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01/2020: Andalusia – Part II

For part I of our trip please see 01/2020: Andalusia – Part I

Day 5


Well, the forecast did change. It used to show rain for the first 3 days of our trip, now it shows it for pretty much all the other days too. Gibraltar certainly looks extremely wet and still getting sprinkled this morning.

Breakfast in Holiday Inn Express is pitiful. I know we’re not in Spain and I’m not expecting jamon or even real fried eggs, but this egg mass they serve could’ve at least been warm. Anyway…

While preparing for the visit to Gibraltar the question of transportation did come up. Regular cars are not allowed on the Rock. Everyone agrees the best way is the funicular. Surprise! The funicular is under the regular maintenance until… the day after we leave Gibraltar 😅. We did find out about it right before the trip actually, but we had already booked some hotels by that time, so no change of plans, and, frankly, this wouldn’t warrant a giant detour anyway. But the plan does need to be made. Turns out, as we’re told in the hotel, there are taxis loitering at the funicular parking lot offering tours. We get there (by this time the rain has stopped), find what seems to be the only parking spot available on the huge lot, and find a guy who agrees to make it a 3 person tour.

We visit Saint Michael’s Cave

and get to the top of the Rock …

greeted by the famous monkeys.

One of them decided to hitch a ride on Anne 😯. Maybe it was attracted by the bright color of the handbag or jacket, or maybe it picked on the smallest member of our expedition. For Anne it turned semi-scary, but she held her bag firmly and the monkey quickly jumped off.

Finishing the tour with a view of the marina.

The tour took maybe 1-1,5 hours. As soon as we are back to the parking lot the rain starts anew. Frankly, we’ve had enough of wet Gibraltar by this time. We get into the car and drive west. Moving west actually gets us out of the cloud by the time we reach


and we decide to stop. Since we planned to spend most of the day in Gibraltar there is some extra time. Tarifa is the closest to Africa European town. We park at the southernmost point possible. The hills in the distance are in Morocco.

This walkway leads to the Isla de las Palomas, the former island (and now obviously a peninsula) that is officially the southernmost point of Continental Europe. We didn’t go all the way, mainly for the time consideration. Instead we enjoyed the view.

This walkway separates Mediterranean Sea on the left (since I’m facing south) from Atlantic Ocean on the right.

The water at the beach is beautiful (this is Atlantic Ocean, not Mediterranean Sea 🙂). Curiously, the beach is not completely empty in January, some surfers are surfing…

Remains of the medieval castle are also nearby.

This is the place where Alonso Pérez de Guzmán (known later as “Guzmán el Bueno”) refused to surrender to the Moorish army, even threatened by the death of his son held captive by the attackers. The story, by the way, as most medieval stories go, is rather hairy. Apparently, when Alfonso X the Wise, king of Castile, León and Galicia (and, by all accounts, one of the most learned rulers in medieval Europe) died, he left a will designating his grandson to be the next king of Castile. Maybe it was because he had had some troubles with his sons Sancho and Juan, although Juan eventually joined forces with his father. Anyway, after Alfonse X death Sancho took the power instead, becoming king Sancho IV. Juan strongly disagreed. A conflict ensued, including, among other things, execution of Juan’s father-in-law, who apparently threaten to kill Sancho. Unfortunately for Guzmán, who was tasked with the defense of Tarifa, his son had been placed under Juan’s care beforehand. It was Juan, who joined forces with Moroccan Marinid Sultan to attack Tarifa, that Guzmán had to stand against in 1296 CE, sacrificing his son’s life. Guzmán el Bueno defended Tarifa successfully and his descendants became Dukes of Medina-Sedonia, an important noble family in Spain, until one of them, another Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, had the misfortune of being the commander of Spanish Armada in the disastrous 1588 campaign against England, which brought the dukes out of the crown’s favor.

Baelo Claudia

Today we take a revenge for missing Acipino by visiting the remains of Baelo Claudia, a Roman city near the modern village of Bolonia that was founded here in 2nd century BCE (the Roman city was founded, not the modern village). The site includes a museum with some artifacts and info about the town history. It also includes remains of the temples and fish salting factories.

