Sevilla

Our two days in Sevilla have come to an end. We have had a nice visit but have found ourselves ready to slip into the peregrino mode and hit the bricks. We stayed at the same hotel we did when here in 2015, the Vincci Rabida. It is quiet, clean, and quite close to the Cathedral. No complaints. A special bonus this trip was to rendezvous with two friends from home, Dianne and Bruce, who have been expatting in Spain for the past year. They are members of our Portlandia Pilgrim group and have recently walked the Camino Frances for a second time. It was a fun afternoon over a couple of copas and beers catching up with their many first hand experiences of living abroad. Great folks and intrepid travelers. We wish them all the best.

Waving goodbye to our friends we set off to see if we could get our credentials stamped at the Cathedral. Come back in the morning was the message we received. We had turned up close to 4pm and that wasn’t working. We were told that the doors open for visits to the Cathedral at 11:00, but if you just needed a stamp on your credential we were led to believe you could come earlier like around 9:00, and someone would assist you. The following morning we went to the post office and sent our small suitcase (street clothes) to Santiago. We purchased a box (Cajal verde) and the suitcase slipped in perfectly. All that and a three day delivery cost just 28 euros. The box and our suitcase will be (fingers crossed) conveniently waiting for us at our hotel in Santiago. We are now officially pared down to only Camino essentials. Truthfully, that feels just fine.

Leaving the Post Office we crossed the street and turned up at the Cathedral entrance queue just after 11:00 and went, as directed, to the head of the entrance ticket line and got our sellos. The counter lady was kind enough to also allow us to purchase entrance tickets without having to go back to the end of the line. BTW, even for January the line was quite long. Lot’s of Koreans. Robin explained that Korea has an extended winter school break and many people use that time to escape Korea’s bitter winter cold and travel. As luck would have it we located a nice Korean restaurant not far from the Plaza de España and slipped in for a little “Seoul” food. It was quite good. We finished our afternoon with a stroll through the Plaza de España and a walk along the river back up to our hotel. Now we are doing the final washing and repacking getting ready for an early departure in the morning. Our plan is to taxi to Guillena and then walk to Castilblanco de los Arroyos for our first stage. We have enjoyed beautiful weather since we landed in Spain , but that will change tomorrow. A harsh winter storm is now lashing parts of Spain. However, I think we will escape the worst of it with just a bit of rain, but more on that tomorrow.

So that catches us up for now. I am actually looking forward to posting from Spain as a peregrino instead of a tourist. Time to shift gears. Hasta luego.

Arriving Sevilla
Cathedral from our hotel

Friends from home, Dianne and Bruce
Street scenes

View from our patio
Inside the Cathedral
High alter, Cathedral
Choir
My tour guide

Tomb of Christopher Columbus

Cathedral courtyard

In the Juderia
Plaza de España with fleet in dry dock

Along the river

Cádiz

We arrived here yesterday in the early afternoon. We taxied from the train station to our hotel, got checked in and then headed out for a bit of a walk around and some lunch. Robin had discovered an Indian restaurant, Bollywood, close to the port, so off we went. The old town of Cádiz is quite small and can be circumnavigated afoot in a couple of hours. Yesterday’s goal was lunch followed by some bario exploring on our way back to the hotel. Our Indian restaurant was just what we needed and probably a bit more if you count the number of dishes but what can I say. When in Cádiz…. Once we waddled out of Bollywood we made it a point to try to log some extra blocks on our way home. It was fun and the weather was cooperating so our extended bario stroll was a great success. After a good night’s sleep and a late and leisurely hotel breakfast we set out for our circumnavigation of Cádiz. We left the Parador and made a right turn (easter’ly) and set off along the seafront for the Plaza de España and then from there continuing clockwise to points yet unknown. There was a strong wind blowing today from the NW and even with a forecasted high of 62 F a light down jacket felt just right. We ambled along snapping photos and just enjoying a lazy day under sunny skies in a new and fascinating city. We eventually made our way to the Cathedral that while immense and beckoning offered no way inside. All was buttoned up sadly and tightly. We did take a look at the excavation of a Roman theater next door to the Cathedral. An interesting visit and another reminder of the extensive Roman presence on the Iberian peninsula. Now that the cultural part of the day was satisfied we continued along the beach until we were quite close to our hotel. Off to our right we spotted a street that looked filled with Sunday revellers. We peeled off from the sea front and investigated. Clearly this was a local neighborhood weekend outing. The bars were brimming over with patrons in search of food and drink. It was festive, convivial and fun. We made a lap around the block and stepped into the organized madness of the Taberna Casa Manteca. I have included a short video to help you get a feel for a Sunday afternoon in Cádiz In short, it was great. We shared good food and drinks with strangers (now new friends) and made a mental note to cancel any thoughts of dinner tonight. We did eventually head for home, but the joy of our raucous lunch walked with us. What fun. We are now back at the hotel snapping sunset photos and reviewing our day. We are off to Seville tomorrow midday and two days later we shall emerge, once again, as pilgrims on the road to Santiago. More later from Seville. Buenas noches.

