A few hours on the rock.

It was the last day of our tour of Andalucía and another early start to the day, but we were used to it by now. We left Seville and headed for the coast and the port of Ajeciras and on to Gibraltar. All was going well until we came to a halt near the border. We were in a huge queue and it took us an hour before we crossed into Gibraltar.

12 The Rock

We eventually got off our coach but immediately boarded a minibus to take us on a tour of the Panorama Rock.

19 The Modern World13 The Ancient World

There were good views looking down on the harbour and although the rock is only 400 metres in height we could just about make out the outline of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in the distance.

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Of course we saw the rocks most famous residents, the tailless Barbary Apes. We were told to be wary of them and on no account should we try to feed them.

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But of course there is always someone who does not listen. One lady tried to feed a baby ape. Next minute the mother launched herself and landed on the woman’s shoulders. Lots of screams but fortunately no injuries. Just a ruined hairdo !

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After visiting the caves we were back on our coach heading for the delights of Torremolinos. The location of our hotel was not brilliant but the staff were friendly and helpful. When I asked them to recommend a good fish restaurant they gave us a street map and outlined the route. We found our way down the steps onto the prom and walked to our right around the headland to reach the Case Juan restaurant. It was only 7.30pm, very early to eat by Spanish standards but the restaurant was already busy.

We has salmorejo for starters and then Jean had Swordfish and I ordered ‘fish from Malaga Bay’ What would I get?. It was an assortment of various fish, squid and octopus. Delicious, especially when accompanied by a bottle of chilled white wine. By 10 pm people were queuing outside waiting for a table. It was a popular restaurant, deservedly so!

On out way back we had time for a final drink in the square before heading back to our hotel to finish packing.

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The next morning we were picked up at 9.30am for the transfer to Malaga Airport and our flight back to Manchester.

It had been a very different type of holiday for us. At times it was quite hectic but we had seen a lot. We were now ready to get back home for a rest !

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A brief visit to Seville.

It was another early start as we boarded our coach and headed towards Seville. We journeyed through the Andalucian countryside stopping off at Ecija, which is known as the City of the Sun or the City of the Towers. There were lots of “Happy Chappies” sent out all day by there wives to play cards or dominoes while sitting in the sunshine. They were only allowed home at lunchtime.

We arrived at our hotel in the City of Seville at lunchtime with the rest of the day free to explore. It was very hot so after a quick meal we set off for a stroll along the river keeping in the shade.

We visited the Torre del Oro, the Golden Tower.It is situated on the banks of the Guadalquivir River and is one of the symbols of the city.

4840 The Torre del Oro4897 The Golden Tower

The name Torre del Oro comes from the gold tiles that once covered the tower and not from the plundered American gold bullion which although it was unloaded nearby was in fact stored in the Casa de la Moneda. Today the tower houses a small Maritime Museum.

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Our next stop was at another of the symbols of Seville, The Bullring.

4842 The Bullring

The Real Maestranza de Caballleria dates back to the 18th century when the ancient tradition of bullfighting on horseback was popular ar Fiestas. The present bullring was completed in 1881 and inside there is a museum with exhibits ranging in date from the beginning of bullfighting to the present day.

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In the evening we went to another Flamenco show. The dancing was brilliant and the singer demonstrated the power of her voice.

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However, the evening lacked authenticity as the music was recorded not live.

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The next day we were booked on a guided tour of the City of Seville. Our first stop was the Plaza de Espana. The Plaza is situated in the northwest area of the Maria Luisa Park close to the Plaza de Americana. It was designed by the architect Anibal Gonzales for the Spanish American Exhibition of 1929. The Plaza is semi-circular in shape, 170 metres in diameter and 100 metres wide. It has a porticoed gallery and is flanked by two 80 metres high towers. At the base of the semicircle there are benches decorated with painted tile panels. There is one bench for each province in Spain and the tiles illustrate historical events.

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Next was the Royal Fortress, The Real Alcazares. This complex dates back to the 10th century Caliphal palace- fortress. It has been adapted and remodelled according to the tastes of each ruling monarch up to the present time.

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The Moorish influence is everywhere with lots of water features.

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Our next stop was at the Cathedral. The building was originally a Mosque and was commissioned in 1171 by the Caliph Abu Ya’qub Yusef. After Seville was recovered by the Christians in 1248 the city mosque was symbolically converted to a Cathedral.

The interior boasts many stained glass windows and statues.