This was a major tuna salting and garum (fish sauce) production site back then.

Here is the amphitheater.

The town bears the name of Emperor Claudius, who provided financial help when the town was heavily damaged by an earthquake in the 1st century CE. When it was heavily damaged by another earthquake in the 2nd century CE, the funds were not so forthcoming and the city gradually lost its significance and was abandoned by the 6th century.

Coming here we made a major mistake by not taking umbrellas with us. The sky was cloudy but those were not rain clouds. The rain clouds came unexpectedly from the ocean and this time we got wet before we could take cover in the museum. Especially Toma got really wet, but despite that she bravely returned to the site to finish our visit and get sprinkled a bit more.

The good news is, we are done with sightseeing for today. We are going directly to Jerez to stay in a hotel with parking. Hopefully the skies will be friendlier tomorrow.

Jerez de la Frontera

My and Tamara’s interests in Jerez diverged. My knowledge of Jerez is associated with sherry wine, which I esteem, especially the cream sherry variety. There are many bodegas (wineries) in the city and most offer tours, one even features a painting collection including works by Goya… Toma and Anne couldn’t care less about wine, but Jerez is also home of Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art), dedicated to preservation of the Andalusian horse breed and horsemanship techniques. Besides that they organize shows. Yep, dancing horses. Try to stop Toma and Anne from that! We have tickets reserved for 12PM (the only show time). I’m trying to plan the day with a helpful lady at the hotel, but the ends don’t meet. Everything closes at 2PM. Some places do open some time in the afternoon, some don’t. The hotel (TRYP Jerez) actually sits smack in the middle between Escuela del Arte Ecuestre to the north-east and the town center where Alcazar and several other attractions are to the south-west.

We figure to go NE in the morning and SW in the afternoon. There is a tabanco (sherry and tabas bar) called Tabanco El Pasaje that features daily flamenco shows. That would be nice and I reserve a table for 9PM tomorrow (the show is free but you need to reserve a table if you want to sit, and it involves exchanging emails in Spanish and picking a minimum food plan).

By the way, if you’ve been in Spain and traveled between cities you have probably seen giant bull silhouettes along the highways, Turns out they originated from Jerez, as advertisements of a sherry producing company Osborne. They are officially known as Osborne Bulls. When a regulation limiting road-side advertising was created and the authorities started removing the bulls, people protested as the bulls had already become a part of the landscape. And so they stand strong today, the now adless (not a word) bull silhouettes.

Day 6

Jerez de la Frontera

The morning looks beautiful and we start our day with an attraction that opens first: Palace of Time (its Spanish name is “Museos de la Atalaya“). The walk takes us past Sandeman winery with a pleasant aroma of sherry in the air.

The museum (which is in a small palace) has an impressive collection of clocks, formerly a part of private collection. The clocks are mostly from XVII-XIX centuries and either French (featuring a highly artistic design) …

or English (with a famously precise mechanisms).

Some of the clocks are very unusual. This one for example is a sundial with a little lens that can lighten a fuse for the cannon. So, yeah, this is a working cannon. That’s one way to make an alarm clock…

This one features a horizontal clock dial, so to speak.

Amazing metal and woodwork on some pieces. The mechanism and case designs at this level of luxury were done by different masters.

Definitely a place worth visiting, and the tickets cost next to nothing. Outside the museum also features nice gardens, Everything is wet and slippery as it appears it rained this morning.

A large stork is sitting on the roof nearby.

Now is the time to head to the dancing horses. A little observation concludes that the stork’s nest is nearby, on the Sandman’s chimney. I guess they like the smell too.

The School of Equestrian Arts includes a museum that taught us some facts about horsemanship in Spain, which was interesting.

They ask people not to tape the show and we respected that. It was beautiful and concentrated on different steps (many different steps), especially with horses stepping sideways. There were solo and group performances with beautiful music. Here is a rider doing some last minute training.

