Toledo is a Spanish hill town with a long history which of course is not exactly a unique offering in this part of the world. It is beautifully preserved. Being a 30-minute train ride from Atocha Toledo is very popular with day trippers. Rick Steves says stay overnight, and perhaps he is right.
That said, we were glad when the time came to catch the 20:20 back to Madrid. The crowds of selfie-snapping tourists made us feel claustrophobic. I'm not sure there is anything, well maybe the El Grecos, that you can't get in another Spanish city. All that Toledo offers is more tourists per square meter.
Dinner was tacos and pisco sours at the wonderful El Estribito Chil-mex in Madrid, not Toledo.
Our last morning in Madrid and breakfast is two eighty-cent sweet machine-made cappuccinos plus the last of the nun cookies. Yum. I'm happy to leave this apartment but sad to leave Madrid. Add Madrid to list of return-to's.
As we walked to Atocha station the streets are dead. Too dead. Then we see them. Zombies? No, cops, then officers and soldiers, jeeps and tanks. This is either a parade or a coup.
What an idiot I am, today is Hispanic Day (Da de la Hispanidad) or National Day (Fiesta Nacional de Espaa), a national holiday commemorating the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Americas. They are celebrating finding us.
No time to watch, unfortunately. We've a train to catch. The train to Granada - well, almost to Granada - is fast, as fast as 301 km per hr according to the readout over the door. And of course it's smooth and so much more comfortable than a plane. Just short of Granada, about an hour short if by car, we stopped at a new station in the middle of nowhere where we got off the train and got on a bus for the final one-hour leg. While not as comfortable the bus did have free wifi. The train tracks are being upgraded to handle the high-speed trains and are expected to be done by the end of the year.
Once in Granada, we walk to the hotel, stopping along the way for lunch at a cafe in a cafe-lined square. Looks like Granada is following the pattern set by Madrid, with square after square, cafe after cafe. Life is tough in Spain.
The hotel, Arte Vida Suites & Spa, turned out to be our favorite of the trip. Several pictures are included below. Arte Vida is quiet, roomy, and perfectly placed in the center of town. Our apartment had several rooms with comfortable places to sit, a big bathroom, even a washing machine. Perfect. The friendly lady at the desk even got us tickets for Alhambra.
We walk around town, to Plaza Nueva and then along the rio Darro that runs below the Alhambra. Lots of young people out as this is a university town. Heading back, we hear firecrackers then music then encounter a parade of solemn men and women, then a band, then a religious procession and a float and incense. Probably the same Hispanic Day celebration we saw setting up in Madrid.
Breakfast quickly becomes routine: two cappuccinos, both of which I drink, plus a pastry at Cafe Lisboa on Plaza Nueva where one of the waiters brings to mind Javier Bardem. Afterwards we head to the ticket office to pick up Alhambra tickets, but after a bit of a wait we find they only release Ticketmaster tickets. We'll have to get ours at the gate tomorrow.
Next, we stop by the TI to inquire about transport to Ronda. The TI recommends the train. Good. I'd take a train even if it the bus is cheaper and shorter. So of course now we walk to the train station to purchase tickets.
So far, most people we've encountered in Spain speak some English. In all cases, their English is better than my Spanish, since my Spanish is based on three years in middle school and decades of neglect ever since. A 128-day Duolingo streak hasn't brought it back.
After a bit of shopping - I've eyes on a pair of shoes that for some reason make me think of Doctor Who - we hike up to the viewpoint at the top of the Alcicyn neightborhood. Supposedly a dicey neighborhood at night, it seems perfectly wonderful on a sunny day. Windy narrow streets, staircases, a residential neighborhood with many sunny gardens and the impressive Alhambra as backdrop.
Dinner at Tagine Elvira. Good and cheap.
After cappuccino and pastry at Cafe Lisboa, we kill the morning until it's time to start walking to the Alhambra. Our tickets are for noon entry and we figure no more than thirty minutes to walk up the hill from the hotel.