Day begins
Seafront

A seriously large and ancient magnolia tree
Sea spray on the seafront
Plaza de España just to the left

Spanish constitution was signed in Càdiz in 1812

When you see one of these head to an exit
Where galleon gold came to rest
Càdiz Cathedral
Ambling along
Roman theater, cheap seats

Cathedral from the seafront

A passing courtyard

Narrow old town streets

Lunch is getting closer

Taberna Casa Manteca, our lunch stop

And so it went on a Sunday afternoon

Leaving town
View from our room

Pampaneira and Córdoba

Waving goodbye to Almería Robin and I boarded an ALSA bus to the seaside town of Motril where our expat friends from Oregon, Sam and Laura, would pick us up. Our plan was to spend three days at their home high in the Sierra Nevada mountains near the village of Pampaneira. Hint the highest mountain in Spain, el Mulhacén (about 11,000 feet) is in the neighborhood. They were at the bus station as promised and off we went. The drive to their home was an eye opener or closer depending on the drop off at the time. They are very much off the grid with only a few neighbors. They have a beautifully renovated stone cortijo (farmhouse). Power is solar with a generator backup, hot water is solar, central heat and hot water backup is a wood pellet furnace. Fresh water is collected from ancient water channels that flow down from high mountain snow fields and then is stored separately for irrigation and domestic use. Quite a nice utility set up that works nicely as advertised.

Sam and Laura are avid hikers and their locale offers innumerable nearby opportunities for them to stretch their legs. They knew we also were up for a hike so a good portion of our time together was spent up in the mountains. Laura and Sam spoiled us with their genuine hospitality. Great hikes in spectacular settings, fantastic meals and a few bottles of vino made for a visit we shall hold dear for years to come. When it was finally, and sadly, time for us to go Laura and Sam kindly offered to drive us to the train station in Granada where we would catch the high speed AVE train to Córdoba. We arrived a bit early and had time to offer our heartfelt thanks for such a memorable visit. Apparently we didn’t break any house rules as they left us with a standing invitation to return. We will definitely be doing that.

We had purchased our tickets on the RENFE (Spanish Rail) app and once through the baggage screening we boarded. It was to be only an hour and twenty minute trip but lunch (airline style) was served. Surprisingly it wasn’t bad. We sat across from two Aussie ladies from the Central Coast area (a bit north of Sydney). They were fun companions for the short trip. So just as the lunch service was finishing we glided into Córdoba Station. A taxi was at the curb and 8 minutes later we were being checked into a very nice hotel, the Hospes Palacio del Bailio, our home for the next three nights.

Day 2. Today was mostly spent getting to know the city. We strolled about checking out various interesting barios, but the gem was a visit to Córdoba’s Cathedral, the Mezquita, a former mosque. It is an enormous structure that seems even larger once you are inside. Basically, it is a cathedral inside a former mosque. This region of Spain has a rich Roman history, a rich Islamic history, a rich Christian history and a rich Jewish history. Over the centuries various city structures were repurposed depending upon who was in control at that moment. The Mezquita is a perfect case in point. Google for the whole story. But some of my pictures will help you get the gist of it.