Carriage museum that we thought of skipping actually includes a visit to the stables, so of course we won’t skip it. The carriages are in pristine condition, but for Anne horses were much more interesting…

It is 2PM and, in accordance with the old Andalusian tradition, two things are happening:

  1. Places are closing
  2. Rain is starting

We find a cafe that is open (really nice feature in Google Maps to know the opening and closing hours) and have lunch. Now back to the hotel we buy tickets to Tio Pepe, the most touristy bodega (but also the only one that has tours in the afternoon) and off we go, as it is now about 3:50 and we need to get there by 4. Here is where Google Maps failed us. Or, maybe, my phone’s GPS failed us, but the walk was not enjoyable. We got lost and wandered under a pouring rain through cobblestone streets with flowing streams 😒

until finally arrived at our destination.

Tio Pepe turned out to be the name of the wine that brought success to the winemaker, Gonzalez Byass. We would call it “dry sherry”, they call it “fino.” The tour concentrated on the history of the company (it seems to be a multifaceted giant at this point I think), history and making of sherry (the English word apparently originated from an Arabic one). It was more interesting than I thought it would be.

These bottles are not for tasting. They’ve been here for more than 100 years.

There are some barrels signed by celebrities. Anne is excited about the one bearing Steven Spielberg’s signature. Here is one by Guglielmo Marconi.

There once was a wine tester working here who started a tradition of placing a glass of cream sherry on the ground for the mice to drink. There are videos on youtube of mice actually trying it. The tradition continues…

Bodega visit ends with tasting of Tio Pepe (dry sherry) and Solera (cream sherry) wines. What can I say, they make pretty good ones. Toma tried them for the first time and she did like the Solera. Anne had to do with grape juice, which she also liked. So, despite settling on a “touristy” tour we enjoyed it. And later, while driving between cities, we will have encountered giant Tio Pepe emblems of the bottle with a guitar and a hat, standing nameless near the highway, just like the Osborne Bulls.

Alcazar of Jerez is closed. There are rather favorable reviews of it on the internet but it seems one has to stay in Jerez for several days to accomplish all the visits.

Jerez, Spain

Same goes for the cathedral.

There is an interesting museum in Palacio del Virrey Laserna, the residence of the Conde de los Andes (Counts of Andes) since Reconquista, and it’s still open for an hour or so, but we’re too tired and wet for it. Anne’s boots and my shoes are leaking, and it’s clear that neither of us can use our rainy weather footwear any longer 😒. Fortunately, the way to our hotel lies near the shopping area. Looking through several shoe stores we pick new boots for Anne. Hoorah! I, on the other hand, or rather, foot, stepped into a deep puddle…

Back in the hotel we rest until about it’s almost 9PM and it’s time to go to the tabanco. Our dinner (again) consists of tapas. For a drink we get about half a liter of dry sherry, not the best but OK. It is too dry for Toma and we order some cream sherry for her. Very nice sherry, about the same as Solera we tasted in the winery. The price: €1.30. Amazing… Not as amazing as the flamenco performance though. We are not flamenco scholars but we thought it was excellent, with plenty of energy and skill.

Day 7

We stayed up late last evening and did not hurry to wake-up today. Another nice Spanish breakfast buffet (today we discovered a dish that turned out to be a classic Andalusian: Salmorejo, a kind of a thick cold soup made by pureeing tomatoes and bread with oil and garlic, garnished with pieces of boiled egg and jamon. We like 🙂


We are in Seville by about mid-day and instead of going to the hotel (which is outside of the touristy area, in Los Remedios district) we park near Jardines de Murillo and walk towards Alcazar through the historic Santa Cruz neighborhood, a former Jewish quarter of the city before the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.


While we’ve seen plenty of citrus trees with fruits everywhere we went, the walk in Seville is nerve-wrecking. I mean, look at this! Trees full of ripe bright orange fruits 5 inches in diameter, with a perfect even color. No, we did not try to get one.

Remembering the old city centers of Andalusia, I think Seville’s Santa Cruz is, probably, the prettiest, partly because it seems to be simply richer and better maintained.

A cat in one of the courtyard of course gets Anne’s close attention.

By now we know that there might be a rain in the afternoon, right? Well, jokes aside, the weather radar shows the same pattern every day: rain clouds rotating around some formation in the Atlantic Ocean, not moving anywhere. Since we really want to see Alcazar gardens before it starts raining we direct our way there.

