A Travellerspoint blog

The Romance of Granada

The European Leg, Spain

sunny 33 °C

The journey to Granada involved another fun beautiful drive but this time through Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves towards San Pedro which lies on Spain's Costa del Sol. During our drive, Jo & I decided that Marbella was going to be our lunch spot de jour and blindly headed into town off the main road. Marbella has been one of the 'glossiest' resort areas of Spain since the 1950s - but it is not dominated just by International tourists, rather it has a nice balance of Spanish holiday makers as well. Walking down toward the promenade and sea, we took in the scence of Marbella and perched ourselves on an outdoor table to watch the world walk by. It was the first time I had ever laid eyes on the Mediterrarean sea, so I took in this moment a little differently. I love the water and in particular the sea-side, this was a big tick off my list of experiences. There were numerous tapas bars lining the promenade filled with a collection of all sorts of people enjoying themselves. People were stretched across the beach under permenant umbrella stands and luxury lounge beach chairs. There were even paddle boats you could hire to take out for a pedal but these ones were slightly different - they had a big slide attached to them. How cool. It was also the first time in Spain that I had seen fake luxury goods being pedaled as well.

Jo & I were looking forward to Granada and especially having two nights again in one destination. Jo had read a book called The Return by Victoria Hislop so she had a different appreciation and excitement than I did coming into town. I wasn't sure what to expect of Granada, my initial thoughts were that since the Alhambra was there it was going to be quite touristy, but I really had no idea what this city was going to provide.

As we entered Granada we were again confronted with our same hotel location issue. However, learning from our Ronda experience, we had decided to get there earlier and allow 'driving in circles time'. Fingers were again crossed to see the signs for Hotel Anacapri - no luck. We did spy the holy 'I' which of course meant tourist information desk, so we followed that sign and found a parking garage that said 'libre' to pull into. Jo & I had a giggle at the 'libre' sign as when we first pulled into a parking garage in Cadiz a couple days before, Jo translated 'libre' to mean 'free' - I made the instant assumption that this meant the parking garage wasn't going to cost us anything. Of course, what free actaully meant was 'free spots' available. Ahhh forever optimistic! Ha!

We must have found the smallest parking garage in the world, it was incredibly unique and required skills to enter and exit as we would later find out. The ramp going down for more parking spots can only accomodate one car but is multidirectional, plus it was such tight curve ramp, you could not see more than 8 feet in front of you. Even to get onto the ramp from outside the car park you must do a two point turn. We made it down successfully and next discovered how small the parking spots were - this required backing in and numerous point turns. It would be a Spainsh rental car companies dream...scratches must be high in here. If not your parking, it is the cars next to you trying to maneuver to get out! I loved the challenge, and as we walked away from a successful entry towards the 'i' Jo made the comment that wouldn't it be classic if this was the parking garage the hotel would direct us to.

Turns out we were not far from our hotel and now with a map in hand, it was time to get out of the car park and find our hotel. Of course getting out of the car park was going to be the first challenge. As I approached the ramp that we came down, we were not clear if this was indeed a multidirectional ramp...could it really be? Jo got nervous and I approached it slowly, too slowly and a third of the way up the ramp, the car skidded on the slippery cobble stones and started to go backwards. I slammed on the breaks and we sat there wondering if this was indeed the way out. It had to be, it was such a small place we would have seen other ramps. With the parking break on. I throw the car into first gear again and hit the accelerator but we still slip backwards and leave some rubber on the cobble stone. I obviously need more speed to get up the ramp and we reverse down to get a fresh start. Jo is still not convinced this is our exit ramp and so we agree that she will go ask the parking attendant upstairs if this is indeed the way out. I sit in the car preparing for my upcoming ramp challenge, as I am now convinced this is the way out and know exactly what I need to do. However, Jo comes back with the parking attendant who speaks little English and before it registers, he is now seating behind the wheel and is driving the car up the ramp like a professional. I'm mortified!