It is now day 3 and our time in Córdoba is almost at its end. We are off tomorrow to Cádiz for two nights, and then finally to Seville where our Camino walk will begin. Today was another day of sightseeing that found us taking the hop on hop off bus for a spin around town and then wandering around the old Jewish quarter and the royal fortress, the Alcázar. As the afternoon wore on we found ourselves in front of the Mercado Victoria, a food stall installation that had a bit of everything. We definitely over sampled but we keep telling ourselves the Camino will burn it off. We shall see. More from Cádiz later. All is well.

Sam and Laura

Our first sunset
Robin in front of Sam and Laura’s farmhouse

The dark line mid photo is Morocco

Robin and I around the 6200 foot mark

Sam, Laura and Robin on our morning walk

Sam and Laura’s drinking water comes from a similar source

Some horses horsing around

Whitewashed village in the nearby hills

Sam, Robin and me in the middle

Granada train station

Entering our hotel

Córdoba is famous for its patio gardens

Typical colorful dual arch supports you see throughout

Cathedral high alter

The choir

St. James

Mezquita courtyard

Roman bridge
St. Rafael, the patron saint of Córdoba
Alcázar, Royal fortress
Royal stables
Alcázar gardens

Local pub

Tea shop

Lunch at last. Mercado Victoria

Back at our hotel

A day in Almería

Robin and I opted to rent a car yesterday and drive to Almería. It was a good decision. We spent 4.5 hours on the autovia in perfect weather and arrived at the Hertz drop off at the Almería airport around 2:30 pm. A short cab ride brought us to the Hotel Catedral right next to the Almería Cathedral. Perfecto.

It is now Saturday (the following day). We cobbled together some things to do over breakfast, and by 10:00 am we were on our way to the Central Market. These markets are always interesting. Everything is out in open display. Packaged items are few indeed. The freshness of everything would elicit a cry of joy from any foodie. Robin’s eyes were scanning ingredients as menu options flashed through her mind.

From the market we went on a tour of the tunnels that were constructed as bomb shelters under the city center in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. This 4.5 kilometer network of tunnels sheltered many of Almería’s citizens when the city was being bombed. It did not require much imagination to conjure up what life must have been like for the families crowded into these rudimentary shelters. One interesting thing the guide did was to turn off the lights and play a recording of the bombings. The volume was set so what you heard replicated what the people down there heard during the actual bombings. Pretty horrifying. Glad to get out.

The next stop was the Islamic fortress, the Alcazaba. This complex was a work in progress for several generations beginning in 955 when the first fortress walls were built. It was only second to the Alhambra, in Granada, as far as final size went. This is a wonderful site to visit and surprisingly it’s free.

Continuing on we dropped down to waterfront and strolled along a tree filled boulevard searching for a drink and a nibble. We were not disappointed as soon enough we called into a tapas bar called the Ant. Curious name, but no bugs were spotted. Now I have tip my hat to the Spanish cultural imperative of offering free food with the purchase of a drink. Now admittedly in some cheapo places all you get are potato chips, but more often than not it is something of substance. Almería, being a seaport, offers an abundance of fresh seafood daily to its restaurants and bars. So this afternoon along with our draft beers (small ones) came perfectly prepared fried bacalao, and some small whole fish that Robin convinced me to eat without disassembling it. They were, fresh, moist and delicious.

Suitably restored we set off for our final stop of the day, a visit to the Cathedral. This was all according to plan as our hotel was right next door. This church is unique in that it is only one of two in the world (I believe that is what I heard) that served simultaneously as a place of worship and as defensive structure. Almería was a vital port even in its early days and therefore was always a tempting target for marauders. So when the Cathedral was built (1524-1562) all the gothic design elements were reinforced against bombardment and kept out of sight below a flat roof and raised exterior walls. This made it difficult to recognize the church for what it was from a distance while also allowing for flat areas where cannon and soldiers could be placed. Clever guys.

Leaving the Cathedral we rounded the corner and entered the Cathedral plaza where a cluster of tables ranged under a stand of stately palms beckoned us. We felt a siesta coming on but not before we enjoyed a nice glass of chilled white wine and yes another beautifully prepared fried fish tapas (this one was flat and required some disassembling). A beautiful day in another very relaxed city.

