal of the Romans and, within 3 years occupied all but the top part of the peninsular. Gradually Spain and Portugal fought back, until only the Nasrid Muslims remained in the area between Granada and Gibraltar, with La Alhambra fortress on the hill overlooking Granada as their power base.
A typical street in Granada
After a two year siege the Nasrid’s eventually handed over the keys to La Alhambra on condition the Spanish respected the buildings and Muslim people. The Spanish mainly did, leaving many buildings, but of course converting them to Catholic churches (except the central mosque which was demolished and replaced with Granada Cathedral). The people could stay providing they converted to Catholicism, any who didn’t were allowed to leave (this was before the start of the Inquisition).
Statue of Columbus appealing to Queen Isabella
The date of the final take-over of this last bastion of Islam in Spain was in early 1492, a year etched into the minds of Spanish and Americans alike as, the final ownership of all of Spain meant that Christopher Columbus finally managed to convince Queen Isabella (were they having an ‘affair’?) and King Ferdinand to fund a voyage to find a westerly passage to India, bumping into America on the way and starting the conquest of the New World.

Churros and hot gloopy chocolate
Granada Cathedral is an immense building, but suffers from a common problem in Spain, lack of money which meant that corners were cut. The left tower was built on the cheap and started to crumble as height was added, meaning the materials intended for the top were re-used for reinforcement, there was little money left for the right tower so a tiny one was built and they called it complete at that. Despite these problems it’s still very impressive and sent a strong message to the Muslims recently evicted from Spain. The giant fortress of La Alhambra on the hill was modified and added to by the Catholics, but many of the original intricate carvings and ceramics of the Moors still remain. A new huge building was erected for Charles V on the site next to the beautiful Nasrid Palaces, but suffered again through lack of funding, the roof not being finished until 1960!

The gateway to La Alhambra in the rain
So after our arrival on Friday we went for a walk through the city, ending up of the Plaza Nuevo just as a free walking tour was due to start at 4:00pm. We joined and hiked up the hill behind the city to Sacromonte, a hill containing cave houses originally occupied by Gypsies, but now joined by hippies and others looking for an alternative way of life. Some have buildings on the front and some are large underground complexes containing a number of bedrooms. It’s a curious way of life but one thing is for sure, they have an excellent view of La Alhambra and Granada from up there.
Arriving at the entrance to La Alhambra
There were 15 or so other people on the trek and we met Mike and Sue from Yorkshire who are about our age, enjoy travelling and have been to many places we have, so we were able to have a good chat, arranging to meet up for a drink and tapas for the following (Saturday) night. The difference between them and us is that their travelling is on touring bikes with panniers containing tent and food and they have travelled through SE Asia and India (to name but two) in that way. They claim not to be too serious cyclists, only doing around 30 miles per day, but they will do that for sometimes 100 day trips – amazing! Their next trip is a 30 day cycle across Cuba in January.

Partial view of the Cathedral (cannot get a view of the whole)
On Saturday, after abandoning plans to get the car out and drive into the mountains, we joined another free walking tour at 11:00am through the old town, this time an historical tour. Our guide was a local man who was born and still lives in the Sacromonte area, still living in a cave house and his historical knowledge was outstanding. So enthusiastic was he that he talked at high speed and non-stop as though the 2 ½ hours of the tour was not long enough to impart all the information he wanted to give. A really nice guy, the tour was really interesting (some of what he said included in the above), but there was just too much information and required more background knowledge of Islam and Christianity than I had, so much was going over my head, but his enthusiasm was infectious and I loved it.
Inside the Charles V palace. It was pouring down and cold!
We carried on walking round the city after the tour, stopping for a beer and tapas on the hill overlooking La Alhambra at a bar he recommended, then had a Schwarma for late lunch, finally stopping at the churroteria and café Alhambra. A churro is like a long thin doughnut, the portion for one person we ordered was about 5 x 150mm long lengths of about 20mm diameter doughnuts and two cups of very thick chocolate. You break off a length of churro, dunk it in the chocolate and enjoy, what’s not to like? All that came to €5.70 and it was in very pleasant surroundings (Jackie still thinks we were charged wrong).

View back down into Granada through the rain from the Alcazaba. The Cathedral is in the centre
The Alcabaza is the original and oldest fortress on the site
Met up with Mike and Sue in the evening for a beer and tapas and thoroughly enjoyed their company. They are an inspiration and we hope we inspired them too, recommending housesitting to them. Maybe we may meet up again, but at least we want to hear how their trip through Cuba on bikes goes!