I take a couple moments to get over this humilitation and upset but soon we are faced with our next challenge of getting to the hotel. We had our map and streets outlined but what we failed to communicate to the 'i' desk was that we were driving and not walking - the one way streets were not articulated on this map. We see our hotel go by as we could not turn onto the road from the direction we were going and we were literally trapped on a street that turned into another steep narrow cobble stone lane with no left hand turns and the Rio Darro on our right. We were bouncing up hill towards the old Muslim district, the Albayzin. It was a beautiful road, people were everywhere so driving was very slow on this narrow lane and then on our right we noticed the Alhambra rising from the tree tops... it was magical. Somehow we made a big BIG loop and made it back to discover the main road we were now driving on says 'taxis and bus only' - eeekkk! It was a 'couple' more loops before we found how to enter the one way street to get to our hotel. Once we entered the Hotel Anacapri, we were delighted with how nice it looked and how friendly and easy it was to communicate with the hotelier. Jo explained our navigation story and she smiled as if she had heard it all before. Apparently, the record for driving around in loops looking for the hotel is 3 hours, we were only a mere 1 hour! Phew! After we checked in and dropped our bags in our room, we had to now park the car in the allocated lot....and get this - it WAS the same parking station we started out in! Too funny! I was going to get a reprieve on my ramp challenge, yes!

We had an early morning ahead us with tickets to the Alhambra slated for 8am - 2pm. Entrance to the Alhambra is broken up into a morning and afternoon section and we had an 8.30 entrance to the Palacio Nazaries: “the true gem, the most brilliant Islamic building un Europe, with its perfectlt proportioned rooms and courtyards intricately moulded stucco walls, beautiful tiling, fine carved wooden ceiling and elaborate stalacite-like muqarnas vaulting, all worked in mesmerising, symbolic, geometrical patterns." We were starting the tour with the most fantastic and beautiful building the Alhambra had to offer and it was indeed, spectacular. I loved the tiles and the colours the most plus the use of the fountains and water throughout the entire palace.
We next went through the 'General Life' section - which means 'architects garden' and again were struck by the beauty...there really is not another word to articulate the experience.

Everything was just beautiful plus combining the history of the complex just adds to the awesomeness of the whole day. The Alhambra was a fortress from the 9th century and then in the 13th & 14th centuries Nasrid Emirs converted it into a fortress palace complex. Christians conquered it in the 15th century and by the 18th century it was abandoned to thieves and beggars. During the Napoleonic occupation it was used as a barracks and barely escaped being blown up. In 1870 it was claimed as a national monument as a result of the romantic writers such as Washington Irving - it is now Unesco World Heritage status.

Granda had an amazing peaceful and bubbling vibe that mixed effortlessly. The tapas came free when you ordered a drink, which took us a bit to figure out. The canopies that you sit under at the cafe would consistently mist to keep you cool from the blazing sun and dry air. Lottery ticket vendors were everywhere and even would come to the tables trying to offer you tickets to the draw. Apparently, the Spanish love the lottery. The evenings were alive with people walking to the sound of street guitar players and the lights of the Alhambra looking down onto the city. It was romantic and I fell in love with this city after two days. aboIMG_0027_4.jpgIMG_0024_4.jpgIMG_0071_2.jpgIMG_0011_5.jpgIMG_0103_2.jpgIMG_0015_4.jpg

Posted by STRsparkle 06:02 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

The Roads of Ronda

Retirement Episode One, The European leg

sunny 32 °C

Driving to Ronda fully immersed me in the spirit of my new adventure and as we were coming closer to the town, Jo and I knew the challenges were just starting. We had decided we were doing this road trip the old fashion way- no technology allowed - no iPhones, gps gadets etc. Okay, well we didn't decide this, we just didn't have these gadgets at our disposal.

We were moments to town without a detailed map of the streets (none existed in our lonely planet guide) and we had no idea where our hotel was located. And to make things a little more interesting, lets add in the road signs in a different language and streets that are mostly one way. We noticed that there were signs posted for other hotels and these tended to be yellow, so we crossed our fingers that on this main drag into town 'Hotel San Francisco' was going to appear. No such luck. Jo brilliantly decided to hop out at the next hotel we saw and ask for directions and a map. Earlier we did attempt to call our hotel to advise of our late arrival but the woman on reception barely spoke English, so we knew directions were out of the question. After several loops, one way chaos and moments of uncertainty if we were driving on a pedestrian only road (these European streets are so narrow) people just walk right in the middle - we found our hotel. Now the next mission was to find some dinner.

Jo and I were now starting to acclimate to the Spanish life style and the late night dinning was certainly working in our favour. In all the books I had read it spoke about how Spainiards don't go out for dinner until after 8.30, and now being amongst the culture, I really understood why. With the summer sun setting so late - it wasn't getting dark till after 9pm, your days are so much longer and extended, plus with a siesta in the middle of the heat of the day, this allows you to stay up later. We were certainly finding the late night eating very convenient allowing us to fit more into a day or providing more time for us to get lost. However, we had yet to try a siesta...

