Thursday, January 28, 2016

Feast of Our Lady of the Almudena



The statue of Our Lady of the Almudena was brought to Spain by St. James, the apostle. It was hidden for centuries to keep it from being desecrated and destroyed by the arrival of the Moors in Spain in the 8th century. The search for the statue commenced after Spain was reconquered from the Moors in the 11th century.  It was miraculously found on November 9, 1085 during a novena and procession held for the purpose of finding her image. Since then Madrid has celebrated annually the feast of Our Lady of the Almudena, the patron saint of the city, on November 9.

A makeshift altar on the Plaza de la Almudena in front of the Cathedral holds the floral and food offerings of the faithful. The two front portals of the Cathedral are open only on this feast day. (Visitors usually enter through the side doors.) I found long lines of people trying to enter the Cathedral through the main doors to visit the image of Our Lady.

    Cathedral of Our Lady of the Almudena

The crypt is a curiosity in itself. An impressive number of classical columns guide the visitor around the crypt with its side altars and tombs of prominent families. These families decorate the tombs of their deceased relatives with huge bouquets and wreaths on the feast of the Almudena. 

    Crypt

There is also a procession from the Cathedral through the streets of Madrid on November 9. Festivities continue all day long. It's a moving tribute to Our Lady of the Almudena.

*****

Images by travelswithcharie



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Córdoba

"To Cordoba belong all the beauty and ornaments that delight the eye or dazzle the sight. Her long line of Sultans form her crown of glory; her necklace is strung with the pearls which her poets have gathered from the ocean of language; her dress is of the banners of learning, well-knit together by her men of science; and the masters of every art and industry are the hem of her garments." Stanley Lane Poole, The Moors in Spain: Introduction 

    Mesquita

One of the most amazing places I've visited in the world is the Mesquita. The Mosque Cathedral of Córdoba was built on the site of the Church of San Vicente from the Visigothic occupation of Córdoba in the 6th century. It has changed ownership a few times since then. Muslims ruled Córdoba from the 8th century through 1236 when Córdoba fell to Christian Spain. The Mesquita which was completed in 976 was left intact until King Ferdinand III converted the mosque to a cathedral within a mosque in the 13th century.

When you enter the Mesquita, do so with your eyes closed. Open them only when you are inside the great hall to feel the full impact of 856 columns topped by two tiers of red and white arches stretched across what was once the Great Mosque. There's something transcendent in this hallowed hall that tugs at my being. It's a sacred place.

    Calleja de las Flores

Córdoba is also famous for its Festival of the Patios which happens annually in May when flowers are in full bloom. We visited in late October and cooler temperatures had permeated the air but there were still traces of the colorful floral displays in the streets and courtyards of the old city. It's so much fun peering through wrought iron gates to catch a glimpse of the beautiful patios. 

The tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is framed by the narrow alley called Calleja de las Flores. The alley is frequently mobbed by tourists and trying to take a photo could be quite a challenge. It's a lot more quiet in late afternoon.

   Garden of the Alcázar 

The garden of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos is a welcome escape from the Andalusian sun with its fountains, citrus trees, colorful flowers and inviting benches. 

Cypress trees line the path which leads to the statues of Columbus and the royal couple. This grand garden was once fed by the waters from the Guadalquiver River nearby using a waterwheel which is still in existence. The large ponds are 19th century additions.

    Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts in Córdoba is also the birthplace of Cordoban painter, Julio Romero de Torres. He is best known for his portraits of women with expressive eyes. The museum was founded by Rafael Romero Barros, the father of the painter. It's located on Plaza del Potro and has one of the most beautiful patios in Córdoba. 

    Patio of the Museum of Fine Arts

How to get there:
Take the Ave train from Madrid for the two hour journey to Córdoba.

Where to stay:
Eurostars Maimónides Hotel 
Torrijos 4, Córdoba (Across from the Mesquita)
The Maimónides is a very good hotel and reasonably priced. Our room was spacious and included wifi. The hotel is a stone's throw from the Mesquita and is conveniently situated close to many "must see" sites in Córdoba. 

Where to eat:
Ordoñez Taberna y Vinoteca,
Calle Medina y Corella 1
I loved the honey eggplant!

I liked the area of the Plaza Agrupacíon de los Cofradias which is a small square and has less tourist traffic. Found the food at the corner restaurant quite good and the service was fast and efficient. It was relaxing to eat lunch al fresco in this plaza. The restaurant had several kinds of fish dishes on the menu and I ordered the salmon.  I wanted to return that evening for the espada (swordfish) but we decided to stay at the hotel after a long day of walking and sightseeing.

