(For information on my Egypt trip, and El Joker Travel agency, click here.)
Travels in Spain is divided into the following sections. (They are not links; all are on this one page.) I have put the section titles in large font, so that it is easier for the viewer to scroll past the parts he or she is not interested in reading. At the bottom of the page is a sample pack list for a woman traveling to Mediterranean countries in summer.
Seville (and some background information) Train to Granada
A Gypsy Flamenco Show in a Cave
Our Last Day in Granada: Spanish Shawls, Post-cards, and an Internet Cafe
Two Days in Madrid
The Medieval City of Toledo
On the Tour Bus to Granada
Granada Otra Vez
Puerto Banus: "Scottsdale on the Mediteranean"
The Hill Town of Ronda
The Mercerart Dancers Perform at the Hotel that Evening
Last Look at the South Coast
(and some background information)
In the summer of 2000, I took my second journey over the Atlantic. While traveling I kept a detailed journal. The journal was about thirty pages long! I decided to write following article in order to attempt to cover some of the highlights, but true to form, I keep sticking in more and more details. If you want to read the whole thing, better to print it all out and head for an armchair.....
After a twenty-two hour journey, which included two plane changes, there we were, (my eighteen-year-old daughter Lyssa and I) in the Seville airport. In a week, we would join a tour group which would travel from Madrid down through Andalucia and then to Morocco. Because we both speak Spanish pretty well, and wanted to try some travel on our own, we left early, and arrived in Spain a week before the rest of the group.
I'd better tell a little about us. I was in my early fifties, at the time of this trip, and I am tall and rather chunky. None of the women from my family are what could be called pretty, but I like to think we all have nice honest friendly faces. My daughter is of medium height, very beautiful with dark blue eyes and dark red hair, and a kind of assured feminine ladylike way about her. I don't know where she got the genes for her beauty, because my husband's face, while a likeable mug, is no where near lovely either.
Both of us were dressed in long-sleeved outfits with long skirts. (We had sewn most of the clothes we wore, and we packed light, so we could walk several blocks with our backpacks if we had to.) In Spain, Lyssa mostly wore tank tops with her long skirts, but I've had a brush with skin cancer, so I kept my long sleeves on all of the time, and also always wore a hat if we were in the sun. She had brought long-sleeved, high-necked overblouses with her, also, so that she could be more modestly dressed during the days the tour group would be in Morocco.
Why had I wanted to come to southern Spain? Well, I am crazy about the Gypsy music of Spain. (I also am crazy about the music of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia, Persia....) and Andalucia has been on my list of places I have longed so ardently to visit, for a couple of decades, at least.
This was my second trip overseas. In 1998, I had gone for a wonderful tour through parts of Greece and Turkey, with the Mercerart Dance School of Seattle (the group whom we would join in Madrid.) I was not a member of the dance school, but their travel agent was my sister-in-law, Mary, and she hooked me up with them because she knew that I wanted to take a trip overseas, and they needed extra people in order to bring their hotel rates down.
On their trips, they did not only do the usual tourist sight-seeing, they also performed. The leader of the dance school, who had taken groups of students overseas many times, would arrange these performances in advance and there were usually five or six performances per trip.
During that trip, some of the members of the school had told me that when their leader had been younger, she had had them do impromptu performances on the street (during their overseas trips), in addition to the arranged ones. This idea was very exciting to me. I had already decided I would join the school on their next trip if they would have me. (They were planning to go to Spain and Morocco in 2000.) I now decided to try to talk my own dance troupe into traveling to Spain and doing some street performing while we were there.
For many years my daughter and I had been part of a "gypsy" dance troupe at the Arizona Renaissance festival. (I as a singer, she as one of the dancers). Lyssa was immediately enthusiastic about the "Gypsy Magic World Tour" (as we began to jokingly call it), and we had tried to get our whole troupe to get on the band wagon. At first they were all so excited about going, then one by one, reality set in, and all they dropped out, for various reasons.
So I called Mary to see if it was possible for us to join Mercerart after all. She checked with Camille, while I waited "on pins and needles" because I wanted to go so badly. The answer was yes, and I called Lyssa and suggested to her that we join up with them.
"Well, Mom," she said, "I actually don't care so much how I go, I just really want to go," she said. So, elated, I signed us up. We did want to try a little independent travel on our own, so here we were, traveling to Spain a week ahead of the rest of the group.
After several very long plane rides, (and almost missing our connection because we were in the wrong terminal of the confusing London airport), we arrived in the small non-luxurious airport which is located a ways outside of Seville.
Following the advice of a woman we talked to at the terminal, we took the city bus into town. She told us that the taxi from the airport into the city was expensive, about the equivalent of $30 U.S. dollars.
The bus was uncrowded, and dirt cheap. Right at dusk we arrived at an intersection near the old-town area where are hotel was supposed to be, and started walking off down the street with our backpacks.
What a wonderful sensation it was to be walking down an actual street in old-town Seville after dreaming about it for so long! The cathedral in the evening light was history and poetry in stone...The streets were full of foot-traffic and the cafe's were starting to fill up.
We found the hotel, which had been built as an aristocratic private home several centuries ago. My sister-in-law the travel agent had suggested that we splurge on at least one of these "paradors", (historical buildings which have been made over into hotels.) We marveled at the high carved wooden ceilings, and the lovely courtyards featuring the painted tiles which Seville is famous for. There was a grand staircase leading upstairs, entirely done in custom painted tiles which worked together to make one enormous design. Like a grand Mexican home of the nineteenth century, the carved double doors of the rooms opened off of patios, which had fountains at their centers. Our room had Seville tiles along the tub of the bathroom, a high carved ceiling, and an antique, large double bed with a carved headboard and a rather hard mattress. There were no windows in the bedroom itself, or in the bathroom.
At about 11:00 PM we ventured out again into the warm evening air. The streets were as filled with people as they had been at eight, and most appeared to be locals! On every corner, almost, there was a church of such beautiful architecture that it affected the emotions. Narrow, winding little cobbled streets, wrought-iron grilled windows, myriad little signs for the bars and tapas places and cafe's. Little tables were set out on the sidewalks and the tiny "plazas", and they were filled with extended family groups, groups of older women, groups of girls, groups of guys, and the occasional couple, all talking, talking, gesticulating wildly---(no one in Spain seems ever to be indecisive about anything!)
We found a little patio place called the Tapatio Manzanita, had a "tortilla" (in Spain this means a rather dry egg-and-potato omelet) and a plate of queso manchego, the delicious aged cheese, and toasted our arrival in Seville with a glass of red wine.
The next day (after a lovely continental breakfast served on the shady main patio) we took a long walk, following one of the suggestions from our "Walks in Seville" brochure, which my sister-in-law the travel agent had given us. First we walked down busy streets filled with fascinating little shops of every kind of craft, between tall ornate buildings. High above, screens shaded the streets. As we continued on down the avenue which led to the river, the day began to get quite hot. But we saw wonderful sights: the beautiful park, and the Plaza de Espana, with its gorgeous tiled pictures representing all of the sections of Spain, and a wonderful museum of folk art which included recreations of workshops demonstrating the different local crafts, a long painting of the parade of the Holy Week, when all Seville stops work and dresses in Flamenco attire, representative folk costumes, and much, much more. It was truly one of the most insteresting museums I had ever been to, and there were very few people there.
Totally wiped out by the heat and the long walk, we entered a little restaurant at the edge of the park. Fancy white tableclothes and groups of businessmen lunching, (and of course talking opinionatedly). At this restaurant we found out that at a restaurant in Spain, when you order wine, you have bought the whole bottle! Having paid for it, we drank it, becoming quite giggly. Lyssa had never before had that much wine at once, and became ill later in the afternoon.
The walk back led us past the Alcazar. We had spent too much on lunch, and did not have enough Spanish money left for our admission. We couldn't see an ATM machine. After a few minutes hesitation, I went round the building, ducked behind a bush, pulled up my skirt (I had a long slip underneath) and unzipped the pouch I always wear under my clothes when traveling. We went back to the money-changing booth, and turned two more traveler's checks into Spanish money.
The Alcazar was built by a Spanish ruler of Seville, in the style of the Moorish Alhambra. He had seen the Alhambra, and commissioned Moorish craftsmen to build him something smaller but similar in style. Though we were hot and tired by this time, we were enchanted by the beautiful intricate tile-work.
We had planned to continue up into the Barrio Santa Cruz, which at one time was the Jewish Quarter. But Lyssa had had it. We headed straight back to the hotel
and had a nice long siesta. Later I went out and brought back some bread and cheese and juice for her dinner; I found a little shop owned by a Turk, which sold Doner Kebap (known in Greece, and here in the US, as Gyros).
Train Ride to Granada
The next morning we got up bright and early for our train trip to Granada. Checking out, we found that the price for our two nights in the magnificent parador hotel was greater than the price that my-sister-in-law-the-travel-agent had quoted. Not being an assertive type of person, I just went ahead and paid it. I was glad, however, that pre-paid vouchers had been purchased for all of our other hotel stays. Sure, it limits sudden changes in where you are going to stay---but it sure helps with the budgeting!