Alcazar has a substantial ticket line and we are observing the surroundings

including the nearby Catedral de Sevilla.

After waiting in the ticket line we see the sign: the Gardens are closed (because of a possibility of a rain). Isn’t it great? They’re closed because of rain before it rained 🙂. Oh well. We walk through Alcazar.

Although it was built in the mudéjar style for a Christian ruler (Pedro I of Castille), Alcazar of Seville was actually finished at about the same period as Alhambra, since Seville was reconquered more than 200 years before Granada (though building of the Alhambra palace started earlier). The word Alcazar, by the way, comes from Arabic “al-qasr”, which means “palace”, or “castle”. The palaces and the fort of Alhambra also make an alcazar of course.

As mudejar palaces go, Alhambra seems to be larger in term of the number of sights and a bit better maintained overall, but Alcazar of Seville is certainly no slouch 🙂

Alhambra has the Palace of Charles V, a building styled clearly in European Renaissance traditions, and Alcazar, built for Christian kings, has a number of areas designed in European medieval style. They don’t look nearly as attractive or sophisticated as mudejar designs, but of course these walls should be adorned with tapestries, that would certainly liven them up.

Sure enough, the rain starts and, like yesterday (and the day before), it only gets stronger with passing time. We take our time indoors among exquisite patterns.

A look into the gardens from a window.

Last shot before leaving Alcazar.

We have encountered several closed cathedrals on this trip, we are not skipping on the Cathedral of Seville, despite the ticket line.

The story is that someone among the local clergy said in a discussion about expanding the cathedral: “Let’s build a church so beautiful and grand that those who see it finished will think we were mad.” Well, the cathedral is… let’s say it’s rather large 🙂. There is no way to make a picture from inside that would show the just how large it is.

The tomb of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish). It is still weird to me that in some countries some names are actually translated. Or have been at some point…

After walking around the cathedral we head to Giralda, the bell tower. Built originally as a minaret, the way up goes over ramps rather than stairs, made this way so one can ride a horse up there. As Toma pointed out, they are actually way easier to walk up on than a staircase, especially a worn out one. Although, as my coworker pointed out, if you drop something on the way up you might have to chase it down to the bottom 😅. There is actually a short stairway at the top, added during the cathedral’s expansion. One thing for sure, the tower provides great panoramic views from all sides.

Windows on different levels offer slightly different angles.

Here is the bullring, La Maestranza

Here I believe is the Church of San Salvador

And here are the towers of Plaza de España under the murky Seville skies.

It’s now late afternoon and we pick a cafe for lunch and return to the tiny streets and orange trees of Santa Cruz.

By the time we arrive to our hotel it is dark outside. The hotel has a parking lot. We didn’t reserve the parking thinking of finding a space close by, but with this weather there is no hesitation. Sold! We saw a small supermarket on the way and decide to have an excursion to get stuff for Anne’s breakfast tomorrow. Gotta say, the food prices in Andalusia rule comparing to NY!

Day 8


Is it a rainy day in Seville? Of course it is! We kind of saw… well, we really didn’t see everything we wanted yesterday, but rather we did visit the areas that were high on our priority list. We didn’t see flamenco here, good thing we did that in Jerez. We didn’t see Alcazar gardens – not this time. We could’ve done a lot more walking around if it were less rainy, oh well. One thing that we still must see is Plaza de España. No problem finding parking close to Parque de María Luisa, 5 minutes walk through a light rain that actually stops when we reach our goal.

Built in 1928 for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, it is obviously not as old as medieval buildings, but it’s an exceedingly pleasant and photogenic place, and I can’t stop making pictures. Toma’s explanation is that I can finally photograph something without rain, but the combination of circular shape, water, columns and colorful mosaics likely has more to do with it 🙂,

A fountain and horse-drawn carriages don’t hurt either…

Clearly, this place has more than a fair share of posing for a snapshot

The mosaics on the side are dedicated to different Spanish cities.