*****

Images by travelswithcharie


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Happy and Prosperous 2016

Happy Travels!


Gibraltar

Rock of Gibraltar
The train service between Ronda and Algeciras is limited. In Algeciras we took the bus to Gibraltar. We knew we had a tight window for sightseeing so we could make it back to Algeciras in time to catch the last train to Ronda. And the rain didn't help at all. But we managed.

The approach to La Línea de la Concepción on the Spanish side of the peninsula gave us the best glimpse of the 426 meter high limestone rock towering behind the beach and harbor. The Rock was a spectacular sight to behold!

Crossing the runway
We waited for an EasyJet flight to take off before the security barricade was lifted and we could safely cross the runway to get to the city center. Cars, buses, trucks and people moved quickly across the tarmac. In the distance we could see a lot of new construction. Gibraltar's area size is only 2.6 square miles but it's home to some 32,000 people. It's pretty crowded.

The runway of the Gibraltar International Airport
This is an active runway and as it is open to the sea on both ends, it acts like a wind tunnel. With intermittent rain showers during our visit, we got a little wet. The wind rendered our umbrella useless.

Winston Churchill Avenue
There is usually a queue of vehicles waiting to cross the runway. It's best to leave the car on the Spanish side of the border and walk across the tarmac. Buses going up to the center of town run a regular schedule if walking is not an option.

Tower of Homage
The 14th century Moorish castle complex can be glimpsed from Main Street. What's left are the Tower of Homage and the Gatehouse which were rebuilt in 1333 when the Moors reconquered Gibraltar from Spain and occupied it for the next 129 years. 

Phone booth
What can be more British than this iconic red phone booth? Remember when we used to close the door of the booth to talk in privacy? 

Tropical Foliage
How to get there from Ronda, Spain;
Our whirlwind trip to Gibraltar from Ronda was achieved using a combination of train and bus to transport us. The Altaria is not a fast train and we left Ronda at 9:18 a.m. and were in Algeciras by 11 a.m. The bus station in Algeciras is conveniently located across the street from the train station. We waited a few minutes to board the bus to La Línea which is a short walk from Gibraltar. After showing our passports to a Customs Officer, we were waved through. Outside the Customs office are tour operators offering a variety of sightseeing opportunities around the peninsula. There is a bus stop a few meters outside the Customs building on Winston Churchill Avenue for visitors who wish to take the red bus across town.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie



Saturday, December 26, 2015

Something I look forward to

Sunrise
For several years now, on the 26th of December, I've taken a photo from my front door of the sunrise. Today there was not much to see as the fog was so thick. It wasn't until an hour after the "scheduled" sunrise when the sun finally broke through the fog to light up our day. So nice after several days of rain. We need rain though after 3 years of drought. Grateful for these blessings.

“One grateful thought is a ray of sunshine.  A hundred such thoughts paint a sunrise.  A thousand will rival the glaring sky at noonday - for gratitude is light against the darkness.”  Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway, quotes, Verse & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year 
*****
Image by TravelswithCharie

Ronda

Ronda

"Ronda is the place to go if you are planning to travel to Spain for a honeymoon or for being with a girlfriend. The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set." Ernest Hemingway

Ronda is the first stop along the route of the pueblos blancos in Andalusia. Framed by blue skies and the green valley below, it lives up to its title as the City of Dreams.

Puente Nuevo

The Puente Nuevo or the New Bridge crosses El Tajo canyon. It is 120 feet in height and took over four decades to build. It connects both the old (La Ciudad) and modern towns. Jose Martín de Aldehuela, the architect of the Puente Nuevo, also designed the Ronda bullring. In the background is the Parador Hotel of Ronda, with commanding views of the canyon and the Sierra de Grazalema in the distance.

El Tajo Canyon on the Río Guadelevín

El Tajo gorge was carved by the Guadalevín River which is fed by melting snow and rushing streams from the Sierra de las Nieves nearby. It is narrow and dips down 300 feet although some areas may be deeper. It's a harrowing peep to the bottom of the canyon.

Plaza de Toros Bullring

The Ronda bullring is one of the oldest in Spain. Its covered grandstand is supported by columns forming 68 Tuscan arches. The most celebrated toreadors like Pedro Romero and Antonio Ordoñez performed here. Only bulls grown and raised in Spain are used for the bullfights. There is an interesting museum under the grandstand, the Museo Taurino, that traces the history of bullfighting in Ronda with costumes worn by toreadors, posters which announced the bullfights, newspaper clippings and photographs of the events held at the bullring and personal effects of the toreadors. There are also weapons from Spain's many wars that are on display.