Lyssa was feeling better, fortunately With our backpacks on our backs, we walked the few blocks to the tourist office, and there found out which bus to take to the large train station. The train ticket system was a bit of a hassle (you have to watch like a hawk to see your number appear above one of three windows, because it's not there long, and if you don't jump up to the window quick enough, they go to the next number, and they won't go back! We had to take another number and wait all over again. Also, we almost missed our departure because the name on the board said "Bobolillo" (the transfer point) instead of our destination.
But the train ride was worth it. Large windows showcased rolling hills of olive trees and golden grain, little villages with whitewashed walls and red tile roofs.
Across from us, four German youths had an amazing variety of foods spread out on the table between their seats, including four long-stemmed wine glasses. One longlegged tanned fellow in shorts and an Aussie hat kept cheerfuly offering different items to the others, but his travel-mates looked like they had partied too late the night before.
I was pleasantly surprised how rustic and "unspoiled" the country still appeared. The twentieth century does not seem to have changed the basic appearance of rural Spain.
I had been afraid that the transfer would be difficult, because the time given between trains was only five minutes. But almost everyone on the train disembarked and trouped, en masse, to the tiny platform in the sun where we caught the next one.
As we neared Granada, we began to climb into mountains, some with gray rocky cliffs. When we got off at the tiny Granada station (crowded with youthful European tourists and their backpacks) my heart did a somersaut to see the outside walls of the Alhambra, visible high on the hill from the platform.
Leaving the station, we walked uphill on a little side street which had a tree-lined, small-town feel. At the corner, we caught a cab which took us through a bustling urban area. Our hotel turned out to be on Navas street, a tiny pedestrian alley, centrally located. It was paved with large flat stones, there were many cafe's and restaurants which had little tables outside, and the air was filled with their chatter. Here and there between the cafe's were hotel entrance-doors with large vertical signs above them, and among them was the Hotel Navas, our hotel. I liked the small foyer and the friendly woman behind the reception counter. After getting settled in our rooms and taking a little siesta, we walked out in the early evening with the idea of getting something to eat.
We had planned four nights and three whole days here. This long stay was prompted by Lyssa's request--- back when we were planning our week on our own---that we stay at least three days in one place, long enough to the rhythm of it. This turned out to be a wonderful thing to do.
Bypassing the rather boisterous places right on Navas, we walked down two little blocks to a large plaza where many outside tables made up "Cafe Futbol". We noticed waiters were coming around to the tables. As it was too early for most Spaniards to consider eating a meal, most people were having "tapas" snacks, tall icecream drinks, and so on. I don't remember what we ate, but we were enjoying watching the people. A table of three elderly women, elegantly dressed, were having a lively conversation. We enjoyed the sight, as older women rarely get dressed up in either California or Arizona to go out for ice cream.
We went walking, as I always want to do the first evening in a new city, and found the Cathedral, its towering carved stone walls looming on three sides of its own little plaza. There in that plaza, sitting on folding chairs and with an attentive audience, was a full orchestra, in pressed white shirts and dark slacks, giving a concert of classical music! I looked at one of the little cards that were lying around, and found that this concert series is sponsored, if I remember rightly, by the city employees of Granada.
We read on the card that one of the upcoming concerts in the series would feature flamenco selections. That would have been wonderful to hear.
When we walked back to Navas Street, the little outdoor restaurants were beginning go get into full swing. The happy noise drifted up to our windows until around 2 AM. It was fun to go to the little balcony and look out up and down the brightly-lit little street, and watch the people.
Our three days in Granada passed quickly. In the morning we would go out for some sightseeing, come back for a siesta, and go out later in the evening for dinner.
I still can recall the completely relaxed, langorous feeling of the daily siesta above Navas street. The long french doors of both our room and its adjoining bathroom opened out on tiny balconies. Lyssa preferred the dark room with the air-conditioning on, while I would rest on a folded blanket on the marble floor of the bathroom. The filmy curtains of the open window would sway slightly in the occasional breeze from the open floor-length windows, and the echoing sounds of footsteps could be heard on the flagstones of the almost-deserted street.
An older woman who lived a floor up across from us would put a caged canary out on her potted plant lined balcony, and it would sing sweetly. (In the evening we could see her sitting near the window, working on needlework in a large upright frame.)
Once I heard the sound of a rich deep voice, unmistakably Gypsy. I looked out the window and saw a lean dark long-haired man with a guitar slung in front of him, striding down the empty siesta-time street as rich notes of the strings filled the air around him. He would stop respectfully before the door of a cafe, and wait to see if he got an invitation to come in and sing for tips.
All of the retail stores would close from around 2 to 5 pm, during which time many locals were elbow to elbow in their favorite "cafe" drinking their CruzCampo beer, all gesticulating and talking loudly at once!
At first I could not find a place where I could get "just a cup of coffee" after my siesta. But I found one in a corner building right next to the plaza of the Cafe Futbol, just a little walk from the hotel. Large windows made for good people watching. They served coffee, desserts, and sweet drinks.
In Spain, many of the places called "Cafe" do not actually serve coffee unless you get it with a meal. Places called "cafes" often served beer and tapas. I found my coffee places by asking people on the street, where can I get a "taza de cafe solo?"
In the evening we would go out to get something to eat, often back to the "Cafe Futbol". The outdoor cafe's wouldn't begin to fill up until around eight or later, and then stay full of patrons until the early hours of the morning. The sounds of the people at the cafe's on Navas street would drift up to our room until 2 AM or so.
One morning we explored the Albaycin (the former Moorish quarter) with its sunny twisted streets, white-washed vine covered walls, and beautiful tiled doorways. It was high on the large hill which faced the hillside where the Alhambra is situated. When a truck or car passed, you had to press yourself against the wall to give it room. We sat on a bench in the sunny little plaza before a whitewashed church, early enough in the morning that no one had put out their white plastic tables and chairs yet.
We walked down the hill to the Plaza Nueva, going through an area with many little shops. Making notes of what was available there, and the prices, we made lists at lunch and went back. There was one shop where you could by individual painted tiles, and a place where we got reproductions of small posters for Moroccan and Spanish fiestas of the 20's and 30's, and small ceramic gifts. By sitting down and converting prices, we avoided buying some beautiful wall hangings which were actually much more expensive than I had realized when I read the original price in the shop.
At the Plaza Nueva, along with the beautiful stone carving on the front of the church, was a fountain with a large bull's head, from the mouth of wish the water poured. All over Spain we delighted in the beautiful fountains.
We reserved an entire day for the Alhambra. We deicded to walk up the hill rather than take a cab, and began early in the morning when the light was glinting on the well-work cobblestones of the little twisty streets. In the quiet it was easy to dwell on the picturesque tiled street signs (attached to the walls of corner buildings), the carved stone statuary of a church doorway, and the stone bridges over the almost dry river bed.
As the road rose higher, the sumptuous walls of old villas alternated with "cave" dwellings, (actually excavated) where a lovely tiled doorway and window were set right into the white-washed side of the hill. We were startled when a big dog's head jutted suddenly out of a small window in this cliffside, right above our heads!
We also passed the fallen-apart remains of former cave dwellings, and there were people out walking dogs and jogging in the early morning sunlight, high on the hill above Granada. And of course there was an extensive view of the city, sections with red tiled roofs alternating with sections of modern block apartment buildings in the early morning haze.
The Alhambra is truly an astounding place, though I wished it were possible to see it without the crowds of people. Going early doesn't help, because people can schedule early morning tours the day before at the tourist office, and they do.
We bought our own guide book and went through at our own pace (though we had to take a number and could not enter the Moorish palace part until noon). One thing I really appreciated about my daughter Lyssa is that she is able to be intellectually involved in what she sees, and, like myself, can spend a good amount of time experiencing, and delighting in, the artistic creations of the past. We became engrossed in studying every room.
The incredible tile mosaics, and walls of painted tiles in beautiful designs, the Arabic decorative calligraphy, the lovely arches and views---these captivated us, inspite of the tourists always coming through----
The extensive gardens of the Generalife, so often pictured, were not actually planted until the seventeenth century, long after the Moorish rulers had been driven from Spain---and the Moorish people either driven out or forcibly "converted" to Christianity. The area which is now incredible gardens of hedges and roses and fountains was in the time of the Moors used to grow food for the palace. However, the extensive irrigation system built by the Moors was used in creating those lovely fountains...
From the highest level of the gardens, we started down again, on a cement trail which led through cypresses and vine-covered arches back down to the entrance. My feet felt like logs---I'm a person who can walk a long ways without it bothering me, but to walk up to the Alhambra from central Granada, and then to spend all day going through it, was truly tiring. And I didn't regret one bit of it!