Ronda was simply majestic and we had planned for a half a day to see the two sites of interest and then we were were going to be on the road again zig zagging back down to the coast and then back inland to Granada for our next night. Ronda is said to be the most dramatic situated site of all the pueblos blancos. It is perched on an inland plateau riven by 100m fissure of El Tajo gorge and surrounded by the most beautiful Serrania de Ronda. The 'Puente Nueuo' which means 'new bridge' is an image that appeared as one of the few photos in our mainly text guidebook. It is a magnificant and spectacular site and was actually completed in 1793. Quoting our guide book, this bridge and the plaza to the right of it were featured in Chapter 10 of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. It tells how early in the Spanish Civil War, the 'fascists' of a small town were clubbed and flailed by towns people in the plaza on the top of the cliff above the river and then thrown over the cliff. The episode was based on real events in Ronda. Eeeek, when you see this drop, you know that this would not have been a terrifying fall.

Our next site was Plaza de Toros, which is one of the oldest bullrings in Spain - it opened in 1785. It has seen some of the most important events in bullfighting history including the art of the basic modern bullfighting on foot. This was the first time I had ever seen or been inside a bullfighting ring or building and it was beautifully constructed and detailed but the animal lover was in pain looking at the way they contained the bulls behind the scenes. The museum inside was crammed with memorabilia that really gave you a flavour visually of the history and importance of this Spanish tradition. One thing that Jo noticed as we had a giggle pretending to run from a bull in the ring, is the protecting barriers the matador's hide behind for protection in the ring have an incredibly very narrow entrance - these guys must be quite small to even consider getting behind one of these barriers...

I really enjoyed Ronda and the easy going pace and buzz of this gorgeous town. Now it was time to navigate out of town and down to the coast. Round and round we go! Getting out of Ronda proved trickier than entering, if that is at all possible. We followed signs to the roads that were going to take us towards Malaga but the problem would arise when the road would split into two different directions and there were no signs to guide you which road was yours at that particular split. We took the wrong road and ended up going down hill where few cars were and the road was getting narrower. We stopped at a sign that graphically displayed a dead end and looked around us on how we were ever possibly going to turn around. Fortunately, 6 workmen had just come down from their site and Jo smiled at them trying to communicate on how we get out of here in her best Spanish and hand gestures. It was funny, as they kept pointing to go straight ahead and Jo was pointing at the sign that said dead end. They convinced us we could go straight and it was going to be narrow but we would fit and then we would come to the main road that would take us to San Pedro. Hoping that our translations and communication was correct we smiled and thanked them and off we went straight ahead. The road was incredibly narrow and bumpy and we were in a fit of giggles the entire way. It did indeed end up at a main road and we cheered when we arrived. However, we were unsure of where San Pedro was and could not locate it on the map, so after much debate, we took the turn right and headed back into Ronda to find the signs to the road to Malaga. You guessed it, round and round we went again in Ronda and about 45 minutes later we ended up back on the road that we were originally on heading to San Pedro. This main road and San Pedro did not appear on our 'Southern Spain' map and so we crossed our fingers that we were heading in the direction we wanted. After about an hour into this drive, we were finally able to confirm that we indeed had selected the right road. Incredible.

Posted by STRsparkle 02:46 Archived in Spain Tagged automotive Comments (2)

The European Leg, Week One

The start of my Spainish adventure

sunny 33 °C

I am one week into the European leg of my ´Retirement Episode One´ and am astonished about how many new places, experiences and moments that I have already taken in. I simply have not been able to keep up with a blog as was my orignial intention for the entire 3 months and still plan to write about San Francisco, my American summer in New England with the family, New York & Chicago. So as I have those notes written down, I have decided to continue forward and write about where I am at the moment.

The Start of the European Leg:

I arrived at Heathrow on Sunday August 15th to be welcomed by my mate Jo. Jo and I met originally in Australia in 2001 and have been travel buddies ever since. She and I have been planning our two week road trip to Spain over Skype for the last month and now we had a couple days for me to get acculmated to the time and do our last minute shop and planning for our Spain adventure. Jo´s warmth and hospitality has been absolutely brilliant and I am so blessed to have amazing friends all over this world. This is a thought that keeps popping into my head daily! Amazing friends!