49594956 The Cathedral

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However one of the most impressive features is the Bell Tower, the Giralda.

4932 The Giralda

It was built as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville in al-Andalus  during the reign of the Almorad dynasty with the Renaissance style top added by the Catholics following the expulsion of the Muslims. It remains one of the most important symbols of the city.

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Later in the day we had free time to explore and we wandered down to Santa Cruz. This is a popular Bario, area with narrow winding cobbled street and whitewashed houses. Many of the houses have barricaded iron grills protecting beautiful patios and courtyards.

It was a delightful place to sit in the square and enjoy a drink.

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A day in Cordoba

It was day three of our tour of Andalucía and another early breakfast. We were on the coach at 8.15am and heading north along the N432. Our route took us through an Olive Oil producing area. There were thousands of olive trees each one producing up to 30kg of Olives which can give up to 5 litres of oil. Our tour guide gave us recipes for olive oil on toast with tomato, ham or garlic. Just like Mama used to make.

We passed by Alca and the Royal castle. Many of the towns whose names begin with Al are associated with castles. The sun was still low in the sky and the area was very photogenic with the rows of trees and the long shadows.

We were now in a wine producing area and we stopped at Montilla to visit a typical Andalucian wine bodega to sample some of the local wine.

We arrived in Cordoba and were taken to our hotel. No time to relax because we were due back on the coach at 3.15pm for our guided city tour. But we did have time for a bite to eat.

We went to a local bistro and ordered the local speciality. Salmorejo, a cold soup similar to Gazpacho. Salmorejo is a puree consisting of tomatoes and bread and it originated in Cordoba. It is made from tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic. Normally the tomatoes are skinned and then pureed with the other ingredients. The puree is then served cold and garnished with Spanish Serrano ham and diced hard boiled eggs. It was delicious.

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We now began our tour of the city. Cordoba was founded by the Romans and due to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir river it became a port city of great importance. It was used to ship Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome. The Romans built the bridge crossing the river which is now known as “ El  Puente Romano”. Cordoba’s greatest claim to fame was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus. During this period work began on the building of the Great Mosque, or Mezquita. This became one of the largest Mosques in all of Islam.

The city of Cordoba was reconquered by the Christians in 1236 but they left the building standing but built their cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns creating the extraordinary church-mosque that we see today.

757 The City of Cordoba

                                                             The city of Cordoba

764 The City walls

                                                          The City Walls

The Mosque.

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The use of alternate brick and stone in the arches has created a red and white stripped pattern and gives a distinctive character to the whole design.

The Mirhab.

797 The Mihrab

The Mirhab had two functions in Islamic worship. First it indicated the direction of Mecca ( therefore prayer) and it also amplified the words of the Imam, the prayer leader. The shell shaped ceiling is carved from a single block of marble.

 

795 The Main Cupola

                                          Looking up at the main Cupola.

The Cathedral.

After the reconquest in 1236 and the subsequent Christianisation of the Great Mosque no immediate alterations were made to the building. It was not until 1523 that Bishop Alonso Manrique obtained permission from Emperor Charles V to build the Cathedral inside the Mosque.

789 Ceiling of the Cathedral

Later we had a chance to walk through the winding streets of the old town before returning to our hotel. We had a good meal at the hotel and later we wandered down to the main square to watch the fountains,  a rare chance to relax.

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Granada and the Alhambra Palace.

01. The Alhambra Palace

The highlight of our visit to Granada was a tour of the Alhambra Palace. It is one of the most important architectural structures of the Middle Ages and a fine example of Islamic art.

We had set out early so that we were queuing up outside before opening time. I wanted to try and avoid the crowds so that I could take photos without having too many people in them.

02. Alhambra Palace

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                                              The Courtyard of the Mexuar

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                                             The Courtyard of the Myrtles

09 The Patio de los Leones

                                                        The Patio de los Leones

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The Patio de los Leones was the focal point of the Sultan’s private dwelling, within which there were areas set aside for the women of the house. Water springs from the mouth of twelve white marble lions which form the fountain in the centre of the courtyard. They are placed in a circle and carry a twelve sided bowl on their backs. Their gaze covers every part of the courtyard.

All around there were highly decorated pillars and alcoves and intricate ceramic tiles.

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                                                                 Generalife

The Generalife was a retreat where the monarchs of Grenada could relax away from the daily toil and bustle of the court. Its proximity to the Alhambra meant that the Sultan was still close enough to palace affairs to attend to ant urgent matters that may arise, whilst at the same time be far enough way to enjoy the countryside.