A little restaurant built on several hillside levels, over a shop which sold ceramic plates and contained a workshop where carved wood inlay boxes were being made, looked inviting. At a corner table on a sunny little patio, with vines overhead and crowded with people, we ordered a simple lunch of bread, queso manchego, and water, as the prices were a little above our usual. But it turned out to be one of the most delicious lunches we had in all Spain. The olive oil was very high quality, and we poured it in a saucer, seasoned it with salt and pepper and a little balsamic vinegar, and dipped our bread and nibbled on the cheese.
Of course, about six hours of walking did not hurt our appetites one bit!
A Gypsy flamenco show in a cave...
One evening we splurged on a flamenco show, in a gypsy cave of the Sacromonte. The guidebooks recommended to have your hotel book the excursion for you, so we bought tickets after being given a brochure when we checked in. A Gypsy family called Rocio has been running this show for years. In the evening the bus picked up tourists from various hotels, including a cheerful enthusiastic family from Japan and three gorgeous young Brazilian women "dressed to kill", and a fun-loving group of middle-aged Cuban woman. As we wound up the twisty streets of the Sacromonte, the bus rang with cheerful conversation. I enjoyed the opportunity to exchange conversation with others, as it had been a while since I'd been anywhere in a group.
"Cuando ustedes hablan", I said over the seat to one of the Brazilians, "Suena como musica". They responded with trills of amusement which were even more musical than their speech.
High on the hill the bus stopped and we were ushered into a long brightly white-washed and well-lit cave. On either side were rows of chairs for spectators, and a table at the end. From the ceiling hung bright copper pots and pans, and large framed photos along the walls celebrated various awards the group had won, and were evidence that the same dancers we saw that night had been performing with their family since they were small children.
Without much announcement, singers and dancers sat down on chairs at the entrance end and began the guitar and singing with that wonderful Gypsy feel. We had feared it might be rather "slick and turisty" (and one guidebook had said that the best dancers were all at the higher-paying restaurants downtown),
but the music was spine-tingling and real. A tiny girl was the first to dance, and from then on we were captivated. The dancers were so close in that long narrow room that you could have reached out and touched them. I was struck by the incredible anger and vehemence of this dance: one felt the fury of the Gypsies at their treatment through the centuries.
The Japanese family sat across from us, visibly enjoying the show with smiles, heads nodding and feet tapping. The Cubans were having a great time.
When the oldest Gypsy got up to dance (from the picture on the flier I recognized her as the original founder of the show) her attitude and presence commanded the largest reaction from the audience, in spite of her chunky figure and flapping upper arms!
At the end of the show they got a few people up to dance, and I was one of them, so I guess I can say that i have danced with the Gypsies in Spain, for one minute at least!
A free soft drink was included in the price of the show, and there was an adjoining bar in another cave-room where you could purchase another if you wished, but we were not pressured to do so, and we were not asked for tips. There wasn't even a tip basket out!
The dancers and musicians did not talk at all to the audience, they had hired a guy to do that.
Included in the price was a stop to see the view of the Alhambra at night, from the Albaycin where Lyssa and I had walked the first morning.
The Japanese lady tapped me on the shoulder, and said with a shy giggle, "I like your dance!" I soon found myself in the strange position of translating the guides poor English to her, as my knowledge of Spanish helped me understand him.
We clambered up a bumpy rise to get to the view point. "Aaaay, y yo de mini-falda!" exclaimed the most loquacious Brazilian.
The view of the lit-up heavy stark outside walls of the Alhambra, seen from the hill opposite, was indeed breath-taking. We all boarded the bus again and were soon back at our hotel, talking enthusiastically about the wonderful dancing we had seen. The fashion plate Brazilians dismounted the bus when we did, and graciously took their leave as we got to Navas street where all the cafe's in the pedestrian-only alley were abuzz with chattering customers. They said with apologetic charm that they were sorry to leave us but that they were going to go get something to eat.
It was a wonderful evening. There are some travelers who put down anything which is organized especially for tourists, but I've found that some of these types of things are great fun. We expected okay dancing, a slick type of show, and to be pressured to buy extra drinks and souveneirs. Instead we experienced family pride, dancing and music which certainly felt to us like "the real thing", and the enjoyable social contact with the others on our bus, and we were not asked to spend one extra peseta over our original ticket.
Our last day in Granada: post-cards, Spanish shawls, CDs and an Internet Cafe
The last day in Granada, we walked out of the hotel right after breakfast to do some shopping. First stop was in a little shop right on Navas St., where we had noticed pictures of flamenco singers in the window. The tall slender dark girl behind the counter recommended a couple of CDs for me. (There was a great set of videos of Gypsy singers, but it was too expensive.) The CDs are still among my favorites to listen to.
We asked her if she was a singer, and she said, "My family are makers of guitars."
Next we had to find a fan for Diane Garcia, at her request. We found a little shop that carried nothing but fans. The one we chose was all of dark delicately carved wood, like wooden lace.
Then we went into a Flamenco dress shop---there are many of these in Granada and Seville. They had absolutely gorgeous hand-embroidered shawls, with long fringe, for about $30 each U.S. I chose a black one with all different colors of flowers and leaves, and Lyssa chose a black one with all red embroidery. While we decided, a teenaged girl was trying on an ornate ruffled apple-green flamenco dress for her mother. She flounced (her and the dress both) back to the dressing room, and the mother and I exchanged "mom" smiles.
When we paid, we asked the girl behind the counter, who, like the girl in the music shop, was tall, slim, and looked both Gypsy and aristocratic, if she danced flamenco.
"Solo Sevillanas, pero muy mal," she said. (Only Seviallanas, but very badly).
The silk shawl has held up through two years of singing at the Renaissance festival, and I still "get lost" gazing at it, the colors and abundance of embroidered flowers and leaves are so beautiful.
We went to a little restaurant to write and address our postcards, to about twenty people each. In a little corner plaza, tucked behind a classier, more popular fish restaurant, were some outside tables. The kitchen viewed through the open doors, was all in blue and white painted tiles. The old man came out, quite a character with his curly gray hair, and ponderously took our order, addressing me slightly flirtaciously as "Senorita" (rolling the r with a flourish), though I'm way past being called "Miss".
He shouted my order into the kitchen, but there came back a resounding, "No hay!" (Pronounced "no eye"--There isn't!) in a cranky old-lady voice, so I had to change my order.
I forget what kind of fish I did get, but it was one of the tastiest fish meals I ever had. Lyssa, the vegetarian, just had fried potatoes.
It seemed to take forever to address all the postcards, (though it sure was worth it when so many people mentioned, later, how they enjoyed getting them.)
While we were eating, several other people ordered things which brought the same yell from the cook. The people eating at this little place seemed to be neighborhood regulars.
Out of a run-down looking apartment entry in the corner of the plaza came a man who looked almost as seedy as a beggar, walking with a cane, with his fly undone. In a tone which was both cross and tender, the proprietor of the fish shop touched the man on the shoulder, "Juanito, do it up, the whole street sees!"
We had noticed several times, while sitting at outdoor restaurants in Spain, the gentle way in which waiters shooed away beggars who were approaching their customers. "Come on, go on your way now," or something similar, in a big-brotherly tone. Much more nicely than their counterparts in the U.S. would have done. As if to say, "these too are God's creatures."
I still can hear that cantankerous old cook shouting, "No hay!"
By asking directions, we found the immense stone post office, where we were delighted to find that the two slots you put letters in were the mouths of two life-sized brass lion's faces. We chose the one labeled "extraneras" (foreign).
After the post office we had a long search for an internet cafe. First we got lost following directions, then the one we found had lost its electricity temporarily. We finally found one and Lyssa, with the computer ease of the young, set herself up a new e-mail account on yahoo that would work. Unfortunately, (we later found out) only the first paragraph of our message went through.
By this time we were thoroughly exhausted and very ready for our siesta in the hotel room. We had to pack, fitting in the new purchases, because next morning we would take the bus to Madrid.
At one point in my packing I stopped and leaned out on the tiny balcony for one last look at charming Navas St. I heard the beautiful sound of the canary, and looked up to see the old woman putting its cage out on her balcony one step up. She caught my eyes on her and quickly averted hers.
"El pajarito suena bonito", I called out. (The little bird sounds pretty)
She broke into a smile. "Le gusta?" ((You like it?)
We would have one night and day in Madrid on our own, and then we would meet the Seattle group, plus my husband Dale. We would join that group for two weeks, going to Toledo, Marabella, down into Morocco for a week, and back up to Seville.
Two Days in Madrid
To get from Granada to Madrid, we tried the bus. Although the ticket-buying process was less hectic, the bus was not nearly as fun as the train. It wasn't bad, just not as beautiful or exhilarating.
When we got to Madrid, we checked in at the hotel. The big city street you could see from the tall windows was a let-down after little Navas street. However, looking on our map we found that we were only a few blocks from the famous Parque del Retiro, a former palace garden now turned into the most beautiful public park. We walked up there in the early evening, got a small unmemorable meal in one of the little snack places. Trees, large expanses of lawn, art students sketching, joggers, statues, the beautiful glass victorian style exhibition hall reflected in its own little lake, fountains and a formal rose garden. At the center was a large oval-shaped lake with incredible statuary, where people were rowing around in small boats. We decided to come back in the very early morning in order to take some pictures.
