May 3, 2016
Murray and I arrived in Madrid and hopped on the train south to Cordoba, where they were celebrating their annual patios festival. Local maps in hand, we joined hoards of other visitors trekking through narrow cobblestone streets to private patios around the city, every inch filled with gorgeous blooms.
May 4, 2016
A calendar photo of these arches inside the fantastic Mezquita, or Great Mosque of Cordoba, was my longtime inspiration for this trip - so excited to be here! And there's so much more to it than I knew: an actual cathedral was built inside this mosque when the Catholics took control from the Muslims in the early fifteenth century. Unbelievable.
May 5, 2016
We traveled by bus from Cordoba to Granada, and spent the first evening soaking at ancient baths and crawling back to our hotel exhausted. Three nights here, yay! This great view from our hotel room looked up steep hills to the Alhambra palace, the center of Moorish Spain in the thirteenth century. Note storm clouds gathering.
May 6, 2016
This glorious view from inside the Alhambra was reportedly a favorite of the sultan's wife. We were happy to be inside, as the rain was pounding outdoors. No matter - it made the fragrance of orange blossoms and roses that much sweeter when the sun did break through occasionally. The gardens were in full bloom!
May 7, 2016
After picking up our rental car, we started our drive west through the whitewashed hill towns, which are supposed to be bathed in warm sunlight but were actually cold, windy, and rainy. The first town we went to was Ronda, perched on the edge of a cliff and the birthplace of bullfighting. Hemmingway loved it here and Orson Welles is buried nearby.
Arcos de la Frontera, Spain
May 8, 2016
Leaving Ronda, we continued west through several charming hilltop villages with windows and porches profusely abloom and birds madly chirping. Took refuge from the rain in a cozy inn with a crackling fire for an excellent meal. After, we drove up to a national park with a turquoise lake and then on to the cliff-top village of Arcos for the night.
May 9, 2016
After nearly being blown over the cliff on Arcos, we retreated once again to the warmth of our car and headed for Jerez, the center of sherry making in Spain. We learned about the near-magical Palo Cortado, try some if you can find it. Out of the rain and off the streets, Murray's spirits were lifting - or he was lifting spirits, I forget.
May 10, 2016
Drove a short distance north to Seville and returned the car. Loved the funky hotel we stayed at for three nights, in the center of a lively neighborhood. Despite the rainwater gushing from the mouths of cathedral gargoyles onto our drenched selves, we were thrilled to get out and explore this gorgeous city. Celebrated with a new umbrella.
May 11, 2016
My sister from another mister! Bad hair days span centuries, apparently. The Royal Alacazar (palace) had many such wonderfully colorful tiles as well as impeccable gardens, although some of the latter could only been seen from a gallery above as they were closed due to all the mud. Learning to forget hair and enjoy the cadence of the rain.
May 12, 2016
A story from the fabulous Seville Cathedral: apparently, Chris Colombus was on the outs with Spain just before he died and vowed to never be buried in Spanish soil. Honoring his wishes in a literal fashion, his remains are held aloft by enormous bronze pallbearers inside the cathedral - one of the best things we've ever seen in any church!
May 13, 2016
Took the high speed train back to Madrid, gawked at the greatness in the Prado, and finally saw a bit of sunshine as festival revelry began on the plaza below our hotel window, with dancing and giant puppets. We watched it all from above as we drained a bottle of orange wine bought in Seville and celebrated good times. Ready for the tag team!
May 14, 2016
Part II begins! Today, Murray is happy to return home as I hop a short flight to Lisbon and Sean flies in from Australia to meet me there for 4 days. We are happy with the great view we have from our rented apartment, enticing us outside despite looming storm clouds. We are intrigued with the Brazilian influence in the food and street music!
May 15, 2016
Up early today for a food tour, all excellent, the biggest surprise being the devotion to canned fish. We visited a pub specializing in these tinned goods, and you can even find them in vending machines - who knew? Our trekking around this hilly town was made a lot easier thanks to this elegant outdoor elevator connecting different neighborhoods.
May 16, 2016
We went out to the sea today, to admire the monument to the Portuguese explorers of the fifteenth century and this watery fortress that became the last view of their homeland as they shipped out. Very excited to see a blue sky!
May 17, 2016
Arrived to the chaos of Marrakech! Our riad (a home converted into a small hotel) is in the medina, or old city. We will be staying here for 9 nights. Sean and I were welcomed with mint tea and sweets, and given the Marrakech 101 talk (with only a few warnings) by the charming swathed manager who spoke beautiful English. And French, of course.
May 18, 2016
Marrakech is one crazy town! Taxis, motorcycles, carts, donkeys, everyone in swirling djellabas (robes) moving in all directions. City explorations were waiting for Lizzie's arrival, so we left town for a village in the Atlas mountains for a "gentle hike" up slippery, rocky trails loaded with mud, donkeys, and their merde. Victory: I did not fall!
May 19, 2016
So excited to have Lizzie here! We had lunch at what was becoming our peaceful go-to garden restaurant where the air was perfumed with orange blossoms. The photo shows us at a historic madrasa, or Islamic school. In the evening, Lizzie and I got pretty intense scrub downs and massages. (Yes, a different culture, I understand that, but surprising.)
May 20, 2016
Time for our deep dive into the winding alleys of the medina today. Senses on overload! Endless dry goods to check out, along with squawking chickens being slaughtered and grilled, fragrant flatbreads sizzling on pans or baking in community ovens, donkey carts piled high with fresh mint...it goes on and on. Sean is thrilled to be shopping!
May 21, 2016
Heading out of the city again, this time four hours south to the edge of the desert for an overnight stay in Skoura, a palm tree oasis. We drive through lush greenery over a high mountain pass to a harsher, arid environment of sand and stone. We visit historic mud-brick kasbahs like the one here that appeared in Game of Thrones.
May 22, 2016
The next morning, we started our drive back to Marrakech and got lost when we found the road had washed out due to a storm. After a rather tense hour or so of driving through woods and across shallow rapids, we made it back to a road and things were looking up - way, way up -- check out this a gorgeous waterfall.
May 23, 2016
Back in Marrakech where the senses never sleep! A day for relaxation, some work (Sean) and more explorations. I bravely made my way alone (don't laugh, YOU try to cross a main street in a city with no stoplights and crazy traffic) to some famous gardens, but you can see why it was hard to leave our peaceful riad. Mint tea, anyone?
May 24, 2016
Our last day in Morocco - some shopping, a final lunch at our favorite garden spot, and our last evening spent on the huge square, the Jemma El Fna. Sizzling foods, buskers and storytellers, snake handlers, water carriers, fortune tellers - you name it, its all there every night, as it has been for centuries. A great way to end our Moroccan trip!
May 25, 2016
It was an easy short flight from Marrakech to Barcelona today. Lizzie was delighted to be back in one of her favorite cities and went out to walk her old neighborhood while Sean and I visited Gaudi's Casa Batillo. We had a rather stupendous Air B&B apartment for five nights in the Eixample neighborhood, where Lizzie lived during her student days.
May 26, 2016
Spent the day visiting old haunts like Parc Guell and the old city around the cathedral, the fabulous Bouqueria market, and walked up Las Ramblas for the street mimes.
May 27, 2016
Had another great food tour and learned a new skill! (Yes, one of these pourrons did make it home.)
May 28, 2016
The last day of our trip -- a visit to check on progress at the always-under-construction Sagrada Familia cathedral, a walk around the sea and university, a fun and crammed lunch stop at Lizzie's favorite cava bar from her student days, and more strolling around town. A relaxed way to end this fantastic journey.