TRAVELING THROUGH SPAIN - APRIL 26 TO MAY 26, 2009
Apr 26 - Apr 30 Barcelona - We have been fortunate enough to travel to many cities around the world. Barcelona has to rank at the very top for the diversity of its architecture, friendliness of its people, ease of getting around, and fun places to eat. As in Lisbon, we bought a two day pass for the open top tour buses which have English narration. Anyone who has been to Barcelona immediately associates it with the architect Antonio Gaudi. His most famous works, the Sagrada Família, is a privately funded Roman Catholic Church which as been under construction since 1882 and is scheduled for completion in 2026, 100 years after his death. (A bachelor he was hit by a tram and died three days later at the age of 73.)
We have especially enjoyed seeking out small local restaurants. Around here lunch is normally at 2:00 PM or after, and dinner around 9:00 PM for us early birds and later for the locals. We decided to stay at the Le Meridien which is situated along La Rambla, a major street in the heart of the old city. The street is lined with mimes, flower shops, umbrella covered cafés, and even bird markets. It is crowded, but lots of fun and well patrolled by the local police.
I hope I have been able to capture the diversity and beauty of this wonderful city in my photos. Link to Barcelona Photos
Apr 30 The drive from Barcelona to Denia was easy, but a bit longer (4.5 hours) than we usually plan for. As we started out there were lots of tunnels to pass through, but then drove through a long stretch of fields filled with citrus groves, primarily oranges, especially as we neared Valencia. The last part of the drive was very stunning. The setting at the Marriott Denia Resort is beautiful with vistas of dramatic hills and villages. The weekend will probably be busy as tomorrow is a holiday here (May 1st aka May Day) and lots of families take advantage of the 3 day weekend.
May 1 - 4 This starkly beautiful area, called the Costa Blanca (White Coast), has wide white sand beaches that go on and on. The building activity that has taken place is almost unimaginable. Our GPS software was totally outdated. Roads have been rerouted and widened, Many of the beach roads are no more having made way for huge condos and high rises. To the south of Denia is a popular resort city Benidorm with huge skyscrapers seemingly rising out of nowhere when viewed from the AP-7 toll road which runs the length of this part of Spain. Locals refer to Benidorm as "Little New York".
We found that the quainter more interesting places to visit were to the south of Denia near Alicante. The most interesting and scenic place we visited was inland. It is the small village of Guadalest with a castle perched on top of a craggy ridge.
We do not think we met any other Americans during our visit to this area, although most people spoke English and we had no problems at our hotel or restaurants. Link to Costa Blanca Photos
May 5 Today we drove from Denia to a small town just outside Granada. We were totally unprepared for the Sierra Nevada. The mountains are still snow covered and as breath taking as any we have seen. We chose to stay at a small hotel situated high on a hillside overlooking Granada and the Alhambra. We are actually located in the village of Monachil. Neither the desk clerk or the waiter we had at dinner spoke English, but we have spent enough time in Mexico to pick up a little Spanish, and this has thus for not been a problem. We plan to stay here three nights and then move on to a small hotel in a National Park just north of Malaga for the weekend.
May 6 - 8 The view from our room overlooked Granada and was really spectacular. Once again we utilized the "Hop on and Off" tour bus to visit the sites in Granada. The only monument we toured was the main Cathedral in Granada. The tour bus took us near the Alhambra, but advance ticket purchases were required to tour it and we were really more interested in spending a day driving through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We drove into the mountains the following day. We managed to get totally lost in some of the small mountain villages, which at the time was pretty frustrating, but in retrospect was really not that bad and we got to see areas that most tourists would probably miss.
May 8 - 11 Our next stop was for three nights at the Hotel Humaina in the heart of a National Park just north of Malaga. We traveled through the park one day enjoying the serenity and scenery. Wild flowers were in full bloom and we do not recall ever seeing so many different varieties blooming at the same time. Because it was a weekend there were lots of locals using the parks recreational facilities. Mountain bikers were everywhere.