In the sunny early morning quiet, it was as if the Parque del Retiro was under a spell. We stood in the beautiful rose garden and gazed at the sunlight
hitting the water which spewed from mouths of white marble smiling dolphins. The statuary by the lake, white marble also except for the iron mermaids and lions and neptunes right down by the lake, was so beautiful in that light. We fed the fishes and twenty to thirty jostled eachother, almost jumping out of the water.
Then we took a cab to the famous square called the Plaza Mayor, where we had a cup of coffee in one of the outdoor cafe tables on the shady side. This large square is bound on four sides by 17th century buildings. Bullfights used to be held there, and people would watch from the second, third and fourth story windows.
Actually, there were hoofed animals in the square the day we were there, by coincidence. A large metal set of bleachers (which somewhat spoiled the historical atmosphere) was set up in the middle of the great plaza, and people were riding gorgeous horses around. We went over and took a look.
By asking questions (what a difference it makes to know the language when you visit a country!) we found out that there would be an equestrian event that evening, with historically costumed riders.
We watched for awhile, then followed our map to a section of town called the "rastro" which was supposed to have a lot of antique stores and second hand stores. The second hand stores were a little disappointing, and the antique stores, while wonderful to browse in, were quite pricey. And the proprietors seemed to know even before we entered that we weren't in the market for anything expensive....
We continued our walk, aiming to check out a centuries-old popular theatre called the "Corralla" which was actually an open space between two apartment buildings. The audience would sit on the balconies of the apartment buildings. To get there we went through an area called the "Lavapies" (which means to wash feet). This was originally the Jewish quarter, and now is home to many North African workers. Occasionally women in long long-sleeved dresses and headscarves were to be seen, usually walking with other women similarly dressed, and children.
We continued walking through the hot narrow streets between old apartment buildings, often painted dark red, or ochre, through occasional construction repair projects of the street or sidwalk, which had to be maneuvered around. I was struck by a poster on the brick wall of one building, which said "Otro Incidente de Racismo en el Lavapies" (another incident of racism in the Lavapies).
Now when I remember that poster, I think of a song which was on one of the CDs that we had purchased in Granada. The CD was by a flamenco singer named Carmen Linares and the song was called "Pasa una mujer llorando". My friend Tish Dvorkin tells me that the melody (one of those slow melodies that tears your heart to sing it or listen to it) is actually Sephartic, music of the Jews who settled in Spain when they were kicked out of some European countries during the time of the Renaissance.
Que llanto en toda Espana
Por todas las juderias
Por la fe y la palabra
Muchos miles penarian
Asi dios lo quiso
Muchos miles penarian
Y por las calles de la Lavapies
Pasa una mujer llorando
Porque no pueda olvidar
Porque no pueda olvidar
Such weeping in all of Spain
In all the juderias (the Jewish quarters of the towns)
The faith and the word
Many thousands of sufferings
God willed it to be so*
Many thousands of sufferings
*when I sing this song, I sing "Asi dios no quiso" or God did not want it thus"
And on the streets of the Lavapies
A woman passes, weeping
Because she cannot forget
Because she cannot forget
Later after 9-ll I wrote another verse:
Un dia (the word "dia" is drawn out into about twelve syllables)
En que cambio todo
Un dia oscuro
Y en las calles de Nueva York
Esta de pies un hombre llorando
Porque no pueda olvidar
Porque no pueda olvidar
Porque no pueda olvidar
A day in which everything changed
A dark day
And on the streets of New York City
A man stands weeping
Because he cannot forget
Because he cannot forget
But I digress. My mind goes back to Madrid, year 2000. We did find the Corralla, but it was under renovation. We could see enough through the cracks in the construction fence to see how it would function. There was an outdoor stage, and you could see a framework with stage lights, and there appeared to be room for seating in front of the stage as well as balconies on the apartment buildings on either side. And there was a great poster of the next production, featuring a modernistic representation of a dark haired, dark eyed lady in traditional flowered shawl and fan.
By this time we were both fading fast, so we took a cab back to our motel and had a siesta in the cool airconditioned room. That evening we were due to meet up with the group with whom we would spend the coming two weeks. Lyssa would be rooming with one of the dancers from now on.
I was looking forward to seeing the Mercerart Dance School group again, as I had traveled with them two years ago, on a tour of Greece and Turkey. But it had been great spending the week of "independent travel" with my lovely, charming, intelligent daughter as a companion.
The rest of the group arrived at the hotel early in the evening. This group consisted of a dance school which is well-known in Seattle. The school is on Mercer Island, an upscale area of Seattle, and is thus called the Mercerart School of Dance. The leader, Camille, periodically takes the dance school on tours of other countries. In a addition to seeing the historical and cultural sights, the dancers perform about seven times during the two week trip. These performances are prearranged by Camille and Ray (her husband). Also taking part in the tour are mothers (and some fathers) of the dancers.
How did I end up going with them? My sister-in-law handles the travel arrangements for them. Back in 1998, I had told her that I really wanted to go overseas, and they had had had a few cancellations and needed a few extra people to make up the quota needed for discount rates. She thought that because I had a dance troupe of my own, I would find their group interesting. And she was right.
The fact that this group performed really added something to traveling with them. Rather than just watching, as most tourists do, our group was giving something in return (other than money!).
After everyone got their luggage into their rooms (Camille is very strict about making sure everyone packs light), there was a little introductory gettogether in one of the little conference rooms. Wedges of paella and glasses of Spanish wine were served. We met our guide, Simon. Half British and half Spanish, he lived in Valencia and spoke both languages fluently. He was tall, lean, and urbanely good looking with dark eyes, slightly long wavy hair, and a tan.
I was especially glad to see the Karen Kettner, her daughter Lauren, (this time they had bought Lauren's dad and brother Michael with them), Angela who had been my roommate last time, Sandy, and Alice, whose teenaged daughters all danced with the troupe, and Erika, who gave me a big hug. Lisa would room with Erika. I also was very glad that John Ochoco was with us again. A high school vice-principal from Hawaii, small wiry and a wonderful personality.
After this little meet-and-greet deal, Lyssa and I took Dale (my husband, also her dad) up to see the Parque del Retiro. We walked around the little lake. He didn't seem to react very much, which was kind of a downer for me. Like a lot of men, he doesn't show too much emotion. Later, after we were home, he told people how much he enjoyed the trip, but you sure couldn't tell it while he was there.
We walked out past a couple of street artists, one who was playing "Back in the USA" in a desultory manner; Dale was amused at the way he paused before each chord change: "Back in the U.S.....A." There was a group of drummers jamming who were only so-so.
This was one of the places I had picked as possible sites for our troupe to street-perform when I had thought we would all travel here together, so I felt some satisfaction in seeing that it would have been an okay place for it. (At first at least five of the girls had been very enthusiastic about going, but one by one they had dropped out.)
The broad pedestrian avenue which led out of the park led to a circle drive around a wonderful statue of Poseidon riding the waves, his white marble chariot pulled by dolphins and the water of the fountain shooting out in directions which made it actually seem that he was moving through the water.
The following morning we all got on the tour bus. It was kind of fun to be on a tour bus with a group again, I thought, listening to the chattering voices. Dale and I sat together, that first day. The bus took us first to the Royal Palace, and then to the Plaza Mayor, where Lyssa and I had gone the day before. We were joined by our city guide for Madrid, a young woman who was so similar in appearance to Simon that she could have been his sister.
When we broke for lunch, most of the group went to a large restaurant which the guides had pointed out, but Lyssa, Dale Sr. and I went to one of the small places along the little street along the back outside wall of the Plaza Mayor. It was full of atmosphere, with massive roof beams, heavy wooden tables, old photos and memorabilia hanging on the walls, and the entire wall behind the bar done in hand-painted blue and white tiles. And of course it couldn't be a traditional-style Madrid restaurant without the row of hanging hams!
When we ordered dessert we were discussing the difference between flan and the other kind of pudding, and we got out our dictionary. The active little waiter/cook (he was the only person in the tiny place other than us) immediately wanted to know what the English words are for the two desserts, and wrote them down so that he could better explain to tourists. He then borrowed the dictionary and was energetically looking up things and writing down as we finished our meal.
Our next stop was an entire museum dedicated to Goya. I had seen prints of the famous "Reclining Machas" (one clothed, one nude), but other than that did not know much about the artist. I found myself very, very moved by many of the works. There was one picture of a genteel lady in a grey wig, and something about the expression in her eyes took ahold of me and I looked at it for a long time. I found out from the guide that this picture was painted after this lady (a member of a noble family which commissioned Goya to do many portraits) had lost a son, while he was still in boyhood, the year before the portrait was painted.