The Alhambra requires some planning since tickets are limited. If you know the date you want to visit, morning or afternoon, and the time during this period you want to enter the palaces then buy ahead of time via Ticketmaster.
The Alhambra is big. It combines flower-filled gardens, fountains and pools and troughs of water, Moorish and Christian palaces, and on top of all this, there's also a fort. The whole is a mix of Moorish and Christian architecture set on a hilltop overlooking Granada. It's one pretty spot after another.
I am writing this on November 13 with the grim news from Paris in the background. Hard to focus on light comments to accompany vacation snaps.
So back to Spain, where it is 15 de octubre...
Paul and I had one last breakfast at Cafe Lisboa. Two cappuccinos and a pastry of some kind, always different and always delicious. Paul ordered something more substantial. We checked out of the wonderful hotel and started the walk to the train station.
Along the way we encounter not one, not two, but three demonstrations. Cool. The first, in Isabella square, was small. It's the group holding red stop signs. The second was largest of the three, and it looked like all seniors. I've no idea what they are demonstrating about so I applied google translate to their text, "Por una tributacion justa para las pensiones de los emigrantes retornados" which gave "A fair taxation for pensions of the returnees". Following up with a little searching I think they are calling for a change in the tax applied to foreign pension income and of course I've no opinion on this, I'm just reporting.
The third was a demonstration by Peta. Ha, just kidding, it was the students at one of the local colleges dressed up as some cow/cowboy hybrid. Lots of college students in Granada.
Today we traveled from Granada to Ronda. After walking to the Granada train station we picked up a couple of sandwiches at a cafe and then boarded the train bus. Half way to Ronda, in Antequera, we transferred to the train. Upon arriving in Ronda we bought our tickets for the Sunday train to Algeciris, then we walked across the newer town to the old town.
Upon arrival in Ronda, we walked from the train station towards the center of the city. Not a notable walk, just a gradual uphill through a typical Spanish town. But we shortly hit a large square overlooking the 100-meter-deep El Tajo gorge. The gorge is spanned by an old stone bridge, the Puente Nuevo (or new bridge, curiously). On the other side of the bridge is the original town, the oldest part of the city. That is our destination, as we've rented an apartment on Plaza Duquesa.
Our apartment, at La Colegiata de Ronda, Plaza Duquesa Parcent, 14, is wonderful: roomy, comfortable, and complete with a friendly and helpful proprietor. We had several rooms on the top-floor, open beamed ceilings, kitchen with washing machine, couch, chairs, and beautiful woodwork throughout. The small, deep windows gave geranium-bordered scenes of a tree-filled square. Comfortable and picturesque and located right in the middle of the old town. The apartment is next to the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Mayor Ronda. Of course it's all rich with history, with many stories of locals fighting off the insurgents down in the valleys below.
After checking in we walked back over the bridge to the newer part of town. I bought some socks and then we checked out the grocery stores. Dinner was delicious tapas at el Lechuguita. 10€ got us 9 tapas plus wine and beer. Their signature dish is a quarter head of lettuce with some secret sauce, and it really was good. We came back later in the week and ordered it again. It's crowded with locals, many stand as the tables and stools are few. We capped off the evening by a walk around town then back to the apartment for wine.
Today we left Ronda for Tarifa where we'll take a ferry to Tangier. We walked to the train station for the 9:25 to Algeciris. Fortunately the rain had stopped. The train was a local so it makes a number of short stops before its final stop in Algeciras. Once in Algeciris, we cross the street to the bus station to catch the bus to Tarifa.
The bus from Algeciris to Tarifa traveled over windswept hills with expansive views of the Mediterranean and, further out, to Africa. Africa looked close, like Port Angeles from Otter Point. Arriving in Tarifa the bus stopped several blocks from where I expected but the town is so small it really doesn't matter, at least if you are being dropped off. Of course it does matter if you want to catch a bus. One of many times the CityMaps2Go app was helpful.