Even the cats are cold and huddling together (there's 4 of them)
The Mexuar Palace with a few other people
Today was our pre-booked visit to La Alhambra. You have to book well in advance, we booked about three weeks ago and struggled to get in, we now know that’s because of the holidays here. It’s massively busy and you get a time slot to visit the Nasrid Palaces, the rest being at any time you like on the day you have booked, our time was 10:30 and we are told not to be late, otherwise you are not allowed in! We got up and the weather was as per the forecast – wet! Not just wet, but pouring down with rain, temperature dropping to between 2 and 5 degrees – nice!
The Hall of Ambassadors in Comares Palace. The Sultan sat in the centre arch
We braved it, putting on maximum layers and donning our waterproof coats, but our waterproof trousers are in France! We got wet and very cold, which took the edge off the visit, but it was still worth it. How much more we would have enjoyed it on a dry day we don’t know, but at least the Nasrid Palaces were mostly indoors even though we were thoroughly wet after the walk there and round the Alcazaba fortress that was mainly outdoors. A visit to the toilet and drinks machine area revealed a lot of miserable, wet people, the hand dryers in the toilets being used to warm people and I have never seen such a long queue to get a hot drink from a machine! Never mind, we’ve seen it and done that. It wasn’t far back to our apartment and at least there’s heating here and a washer/dryer, so we’ve got things dry and we’re now warm again!

The roof overhead in the Hall of Ambassadors
Intricate carvings all around the palaces
Tomorrow we leave here and head back to Jackie’s dad and Elizabeth in Altea on Costa Blanca, on the way we will drive up into the Sierra Nevada mountains to have a look at the ski area if the road up there is open. Our plan is to stay with them until next Sunday (17th) and then drive up to the ski resort in the French Alps and our ski apartment that we’ve hired for the ski season. The snow reports show superb cover up there and people skiing so, so far the forthcoming winter is looking really good for skiing. Sorry UK, we know you’ve got it bad at the moment, about 200mm of snow in Birmingham at the last count (we could have gone ski touring over the Malvern Hills again as we did a number of years back!).

Amazing ceiling detail - photos don't do it justice
P.S. Just finishing a glass of mulled wine made by heating red wine, adding 1 spoonful of sugar per glass and one spiced apple tea bag from Aldi!

The Comares Courtyard of the Myrtles. The book says "When a visitor crosses the main threshold he is confronted by a vast mirror of water reflecting the solid white bulk of the Comares tower. The slope of white marble floors allows water in the pool to reach right up to the plinths of the columns on the north side of the courtyard and so the whole palace, even the tower itself, seems to be floating on water". Well, not today it wasn't!

The courtyard of the lions. The 'forest of columns' is supposed to remind us of the palm trees surrounding an oasis. well, maybe!

This is up in the Generalife, a building built high on the hill over La Alhambra as a retreat for the sultan. Its still raining!
La Alhambra with snowy Sierra Nevada mountains behind.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Malaga and Ronda – Days 48 to 51

Our journey: Altea, Gibraltar, Malaga, San Pedro, Ronda
It was sad to leave little old Kuki cat with her arthritic hips and her demands for food she wouldn't eat and to go out which she didn't do, particularly as she did go out in October, when the cleaner accidentally let her out and she was lost for 13 days. She was such a funny cat, showed no interest in Strictly come dancing, with lots of movement and changes of light, but as soon as Blue Planet 2 came on she was absolutely fixated!

Kuki cat watching Blue Planet II
Lunch with Jean and Jimmy in Malaga
An easy journey to Malaga, except for the last 10 minutes, to get to the apartments, interesting set of one way streets, though as it turns out not as interesting or narrow as the streets here in Ronda!

Still we arrived, checked in, parked the car and were only a few minutes late to meet Jean and Jimmy. It was lovely to see them and catch up, we had a late lunch before they walked us round the port and shopping areas. We picked our spot to watch the Christmas lights to music, twice nightly performances, first at 18.30. Very good, glad they'd mentioned it, as we may well have missed it if we'd been on our own. Back to our little apartment with a beer and some roasted chestnuts as neither of us was hungry.

Christmas lights and music in Malaga
The Alcazabra in Malaga
Up the next morning to our free walking tour (never actually free, but you pay what you think they deserve) which was on despite it being a public holiday, Constitution day. He was an interesting bloke, though B found him a bit difficult to hear and to understand, I thought he was good. Quick bite of lunch before going to the two castles, Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, that'll be more walking, and more up then! Another 16km.

Met J&J at 18.00, not to watch the lights again, though lots of people were going to. Finding each other was tricky! Got our dinner before they all headed into the bars though so that was good!

Next morning, off to Ronda, but the usual route is virtually past J&J's door, so we took them home to San Pedro, near Marbella. Saw their current rental apartment and the outside of the one they are buying, that we have been invited to stay in when we next come visit. Really nice atmosphere in the town, so look forward to that.