The museum did a great job of showing how Goya went gradually from painting joyful pictures of family and peasant life, to developing a darker, more cynical view of life. They even had a room of the very last paintings he made, dark, mournful nightmares in black and greys, which were painted on the actual walls of his last place of residence. Somehow they had been transferred from those walls to be shown in this museum.
Camille, who had been to the same museum five years before, said that the skylights and the lighting had been cleaned, and the paintings were much better illuminated and easy to enjoy than they had been before.
"Well, we've seen the paintings, where's the other stuff?" said Dale Sr. We had to explain to him that the entire museum was paintings! It's too bad that he couldn't have seen that museum of folkloric customs in Seville. He would have been fascinated by those detailed displays showing replicas of rooms where the different kinds of crafts of Spain are made.
After the museum, the tour bus took us back to the hotel. About half the group, including Lyssa, went to another art museum close to the hotel, one which featured modern art. Dale Sr. and I opted for a siesta.
That evening Lyssa went for tapas with the group. Dale Sr. and I did also, but we walked over to try to find the Plaza Santa Ana, which had been mentioned in the guidebook. We walked through narrow streets with tall centuries-old apartment buildings on either side and many shops at streat level. We passed many tapas places hung with hams, on bar with a row of about six huge bulls' heads on the wall, a shop which specialized in Cuban voodoo items, and a little music store where I bought a small book of Andalucian folk songs. (I still never have tried them out---I'm not the fastest at reading music---but I know I'll investigate them sometime and I bet there's some treasures in there.)
We finally found the Plaza Santa Ana and chose one of the many crowded tapas places. A good-looking waiter with an expansive personality showed us to a little table inside. (As did all of the places, the restaurant had tables both inside and out.) I asked him to explain what "tapas" meant. He grinned. He said that all "tapas" meant is that you get an order of this, and an order of that,(pointing to the menu) and you ---(grinning, he made a motion of picking from various plates.)
Of course I had heard what "tapas" was, but it was a way to find out which on the menu was tapas what wasn't. I enjoyed looking around and watching all the Spaniards, at all the little tables, all talking animatedly a mile a minute, and using their hands with much expression.
We saw the rest of the group go by. I ran out and called "Lyssa! Lyssa!", of course she looked around with an embarassed expression on her face.
The Plaza Santa Ana was great for people watching in the early evening light. all the places were fully of people and there were crowds walking too and fro. As always, there was a fountain in the middle, and on all four sides, two and three story buildings built several centuries ago. I drank it all in along with my CruzCampo beer.
(While at the museum of Folklore in Seville, Lyssa and I had learned the origin of the "Cruz de Campo" after which this beer was named. In the countryside outside of Seville there used to stand a huge wooden cross. Displayed in the museum were beautiful old drawings of this cross, called the Cruze de Campo. (The word "campo" means the countryside.)
The group Lyssa was with, who had passed by us at the Plaza Santa Ana, had gone to a little tapas place near the Plaza Mayor and that people were disappointed in how expensive it was. Actually, if you count it as a meal, it was not expensive. And it was really enough food to be counted as a meal. Of course, the Spaniards would have another meal, quite a few hours later.
During that same evening, Ray, Camille's husband, had had a brush with a pick-pocket, and had emerged victorious. It happened as they walked in the plaza; a pretty young woman spread a map out before him and asked directions somewhere. Meanwhile, beneath the map, her hand reached for his wallet. Ray was suspicious, and catching her in the attempt, delivered a resounding blow to the urstwhile thief's hand. Ray was complimented all evening over this success. Tourists: one, pickpockets: zero.
The score was to be evened out the following evening in Granada.
The Medieval City of Toledo
The next morning, we had our bags sitting outside our rooms at the appointed hour, and the bags and the tour group were all loaded onto the tour bus. We met our driver, a dependable cheerful round faced guy in whose capable hands the bus was to be driven down through Spain, down into Morocco and back.
I sat with Dale; Lyssa had a seat of her own, across from ours and a little bit forward. Sandy, Angela, Jim and Michelle sat in the section of seats in the middle which faced eachother over a table that could be folded out. Most of the teen-aged girls were giggling in the back of the bus.
The bus wound down through the hilly countryside and a couple of hours later we got to the medieval city of Toledo. The old part is all on a hill, a jumble of roofs and spires dominated by the Cathedral, and as you approach it you go along a river which is between you and the walled city on the hill. We looked down on a massive ancient arched stone bridge as we wound around to a place where the best "Kodak moment" was situated. We had already picked up our Toledo guide, a tall slender young man with an animated, friendly way of talking.
As we all dismounted to take eachother's photos in front of the picturesque city view, he told us that modern Toledans live in New Toledo, down the hill. The winding narrow streets of the old town may be wonderful to look at but they are a real headache to get around in in a car.
One of the recurring truths about travel, for me, is that sometimes what you expect to be the most enjoyable sometimes falls short, and sometimes something you expect to not be that interested in really grabs you. Such was my experience with this medieval town. I had thought that my main interest would be the Moorish-influenced buildings, and that I would not be as affected by the Christian architecture. But soon as we entered the narrow winding streets, surrounded on both sides by five-hundred year old stone walls, I was affected with an awe which permeated my senses. And the Cathedral, with its immensely high ceiling going up, up, up---the interlocking stone arches so high above us, carved in smooth graceful ridged arches out of the ancient grey stone, and the wonderful painted ceramic figures of angels and other Christian figures, (crafted with such lifelike body positions and expressions that they seemed almost to be alive and moving) placed around the light from the skylights so that they appeared to be lit from heaven----my soul was filled with beauty, delight, and joy. No matter what one's religious belief, the artist who makes such creations cannot help but inspire.
On the Tour Bus to Granada
The air-conditioned tourbus wound through hilly hot country, planted with olive trees and vineyards, so that as you looked out over the countryside you saw wavering geometric patterns of rows of trees or trellised vines.
For our lunch stop, Simon asked Manolo to choose a restaurant, and so we ate at one of those great non-touristy places which I love. We trooped in through the bar, where a row of sweat-stained dirty laborers in dirty tank tops and shorts and boots, handkerchiefs tied around their necks, were sitting at the massive wooden counter. They turned in surprise as our group filed by, about three-quarters of our number being lovely young girls in tank tops and shorts.
We went into the dining room, large enough and hung with old reproductions of oil paintings of hunting scenes; the tables had tablecloths and there were a few other customers. The waiter appeared to be quite taken aback by the size of our group but sat us at a very long table and passed out menues. The menu was my first experience of a common manner of serving in many Spanish restaurants: You are handed a little menu card which gives two choices for each course. For instance, you can have the soup or the pasta, the fish or the chicken, and the pudding or the cake.
After we got on the bus there was some confusion, as we had all left money to pay for our lunch in a pile on the table, and though there was enough to pay for the food, the ammount left to pay the tip was minimal, and Camille was rightfully upset. I knew that I had left enough for a tip along with enough to cover my meal, so I wasn't worried, but it was a little troubling to hear the gossipy murmurings that were going around.
Mid afternoon we made another quick bathroom stop, and I was pleased that Siman said, when asked, that I had time to order a quick "cafe solo" (as black coffee is called in Spain, and it is made as thick as espresso). I do love my mid-afternoon coffee almost as much as my first cup in the morning.
The first day of the trip was the last day that I shared a seat with my husband in the middle of the bus. After that, I took the closest empty seat to the front that I could find, so that I could hear more of what Simon was saying. Of course, often he used a microphone to speak to the whole bus, but there was also lots of useful information in the casual conversations he would have with the people sitting near him.
It may seem selfish behavior to some of you, that I did not sit with my husband. But I have longed for so many years to see and experience these places, where I have been in my imagination, singing songs, but never knew what it was really like. And we would have never taken the trip, had I not instigated it. So I couldn't stand to miss anything. He, on the other hand, seemed comfortable sitting back where he was.
Another reason I liked to be closer to the front is that it seemed to let me experience more of the flavor of the country we were traveling through, with less distraction of the card games, rowdy conversations, and so on, of the middle of the bus. Sometimes I would sit down on the step right beside Manolo, the driver. I could listen to the Spanish music tapes he played on the low-volume radio, and I had some interesting conversations with him in Spanish.
Manolo was very proud of his occupation. He said that the bus we were riding in was the top of the line in tourist buses. It belongs to the Amarillo Tours company, but then when he is not on the road, it sits in the driveway of his house in Seville.
He had driven tourists pretty much all over Europe. After our group, he would have a few days at home, and then would drive a girl's school to Rome to see the Pope. If I understood him correctly, they would drive straight through to Italy without stopping.
Through questions in my halting Spanish (I know quite a lot, but there are a lot of pauses before it comes to "the tip of my tongue") I found out that he has a boy of around seven and a girl of four. When he comes home, he said, his daughter wants to stay with him the whole time he is there, "And she won't let anyone say anything bad about her papa!" Manolo's wife is a stay-at-home mom, a good housekeeper and mother, he said proudly.