After Plaza de España, instead of going to the car, with a little detour we walk over to the Royal Tobacco Factory, the one featuring in the Carmen story. We are in the walking distance of Alcazar and the Cathedral, if the weather were nice we would almost certainly walk there. As such we turn to the parking… Another thing we haven’t seen is Casa de Pilatos, another fine example of mudejar architecture and design. Finding parking there turns out to be exceedingly hard and after wiggling through some tiny streets of the old city I begin to protest. The memory of Arcos is still fresh plus we really don’t know where we’re going. Driving through tiny cobbled streets filled with pedestrians is not my type of vacation. We’re gonna do without Casa de Pilatos.

However, driving on Paseo de Christobal Colon (Christopher Columbus), Toma stops us: “Look, it’s so beautiful, we must stop, here is an underground parking lot!” The area we are passing is around the bullring, La Maestranza, and it is indeed beautiful, and even sun decides to shine a little through the clouds.

A promenade along Guadalquivir River offers an outlook to the bridges and Torre del Oro (The Golden Tower). The river is fully navigable for 80 km from Atlantic Ocean to Seville, and this made Seville an important port city all through the Spanish Golden Age, until a devastating plague epidemic and a flood reduced the population of the city by almost a half in the mid 17th century. Casa de Contratación, an organization managing all of the Spanish trade in Americas since 1503, was headquartered in Seville, in a building next to the cathedral, until it was moved to Cadiz in 1717.

The neighborhood around the bullring is rather attractive and we give it a walkaround.

Anne is hungry and we find a restaurant with a decent menu and reviews. By the time we’re done the rain is on again but we feel satisfied with our excursion, much more so than before we stopped.


This is another optional destination on our list, and with all the stops in Seville we are barely making it. Near a small town of Santiponce, less than 10km north of Seville, lie the remains of the Roman city of Italica. The city was founded for Roman army veterans by Scipio Africanus after his victory over Hasdrubal Gisco‘s Carthaginian army at the Battle of Ilipa nearby. Italica was a birthplace of two Roman emperors: Trajan and Hadrian.

We arrive about an hour before the closing but we are told that most of the grounds close half an hour earlier, and the museum seems to have closed already. We are in Spain after all.

While there are pretty much no structures left besides the amphitheater, there are amazing floor mosaics lying there on the… well, floor, under the open skies. These houses were part of the “new city” as it was expanded during Hadrian’s rule.

These mosaics were obviously a feature of some well-to-do households I’d say…

Italica was smaller than the nearby city of Hispalis, and, because of a change in Guadalquivir river, it started losing its importance in 3rd century CE. Hispalis has eventually become Seville and there are no remains of the ancient city that we know of, Italica’s “old town” is lying under Santiponce, but the “new town” is here…

The amphitheater is still here, though not in the best of shapes. This stadium used to be the 3rd largest in the Roman Empire at the time, and sat 25000 people.


At this time we are the only visitors here, and the lady at the entrance is eagerly awaiting our departure.


The rain almost spared us in Italica and we thought we’re done with it, but midway to Córdoba we caught a real thundercloud! It took us longer than expected to drive through that downpour in the dark… We didn’t reserve parking in our Cordoba hotel for the same reason we didn’t do it in Seville – it may be possible to find parking nearby – and we opted to get it for the same reason as we did in Seville – to avoid dragging our suitcases through the rain. Just like in Seville, out hotel is across the river from the historic center, but in Cordoba it takes us much much closer to the attractions. In fact, now that the rain has stopped me and Toma opt for an evening stroll towards a medieval market, sort of similar to the American renaissance faire idea, but with more commerce, less space and significantly better views.

Day 9


This is the morning of the last day of our vacation, and the forecast for today is actually good! We wonder how Spain looks in the sun 🙂. That has to wait a little though, as the morning is very foggy, but that makes nice views too.

One of the main Córdoba attractions is Mezquita, whose proper name is Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba (Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba). Today is Sunday and, as it is a cathedral, the visiting hours are affected by religious services, so we start with it, especially given how conveniently it is located relative to our hotel, right across Puente Romano (Roman bridge).

