Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A Spanish Village Called Grazalema

Please let me introduce to you the little mountain village of Grazalema.  After spending the first few days of our trip to Southern Spain in a city, we decided to take to the mountains and without really knowing where we should go or stay, we happened upon an apartment rental in this quintessential little Spanish village.   

This was our first glimpse of the village as we drove the winding roads through the hills from Granada towards our home for the next few days. 

I’m not sure we could have chosen better because this little place is so cute, walkable, friendly, sprinkled with fun little shops, full of charming little restaurants and bars, and nestled down amongst some steep mountains full of challenging and beautiful hiking trails…

Oh, and wild ibex, which just happen to have an uncanny ability to climb steep rocky slopes which I will share with you in a bit. 

If you think this all sounds like just the perfect place to spend a wonderful holiday in Spain, you are correct, except for one thing – the apartment we rented had no heat, and I suspect very little insulation in the walls.  We didn’t know this before coming here.  In fact, it hadn’t really even occurred to me to see if the apartment we were renting had heat.  Now I did realize that it never gets terribly cold in Grazalema, despite it’s location in the mountains, but heat and a place in the mountains just seems like it should go hand and hand.  Well, my friends, I was mistaken, and if you recall from the first blog post in Granada, it was rather cold in southern Spain the week we were there.  When we arrived in Grazalema, the owner who happens to be British (lots of Brits live in southern Spain) met us and took us to the quaint little apartment.  

It had an adorable little kitchen...

And three bedrooms so the girls each got their own, which they loved!

The view from the terrace off the master bedroom was amazing...

And the apartment even came with an electric piano where Ellie and Leah spent lots of time practicing their creative musical skills.  It was perfect, and perfectly cold!  As the owner unlocked the front door to let us in, he pointed to a few large bulging bags sitting by the door.  They were full of firewood and despite having no built in heat, the little apartment did have a small woodburning stove.  We made good use of that stove, along with the portable propane heater that was sitting in the corner.

But as mentioned above, I’m not sure there was much for insulation in this cute little apartment, and while it got nice and toasty if you were sitting next to the woodburning stove or propane heater, take a few steps away and it was chilly, down right cold in fact.  We survived just fine, and to have a woodburning stove for a few days to curl up next to with a glass of wine and a good book in the evenings was wonderful!  

There were some fiercely competitive board games played in front of the fire too, and I'm not kidding.  Do not get involved in a board game with these two - they take it very seriously!

Our time in Grazalema was quite relaxing compared to some of our trips where we are go, go, going, sightseeing as much as we can see and walking for miles and miles through city streets.  First of all, the apartment also came with a little electric juicer and every time we stopped at the local grocery store, we came home with a bag full of fresh Spanish oranges. 

You can't go wrong when you begin each day with some treats from the local bakery and four glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice.  

Secondly, the village was small and there were very few tourists around in the middle of February.  We read that in the warmer months Grazalema becomes quite busy and overcrowded as it's a popular destination for hikers.  There are several trails that lead out into the mountains right from within the village.  But while we were there, the people we saw were mostly locals.  In fact, I felt a little like an intruder as we walked the nearly empty streets of the village, happening upon a local every now and again.  It was quite obvious who the village residents were compared to the tourist.  But none the less, everyone was friendly, and we loved peaking into their homes, especially the front entry rooms with their beautiful wooden doors and colorful tiles. 

One day as we walked through the narrow streets of the village we noticed some birds cages hanging outside a window on one of the houses.  Inside were a couple of chirpy little parakeets.  

As we continued to walk, we came upon another house with parakeets on the balcony, and then another with cages hanging outside the front door.  We went on to see several houses with parakeets outside of them on that sunny morning.

It was the day we discovered the parakeet obsession in town that we went hiking in the mountains behind the village.  We finally had some sunshine, so we headed out of town and followed a trail that went up, up and up, through the rocky and forested terrain.  The views were amazing!

The girls bounced around from boulder to boulder as we walked.  The landscape made a wonderful playground for them.  

I love hikes like this through challenging and rugged terrain.  

As we walked, we kept our eyes open for some ibex.  Eric has come across a herd of them on one of his early morning walks, so we knew they might be around.  Towards the end of the hike, we still hadn't spotted any and were about to give up our watch when suddenly we spotted them, climbing up the sheer face of the mountain that was just across the valley from us.  

They were hard to see at first, but once we spotted a few, we suddenly were able to see that the mountain side was covered in them.  They were climbing up what looked like an impossibly steep rocky slope, sometimes pausing for a few moments to determine the best route, leaping across crevices and somehow staying on the side of the mountain the entire time.  

They were fun to watch, and a little scary too, making us gasp when we saw even the youngest members of the herd making flying leaps that no sane human would ever try.  But ibex are made for living in this rugged environment, their sturdy hooves make mountain climbing look easy.  

We did venture out of the village of Grazalema during our stay as well, and today I leave you with photos from another beautiful village we visited, Grazalema's neighbor to the north, Zahara.  

Grazalema sits just beyond the mountains to the left in the photo above and you reach it by taking a breathtaking yet terrifying drive on a narrow winding road that takes you high up above the clouds and over the mountain.  