(Later in the trip, he showed us a snapshot of his wife, beaming, down on one knee besides the kids, who were dressed in their flamenco outfits for the Semana Santa. A attractive, well-groomed woman, she looked like she could hold her own in a bargaining match with the toughest shopkeeper.)
He told me a remarkable fact about himself and his wife: they each were married once before, but both only for one day!
"Ambos, un dia? Increible!!", I said.
He went on to elaborate. He and his firs wife had gone on a honeymoon to Cancun, Mexico. They began to argue so much that when night came, they slept in different beds.
He held up two fingers, to make sure I understood, "Dos camas!"
His wife's first marriage ended for a different reason. On her wedding night, her husband died in his sleep!
"What an unusual story!", I said.
Besides his home in Seville, Manolo also has his parents old place out in the country. His parents have passed away, and his brother is keeping up the place for him. He says that when he visits there, the whole village comes to visit and he is obligated to barbecue and feed everyone. I sensed that his complaining about this was actually a form of self-satisfaction.
When I remember Manolo, I think what a great example of a person he is. He works hard at a difficult job, and is proud of what he has accomplished and happy with his life and his blessings.
He said that he considers Seville to be the most beautiful city in Spain. "But, I am from Seville, so "es natural, verdad?" he said with a shrug.
Granada Otra Vez
In the early evening the bus pulled into Granada. I was happy to be there again. The hotel, which was owned by the same company as the hotel we had stayed in on the pedestrian-only alley of Navas, was on a hectic street choked with traffic, and the window of the room Dale and I were assigned to looked out on a brick wall. I realized how much less charming our experience at the Hotel Navas would have been, had we not had the balconied room overlooking the little street.
Lyssa went off with a bunch of the group, and impressed everyone with how well she knew Granada. She took them to the Cathedral, which just happened to have an outdoor concert of classical music again, and to the Cafe Futbol. She made a big hit with Camille and Ray.
Dale and I went back to that little fish restaurant which I had been so fond of, and had a simple meal as delicious as the one I'd had there with Lyssa a few days before. The crusty owner was still there but I didn't hear the cantankerous cook.
The next day the tour group was doing the Alhambra, and I was glad to be going to that incredible fortress with its beautiful palace, again. I enjoyed the experience as much the second time. I have often found this to be true of great buildings or sites: on the first visit, one is so overcome with awe that a second visit does not feel redundant, as it lets one absorb the beauty in even more depth.
Ever since the first time I saw real-life examples of decorative Arabic calligraphy (on my first trip overseas, in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul), I have been enthralled by it. The purity of the lines, the power which seems to be manifested in the strokes of the writing, affects me in a mysterious way. There are many beautiful examples of this art in the rooms of the Moorish palace of the Alhambra.
(Later that year, Lyssa gave me a beautiful book, a large high-quality paperpack, which contained wonderful examples of Arabic (and Persian) calligraphy from many nations of the world: in carvings, paintings, tiles, dishes, textiles and many other items. This book also shows the several major styles of Arabic calligraphy and tells how they developed.
Rather than go through the Nazrit palace again, Lyssa chose to explore the partly-finished Renaissance palace which lies inside the fortress. This circular shell of a building was begun by a Spanish king inside the walls of the fortress, separate from the Moorish palace. If I remember rightly, he had to stop construction because the Moorish workers revolted.
When we met up with Lyssa again at the entrance of the Alhambra, she was satisfied with her decision. She said that there was a well-designed museum inside the Renaissance building, which showed interesting displays
that diagrammed the different stages of construction that the Alhambra went through, through its history.
I mentioned while writing about Madrid, that although Ray foiled the pickpocket in the Santa Ana plaza, our group would not always be so successful in avoiding theft. The following morning, Angela was at breakfast with the rest of us in the classy breakfast dining room of our hotel. When she finished, she reached for her purse, which she had set on a chair beside her, and it was gone!
As her bag contained her passport and credit cards, she had to go through a huge hassle due to this theft. She and her kids spent the morning at the American Embassy, and had to take the train to meet us at our next destination.
I was flabbergasted, as I myself had not thought to be careful with my things while we were still at our hotel!
Angela was sure that the thief was one of the hotel employees. I overheard Simon speaking in Spanish over the phone to an official at the travel agency, and his opinion was that there are people who will book a night at a nice hotel and pay for it in this manner. Angela's family has been in the hotel business for decades, so her opinion was based on experience also. I think it could have been either one.
Puerto Banus, "Scottsdale on the Mediterranean"
The next morning, the tour bus left early for the drive down to the coast of Spain, several hours away. I was excited to finally be seeing Spain's south coast, after singing this song for several years:
(with dramatic guitar changes of Bm, A, G, and Em7, though it is actually a Sevillana in form, it has a real flamenco feel to it, at least to these untrained ears)
La luna de Algeciras en la costa de Lucero
Costa costa de Lucero
La luna de la marina
Costa costa de Lucero
La Luna en los caminos del fuego en el cielo!
Del fuego en el cielo!
La luna se despierta
Cuando se va la oscuridad
Se trae una corona de plata de calidad!
Bonita como ninguna
La luna de la marina
Bonita como ninguna
Las desenas que replean en la laguna
(I did my best to figure out the words from the tape which Debbie Enos brought back from Spain ten years ago, but some parts of it I admit I just "filled in the blanks" with guesses. And this next verse is not a translation, but is my more "singable" way of expressing the meaning in English.)
How beautiful is the moon on the Spanish town of Algeciras
On the south coast of Lucero
Oh the moon on the marina
On the south coast of Lucero
The moon rides on the flames of the fire that burns in the sky!
Oh the fire in the sky
As the moon begins to rise
And when the darkness comes
She wears a crown of silver that gleams so brightly!
There is nothing quite so lovely
As the moon on the marina
On the south coast of Lucero
When I think of the reflections that dance in the water!
La luna de noche clara bailando atra vez del cielo!
And she dances in the sky
On a clear and starry night
And when the morning comes
She sleeps in the silence beyond the Black River
Atras del Rio Negro
La luna se pone en alma
De la luz de la manana
In the light of the morning the moon still resides in my soul!
After reading those lyrics you may be able to understand why I was so disappointed with our stay in Marbella. I had read in my guide book that Marbella is an old Spanish town on the coast, which has become a major resort area as well. I was really looking forward to it, expecting something somewhat along the lines of Rhodes, where the atmosphere of the ancient buildings and the wild-and-crazy partying crowd, and the employees and tourists from all over the world create a heady mix which I had really enjoyed.
I think that the problem, for me, was that we were not really in Marbella, but in the adjacent newly developed resort of Puerto Banus. It was as though we had arrived in Scottsdale on the Mediterranean. Everyone else seemed to be loving it. To me it was a real let down.
If you are not familiar with the Phoenix area, you will not understand my reference to "Scottsdale". Scottsdale is an upscale city adjacent to Phoenix. Everything in Scottsdale has to be pretty or it's not allowed to be in Scottsdale. I can tell you a little story which explains the way of thinking there:
My eighteen year old son has got a little band together, and on one Sunday recently they held a practice in the garage of one of the band members, who lived in Scottsdale. The police came to the door, as the neighbors had had two complaints: one, that the band was too loud, and two, that the van parked in the driveway of the house where the practice was being held, was too ugly! That's Scottsdale for you!
Simon had told us that the old port of Marbella was only twenty minutes walk to the east. After Dale and I got settled in our room, which looked out on a large designer pool (which could have been an Arizona resort pool, except that it was full of suntanning trendy-looking European vacationers) I decided rather obstinately to walk to Marbella myself, so that I could see the old town I had been expecting to stay in. Carrying my water and covered by long sleeves, long skirt, and hat, I set off.
However, after walking twenty minutes I was not only still in Puerto Banus, but I had found the way decidedly not pedestrian-friendly. First I was blocked by a wall which led to the next private resort. When I did find my way around that, I was walking along a freeway with no sidewalk. The clincher came when I found I would have to run across a highway to keep going, and could see no way to continue once I did cross it.
Disgusted, I headed back. Now, with hindsight, I realize I could have taken a cab to Marbella, though it might have been pretty pricey in this "exclusive" resort area. But anger dulls the intelligence.
Dale had enjoyed a nap, and a beer and conversation with the lively and enthusiastically friendly John Ochoco, at the bar. We said goodbye to John and went out in search of dinner, finding a tiny but fancy little fish restaurant, with half a dozen white-cloth'd outside tables, off of one of the main streets a few blocks from the beach. There we had nice thick tuna steaks for a very reasonable price. I have often found in these touristy beach towns, that if one is willing to dine a few blocks from the beach, the price difference is amazing.
Then we walked down along the marina, crowded with vacationers. A line of high-priced little shops and restaurants crowded eachother on our left, and sumptious million-dollar yachts were moored along the marina on our right.