Building of Mezquita was started in the late 8th Century by Abd al-Rahman I, the first Emir of Córdoba. When the forces of Umayyad Caliphate (based in Damascus) captured most of Spain in the early 8th Century, this land was joined as a province to the huge Umayyad empire (with Córdoba as the provincial capital). When Umayyad dynasty was overthrown by Abbasids in 750AD, Abd al-Rahman, who was caliph’s grandson, was able to escape, traveled to Córdoba, and (not without some gruesome medieval fight for power) was able to become the ruler here. He refused to pledge allegiance to Abbasids and declared a new independent state that became the Moorish Spain. Mezquita was built on the site of a Christian church, the remains of the Visigothic building are visible in a floor window. As the story goes, at first the temple was shared between Christians and Muslims after the Moorish conquest. Later the Christian part was purchased by Abd al-Rahman I, the old building was destroyed and the new one started.

As a capital of a large state, Cordoba was a big city by medieval standards, about 400,000 people at the height of Córdoba Caliphate, and Mezquita building is quite large with many entrances.

The myriad of double arches is mesmerizing, and it’s the first thing one sees upon entering.

These arches are classified in our guidebook as “Visigothic”. Apparently, Visigoths, who ruled Spain from 5th to 8th century CE, were influential in popularizing the arch as architectural element. Horseshoe arch, the signature element of Islamic architecture, was also originated by the Visigoths.

One can find all kind of arches here…

Smack in the middle of the building is a cathedral nave.

Built during the reign of Charles V (Carlos V around here), it was a subject of controversy, apparently requiring the emperor himself to confirm the decision to build it. Charles V, a renaissance monarch and no stranger to arts, was impressed with Moorish architecture. He spent his honeymoon in Alhambra (remember, he commissioned a new palace there). Charles was not happy with the results of cathedral addition inside Mezquita and said upon visiting it: “You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace.” I wouldn’t be that melodramatic but the designs do differ drastically…

The tiny streets of old town surrounding Mezquita are filled with cafes and souvenir shops.

Very close to Mezquita is Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (castle of the Christan kings), a fortress built for several Christian rulers in mudéjar style, starting in 13th century. The place was used as one of the residences of Ferdinand and Isabella. Ferdinand also used it as a headquarter for the military campaign against Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in Spain. Spanish Inquisition used it as one of their headquarters.

The view to the garden from the tower

The museum hosts several impressive Roman mosaics

These ruins seem to be inhabited…

Today we can finally visit a garden in an alcazar.

Ferdinand and Isabella met with Christopher Columbus here before his 1492 expedition.

Out of Alcazar, we are walking along an old city wall to enter it through Puerta de Almodóvar.

The statue in the adjacent park is of Roman philosopher Seneca, who was born in Cordoba in 4 BCE.

Speaking of ancient times, Cordoba was conquered by the Romans in 206 BCE, then a Carthaginian city. Romans called it “Corduba”.

Within the old city a tiny street goes though the former Jewish quarter. Córdoba Synagogue is a small building from early 14th century. After the expulsion of Jews in 1492 it was confiscated and eventually became a property of the shoemakers guild, until the walls of the synagogue were discovered accidentally in the late 19th century.

Walking through the old Jewish quarter with now familiar web of tiny streets, white houses and glimpses of courtyards.

This is a statue of Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher also born in Cordoba.

After a lunch in a restaurant that tried to be fancier than it was, but, what’s important, was open at 3PM, we continue walking until we conclude the circle started at Mezquita

There are some more places in Cordoba that we wouldn’t mind seeing, but the truth is, we have a long drive to Madrid in front of us, and we have to do it today. So, back across Puente Romano …

with a view of Torre de la Calahorra

and a last glance at Mezquita, finally under a friendly sky 🙂

Our Andalusian vacation is over. Drive to the Madrid hotel near the airport (no point of going to the city, we’ll do it some day when we have time dedicated for it) takes about 3.5 hours. Morning in the airport, we barely have enough time to catch some breakfast, buy some sherry wine (have to do it in duty free since our tickets only include carry-on), stand in line for “important” pre-boarding questions and actually get to the plane. At least the seats were as good as on the way here.

All-in-all, although this time circumstances didn’t really play along, we managed alright I think, visited many places, saw many things and learned a few, even if it were not 100% of what we wanted. Maybe some day we’ll get back to some of the places again?

All pictures from this trip are here. Sorry, due to a problem with my camera time settings, they are not sorted correctly.


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