Sunday, June 24, 2007

More from Spain

We just finished the first half of the trip and put two of our traveling companions on the train for Madrid and then home. We drove from Sevilla to Cordoba, turned in the rental car and took the train ourselves to Madrid, then a bus to Segovia, where we are enjoying a lovely evening just chilling out after a week of hard charging touring.

When we left Madrid we took the AVE (fast train) to Toledo. We upgraded accomodations and stayed in a lovely hotel in the heart of the old city. It was still relatively inexpensive but not as cheap as the MAD Hostel in Madrid. The cathedral there is very gothic in style. We also spent some time seeing the city´s Jewish history. We enjoyed a great traditional meal at a small restaurant near our hotel. We left the next morning for Cordoba, which meant we took the train back to Madrid, then boarded another one for Cordoba. It took less than 2 hours to get there. We spent the morning and part of the afternoon touring the Mezquite, the Christiana de los Reynes and some lovely gardens. The synagogue we wanted to visit was closed. Cordoba is the high point of Moorish rule in Spain. The mezquite is a gorgeous building with high ceilings and many columns and arches to hold it up! No flying buttresses yet. We rented our car and then visited the archeological ruins of the medina before heading to Granada.

Usually, we take public transportation when traveling in Europe. It is relatively inexpensive and usually convenient to the city center. With five people in our group it was cheaper to rent the car, though that can present some problems. Narrow streets are only a minor nuisance compared with some of the other problems we encountered. Signage, as in street signs, can be sparse or even non-existent. Traffic circles I can usually deal with, but here in Spain they have "jug handle" left turns that I always miss, resulting in an illegal U turn to get where I need to go. It helps to have a great navigator, as I did, to get around in the car.

Well back to Granada. Our mission in Granada was to visit the Alhambra. If Cordoba was the high water mark of Moorish occupation, then Granada was the low point. This was the last Moorish stand before being driven out of the Iberian peninsula and the reconquest of Spain by the Christians was complete. The Alhambra was impressive, but I think our group liked the Mesquite best. After our tour we drove to Tarifa, the southern most tip of Spain and only 10 miles from Africa. Friday we took the ferry to Tangiers, Morocco and enjoyed a tour of the city and area with our guide, Aziz.

Anywhere else we would have gone on our own, but after talking with several friends and reviewing a few guide books, we decided 5 unaccompanied females would not be a good idea. The mother of our young friend Julia estimates that 10 percent of touring is wasted, either in time or money, and since we were only there for the day and wanted to make the most of it, we decided to hire the guide. And it was worth every penny and then some. I picked his name from the Rick Steve´s guide to Spain. I was able to e-mail to make the arrangements and I called him that morning just to confirm the arrangements. We visited sights outside the city we would never have gotten to and we never would have made our way through the intricate twists and turns of the kasbah. The tour through the market was fascinating and we enjoyed a typical Moroccan lunch at the end. This excursion got everybody´s vote for "Best Day."

We were sad to put our two friends on the train this morning and hope they had a great flight home. We are on to Santiago de la Compostela and then flying to Barcelona for 5 days.

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