Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Land touring from Gibraltar. Ronda, Seville & Cadiz

Day One...Ronda
Having not seen a lot of the Spanish mainland apart from a short stay in Cartagena, we decided to rent a car for a few days with our friends George and Merima  from  Moonshadow. With a loose literary set, day one was to be a mixture of business and pleasure. Moonshadow was running low on cooking propane, so armed with contact details  from other cruising friends we set off to meet up with a chap named Dirk in the small town of   Estepona  50 miles  north from Gibraltar. After arriving at a predetermined street corner, we soon found out that many years ago Dirk too was a cruising sailor. He moved from Belgium to Spain and set up his gas business. Apparently well known in the northern European  boating circles, he recognized the need for foreign yachties to be able to have their propane bottles refilled .As far as we know he   seems to be the only person in Spain who can and is  willing to fill all types of international  gas bottles. Thirty minutes after meeting up with him he handed George back his now full bottle. It has often been an expensive struggle throughout  the Mediterranean to have Australian, New Zealand and American bottles re filled, so finding Dirk was akin to finding  the “gas fairy”
Standing proud on the Plaza de Torros

Since the “business side” was now done, it was time for a little sightseeing. The village of Ronda, set high up in the hills had been earmarked for the remainder of the day. Driving inland  from the coast  through green valleys and past manicured golf courses, the winding road climbed ever steadily upwards through the  snow line  to the plateau above.
The Puente Nuevo
The white washed village of Ronda sits atop this plateau and the township is divided by a  dramatic 100m fissure of the El Tajo gorge . Three bridges span the gorge with the main one being the Puente Nuevo. Far below the bridge the towering cliffs give way to the green valley of Rio Guadalevin.
Looking down the El Tajo gorge
The town attracts many tourists as well as locals from nearby Seville and Malaga.  Winding cobblestone streets and quaint shops can definitely keep you amused for hours on end. We strolled through the leafy Alameda del Tajo and along the cliff top pathway, marveling at the expansive views  before stopping for a hearty lunch and a cold cerveza or two at one of the local  tavernas, just past the the plaza de torros .
Strolling through the paved streets
As the afternoon progressed the weather  got alot cooler and  a little drizzle began to fall. To keep warm and to do a little window shopping,
 we continued our walk over the bridge exploring more of the  town and it’s back streets. After an hour or so the chilly weather was getting to our bones but before heading back  to Gibraltar, a few last minute  purchases of t-shirts and handbags had to be  made and then it was back to the warmth of the car for the drive home. 
A fleeting stop at the mega Carrefour supermarket in La Linea for a few essentials, aka spanish wines, cheeses and pates saw us round off our  first day of land touring.          

Days Two and Three.. Seville and Cadiz


One of the many wind farms
After a good night’s sleep and some quick packing, we were off in the car again, this time heading north to Seville and Cadiz. The route took us along an excellent freeway system that cut through  farm areas and cotton plantations .The rest of the  landscape was pretty much all plains with the odd wind farm here and there.
Arriving into Seville was a bit of a shock . There was so much fast moving  traffic. Something that we aren’t used to these days.  Liam and I were so glad that it was George who was doing the driving.
While having a bite to eat in one of the cafes in the city's side streets, George and Merima did a fine job of sourcing the night’s accommodation  from  the internet. Arriving at the hotel after a few wrong turns, (we had a very limited map) we were all delighted with the choice. Our little hotel was situated right in the heart of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, a trendy little area brimming with tapas bars, good restaurants and within easy walking distance of all the main sights.

Flamenco guitar under the watchful eye of  El Torro

The hotel management recommended a couple of tapas bars in the neigbourhood so after a quick freshen up and a nice bubble bath we hit the streets. A”tapas bar” crawl was now on the agenda for the evening. Our first stop was only a few minuets walk away.  Entering through a small doorway which would go unnoticed during the day, we found an authentic small, and I mean small, bar. An elderly gent was playing flamenco guitar while the patrons either sat or stood chatting about their day. We stayed for about an hour enjoying some local wines, tapas and generally soaked up the atmosphere before moving on to bar number two.
Seville Cathedral
Chestnuts anyone?
Strolling past the beautifully illuminated cathedral we turned down a leafy street where a street vendor was roasting chestnuts on the corner. Merima stopped to buy some and we sampled them on route to our next stop.

