Friday, June 10, 2016

The (other) Sierra Nevada, Spain: Journey's End

A couple of days ago we crossed the Sierra Nevada.  The one in California.  Yes, alas, we are home again.  It some ways it is nice -- to prepare a meal in an oven, to eat at a table with chairs, access to Trumpmania 24/7.  Just a couple of weeks ago we were on another continent, crossing the other Sierra Nevada.  The one in Spain. 

We were about four days ahead of schedule to get back to Málaga, where began this journey a couple of months ago.  The snow-capped peaks of Spain's Sierra Nevada are quite visible from Granada.  John pored over his maps, and found a route over the range that looked achievable. Just one 2000 meter pass (6562').  What what we found was a remote, challenging and unexpected landscape. 

The view from Granada of the Sierra Nevada...the mountains are calling.

Not only does Spain have a Sierra Nevada, it also has a Highway 395!

We followed a river canyon out of Granada, pleasantly level for the first 10 kilometers.  The geology changed from slate to limestone and the channel became narrow and steep.

Our gradual climb became steep and winding.  We were soon looking down on the sleepy village where we had just been an hour before.

We did not expect the landscape in the foothills north of the range to be so dry with the colorful geology so exposed.

End of the first day of our approach to the pass.  Our goal is clear.

On day two we were climbing all morning.  Looking down on the plain to the north is the small town with a fortress we passed through earlier.  What looks like a body of water beyond the town is actually a huge solar energy installation, and beyond that (not clearly visible), a wind farm.

The last few bends in the road on the way to the pass, our second day of 3000'+ of climbing.

Happy to be at the pass!  Now let's eat lunch!

No doubt, it was a glorious descent on the other side!

What we found on the other side were little villages clinging to the hillsides, connected only by a narrow and winding road.  Water was no problem.  Where it was not pouring down the hillside from a spring, it was captured and made available by a fountain in the center square of nearly every village.

Day three followed the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada through a series of valleys collectively known as Las Alpujarras.  What looked on our map like a curvy road that followed an even contour turned out to be a rollercoaster in and out of river valleys.  Often, as we dropped down to river level we could look across the canyon and see the road climbing on the other side.  The last river canyon to cross was the grand-daddy of them all, the Barranco de Poqueira gorge, with the three white villages of Pampaneira, Bubion, and Capileira clinging to the sides above it.

By the time we reached Órgiva we had dropped a couple of thousand feet in elevation.  The hills were lower and there were flat areas for orchards and pasture.  Evening entertainment from our campground was the goat herd passing by, eating everything in their path.  Just the sound of bells and munching.

Day four brought us to the major highway leading from Granada to the southern coast of Spain.  We would have had to find a way through this corridor had we opted for the direct instead of the mountain route.

We managed to stay off the major road the last few kilometers before reaching the coast on a route that followed the Rio Guadalfeo, through the unexpected and spectacular gorge between the Lújar and Chapparal mountains.  At one point we heard rockfall, looked over, and saw the disappearing forms of a couple of cabra de montaña on an impossible vertical slope.

The Mediterranean Sea, in our view once again.
The final stretch, with Málaga in the distance.  Just one last picture of John from the rear.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Granada, Spain: The Wonders of Two Cities

We are back in Andalusia, the Spanish region where we began our journey.  We are making a loop, and it won't be long until we close the circle.  We visited Cordoba and stood among the columns and arches of the Mezquita de Córdoba.  In Granada I walked through the illuminated rooms of the Nasrid Palace of Alhambra late one night.  These are two of the most wonderful places we have seen in all of our three tours through Europe.

In Cordoba, the Roman Bridge over the Guadalquivir River leads to the gates of the Mezquita de Córdoba.  For 2000 years it was the only bridge in the city.

The outside of the Mezquita de Córdoba is impenetrable, except after paying your 8 euros at the ticket office.

Every Sunday the Mezquita de Córdoba is open early, at 8 am instead of 10 am.  We were there right at opening, and we had the space almost to ourselves for the first hour.  It was built as a mosque in the 10th century and expanded several times.

The vertical views are as inspiring as the horizontal.
The wood mudejar wood ceilings have been beautifully restored.

Examples of beams in not-so-good condition were mounted for display in the courtyard.

Christian rule returned to Cordoba in 1236, and in the 16th century the building was converted to a Catholic church and a nave plopped down right in the middle of the mosque.  This is one of two organs installed in the church.

The carved mahogany of the choir was astounding in quantity and detail.

Another Moorish window for the collection.

Sundays must be a day to dress up in traditional garb in the city, because we saw all ages in these colorful  dresses throughout Cordoba.
It took three  days of biking to get from Cordoba to Granada, across terrain that definitely was not flat.  The white hill towns of Andalusia nestled among olive groves is the typical landscape.
Castillo de Alcalá la Real

Olive trees, everywhere.

