Please note: photos to follow in the next few days
The tour got off to a dubious start with the skipper being seriously infected before he left. The flu and a strep throat had left him weak and not really in the mood for any travel at all. But loaded up with antibiotics and parecetamol, he boarded the plane for Malaga. He had a long delay waiting for Kate in Malaga airport, during which time he slept and tried to recharge his batteries. Finally we drove out in a snazzy rental car off towards Ronda, in the mountains above the horrifically overdeveloped coastal strip. We wound up through the hills and finally at about 10pm, stopped at a small pension in the middle of nowhere. We were too tired to go much further and just wanted some food and a kip.
The following morning dawned cold and grey and our landscape was like something from the wilds of west Cork: hills covered with rocks everywhere and just the single road we had taken winding through this moonscape. Ronda wasn't far away so we headed off and got ourselves settled in. The town is built on top of two pieces of conglomerate rock jutting 130 metres out of a fertile valley floor. A beautiful bridge connects the two parts of town and everywhere you go you get the sense of height. It is a great introduction to Andalucia, with whitewashed houses on winding narrow hilly streets. Aside from the views over the valley below, the highlight for me was the visit to the bullring with its museum. I was taught the rules / ettiquette of bullfighting as a kid and this was the first time for me to be inside a ring. It is a surprisingly small building but shrouded in history. They say bullfighting has its roots in the gentleman cavalier classes in Ronda.
Next it was off to Cordoba, a place I had briefly stopped in on my way to the Algarve on the motorbike over two years ago. Then I remembered a city of small withe streets and lots of heat. We ended up in the same hostel and I suppose just wandered the winding lanes, seeing what we could find. There was the usual touristy stuff selling tack but a surprising number of good quality handcrafts shops doing jewellery and ceramics, something Andalucia is famous for. The highlight of our stay has to be the Mezquita, a mosque built in the 8th century by an Arab family from Syria whose numbers were decimated by clan wars and so they left in search of peace and freedom. They ended up un Cordoba and built one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Outside is a patio, a courtyard full of orange trees which insulate you from the noise of the world outside the patio walls. When you walk in you get the impression of subdued light. It seems to stream in through small apertures and add to the sensation of peace. There are lots of double arched pillars supporting the roof which gives the impression of space. Indeed, at its height, the mosque could hold 40,000 worshippers. But gradually after the defeat of the Al Andaluz empire, the Catholic Church began to change the mosque, allowing small chapels to be built in the side alcoves of the building. In the centre, some of the space was used to build small worship areas and a main altar of grand proportions. In this area, the roof was raised in a dome and big windows let in much more light than in the older moorish areas of the building. What you end up with is two buildings in one. It is surprising but it really works. The two do combine in a sense of harmony, perhaps because the Church in its wisdom, recognised the beauty of the building and sought to enhance and not destroy it.
From Cordoba, we headed across the flat plains to Granada, supposedly the jewel of Moorish Spain. We headed off the beaten track a lot and ended up in Priego and Guadix, to the East of Granada.Guadix was recommended by th guide book as the town with the cave suburb, where people had carved a barrio out of the hillside and created underground houses. When we got there, we found a weird area but with a white trash feel to it and so didn't stay. we headed off to Granada, not knowing what a big city it was. Evantually we found the Alhambra Palace and finally were able to park the car and get a place to stay. Like Cordoba, the Albaycin area where the tourists stay is full of narrow winding streets. But unlike Cordoba, it is not nearly so clean and well maintained. I think it is because the inhabitants of the Albaycin are Moroccan or working class Andaluces, with the occasional punk drug dealer thrown in. Where Cordoba has embraced tourism to become a great place to be, Granada has not got there yet. Saying that, Granada has a charm and feels like a lively place, though much more touristy that its cleaner cousin. You hear accents from all over and the place abounds with tack shops selling flamenco dresses and fans and other such stuff you would never get a use for at home.
But the real reason we were there was to see the famous Alhambra palace, built by the Moorish Nasrid rulers from the 8th cetury on. It is perched on a hilltop overlooking the city and really is a town in itself. On entering you walk down an avenue lined with trees, where you can see the foundations of buildings on both sides. You really begin to get the feeling that the archeological task facing those trying to preserve the building is immense. At the end of the complex, overlooking the city, is the fortress of the Alcazaba, again a small town in itself, but perched on the hilltop in an ideal defensive position. The jewel of the tour is the Nasrid palaces which is the most peaceful place. The river was diverted 8kms to here to provide water for the fountains in the many patios which decorate the buildings. The adornation is arabic and highly ornate with a style that is very different from anything I have seen outside Andalucia.
Our last day, we headed cross country to see some more of the rural side of Andalucia. Our flights were in the evening so we had lots of time to play with. We ended up in the El Chorro gorge, a place famous among rock climbers. It is a narrow cut in the mountains about 5 kms long in an area surrounded by reseviors which feed Malaga and the coastal areas 50 kms to the south. After a walk down to the gorge and a lovely lunch in a restaurant overlooking the water, suddenly our trip was over. It seemed like we had been away for ages. Really we had seen a lot but without having driven too much. Despite my not being too well, I enjoyed myself a lot and would gladly go back to see this part of Spain that the hurly burly ou coastal tourism never gets to. Long may it stay that way!!