Stop number two

 Our next watering hole was cute little bar decorated with huge wooden wine vats and old wall posters. Again a little more wine tasting and a few more samplings of tapas and then it was time to move on. At our third stop we decided to put something more substantial in our tummies .We found a small place but as it was about 10pm most of the tables were full. The Spanish are a nation of late eaters. Luckily with Georges’ excellent language skills we managed to secure a table in the upstairs area where we enjoyed a lovely and very filling meal.

Huge arches of the cathederal
The following day was to be a whirlwind tour of Seville so after one more bar or was that two, we headed back to the hotel. Merima and I had the sense to hit   the hay while the boys decided to partake in one last ale across from our hotel.                 

Ornate gold wall behind the alter

Up early for a quick breakfast and off we went to explore. We took in  Seville’s massive gothic Cathedral, which is one of the largest in the world and climbed to the top of the ninety meter tower of La  Giralda  located on the north east side the of the church. This tower was the minaret of a mosque which  stood on the same grounds prior to the cathedral being constructed in1507. Huge bells adorn the top level and unluckily we standing right beneath them when they boomed out their tones across the city. It is a steep climb to the top but   the views of the city and its surrounds were stunning. At the very top of the tower above the bell level is a 16th century bronze weathervane which represents Faith and is the symbol of Seville.        
 La Giralda

Those massive bells!

Next we headed over to the Alcazar, the residence of manygenerations of kings and queens and which is still in use today by the royal family. The palace is just beautiful. Elegant rooms with enormous canvases hang from ceiling to floor, peaceful courtyards, fountains, ornate architecture and the largest and lushest gardens we’d    seen in a long while make a vist here thoroughly worthwhile.After a quick stroll back to the hotel and a bite to eat it we hit the road again. Making our way to the freeway through Seville’s chaotic traffic which included horse drawn carriages, we were soon on our way to the seaside town of Cadiz. 

Intricate plasterwork in the inner courtyard


Liam admires the canvas works


Some of the beautiful palace gardens

Stylish  lace fans in one of the city shops


One of the many plazas near the cathederal

The city of Cadiz had been recommended by some cruising friends as” the” place to see Flamenco dancing and in particular a small bar named La Cava. We had phoned ahead for a hotel reservation in the same area as the flamenco bar and after following the sign posts to the hotel and getting lost numerous times when the signs abruptly stopped at a three way intersection we gave up and called again. As it turned out we were virtually on the doorstep, just one more sign would have got us there the first time.

One of our favorite tapas bars, note the hams overhead (photo from Moonshadow)
Time marched on and we found ourselves ready for some light tapas before the flamenco show started around 9pm. We strolled through a couple of leafy plazas and following yet another excellent recommendation from a local  found ourselves in a lovely bar decorated with numerous legs of ham  hanging from the ceiling. Luckily the hams had small drip catchers attached so the patrons didn’t leave looking and smelling like a piece of ham.
Intense Flamenco dancing
The show at La Cava was quite an event. One guitarist, one singer and three young and extremely fit dancers captivated our minds and senses for the best part of two hours. The passion with which they preformed was overwhelming. If you have not experienced the flamingo dance we would recommend that you do. It is truly something that will stay with you a very long time. 

Strange looking Prawns or are they mini Lobsters?
One of the highlights of walking Cadiz’s streets the following morning was stumbling upon the wonderful Fish and Produce market. After spending a few seasons cruising the empty waters of the Med it was taste of things to come seeing all those big beautiful Atlantic fish on display. There was every type imaginable including huge red chorizo prawns. The produce was such that Merima and Annie could not resist making a few purchases to take back to the boats.
Who could reist wonderful produce like this.
Mouth watering selection of prawns, the red ones are Chorizos 

Tradional  way to carve ham on the bone(jambon)

 We wound up our tour with lunch in the plaza   by the hotel, and then it was  into the car  for the  drive back to Gibralter.

One of the many leafy parks around Cadiz





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