Friday 29 June 2012

Road tripping Spain, Malaga, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Jerez and Seville

April 2012

Even though we’d only been part of the Moksha crew for less than three months, being shore bound after sailing all over the place in the Mediterranean felt a little strange at first. We checked in to a hotel near the harbour a Cartagena and spent a couple of days looking around the very beautiful town and putting a rough plan together for our time in Spain. It was great to relax for a little while and enjoy a couple of steak dinners after being on a predominantly vegetarian boat for quite a while.
Karen found a new friend in Cartagena
Beautiful buildings and car free zones abound

Roman theatre was discovered under a palace and has since been excavated

Sculptures depict the role Cartagena played in the Spanish civil war
Our hotel carpark was in the basement via car elevator - a very new experience
It was soon road trip time though so we hired a cheap car and headed west along the coast enjoying the scenery and sunshine. Our first stop was Malaga, the home of Pablo Picasso. It’s another very picturesque town with the almost compulsory fortress on the hill and remnants of a Roman amphitheatre. Our budget motel room overlooked the bull fighting arena but unfortunately the matadors had been in town the week before so there was nothing scheduled during our brief stay.

Malaga and yet another Roman amphitheatre and medieval fortress
View of the Bull Ring from our room. Picasso was a regular spectator.
We did enjoy a visit to the Picasso Museum where we were able to view hundreds of his works which ranged from absolutely beautiful to significantly weird. There was also an exhibition of photographs of the man himself taken by a who’s who of the photographic world of the time which was really interesting. By accident Karen found out that from 6pm on each Wednesday you can tour the Museum for free, not a bad saving of 15 Euros each.
He could certainly paint but what was he on? Must have been some seriously strange stuff.

Malaga also boasts a magnificent cathedral, a very nice harbour and street after street of fantastic bars, cafes and restaurants. We tucked in to a great range of local tapas and a huge pan of paella that had our bellies bulging. The local wine was really very nice too. All in all, a great start to our Spanish road trip.
Impressive cathedral but someone forgot to finish the second tower
Melaga habour would be a nice place to tie up for a few days
Great Food, Great Wine, Cheap As, Life is Good.
Seriously good paella
Next day we pushed further west along the beautiful coastline towards the famous rock guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar. As usual, we’d done our accommodation hunting online and soon discovered even backpacker rooms featuring some of the worst reviews we’ve ever read on the tripadvisor website are ridiculously expensive in Gibraltar. However, we were able to find an extremely modestly priced room that even included breakfast in a hotel just on the Spanish side of the border crossing. On arrival we were even more impressed to find it was every bit four star with great facilities and a very nice view over the harbour from our room.

Make sure your tray table is stowed and your seat upright as you cross the airfield
Next morning we walked through Gibraltar border control with customs and immigration controls limited to waving our passports at the guard from a distance as we strolled past. We then had the unique experience of walking across the runway of the airstrip which is dissected by the only road in and out of the city. Traffic lights stop vehicular and pedestrian traffic when planes land or take off. That’s the theory anyway but traversing the strip we couldn’t help scanning the sky wondering if we were about to become an aviation version of road kill.
Three time Sydney-Hobart line honours winner Astor. Gorgeous!
We headed straight around to the Queensway Quay Marina to meet an American couple, Richard and Lani, on their beautiful 1923 Fyfe built 86 foot timber schooner, Astor. Before leaving Australia we’d been booked to crew on the boat from mid May for the entire Mediterranean summer. Astor was originally an Australian boat and has an incredible history, including winning Sydney to Hobart line honours three times in the 1960s. We’d really been looking forward to sailing on her in the big classic regattas through the Med but unfortunately Richard was forced to cancel those plans not long before we reached Spain. The boat’s engine was being replaced but the new motor was delayed and was now not going to be delivered until well into the season.  It was still great to spend the day chatting with them both and having a good look through their magnificent boat. The timber work  and stained glass cabinetry below decks has to be seen to be believed. They certainly don’t make them like her anymore.
The famous straights of Gibraltar. Standing in Europe with Africa just over there.
The next day was tourist time as we took in many of the amazing sites on offer. While the saying may go ‘Solid as the Rock of Gibraltar’ it’s actually far from the truth. In reality Gibraltar is all limestone honeycombed with a great number of natural cave systems and many, many miles of tunnels excavated over hundreds of years by the British outpost’s defenders. We visited St Michael’s caves which contain the most impressive limestone structures we’ve seen anywhere in the world. During WW2 a hospital was built in one area of the cave but has since been converted into an incredible concert venue.

Of course the famous Gibraltar monkeys provided plenty of amusement on our travels with one little guy getting very up close and personal with Karen.

We also took a very interesting tour of some of the caves excavated by British soldiers during the last war. Thousands of troops were garrisoned inside the rock hidden away from the enemy’s sight. Ironically the Germans never attacked Gibraltar but a great many Allied service personnel still died there from the appalling conditions inside the rock. Tunnelling in rotating shifts, 24 hours a day seven days a week during the oppressive summer temperatures took it’s human toll as did the freezing cold and damp conditions which the garrison had to endure in winter.