We board our flight to Seville Spain an hour late, due to Vueling´s delay with ´cleaning´ the plane and I get my first wave of realisation that am I headed to a country where I don´t speak a word of the language. Not ONE word. I know that I have protected myself from this situation for years. I have only been to two other countries that spoke different languages - Nepal and the French Polynesian islands. But I was only in Tahiti for a couple days and with Nepal, I was in a group of indepedant travellers and our guides spoke English. Spain - this was going to be different.

As we touch down late in Seville, I was one, if not the only person that got a stamp in my passport for entry into Spain - even Jo didn´t receive one because she is part of the EU. It was then that we soon realised our bags did not make the flight with us... strike 2 for Vueling. There were about 20 other passengers that head to the customer service counter too and I whip out my handy spanish language guide - thank goodness I bought this the day before. I even debated it, which is competely laughable now! We are told our bags are still in Heathrow and we should have them tomorrow. Bugger. We look at the jeans and sneakers that we are wearing and smile and laugh that we will be touring around in Seville in 36 C degree heat tomorrow. Double bugger.

On the taxi ride to our hotel, I get my first experience of Spanish driving and roads. My eyes light up at the percision of the taxi driver´s manuevers and then the realisation that the roads in the cities/towns are generally one way, cobble stone and NARROW. I´m finally in Europe. I´ve seen movies, read books but to be in Europe and experience these streets and look at these buildings - It is a moment to pinch myself, smile and say finally - i´ve made it.

It is about 10.30pm when we can head out and try these tapas, so happy that the Spanish eat late! This was certainly in our favour. Our hotelier guides us to a nearby plaza and as we sit down to order food, again we are both not prepared for the language barrier. Our waiter loved it. I said smiled and said Sangria? Phew that translated and I had a laugh that I might get a bit drunk this trip if this is the only thing I can say with confidence. Ha! He stole Jo away to have a look at the food and she pointed at some ham ´Jamon´ & eggplant with cheese. Delicious! He then proceeded to bring out a complimentary fresh pineapple juice with a scoop of whipped cream on top and next a shot of something that didn´t translate in words but did on the palate:) Jo & I agree that this meal still ranks as one of the best of our trip so far.

Our first full day in Seville, began by walking the wrong direction and seeing a lot more of the city than we intended to. Both Jo and I are good map readers, really we are, but there is a special talent that we are learning when reading Spanish city maps and trying to find the street signs! We made it past the bullring but decided to do the tour of the one in Ronda (Day 3) instead and so headed to find the Cathedral. Seville´s cathedral is one of the largest in the world and was completed in 1507. Christopher Columbas´s tomb lies inside too! We did a tour with an audioguide and got the full taste of this monument. Beforehand we had enjoyed another lovely authentic tapa experience for lunch and then after the cathedral we headed back to the hotel dripping in sweat and fingers crossed that our bags have arrived. No such luck. Vueling informed us that the bags are due to arrive around 9.30pm but couldn´t tell us when they would be with us at the hotel. We both contacted our travel insurance companies and found out what we were allowed to spend in this situation - it was time to go shopping, we had roughed it long enough in the heat!

Shopping was a fun experience and overwhelming all the same, so many stores but we needed to find an entire outfit in just an hour before the stores closed -- we strangely felt like we were on some reality show for shopping. However, we had success with only minutes to spare. Although, the only shorts I could find were so short it was laughable. Jo with her very white English legs was convinced I did it on purpose. Too funny.

Our last couple of hours in Seville in the morning, we headed out to tour the Alcazar - the residence of many generations of kings and caliphs and is Seville´s answer to Granada´s Alhambra. The building and grounds were absolutely stunning, and I was getting excited for what Granada had in store for us in a couple days time. I was struck by the colours, tiles and patterns that are used - the appreciation of Spanish design is setting in for me.

Now with our bags in toe, we head back out to the airport to pick up our rental car and planned to head to the coastal town of Cadiz for a bit of sightseeing and afternoon tea. Again, I am struck by how fast Spanish drivers drive and are allowed to drive 120km/ph - I am behind the wheel as Jo has yet to drive on the left side of the car. My talents of being able to drive on both sides of a car and parallel park are shining though, if I do say so myself :) I love road trips and being behind the wheel again makes me smile. Although Sparkle & Lucy would be such a better drive then our little peugeot. Note to self, must take Lucy (my VW convertible bug) out for a road trip when I am back in Sydney.