15 Generalife

The name Generalife derives from the Arab words djennat, meaning garden, orchard or paradise (which are all similar concepts to dessert nomads) and al-arif, meaning architect. Thus the name is translated as “ The Garden of the Architect”

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The Muslim Garden was designed to provide enjoyment to all the senses. The sight and smell of the flowers, the sound of running water and the feel and taste of the fruit as they were picked from the trees while walking beneath them. It explains why most of the gardens were filled with water features and planted with aromatic herbs.

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Highlights of Andalucia

We had booked our first ever coach tour when we had been told we would see the highlights of Andalucía and learn about the culture of the area. What could we expect.

We flew into Malaga and were transferred to our hotel in Torremolinos. After a light lunch and a rest we set out to explore. Our hotel was way back from the beach so we got a taxi to take us down to the centre. We walked aimlessly for half an hour before making our way towards the promenade, descending 185 steps and then walking through alleys lined with tatty souvenir shops. We stopped off at a bar along the prom for a drink. We ordered Sangria for two. We were each brought a pint glass, with handle, filled with a pale pink liquid, together with a straw and a cocktail umbrella. Not what we expected. It was expensive and I am sure it contained no alcohol.

Tired of walking we caught a taxi back to our hotel. Torremolinos was not a Capital City of Culture.

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Next morning after an early breakfast we boarded our coach and met up with the rest of our group. After an orientation drive round Malaga we headed  inland towards Granada via Loja and Santa Fe. It was here that in 1492 Columbus obtained the go-ahead for his voyage to the New World. The scenery got better as we approached Granada located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada.

We arrived at our hotel at 1.00pm and after a nice lunch at a Tapas bar we were back on the coach for a guided tour of Granada. Our first destination was the Arab Quarter. We could look across to the Alhambra Palace with the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance.

01. The Alhambra Palace

We walked through the typical narrow streets of the Arab Quarter. It is no longer frequented by Arabs but retains its name because it is the only area that still has its old houses and streets.

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Our next visit was to the Carthusian Monastery. inside there were some marvellous alters and stained glass windows. In contrast to the splendour of the Church the area occupied by the monks was very Spartan. The paintings in the refectory seemed very cruel, with lots of torture and beheadings.

In the evening we went to a Flamenco Show. The  musicians were good but the dancers were fantastic, especially the ‘Lady in Red’

06. Flamenco08. Lady in Red07. Lady in Red

Tomorrow we could look forward to a visit to the Alhambra Palace.

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Help, I am lost !

I was approaching the end of my holiday in Annecy and realised that I had not been on a proper walk. So, I went to the tourist information office and picked up a couple of leaflets on local walks in the Foret Domanial du Semnoz .Just 3 – 4 miles, a couple of hours walking. So, assured that all I had to do was follow the red and white marks painted on the trees I set off with confidence.

I was enjoying myself although the forest was quite dense with just occasional views of the lake.After about an hour I realised that I had not seen any markers for several minutes. I tried to backtrack but with no luck. I was lost.

Back home I would not think about going on a new walk without my map and compass but today I had nothing. I proceeded slowly heading in what I thought was the right direction to the lake.

I know. If I meet someone I will ask them for directions. But what will I say. I had done French ‘O’ level in 1960 but had hardly spoken a word of the language since then. But I could hear voices, a couple were walking towards me. Somewhere from the mists of time the words came to me. Aide moi. Je suis perdu.  Ou est la Lac.

They were helpful and pointed me in the right direction.

Lake Annecy

I came out at the lakeside near to Sevrier so I knew I just had to follow the path/cycle track back to Annecy. I  glanced at my watch. Oh dear. I had arranged to meet up with my wife in the park prior to going for a meal. I was going to be seriously late. I headed back at maximum speed, at one point nearly breaking into a jog. When I got back I knew I was in deep trouble I was in “La Maison de la chien”

It took some retail therapy and my credit card took a bashing to get out of this one. I think my wife ended up with a new handbag and a purse.

That evening we had another marvellous meal. Fresh Perch from the lake.

It had been another unplanned adventure but I promised to be a good boy for the final day of our holiday and just stay by the lake.

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A half day in Chamonix

During our holiday in Annecy we made a trip out to Chamonix. The high spot, literally, of our visit was a cable car ride up to the Aiguille du Midi at 3842 m.