Jock's Balcony with unbelievable views.
Redlight - don't cross now or you may suffer wheels disease.
Normal traffic may now resume
It's dark down there.
Back down from the heights of the rock, we thought it our duty to check out a few of the historic old pubs that abound in town. Brits of a few hundred years ago must have been much more vertically challenged than today considering how Rob learned the hard way he had to duck to avoid getting a fractured skull from the low roof beams and ceilings in a number of establishments. Anyway that’s what he blamed the next day’s headache on.

From Gibraltar we made our way up the Atlantic coast making a stop at Cape Trafalgar where we sat for a while, looking out to sea contemplating the horrors that occurred just over two hundred years ago on these now placid waters. At the time Europe was again at war and on HMS Victory Lord Nelson lead the British fleet to do battle against the combined French and Spanish fleets which were on their way into the Mediterranean from Cadiz. They met off this cape on the Spanish Atlantic coast on October 21 1805. Nelson famously fell along with 457 of his men however his enemy was decimated with 3,601 dead and 21 ships captured.
Cape Trafalgar Lighthouse.
It's frightening the stories these waters could tell.
When the Victory reached Gibraltar after the battle, Nelson’s body was placed in a large barrel of rum to preserve it during the passage back to England for his hero’s funeral. Folklore has it that while Nelson made it back to Portsmouth the rum didn’t, having been consumed by the crew along the way. We’ve heard of a full bodied wine before but that’s ridiculous.
Life is good at Cadiz
Karen loved these street lights
Another very impressive big cathedral

Heading further north we reached Cadiz and had a look around the historic port city and yet another impressive cathedral before heading to Jerez to spend the night . We make a point of trying to find affordable accommodation in or near the oldest part of everywhere we go. It pays off with beautiful, historic surroundings, perfect for exploring on foot. Jerez was no exception and we spent hours wandering the lanes and alleyways enjoying more old stone architecture and, wait for it, another impressive cathedral. The Catholic Church certainly knew how to stack those rocks together in fine style in the old days.
Jerez - Any city that has a memorial to a winemaker is OK by us.
And of course, a big cathedral
With very big doors

Next stop was Seville, centre of AndalucĂ­an culture and all it has to offer, flamenco, dancing horses, great wines, even better food and – a really big impressive cathedral. Seville was a place we fell in love with very quickly. However, a word of warning. If you ever think about driving in the old part of the city, just poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick instead. It will be far less painful. A seemingly random arrangement of one way, dead end, and ridiculously narrow streets make this place hell on wheels. Following the GPS to our hotel it still took four goes to get there and at one point Karen actually had to get out of the car and move some of a cafĂ©’s kerbside table and chairs aside so Rob could squeeze the micro sized hire car past between the wall on the opposite side of the street (a very loose use of the word) and espresso sipping locals.
Our Seville hotel had old world charm
Nice courtyard too. Off season accomodation bargains are great.
Ceramic tile billboards last a bit longer than modern vinyl
Seville's cathedral was the biggest we've seen so far
Absolutely massive actually
And very ornate.
Seville is the center of all things Flamenco

The city is undeniably beautiful though. We stayed a few days and even decided to celebrate Rob’s birthday with lunch at the top award winning Tapas restaurant in town – if we could get a table. All online reviews for ES LA VA were positively over the top in their praise but all warned that you sometimes needed to book weeks in advance. They only have eight  tables.

Well we simply rocked up at about a quarter to twelve to the listed address and found a tiny restaurant bar with absolutely no customers at all. A quick check of the guide book showed it was the right place so we went in and meekly asked if there was any chance of a table. ‘Se Senior – here’ the waiter said as he pointed while exhausting his complete repertoire of the English language. Being the only patrons in a restaurant is normally not a positive indicator of quality but using hand signals, mime and finger pointing we were able to order.

We started with a range of four tapas each and soon discovered why the reviews were so glowing. FOOD TO DIE FOR! We then proceeded to order the next four on the page each and before long were working our way through the entire menu and a second bottle of wine. We were so engrossed we hadn’t immediately noticed the constant influx of people that had been arriving. All eight tables, the length of the bar and the standing tables outside were packed to overflowing with locals.
Best Tapas bar in the world. Incredible food.
In Spain, and many other Mediterranean countries, most businesses close from 12.30 or 1.00pm until 4.00 or 5.00pm for Siesta then trade through to 9.00 or 10.00pm. We thought workers went home for a rest before the second half of their working day but here was living proof that they actually go and get on the grog instead. Way to go Spain.
Remember to click on any image to see larger versions
Later in the afternoon we visited the city’s Art Museum housed in an incredible 17th century convent. The building was as much a work of art itself as the amazing works by some of Spain’s most famous artists.  Another couple of hours passed before we knew it and by then it was off to dinner, more wine and a Flamenco show in our hotel. Getting old may be a pain in the bum but birthday’s can still be fun. Thank you Seville.
Grandeur on a massive scale

Every ceiling was a work of art in itself
This one was all carved timber
What the cathedral looked like before it was hemmed in by high rise buildings

The World Expo site from the 1920s was one of our favorite places in Seville

Equal devision of labour?????

Each region had its own hand painted and fired ceramic fresco around the semi-circular site
Ceramics were used everywhere.
Awesome place.
Definately the best form of transport to get around Seville.

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