Cadiz is an elegant historic port city of largely 18th and 19th century construction. We parked and headed straight to the beach to check out the scene and dip our toes in the Atlantic. Next we climbed up the steps of the Torre Tavira, Cadiz´s highest old watchtower to take in the panoramas. So so cool. Again, when walking the streets of Cadiz, I couldn´t help to smile at how narrow and beautiful they were. So European! After a delicious ice cream it was time to head off to Ronda, where our nights accomodation was. With my navigator on my right side, we made it out and started our drive through the hill villiages all ´dressed in white´. Jo took us through a National Park that soon presented itself with amazingly curvy steep narrow roads that were practically empty. All my driving experiences at RedBalloon (offroad racing, rally driving, stunt driving etc) were paying off... this surely has to be were the F1 drivers practise. Mark Webber eat your heart out... this was FUN! Taking corners tight and accelerating and seeing the lines...loved it. Jo would shreek and then giggle everyonce in awhile when a car would present itself coming the other way or the road became so narrow and winding. Don´t worry Mom, I was careful :)

The towns we were driving through were so beautiful and what the Andalucia region of Spain promised. One that stood out for me was Grazalema, the approach into the town gave you this overview of the whitewashed, redroofed village that is hunched under an enormous shaft of rock. As you descended down, the quaitness of this little villiage just made you smile and appreciate the beauty and the experiences that just keep coming on this trip.

Now, it is time for me to get back out there and see more of the sights of Granada with Jo. Next entry will be about Ronda, our navigation skills, Marbella, Granada and of course the incredible beauty of the Alhambra. (Pictures will be uploaded to help my blog description when I am back in England). Adios!

Posted by STRsparkle 09:10 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

The Script |skript|

noun: the written text of a play, movie, broadcast OR the intended plans for the next three months of Sarah's life

People that know me constantly comment about my endless persistent smile. So when I write that I can't stop smiling about the recent decisions I have made to end my five year career (at one of Australia's best places to work, voted 9th two years in a row, nonetheless) it just does not give enough illustration to the true weight of how I feel. The sense of freedom is utterly powerful and intoxicating and I want to bring you along for the ride.

I am two weeks into what I term 'Retirement, Episode 1' - a time to chill out and see more of the world on my own terms without the pressure of 'making a living'. I have given myself three months to spend abroad, catch up with my family in the United States, visit friends in the UK, travel to new countries and ultimately take in the moments and appreciate the beautiful people, cultures and places around me. I still consider myself young at 31 and am footloose and fancy free. I have no dependants, husband or boyfriend to comprise with and now I have no boss to report to. This is my first opportunity at retirement and I am making the most of it. When did retirement come to mean ceasing to work FOREVER? It is true that I have a strength of positivity but when I read the definition of the word I did not make the assumption that you can only retire once in your life. Read for yourself. What do you think?

retirement |riˈtīrmənt|
1 the action or fact of leaving one's job and ceasing to work : a man nearing retirement | the library has seen a large number of retirements this year.
• the period of one's life after leaving one's job and ceasing to work : he spent much of his retirement traveling in Europe.

The first pages of the script have been fulfilled as of 1st July 2010 when I left Sydney Australia, where I have lived for 8 years, and made my way to San Francisco - the starting point of the USA leg of my retirement. Now, if you are paying attention, you will notice that I have gone from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere and the timing could not be more perfect if you are solar powered like myself. Some say I follow the sun around the world, well this year I am doing it with a bit more gusto and many more weeks! Hurray! So not only have I said 'What's up San Fran' but I have also welcomed warm summer sunshine and long days back into my life. Woot Woot!

I'll spend the majority of my time in the States and will mostly chill out with my family, who I adore and are in Massachusetts & Rhode Island. I have a couple excursions planned for San Francisco (done), Boston, New York City, Hartford CT, Newport RI & Chicago and then by August 15th I'll fly across the pond to London.

The UK & Europe leg is looking to be about 4-5 weeks long, with a 10 day road trip through Spain with a great travel buddy from England. A couple more days in the UK until I head out to discover and cycle around Amsterdam and then to Denmark. I have a love affair with Danish design and plan to start my next career path in interior design, so going to Copenhagen is HIGHLY anticipated! I'll head back to the UK afterward to see more friends and discover more little English towns and assume I'll fly out from Heathrow to my next destination in Asia -- however, this part of the script has yet to be written!

All I know so far for the last leg is that I should be in Asia for about 2 weeks. I am looking forward to being inspired about where I touch down and how I get there. It will ultimately come down to budget and timing. I have two places in Asia I can crash with friends - Hong Kong & Singapore but other than that, time and this blog will tell where I end up!


Posted by STRsparkle 17:00 Comments (7)

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