The Hotel Catedral

Central Market

Into the tunnels

Infirmary and operating room

Almost out

The Alcazaba

Strolling along the sea front
At the Ant unaware

The Cathedral cloister

Cloister

Organ

Many hours without sleep and then Valencia.

As always, the trip from our home in Washington state to Spain was grueling. Nothing went wrong, the connections were actually quite good but still it was 30 hours without sleep before we arrived here. But I must say it felt great to be back and Valencia is a wonderful place to shed your jet lag. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city behind Madrid and Barcelona but it somehow just seems quieter. Yes, it is off season but still there is something going on here. It just seems so much less frantic than the top two cities, and I like that. Everywhere we go we seem to notice life going on at more a more measured pace. Mind you this has all been gleaned from only two days of wandering about, but it is interesting.

I continue to be both amazed and frustrated when I visit other countries and see what sorts of projects they have been able to accomplish while back home, these days, we can’t even seem to fill potholes. Valencia should be proud of all its current civic improvements as well as its rich history. We have seen a few impressive efforts in the short time we have been here. One appears to have been a repurposed diverted waterway. It today is an extensive below grade park featuring gardens and multi purpose trails that runs through much of the city and down to the modern opera house, science museum and aquarium complex that sits just above the port. These two features alone provide access to healthy activities such as walking and cycling, but also together they bestow a calming beauty and peacefulness that every citizen can enjoy and benefit from. We also discovered some gorgeous tree lined “grand via” type streets that provided access to other charming neighborhoods where the pace of life seems to be relaxed and just fine.

Tomorrow we will rent a car and drive to Almería where we will spend two nights before heading off by bus to Motril where some expat friends, Sam and Laura, from Portland will pick us up and takes us back to their home in the small village of Pampaneira. This pueblo, from what I understand, is located in the coastal mountains about an hour or so from Motril. More clarification on that later. But, for now day is done. Today was Robin’s birthday so we celebrated over a wonderful Indian lunch in one of those aforementioned charming neighborhoods and then strolled back to our hotel. As our room door swung slowly open we noticed a bottle of wine in an ice bucket sitting on the table with a card from the hotel manager. Curiously the card only had the managers particulars on it but no message. We are considering it to be a birthday gift but in truth we don’t know. Nonetheless, things are looking up. More tomorrow from Almería as our road show continues.

Madrid to Valencia

View from our room
Central market
Coffered ceilings in the Silk Exchange Casco Viejo

The Sistine Chapel of Valencia

Church of St. Nicholas of Bari

Opera house

Science museum and Aquarium

Cooling off in the aquarium

Walking off our lunch

Happy New Year

This blog has been in slumber mode for several months, but is now awakening. Robin and I will be heading off to Spain on Monday to walk part of the Via de la Plata (Seville to Salamanca). Prior to that we will be taking a short swing through southern Spain. Our plan is to visit Valencia, Almería, Granada (and some friends up in the Sierra Nevada area), Córdoba, Cadiz, and finally Seville where we will begin the VdlP.

We have been on the Camino every year since December 2010, and, in truth, it just gets better. Yes, we are feeling a few new aches and pains with each passing year, but so far (and thank God) nothing has been a show stopper. We are not opposed to modifying what would otherwise be 30-40 km stages to something around 20 kms. Our goal is to enjoy each walk we do. We can not control the weather so we just accept what comes. But, when it comes to walking we can and do set reasonable goals and a pace that won’t cripple us. We choose not to be grim pilgrims slavishly pounding out the kilometers, but rather to embrace a more joyful and measured approach that is in keeping with my thinning, grey hair and sagging skin. I know not a pretty picture but it is what it is. I remain very thankful that this aging body is still able to answer the call to the Camino. Hopefully, Robin and I still have some additional walks in our future, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So, now to the task at hand, our VdlP. I can’t imagine a better way to usher in the New Year than walking a Camino, so stay tuned and we shall see how this all works out.

Wishing everyone a healthy and peaceful new year.

Order awaits.