As dusk fell, we walked out to a lit-up tower at the end of the spit of land which formed the marina (I had hoped the tower would be old, but it was not) and along the beach paths to the palm-lined steps which led to the tunnel under the highway and to the patio of our ritzy hotel.
Like Cancun in Mexico, the entire town of Puerto Banus is a modern creation that has none of the flavor of the country in which it is located.
The Hill Town of Ronda
We were scheduled for two nights in Marbella, so we had a full day there also. On this day there was an optional day trip to the little hill town of Ronda.
I had heard so much about the famous white-washed hill towns of Andalucia, and of course I wanted to go. When Camille found out that all of the teenaged dancers planned to spend the day at the beach, she was disgusted, and decided to make the trip to Ronda mandatory for them!
Dale and Rob Kettner opted to stay in Marbella, hoping to charter a boat for some deep-sea fishing.
The day was overcast, which added to the atmosphere of mystery as the bus, driven by Manolo, crawled up the winding road which climbed higher and higher, with many switchbacks, into the mountains which were covered with scrub forest. Simon told us that at one time this road, and the town of Ronda to which we were headed, were important components of the route by which lumber was taken down to the coast. This area at one time was plagued by the infamous "bandoleros", who preyed on those who traveled on it.
After an hour or so on this winding mountain road, we arrived at the town of Ronda. Our first view of it was less picturesque than I had imagined it would be, a small old town but with some two story buildings, and shops.
Manolo parked the bus by a little landscaped park.
We walked for a couple of blocks and were treated to the lovely view of the old part of the town as it hugged the cliffs of a deep mountain ravine. The gorge was spanned by an ancient stone bridge, and from here we looked out on the little white-washed, tile-roofed buildings which seemed to crowd together along either side of the steep canyon walls. Up above on either side rose the mountains, covered with tangled shrubs and small trees, and above, the moody overcast sky. From this vantage point, one felt as if one were back in history.
As Karen Kettner, her daughter Lauren, Lyssa and I leaned over the massive stone wall of the bridge, oohing and ah-ing, a middle-class looking young couple with a baby in a stroller passed behind us on the narrow sidewalk. Soon after they passed, Karen Kettner gasped.
"Those people just unzipped all of our backpacks!" she exclaimed.
We all whirled around. Indeed, all of the bags were unzipped, but nothing was taken, probably because all of us kept our wallets in smaller bags carried in front. (Our passports, traveler's checks, and credit cards were securely under our clothes.) We had not felt a thing!
Lyssa and I continued across the bridge, enjoying the picturesque old houses and the winding little streets. We found a tiny museum dedicated to the infamous "bandoleros". It contained a wonderful collection of displays, paintings, artifacts, and diaramas, all crowded together in the small rooms of a little house. The world of the "bandoleros" was brought to life. One wall was devoted to the uniforms and weapons of the various army troops which carried on the decades-long struggle to roust the bandoleros from these mountains. We bought a collection of prints, old paintings of the bandoleros. In their picturesque dress they were shown riding into a small town where they were welcomed as heroes, serenading a lady at her balcony, and attacking a wagon as it made its way up the same winding mountain road which we had traveled on.
We walked back the way we had come, passing the "museum of the witches", which Simon had mentioned to us. Lyssa went in to have a look at that museum,(which she later told me was quite interesting) and I continued on back to the bridge. Karen Kettner had been standing there the whole time since we left her, vigilantly watching guard and foiling the thieves in their attempt to rob other tourists. "I just stood there and glared at them!" she said with satisfaction.
The pickpockets would go back and forth across the bridge, she said, and every time they were about to pass by some tourists, they would glance over to see if Karen was still watching!
One of the teenagers, Stephanie, who had formed somewhat of a bond with us, asked me if I could help her find the path down to the river. We walked down a little side street and found a tiny park which sat on the edge of the cliff. The path down to the river was visible from there, as well as a nice view of the jagged cliffs opposite, the old buildings crowded together on the other side, and the mountains beyond. Stephanie proceded on down whicle I turned back, to try to find myself a cup of espresso before the bus left.
The following spring, I was singing on my tiny little stage at the Arizona Renaissance festival, under a wooden framework covered with vines. An older couple sat through my entire half-hour set, and when I was leaving, the man came up to me. He said that he was American, but he had lived and worked in Spain for several years. While he was there, he had gone to visit the little hill town of Ronda. He remembered sitting "in a little park which overlooked the river canyon".
"I've been to Ronda, I've been to that little park!" I said.
"Well", he said, "while I was sitting there, I looked across to the mountains on the other side, and there, on a dirt road far up on the mountain, a lone man was walking, That memory has always epitomized for me the feeling of rural southern Spain", he said. "And there was one song you sang today, and, while you were singing it, I was back there again."
He took my hand in both of his and said, "Thank you for taking me back to Spain again, for a little while."
As you can imagine, I was overcome by emotion. Thinking back, I believe that this song, La Ramona was the one which he had in mind. It comes from the wonderful documentary about Gypsies,Latcho Drom, filmed by Tony Gatliff.
Caminando, Caminando, caminando pasajera
He cantado "La Ramona" atravez de la tierra.
Caminando, caminando, caminando pasajera
He cantado "La Ramona" atravez de la tierra
Lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lai lai lai lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lo me lo me lo me lo me lo me
Lo me lo me lo me lo me
Tu ries nina mia, y yo no se por que.
(Which means: walking, walking, walking traveler, I've sung "La Ramona" all over the land; you smile my child but I don't know why.)
I sing an English verse which I made up, to it, not a translation though it has some of the same ideas:
We are traveling along the road, the road down to Sevilla
I have played and sung "Ramona" from Madrid to Algeciras
We are traveling along the road, the road down to Sevilla
I have played and sung "Ramona" from Madrid to Algeciras
Lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lai lai lai lai lai lai lai lai ley
Lo me lo me lo me lo me lo me
Lo me lo me lo me lo me
We are traveling along the road, for wanderers we be.
That's the way it is when you talk to someone and hear their story about visiting a place that you have visited. Until the end of my life, the memory of my visit to Ronda will always be combined with the story the grey-haired man told me in Arizona, and when I sing "La Ramona", I see in my mind the mountains across the river canyon, from my own memory, and I also see the lone man walking way off in the distance, from his story. Thus are we enriched by our communications with others!
The Mercerart Dancers Perform at the Hotel that Evening
When we got back to the hotel, Lyssa was put to work painting a poster which would announce to hotel guests that there would be a dance performance in the lobby that evening.
After a siesta and a shower, I went down to the lobby to have my espresso. There were quite a few built-in couches around low bamboo and glass coffee tables, and you could order drinks there. The large, low-ceilinged lobby had an open airy feeling due to the glass walls at front and back, giving views of the covered and landscaped portico on the entrance side, and of the palm-ornamented pool, with its tanned swimmers and sunbathers, on the other. People were always coming and going but in the relaxed mood of vacationers. Most of the guests here appeared to be successful, healthy, and relatively young.
The dining room opened off of one side, and a little L-shaped bar was adjacent to it, part of the lobby. I found Dale and John Ochoco having a beer at the bar with a friendly and talkative couple from Holland. I joined them, and we had a lively conversation. They had come down for their vacation, bringing their twelve year old son, a pleasant boy who stopped by briefly on his way back from the pool. The woman, a curvacious blonde with an expansive personality, had a lot to say about the business habits of the Spaniards. In the course of running their business they often dealt with Spain. The Spanish habit of taking a daily siesta was, in particular, aggravating to her.
"When we are ready to call them, they are asleep," she said, "and by the time they wake up, we are closed!"
We enjoyed talking to them and I felt like it was the most interesting time I'd had so far, at this fancy resort town of Puerto Banus.
At around eight, the Mercerart Dance School performance began. The performance space was awkward, (right next to people sitting on stools at the bar) but the dancers did a wonderful job as always,going through their dynamic routines in the dance styles of jazz, tap, ballet, and hip hop. As at each of their performances, I felt so much pride to be traveling with such a group. The hotel had provided rows of folding chairs in front of a little stage area near the bar, and the audience was appreciative.
Last Look at the South Coast
The next morning we were all waiting in the lobby for the bags to be loaded. The bus would take us along the coast to Algeciras, where we would board the ferry to Morrocco! (Our stay in Morocco will be described in a separate page of this website, to be completed at a later date.)
As I sat there waiting, the tall gangly twelve year old boy from Holland, whose parents we had talked to at the bar the previous evening, approached me politely and began a conversation.
After asking me when we would depart and where we were headed next, he paused. His voice taking on a wistful tone and an increased degree of interest, he asked, "Are you traveling with the dancers?" I glanced over at him, and saw that he was gazing worshipfully at two of the teen-aged girls in our group, who sat acrss from us on the next couch over, oblivious, grumpy early morning faces---one had a tu-tu and a pair of dance shoes next to her day-pack.
It was clear that he was only talking to me as a way to somehow be closer to these paragons of loveliness and talent. To him, they were exotic foreign beauties, in all likelihood mong the most outstanding memories of his vacation. This adolescent adoration made me smile. It added an extra zing to the image I had of our traveling troupe.