The last grade dropping into Granada.  The valley location of the city traps air pollution, so the view of the Sierra Nevada mountains can only be faintly seen through the haze.
When I remember Granada, I remember ice cream.  It was a hot day when we arrived, and John stayed outside with the bikes while I shopped for groceries.  He must have looked hot or underfed or both, because a man exiting the store with a box of ice cream delights noticed John noticing him and his box.  The man reached in and gave John a cone and walked away.  John was poised to take a bite but remembered it might not be the best thing for his continuing lactose intolerance issues. So all that cold creamy chocolate goodness was all mine!

We stayed in an AirBnB apartment for two nights, right in the heart of downtown Granada.  It was located in a narrow alley across the street fromn the most popular ice cream joint in the city - Los Italianos.  Let me tell you, the second ice cream cone in as many days was delightful!
The street below our apartment started getting busy about 2pm and did not let up until late into the night.  The noise from happy people eating ice cream was so loud we had to keep the windows shut!
The Alhambra is the big attraction in Granada.  It is a palace complex with gardens and grand buildings.

The Palacio de Carlos V was a big hulking square building from the outside, with a surprisingly lovely round patio in the interior.

City views from the hill where the Alhambra is located were superb.
Of the multiple buildings that make up the Alhambra, the one that is star attraction is the Palacios Nazaríes.  The number of tickets sold to enter this building are limited and quickly sell out online.  We managed to get only one entry ticket to visit in the afternoon.  Additional tickets are sold the day of entry, so we left our little apartment before dawn to go stand in line.  There were many people ahead of us, some that looked like they were there most of the night.  By the time we got to the ticket window all that were left were tickets to enter at 10pm.  So John took the day shift, and while he was already snug in bed and sleeping, I ventured out into the illuminated city to see the palace.  It was a magical experience to see the intricate plasterwork highlighted by oblique light, not unlike how it must have been in the time of oil lamps.

John was able to capture images of the Palacios Nazaríes with the benefit of natural light.

It was a warm evening, and people were out eating and drinking as I walked for my night tour.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Córdoba, Spain: Chasing Windmills and Don Quixote

In the comfort of our hostal room in Segovia, John sucked up the wi-fi, alternating between the weather forecast and Google Maps, trying to decide the best route to Madrid.  There are only a few options, and the most direct involve crossing mountain passes.  As far as navigation goes, I trust John completely and and will follow him wherever he goes, content to pivot my gaze, looking for photo opportunities. 
Gaining elevation toward the pass, trying not to let that fresh snow from the previous days of rain concern us.
The morning we left Segovia the sun was shining, the first time we can remember for many days.  It was a gradual but persistent push to the pass, stopping only to inhale a few muesli bars for energy to beat the clouds gathering on the mountains.  We made it up and over, and in 30 minutes we descended the elevation it took us the three previous hours to attain. 
Once we reached the pass we bundled up in all our layers for the descent.  
Ten days of travel took us from the clogged streets of Madrid,through the open and sparse countryside of La Mancha, and winding through mountains and over passes back to Andaluisia.
One more day of cycling brought us into the urban core of Madrid, where taxis far outnumber cyclists.

Madrid making its position known on the biggest issue currently facing Europe.

We were impressed by the tidiness and many small parks and green spaces throughout the downtown.
We spent an afternoon walking the city, the sidewalks full of people, and maybe a few tipping a glass of Tio Pepe.

The road leaving Madrid to the south is the definition of flat.

Approaching our next cultural stop -- Toledo (Spain, not Ohio)

Toledo showing off its more picturesque side.
Workers were installing canopies above the streets in anticipation of the inevitable summer sun.

The old part of Toledo has something old and interesting at each turn.

Wed spent a couple of hours in the Museo de Santa Cruz, where Roman mosaics from the area were on display. 

The sturdy fortifications of Toledo.

The exterior of the Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, a mosque built in 1000 AD, and later converted to a Christian church. 
During excavations outside the mosque a portion of a Roman road and overlaying a sewer were found.  So typical of what we have seen all over Spain, where the new ruling civilization builds on top of the previous one.
After leaving Toledo we were n the heart of the La Mancha region, where the deep colors of earth, tree, and sky meet.

And like Don Quixote, we were looking for windmills.

I am merely the Sancho to John's Don Quixote.  We have been casually looking for a copy of the book in English at used bookstores without much luck. 

Red poppies!  The joy of Spain in spring!

We passed through the small town of Almagro, where the main plaza is completely surrounded by timbered structures, unusual for the region.  The end is in sight for these painters.

We stealth camped one night on a reservoir.  In the evening two gentleman walked by and were placing strips of paper with numbers along the shore.  They told us the next day there would be fishing.  We didn't quite know what that meant until the next morning as we were leaving a caravan of cars with fisherman arrived to sett up for the annual derby.  We left just in time, I think!

I said to John, not a few minutes before, that we had not seen storks for a while.  And then we came upon this stork condo!

The second and highest pass we crossed leaving La Mancha and returning to Andalucia, on our way to Cordoba.

Spain has areas designated as Parque Natural, which we are not quite sure that means, since there still are plenty of houses and grazing.  But we do find some open areas.  We found this oak forest with a clear and cold running stream nearby, one of the better stealth camps.

Morning light as we were dropping from the mountains into the valley that will lead us to Cordoba.

Flat and hot, that is what I remember from the last stretch to Cordoba.

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