Tarifa brings to mind Santa Cruz and Valparaiso: tacky buildings mixed in with nice ones, surf shops, lots of kids. But Tarifa also has a well preserved old town with windy narrow streets and buildings in Andalusia white. Tarifa's beach is long and wide and beautiful, kilometers of sand. The winds and waves make it popular with surfers.
Our hotel, Casa Blanco, is one of those that photographs well but in person it's worn and neglected. No good place to sit, check. Loose toilet seat, check. Worn paint, check. And then there was the odd design choice of putting the rain-head shower in the middle of the bathroom. Maybe it sounded cool but it wets everything when you use it. Not sure it's advisable to get design ideas from the RV industry.
But, and it's a big but, the hotel is conveniently located in the old city, next to a cafe lined square and just blocks from the port. And the proprietor is helpful and all to happy to share his opinion though more laid back than I'm accustomed to.
We checked in, changed to shorts as the weather was warm and a little muggy, then walked to the ferry terminal to ask about tickets. Turns out there are two ferries and they run every other hour. About 36 each way for a 35 min ride. We then walked down to the Isla de las Palomas via Calle Alcalde Juan to watch the surfers. The actual tip, the southernnost point in mainland Europe, is closed to the public. Then we returned to town for an afternoon snack of quiche and cappuccino. It started to rain hard so we finished our food then headed back to the hotel.
For dinner we walked to a Mexican restaurant but as there was only one staff member and he looked terribly over worked we left and ended up eating Italian, pizza and pasta.
We started the day by walking the block to the city wall then through a doorway called Puerta de Jerez. In the next block was Cafe Azul where we had good crepes. Today's election was on our minds. Also the ferry ride to Morocco.
It was raining hard when we walked back to our hotel, Casa Blanco, where we checked out.
Well, we didn't completely check out, we left a couple of bags with the hotel. We were only spending a night in Tangier. Not much, no, and probably like judging Mexico from an overnight in Tijuana but at least I'll add Africa and Morocco to my list of visited places.
We caught the 11 am ferry to Tangier. No problem getting on, it's not high season. The ferry is as nice as a BC ferry but zippier looking. It's a catamaran and they look like they are going fast even when they aren't.
The ferry was about half way across the Mediterranean when it slowed then stopped. We'd encountered a very small boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. The ferry passengers crowded around windows and decks to observe the little boat that looked to be quite full with maybe nine people. The boat was barely visible among the waves. We waited almost an hour until a red Salvamento Maritimo boat arrived to provide assistance. This is a similar red boat to that i'd seen docked in Tarifa.
It was somber almost emotional seeing this tiny boat full of people trying to get to a better place.
And while I was standing there on the deck, thinking about what I was seeing, I thought however the election goes we know everyone in Canada will abide by the results, they'll all work together, and that this stability is something most people on this planet can't take for granted.
After checking into the elegant La Tangerina we explored the neighborhood, known as the Kasbah, as well as the nearby Medina and the square called the Petit Socco. Dinner was lamb tagine at Le Nabab.
Back in Tarifa we find our bags already in our room at Casa Blanco. We got a larger more comfortable room but it had the same dumb shower. We snacked at El Gecko (4 hamburgers) and returned later in the day for dinner. Returning is ok if done judiciously. In between we walked the beach and picked up medicine for a cough I'd developed. I found Tarifa charming but I am also aware some don't.
Yesterday's rain left, the weather was blue sky perfect. I was sorry to say goodbye to Tarifa. Morning coffee at a cafe, walk to the beach, then breakfast at, yes, El Gecko, cappuccino and scrambled eggs and bacon. Pack, settle account, then walk to the bus station for 12:30 bus to Seville. I think it was 40 for two.
The bus was largely empty, nice for us if not so nice for the bus company. I listened to an audio book as we headed north. The countryside was hilly and green and windmill covered near water then flat and dry inland. I saw a number of white towns on hilltops, the signature of Andalusia.