The streets of Zahara are similar to Grazalema...

but different too.  As we walked up and up and up to reach the heart of the village, you could feel that Zahara has it's own identity.  

High above Zahara sits the remains of a castle, the Castillo de Zahara de la Sierra.  

We climbed the narrow streets through the village and soon found the path that leads up to the tower.  

We basically had the hike to ourselves, maybe passing one other couple along the way, which was almost perplexing because when we reached the top, the view that greeted was stunning!  

To have the top of the tower all to ourselves from which to enjoy this 360 degrees of spectacular panorama was amazingly awesome!  So please enjoy the photos, as we did the views.  

The Photographing the Photographer series continues from above Zahara, Spain.
I call this Graffiti in the Sky.

Friday, 20 May 2016

High Tea Anyone

I’m jumping around a bit with the blog post today.  I do have more of southern Spain to share with you, but I wanted to do this post today while it’s fresh in my mind.  You see, yesterday I got to experience my first proper English high tea and boy what a treat!  I looked up the actual definition of the term “high tea” to see why it’s called that and not afternoon tea or just tea and to be honest, I found several differing opinions on what “high tea” actually is.  Sometimes the Internet has too much information.  But what I do know for certain is that my friends and I went to a charming little place called Gilbert’s Deli yesterday at 12:30 to have their version of high tea and my what an experience.

We had our own room upstairs that was more like a living room or sitting room than a café, with two sofas with cushy pillows sitting around a large square coffee table that was filled with all kinds of goodies.   

You should have heard the oohing and ahhing when we entered the room and first saw the table.  It was gorgeous, set with china plates, saucers and teacups, and platters of sandwiches, cakes, cookies, scones and other goodies.  We were so enamored by this beautiful display that we just stood there gawking at it for several minutes before we even sat down.  It looked like a masterpiece, a great work of art, and we just wanted to feast on it with our eyes before we actually started eating anything.  As much as we wanted to taste the delicacies on the table, I think we were all a little reluctant to ruin this pretty picture by removing even one of the cakes or sandwiches from this beautiful display. 

But finally we did.  We sat down, poured ourselves a cup of tea, adding cream and sugar of course, and started filling our plates, first with the little sandwiches, then a scone with clotted cream and jam, and finally on to the sweet treats.  There was such a variety it was difficult to decide what to try first.  We ate and drank slowly, taking our time enjoying the food, the drink and each other’s company.  As I started to feel full, I decided to take a break and I grabbed my tea cup and sat back against the pillows on the sofa.  I noticed that my friends did the same thing at exactly the same time.  I think we all wanted a little break from eating so we could savor that one last treat before calling it quits and asking for boxes to take the extras home to our families.  We sat sipping our tea and just chatting about our families, life in England (we are all American by the way), what it’s going to be like when we move back home.  I get together with these ladies every Thursday and we never have any problem finding things to talk about, and this particular Thursday as we sat sharing high tea together was no different. 

Finally, we reached for the platter we hadn’t touched yet.  I think we all had the same thing in mind.   

We had saved this beautiful plate for last - Victoria Sponge cake and what I'm pretty sure was carrot cake.  Delicious! 

And that was a proper English high tea, or our version of it anyway.  Good friends, beautiful food, and a cup of tea. I’m smiling just think about it.   

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Granada - Home to the Fortress and Palace of Alhambra

There was a reason we specifically chose Granada as our first destination on this trip to Spain.  It is the home of a place called Alhambra.

A mighty Moorish fortress and palace that sits high on a hill looking over the city of Granada, with snow covered mountains behind it.  What a sight!  And one of Eric's favorite places we've visited while living here in Europe.  The walls and courtyards exhibit some of Spain’s finest examples of Islamic architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although it has a long Christian history as well.  Much of what you see today was built by the Moorish emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar during the 13th century, but following the Christian reconquest in 1492, it became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella.  It is believed that Christopher Columbus received the royal endorsement for his voyage from within these very walls.  The architecture, the style, the layout – it is all so very different from other palaces, castles and fortresses that we’ve visited.  But the one thing it did have in common were the cats.  We have seen cats in the most interesting of places while visiting Europe, including inside the coliseum in Rome, and inside Alhambra was no different.  

In fact, there were many, many cats inside the fortress walls.  We were a bit perplexed at first as to why there were so many, but as Leah stood trying to make friends with a few, we suddenly saw the reason for the cats.   

We were standing outside a shop, still closed up as we had started our visit to Alhambra early in the morning, but as the owner emerged, opening the gate and doors to let the money spending tourists in, the cats came running from all directions.  Sure enough, we see him come outside with a bag of food which he scatters on the ground as he speaks in Spanish to the mess of cats swirling around his legs.  Later, we saw some of the cats being fed by some tourists as well.  They’ve picked a good home. 

It was cold and rainy the day we visited Alhambra, not the best day for sightseeing, but we enjoyed our time within the chilly walls anyway.  The design and decoration is stunning, as are the views of the city that sits below the fortress.  So without further ado, I present to you Alhambra – the palace on a hill overlooking the beautiful city of Granada.