His parents called to him, and off he went, taking one glance back at the half-awake dancers.
Soon afterwards, we were loaded on the bus, and the road wound along the coast, looking out on the shimmering early morning Mediterranean. As we had approached Puerto Banus after dark, it was our first view of the "south coast of Spain". Much of it was not built up, and we followed the hilly, grassy coastline.
Before too long, we were at the large ferry terminal and customs building where we would board the ferry for Morocco. But that's another story.
(Editor's note: I finish this account two years after the date of the trip, as it is now September 2002. I intend to add my journal of our week in Morocco to this website, but will do so at another time. My trip to Egypt is the journey I will begin to write about next, as it is so recent and so much on my mind.)
Packing List for Summer Trip to Mediterranean Country/ies
Your list may not be the same, but
viewers may find this useful to base their list on
This list is for Egypt/Turkey. If you are going to
Greece or Spain or Italy, you can substitute tank tops
for the long-sleeved tops, you can even wear shorts, and the skirts need not be long
Parentheses mean that this item is definitely optional
for most people
The list is divided into the carry-on (dimensions when packed: 18" x 14" x 7") and a small carry-on which slides
under the seat. I check a suitcase (or stiff-sided bag) with a duffle bag inside it (nothing else in it) on the
advice of Morocco. These bags can be used to bring home items purchased on the trip.
DO BEFORE YOU GO:
____at least six months before you go, check your passport to make sure it is good for at least a year after your trip, and
that it has not been damaged. I spilled coffee on mine and found out that I had to replace it!!!
___at least six months before you go, check with your doctor to see if you need special shots. Some of these shots need to be
given in a series that takes a long time to work
___a few months before you go, buy a phrase book and study up on twenty or so useful phrases. These can go a long way toward making your trip more interesting and easier And when in a Muslim country, "insha'allah" (God willing) before talking about anything which you plan in the future tense, and also say mash'Allah (with God's help) before you praise anything, especially a child or someones possession. It takes away the fear of the evil eye, which is still present among large numbers of the population, including many educated people.
___stop your mail/newspaper for the time you will be gone, if no one is there to pick it up for you.
___(arrange with someone to water plants, feed pets, etc.)
___get your travel health insurance. I know from experience!
___get your traveler's checks. Not all countries have reliable ATM's. Get $100 ones, suggests Morocco, because every time you
cash one there is a fee.
___make sure all your bills are paid so you don't have nasty surprises and an angry husband/wife/neighbor
___send all your friends' and family's e-mail addresses to a trusted friend. That way you can sent that one person a fax or
an e-mail, and they can pass it on to everyone else!
___set aside one page of your journal for a money-conversion chart. Mine has denominations columns for the countries currency in different amounts (for instance 1, 2, 5 10, 50, and so on to 300 Egyptian pounds) then a column for what it is worth in my own currency, and a third column for 15% in equivalent Egyptian money, useful for tipping.
CARRY-ON (dimensions 18" x 14" x 7" when packed) WITH I.D. LABEL ON OUTSIDE AND INSIDE
all items handwashable, lightweight
___two skirts, either broomstick-style cotton or flared (rayon or blend, long (I find these at thrift stores).
___two long-sleeved, high-neck tops
___pantihose for evening
___(swimsuit, dance festival wear, hiking wear, etc) depending on what kind of trip you are going on
___(two pair socks)
___two sets underwear
___(two underskirts with button-down hidden pockets) or (the type of wallet which can be worn under the clothes.) I found the
under the clothes wallets to be uncomfortable so I started making polyester cotton A-line underskirts which have a hidden
pocket which hangs down.**
___lightweight purse or small back-pack for carrying around during the day
___one large scarf that goes with all your outfits. I usually just buy a yard of material and hem it
___(small evening bag)
___(two dressy tops to convert the skirts to evening outfits)
___(dressy scarf for evening outings)
___(dressier jewelry for evening outings--not anything valuable!)
___(sandals--can double as slippers)
___lightweight shawl or duster that you can throw over dressy outfit on the way to the nightclub
___two light weight cotton-blend nightgowns and a lightweight robe or "wrapper"
___(swimsuit, dancewear, or other special clothing needed for certain trips)
___large ziploc bag with clothesline, 8 clothespins, small bottle of liquid laundry soap***
___small empty spray bottle (A tip from my daughter, I find this invaluable; I fill it with plain water, hang up wrinkled
clothes the night before, spray them lightly and smooth them down, and the wrinkles are gone by morning!)
___several small baggies with TP rolled up in them--to carry around in purse during outings. Some countries have no TP, other
times there is toilet paper but you wonder who touched it last!
___Purell hand sanitizer in little bottle to keep in your purse
___housekeys so if you get home when no one's there you are okay
___ziploc bag with vitamins, (prescriptions) immodium AD, I also take a little packet of loose gatorade because it settles my
stomach* if I start having diarrhea
___large ziplock bag with deoderant, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouth-rinse, small bottle of lotion, Q-tips (small bottle
of shampoo/conditioner if you are going somewhere that might not have it)
___two or three light-weight hangers
___all the film you will need, it's easier to buy it at home
___travel alarm clock, there will be many activities you want to be on time for, and hotel wake-up service isn't always
reliable. Also useful for keeping afternoon naps a reasonable length
___small sewing kit, with some safety pins including a few large ones!
___large lightweight plastic bags for storing dirty laundry in until you get a chance to do your wash, also some extra large
___(second journal or notebook, if you're like me and usually fill up the first one)
___envelope containing: a couple of zerox copies of your passport, your travel health-insurance info, and two extra
passport-type photos---Morocco says this makes a huge difference if a passport is lost or stolen
___elastic hair ties and bob pins or barrettes if you use them
___other medical equipment---I haven't needed my ankle brace for years, but I am still going to pack it. Better safe than
SMALL CARRY ON (ONE THAT CAN FIT UNDER SEAT ON PLANE)
___sunglasses or clip-on sunglasses
___cash which you need for the trip, including envelope/s with bill denominations your tour leader may have requested for
visas or your share of group tips to guides and her/his travel agents
___neck pillow so you don't start your travels with a crick in your neck from falling asleep with your chin on your chest
___light jacket that has some means of fastening onto small carry-on
(I lost a nice jacket once because I had it slung on over my shoulder bag and it dropped off as I rushed to catch a plane.
Now I sew a small loop onto the back inner seam of the jacket, which I can attach to my carry-on strap
___makeup (figure out the bare essentials--not five lipstick colors and three eyeshadows in the smallest makeup pouch
they will fit into
___small booklet type photo album with pictures of your family, friends, activities (great for helping your conversations
with strangers---I once had a group of Japanese women get real excited over my snapshots of our Renaissance festival troupe,
___small wallet with just enough cash to carry around during the day, and no credit/debit or other important cards in it!
___journal, reading matter (or language study material!) for plane
CONTAINER IN WHICH TO ASSEMBLE ITEMS YOU WILL BE WEARING
___sun cover-up long shirt or jacket
___hat with wide brim which has a similar loop sewn into it
___one complete change of clothes, the ones you will wear on plane, including under the clothes wallet or pocket with
traveler's checks (debit/credit cards) and most of your cash (Morocco recommends a cash $100 bill for each country change, to change at
___jewelry or accessories you plan to wear
___passport and plane tickets in carrier to wear around your neck (I ordered one of these from Magellan's, and I really like
___shoes (if new make sure you wear them a few days before traveling!)
___camera with enough film for a couple of days
*gatorade is made from the same formula which is used to restore the health of babies in the third world who are dying from
the dehydration caused by severe diarrhea. For me what works is a tablespoon of gatorade dissolved in a quarter cup of water,
taken every half hour. No extra water, because that destroys the suger/salt/liquid balance.
**Many people swear by the bags that are buckled around your waist. On my first trip overseas, someone in our group had this
kind of bag zipped and unzipped, all contents removed, before she even realized it (the thief's accomplices were pushing and
shoving her in a bus, at the time) These guys/gals are skillful---in the little hill town of Ronda, I and others were
admiring the view over the ancient bridge, while our backpacks were unzipped behind us without us even feeling it! The
under-the-clothes wallets (and my underskirts with hidden hanging pockets) are much more secure because the thieves do not
even know they are there. ( Also, don't assume you are safe because you haven't left your hotel yet! In the Spain travel account above, an incident is described in which a woman's bag was stolen from the chair in the hotel dining room, while she was at the breakfast buffet table.)
***Another tip from my daughter: Mediterranean sinks do not have a stopper usually. She found by stuffing one of the hotel
washcloths down into the drain, she could fill the sink for her hand-washing of laundry.
tipping In a country like Egypt, it is sometimes tempting to overtip if you can afford it, because the people living there have difficult lives. However, Morocco pointed out that if some people overtip, it sets up unreal expectations for similar tips from all of the group members (and some of them cannot afford it).