If you’re into any of these, plus intricately designed ceramic tiles and 2,000 year old Roman ruins, then Spain is the place for you. This fall Leila and I spent several weeks in Andalucia, Spain, and Morocco. Both areas had amazing culture, art and food but they were very different and very challenging to include in one post, so I’m only going to deal with southern Spain in this post.
The cathedral in Seville is probably best known to Americans as it houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. As with many churches in this region it is built upon and/or incorporates a former Muslim mosque.
It is hard to get a great view of the outside of the cathedral because it is surrounded by other buildings.
You get a better view of it from the bell tower (former minaret), where you can also see the Moorish Alcazar (Palace) in the top left of the photo – more on the Alcazar later.
Inside the cathedral one is overwhelmed by the intricate art that seems to cover every surface.
But then there is the FOOD. Where else can one get two glasses of vino tinto (red wine) plus olives and chips for $4 in a delightful outdoor setting?
The cathedral in Granada was also spectacular.
But the prize for cathedrals goes to the Mezquita in Cordoba. Mezquita means mosque in Spanish. The site was originally a church, and the mosque construction started in the 8th century when the Moors controlled much of Spain. The mosque features 856 red and white striped arches that make you feel like you’re walking among an Escher painting. When the Moors were pushed out of Cordoba in the 13th century, it was turned back into a Christian church and a Cathedral was constructed in the middle of the mosque.
During Moorish times, it was said that more than a thousand people could pray among the arches at one time. The Muslim influence is seen throughout the cathedral.
But of course there was the FOOD. A delicious spread of ham and cheese served directly to your table by the chef.
A trip to Segovia is a must. It not only has the famous Roman aqueduct,
but also the spectacular Alcazar von Segovia castle which many believe was the inspiration for Disney’s castle.
Many of the houses in Segovia featured beautifully sculptured walls.
But then there is the FOOD
A delightful pate before trying the Suckling Pig – a dish made famous in Segovia. Something worth trying once, it is five-week-old baby pigs that are cooked before they stop suckling.
Palaces are also plentiful in Spain. The La Granja of San Ildephonso palace outside of Segovia was built by Philip V in the 18th century. It now houses government offices, but parts of the palace and the vast grounds are open to the public.
The most famous of the palaces is the Alhambra in Granada. The best view of the palace is from across the valley during sunset. We stayed in a former mansion that has been turned into an inn not far from where the following photos were taken in the Albaicin neighborhood.
Of course, the best way to watch the light change on the Alhambra is over FOOD and a glass of sangria or vino tino.
The Alhambra, built and added to over the centuries, strongly shows the influence of when the Muslims ruled the area.
Of course, there is only so much palace watching one can do before you need more FOOD. Found a great outdoor setting in Granada with a fixed price menu, including a cappuccino.
But Leila and I agree that the palace we enjoyed most was the Alcazar in Seville. The palace is fairly nondescript from the outside, since it is surrounded by other buildings in the center of Seville.
But has beautiful gardens inside.
And spectacular ceiling and tilework throughout the palace that contrasts the differences between the Muslim and Christian occupants.
Close up of ceiling shown above
Under Muslim rule only tiles with geometric shapes or Arabic wording were allowed
During Christian occupancy, the tiles could feature human and animal figures, many x-rated
After so much straining to look up at the architecture, we of course needed more FOOD – gelato for two.
We could have gotten a pumpkin spice latte at Starbuck, but we are not sure why anyone would opt for an expensive Starbucks drink, when the local espresso is half the price. Although I did break down and buy a Sevilla Starbuck cup. It is now my coffee cup of choice for my afternoon cappuccino at home.
But there is more to visiting Spain than going inside spectacular buildings. Plenty of street entertainers.
And views of the countryside with rows and rows of olive trees.
But then there is the food. We actually spent a morning on a walking tour of food experiences in Madrid, where churros dipped in chocolate is standard breakfast faire.
Spent time in the local market that is like Seattle’s Pike Place Market on steroids. The olive stall
Is next to the butcher’s stall, where he will prepare lamb’s brain for you if you wish,
which is next to the ham shop where there are more than 10 different types of ham you can buy. The ham from the black-footed Iberian pig which eats acorns in rangefree conditions only goes for 128 Euros a kilogram (~$60 a pound).
A morning in the market of course makes you hungry for more food, so its time to stop for some tapas.
Finally, a visit to southern Spain would not be complete without a day trip to Gibraltar.
This British enclave certainly is a change from Spain, but its strategic position controlling the entrance to the Mediterranean and the famous monkeys of Gibraltar make it a must see – at least once.
The monkeys are protected because Winston Churchill declared that the British would control Gibraltar, as long as the monkey existed on “The Rock.” Consequently, the monkeys are plentiful and have learned the art of thievery. Leila was mugged by one of the primates right after buying a bag of potato chips. She was still in the gift shop where she bought the chips when a monkey raced in and snatched the unopened bag . I think I was lucky enough to capture an image of the culprit lying in wait for an unsuspecting tourist.
But you don’t go to Gibraltar for the FOOD.
Our waiter made it clear that hamburgers only come Well Done.
Spain was great, but our following week in Morocco was more exotic.
Stay tuned for the next blog