The following day we spent in nearby Malaga. We visited here a couple of weeks earlier when we were on the Wind Surf. Having a full day to walk around the city and relax in its parks was a real pleasure. We enjoyed a free concert in one of the parks performed by the Malaga Municipal Symphony Orchestra. I have yet to find out what the statue in the Malaga Cathedral courtyard is all about!
The Humaina is one of the more interesting places we have stayed over the years. The owner is a very charismatic gentleman by the name of Juan Maria Luna, and could not have been more cordial. The hotel is not at all fancy, but is in a beautiful setting. We ate dinner there each evening which was quite good. Wild boars come around in the evening, and had young ones. The hotel's three dogs were fascinated by them, but kept their distance and seemed to enjoy watching them as much as we did. Link to Andalusian Mountains Photos
May 11 After being on the go for nearly a month we decided on some beach time and settled in a Marriott Time Share Resort near Estepona in the heart of the COSTA DEL SOL. We were within reasonable driving distance of Gibraltar, Cadiz, and Seville; so we stayed put for eleven nights and did a few day trips. We had gotten a bit lax on our exercise and the hotel has several swimming pools which we put to good use,
May 13 Yesterday was a pool day at the resort. Today we joined a tour to GIBRALTAR. I have to be honest and admit I had never given any thought to the fact that Gibraltar is part of Britain and luckily we were told to bring our passports. We are glad we went, but would have a hard time recommending it as a destination. It is very crowded, and aside from being a tax free zone, the "Barbary Apes" seem to be the main draw for tourists. Most of the photos we see of Gibraltar are taken from the east. From the west it looks like any other crowded seaport. One unique feature of Gibraltar is that the main road into it crosses the international airport runway! The above link to Gibraltar provides some interesting history.
May 15 After another pool day we drove to CADIZ. It is an interesting city surrounded on three sides by water. We had a pleasant time wandering around the old city. The beaches along the spit of land leading to the old city are truly spectacular. We returned to the Marriott via the coastal roads. This area of Spain has many large windmill farms. I was never able to get a photo to depict the large areas covered by these windmills.
The coastal area to the west of Estepona, where we stayed, is a bit less congested than toward Marabella and Malaga to the east. Nevertheless there are countless new multistory buildings in various stages of completion all along the coast. Construction on many seems to have come to a halt. One lady I talked to, who owns a home here, claimed there are over one million apartments for sale in this area of Spain. People from throughout Europe and North America have been buying second homes here with the thought of using them for retirement at some point in the future. Link to Costa del Sol Photos
May 20 It started to become apparent that we were about to join the minority of tourists to the south of Spain (and perhaps the only tourists who actually stayed in Granada for 3 nights) that have not visited the Alhambra - so it was to pass that we joined a day tour to visit the Alhambra. This is the most visited site in Spain, so much so that an advance ticket is required to get into the place. ONLY 7,000 tickets per day are issued and if you miss your time slot you are out of luck. We both agreed that we are happy that we decided to visit the site, and there is no question that it is very impressive, but after having been to places like Machu Picchu, Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, and the Mead's house on Candlewood Isle, we were expecting it to be much grander. The craftsmanship in the three adjoining palaces is really quite remarkable. Some of the ceilings drop like stalactites and the walls are covered with tiles and intricate stone carvings. The gardens were also extensive and beautiful. Link to Alhambra Photos
May 21 This part of Spain is known for its "white villages" which are tucked away on the mountainous hillsides. Toward evening we took a drive from Casares to Ronda and passed by 14 of these picturesque villages, Photos are include in the Costa del Sol album.
May 22 Our time in Spain is coming to an end. Today we had a long drive from Estepona to Madrid. We dropped our rental car off at the airport and took a taxi to the Westin Palace in the heart of the downtown.
May 23 Madrid is much nicer and interesting than we were expecting. We were scared off by an article in the New York Times in April that made it sound like the crime capital of the world, We almost decided to just check in at an airport hotel on our last night, but are glad we didn't. The Westin Palace is really a superb hotel and in a great location.
May 25 We enjoyed having two days to wander the streets of Madrid. We could have definitely spent more time here. We chose to see as much of the city as possible on foot and did not visit any of the museums that Madrid has to offer. We will save that for the next time. Tomorrow we return home. Link to Madrid Photos