Malagas bullring from the Gibralfaro
The battlements of the Gibralfaro
40 minutes to Ronda through some lovely scenery, up wiggly windy roads, though I guess in a car not as bad as the bus Denise and Paul normally come in that she had warned me about! Until we arrived in town, the sat nav didn't know that the 'New Bridge', the reason most people visit, was closed to traffic! We found what we thought was a parking space eventually, and blundered up hill to the Airbnb and Irene. 

Picassos statue in his Malaga birthplace (with some random children!)
Nice lady, we are in her room, which is huge, with a great balcony, but absolutely freezing, the whole house, typing is becoming a struggle! On talking to her though, perhaps our car parking space is not so good, the old town is only for permit holders. We confirmed this with the very helpful receptionist of a hotel near the car who said we could drive over the Arab bridge! Glad she told us, we'd never have done it on spec! Fortunately we didn't meet anyone coming the other way down the narrow road to get into the new town, into the street she said we could park in, where there fortunately was a space!

Malagas unfinished cathedral. The right hand tower is finished, but the left hand tower is not there, and apparently never will be. The roof is also unfinished, but apparently there are plans afoot to build that
The roman theatre & Alcazaba in Malaga
Irene had recommended her local tapas bar for supper, but it had closed after lunch, and didn't open again till 20.15, so we nipped off to get some wine and crisp to wait. We were second in the queue outside La Lechugita (the little lettuce) when it opened it's doors, and it's just as well. Every seat was taken in a flash. It was a great place, we were given a list of the tapas they did, the majority of whichever were 80 cents, you circle what you want and somehow pass it to the barman along with your drink order, which gets added to the paper and you wait, and your food gets waved in your general direction from the bar and you collect it! 4 dishes and two big glasses of wine in round one, we went for one glass of wine and three dishes in round two. By this time we'd been befriended by a guy who had obviously had a drink or two, but loves the English (which includes those from Edinburgh and Glasgow) and seemed keen to practice his English. Two of our three dishes turned up, along with a glass of wine each from the guys friends for entertaining him I guess, and the evening went with a bang!

Jean & Jimmys new apartment in San Pedro
We struggled to the bar to pay, it would have been really easy just to walk out but that didn't even cross our minds, though I did have to point out that we never got our third dish, so he just crossed it off. €10.80 the bill came to. Tapas can end up expensive, but not in this case!

Straight into bed, which was warm enough, but very hard to get up out of, though fortunately by the time B had made coffee the sun was on the balcony, so we ate our breakfast out there which was actually very pleasant.

Off to begin the 16km we've walked today, lots of little paths, down the gorge, up the gorge, round the gorge, through the old town, round the old town......there are many pictures, but actually not that many words!

I guess I'll have to wait for him to finish culling his pictures and post this and then, if we are not blocks of ice, we'll go out and find some dinner. Probably more tapas as it does seem to be the tapas capital of Spain! Expect it to be really busy as it's another public holiday today, the day of the Immaculate Conception, so there have been lots of people about!
The Puente Nuevo bridge in Ronda
Puente Viejo bridge (old bridge) in Ronda
In the crazy La Lechugita bar
A hot air balloon passed by our bedroom window this morning. I managed to run out on the balcony and get a photo in the cold morning air
Our walk down into the gorge beneath the Puente Nuevo bridge this morning
Right down in the gorge, looking at the river opening of the Casa del Rey Moro
Walking the narrow path beneath the bridge
On the other side of the bridge near the bottom of the gorge with a view of the Puente Nuevo bridge, the newer Ronda town on the left and the old town on the right, all perched precariously on top of 100m sandstone on top of limestone conglomerate, relatively soft rock
Back in the gorge again showing its sheer cliffs. We particularly like the pigeons nest in a hole in the rock top left
From the top in the old town
The Puente Viejo bridge
The classic shot of the bridge through the arch. We had to take our own even though the sun overexposed the top
We passed a signpost giving details of two via ferrata climbs in the gorge and two large groups of guided groups. We found out where they went so we can come back in the future and do them ourselves. We couldn't do them now as we had left of lanyards back in Altea. For the future though. Here the guide is explaining to his group how it works
The other group part way up their climb. They are relatively short but worth doing. Something for us to do when we have our campervan next year and revisit!
This is the Puente Arab deSan Miguel bridge, the third and final bridge in Ronda and the one we drove over to get our car from the old to new town
Going down the stairs in the cave through the cliffs of the Casa de Rey Moro to get to the river access 100m below
At the river level, 200 steps down. Behind us is the other place we walked to earlier in the day (the one with the photograph of the pigeon in his nest in the top left corner). Its not possible to connect the two walks unless you want to paddle or swim in freezing water
One of the lookouts overhanging the edge. They look so benign when you are standing on them, but from a distance they look  ridiculous!

A panorama from the gorge