The first section took us from 1030m to 2317 m . We could admire the view of the Mont Blanc summit and below us, the Bossons glacier.

The second section took us to the Piton Nord.

02 Aiguille de Midi

04 Aiguille de Midi

The view from the terrace was fabulous. We had come up the easy way on the cable car but we watched climbers who had come up the hard way.

We crossed a footbridge upon which I felt quite exposed and made our way to the terrace on the Piton Central.

03 Aiiguille de Midi01 Aiguille du Midi

A walk through an ice tunnel led us to the Gallery of the Vallee Blanche. More incredible views.

After almost two hours it was time to board our cable car for the return ride to Chamonix. We had plenty of time to look around and grab a warm drink before our return to Annecy.

Another day to remember.

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A meal with a view

We were in Annecy and had done the tour of the lake so it was now time to explore. At the Tourist Information Office I had been given details of a bus service that would take us high into the Semnoz Alps. Sound promising, it could be an adventure.

We made our way to the bus station with plenty of time to spare and enquired as to where we caught the bus. The person pointed across to the other side of the bus depot and said “La”. We followed his instructions to the bus stop and then, just to check we asked someone else. We got the same reply “la” and were pointed back to where we had just left.

We were confused. Had we discovered La La land years before Disney ?

No problem.We knew we wanted the Yellow Bus so we waited until we saw it turn up. There were quite a few passengers waiting to get on and we felt conspicuous and a bit out of place. We were the only two people without mountain bikes and the only people not wearing lycra ! The front half of the bus was space to hang your bike on a strap. To the rear were seats and so we sat at the back wondering what was going on.

Half an hour or so later when the bus stopped everyone got off. We watched the cyclists zoom away to find their mountain bike trails.

05. Annecy

Jean and I started on a steady stroll towards the top of the mountain. It was so peaceful, the only sound was the ringing of the cowbells. The views were marvellous.

Eventually we had walked far enough so we retraced our steps down to the Hotel Semnoz-Alpes. Situated at 1704m. It was lunchtime so we decided to treat ourselves. The region is famous for its local cheese. Le Reblochon de Savoire. We chose the house speciality.  Jambon Fume and Croute au Fromage with Salade Verte. A glass of Kir and a glass of white wine.

06 Annecy

The meal was fantastic as was the view gazing across the valley at the snow topped mountains.

After a long leisurely meal we wandered back to the bus stop and caught the 3.55pm bus back to Annecy.

It had been a bit of an adventure and a meal to remember.

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En Vacances, Annecy.

It was way back in 2000 that we had our first holiday in France. We love our lakes and mountains holidays so we chose Lake Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of SE France. What could we expect?

We flew into Geneva and were met by our rep who drove us Annecy. Later at our hotel we were introduced to our local rep who led us on a short walking tour of Annecy pointing out some of the local attractions. She said “  I assume you ate both fluent in French.” I replied “Non, why do you ask ? “ She explained that in this region a lot of the people could not or perhaps chose not to speak English. But added “ I am sure you will be OK.

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Annecy was beautiful with the River Thiou running through the centre. Alongside the waterway there were lots of baskets planted with flowers making a very colourful scene.

04. Annecy

The Palais de L’Isle is a 17th century castle on an island in the River Thiou. It Mostly served as a prison and courthouse until the French Revolution. Today it houses the local history museum.

We had booked our holiday on a bed and breakfast basis at our hotel but with a flexible dining option. This provided us with vouchers that we could use towards the cost of a meal at some of the restaurants in Annecy.

For our first night we chose Les Ecuries du pre Carre a lovely restaurant tucked away in a courtyard. The menu was brought to us and it was thicker than many novels that I have read, It was totally in French, so lets have a go. I just about knew my poisson from my viande but we could be in for a surprise.

It was an excellent introduction to French cuisine and of course their wine. Three hours later and feeling full we left the restaurant and made our way back to our hotel. It had been an interesting first day.

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Time for a dip

Down the beach this morning the air temperature was 1 degree C. The water temperature was 5 degree C.

But for some people it was time for a paddle.

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Actually it was a couple of the lifeguards out on a training exercise.

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I continued my walk along the beach and although I was looking into the sun I thought I saw a monster ! On closer investigation I realised it was just two pieces of driftwood.

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My imagination had run away with me. Was it the effect of too much red wine last night.

I glanced to my right and I am sure I saw the Iron Man nod and whisper Yes.

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