Not to be missed is the bullfight walk of fame which is just behind the bullring, in the Alameda del Tajo park.

Plaza de Nuestra Señora del Socorro

The plaza is the center of activity in this small town. On Halloween night, the children in their costumes went door to door to ask for treats from shopkeepers. Afterwards, they enjoyed the song and dance performances by other kids on a makeshift stage. When the festivities were over, the families repaired to the warmth of gas heated outdoor restaurants for dinner while the children played nearby.

Nuestra Señora del Socorro

"I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world."  Mary Anne Radmacher

Religious Iconography

Many homes in Ronda are decorated with religious icons made of hand painted tiles. Intricate wrought iron lamps illuminate these icons.

Ronda, the City of Dreams
"The spectacle of this city, sitting on the bulk of two rocks rent asunder by a pickaxe and separated by the narrow, deep gorge of the river, corresponds very well to the image of that city revealed in dreams. The spectacle of this city is indescribable and around it lies a spacious valley with cultivated plots of land, holly and olive groves. And there in the distance, as if it had recovered all its strength, the pure mountains rise, range after range, forming the most splendid background.” Rainer Maria Rilke

How to get there:
Take the Ave train from Madrid to Córdoba. In Córdoba, transfer to the slower regional train bound for Ronda. There is also a train service between Granada and Ronda and between Algeciras and Ronda.

Where to stay:
We stayed at the Polo Hotel, a stone's throw from the Plaza de Nuestra Señora de Socorro. It's an easy walk to all the main sights in Ronda. I commend the friendly and helpful staff.

The Parador of Ronda has the best location in town. The view from the hotel of the mountains and the gorge is stunning. Reserve early to get a room here. If you can't get a room here, then at least have some tea and sweets in their grand lobby.

Where to eat:
The best meal we had was at Restaurante Bodega de San Francisco, outside the old walls and past the Puerta de Almocábar. It's on Calle Amanecer. We ordered a plateful of mixed seafood and fried eggplant dipped in honey. There are many reasonably priced selections on the menu.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Monastery of El Escorial
It's been ages since my first visit to the monastery of El Escorial. What impressed me most then were the long corridors and one particular door with a low clearing so you would have to stoop so low to pass through. Or else.....

I was delighted to discover that I could go to San Lorenzo de El Escorial by taking one of the suburban trains from Chamartin. And the trip took less than an hour and costs 8.10€ roundtrip. So I took off one sunny afternoon to rediscover this old town. What struck me as we approached El Escorial were the spectacular mountains which dominated the landscape. Little did I realize that when I opted to walk to the monastery that I would be climbing up a thousand meters to the foot of Mount Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama. So I panted uphill all the while thinking, will I ever get there? I found out later on that I took the roundabout way along Avenida de Los Reyes Catolicos but what the heck. It was a good exercise which I badly needed after the overindulgence of the last couple of weeks.

The plaza in front of El Escorial was buzzing with children who were just released from school when I finally arrived. Soon they were joined by the older students whose classrooms occupy a wing of the massive and austere monastery. How lucky these kids are to learn history where it unfolded! It was in 1563 when Philip II initiated the construction of El Escorial which would serve as the pantheon of his father, Charles V, as well as a monastery and a royal palace. By the time construction was finished in 1584, the monastery also included a church and a college. The Royal Library was completed in 1592.

Royal Basilica
From the Patio de Los Reyes, you can view the façade of the Basilica which is adorned with the statues of the Kings of Judah. David and Solomon are at the center of the frontispiece. I didn't bother to go inside the monastery because it was late and I was eager to see the gardens. Formal gardens surround the palace and extend downhill to the Casita del Principe. As it turns out, the Prince's Paseo is the shortcut to the train station. What a pleasurable walk I had under the canopy of autumn tinted trees!

Paseo del Principe
There are several trails within the gardens of the Casita del Principe. The casita or house was built for the future king of Spain, Charles IV. It was meant as a retreat for the Prince where he could get away from the rigors of palace life. Trees line these paseos (14 in all, according to a map on site) and it's a breathe of fresh air to be in these surroundings. 

The Casita del Principe is a Patrimonio Nacional (National Heritage) and the Monastery and Site of El Escorial is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie