GRANADA & THE ALHAMBRA

Spain & Portugal Blog 04

Wednesday May 22, 2019

On Saturday afternoon we kissed goodbye to colourful Cordoba and travelled by coach into Spain’s south-east corner, stopping in Granada, mid-sized provincial capital of Andalucia. It’s springtime here now, but there’s still snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains that form a stunning backdrop to this city.

Our first surprise was the super-posh Alhambra Palace Hotel – our luxury home for the next two nights. And, next morning, after breakfast, the surprises just kept coming.

We started with a shortish walking tour of Granada’s historic centre, including the Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) to see the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella … and El Albaicin, the ancient Arab Quarter, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Then, in the afternoon, we headed uphill on foot to explore the majestic Alhambra – a mountaintop palace-cum-fortress described as “Granada’s love-letter to Moorish culture”.

It started life after Roman times as a walled citadel, the Alcazaba, before going on to become the opulent seat of the region’s Nasrid (Arab Muslim) Emirs. At one stage its mosque was replaced by a church … then, later, Hapsburg emperor Charles V had one wing demolished … and, later still in the 19th century, Napoleon tried to blow the entire place up. (Thank goodness he failed!)

The serene gardens of the Generalife (on the Alhambra’s northern side) feature the elegant Escalera del Agua water staircase and the Cypress Patio, once the secret meeting place for the wife of Sultan Abu-I-Hassan and her lover. They also provided a refreshing counter-balance to the centuries of history/politics/culture/architecture we’d been hearing about.

A big day? For sure! And another wonderful chapter in the enduring story that is Spain’s …

COMING UP: Our road-trip from Granada to Seville takes us through the heart of Andalusia, home to stunning mountain landscapes, idyllic photo-spots, and the region’s most famous pueblo blanco – dazzling whitewashed villages, with their jumble of tightly-packed houses, narrow alleys, and quiet squares. Come on, join us for the ride!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (If the speech bubble isn’t there, click on ‘home’.) Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

ORNAMENTAL CORDOBA

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Tuesday May 21, 2019

On Friday morning (golly-gosh, the days are flying past) we transferred to Barcelona’s train station where a high-speed AVE bullet-train lay ready to whizz us through the olive-tree-smothered countryside (at 300kph) to Cordoba – almost five hours to the south. Cordoba is famous for its picture-postcard historic centre of whitewashed houses, tiled patios and colourful flowers spilling over balconies – and we Kiwis were about to fall in love with the place.

“An ornament of the world” – that’s how one 10th-century writer described this Andalucian city, back in the days when, under Islamic rule, it boasted a population of 250,000. And, come Saturday, once we’d eaten breakfast, made our beds and vacuumed our rooms (not!), we set off with Maria (our local guide) on a leisurely walking tour of the Old Town behind its ancient walls. We took in the Roman Bridge stretching over the Guadalquivir River … the Juderia, the myriad streets and synagogue of the Jewish Quarter … and La Mezquita, a triumph of Islamic architecture, built over a period of 200 years following the Moorish conquest of Spain in the 8th century. This is one truly mesmerising building – a Muslim mosque with a later 16th century Christian church poking up out of the middle of it!

We struck it lucky here in Cordoba. La Fiesta d los Patios was in full swing, with competing home-owners opening their flower-filled patios to the public – a happy occasion with street-music entertaining locals and visitors around every corner.

COMING UP: We’re off again – travelling by coach to Granada, mid-sized provincial capital and home of the majestic Alhambra, lying in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

PEOPLE-NEWS: One more flapping Yellow Ducky has been claimed by an eager nominee…

  • BRON won our ‘Please Say That Again Award’ – for stating the kinda obvious when she stepped out of the coach yesterday in Seville. As we walked along the road to our hotel, Bron commented: “It feels a bit Spanish here, doesn’t it …”

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (If the speech bubble isn’t there, click on ‘home’.) Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

HOLA (HELLO) BARCELONA!

Spain & Portugal Blog 02

Saturday May 18, 2019

Tuesday saw us back at Dubai’s vast International Airport for a morning flight to Barcelona (Spain) on the shores of the Mediterranean. We arrived early afternoon, were met by the lovely Sandra (our Tour Manager for the next three weeks) and driven downtown to the Gallery Hotel Barcelona.

Barcelona is often voted Southern Europe’s most beloved city … vibrant by day, enchanting by night … and an architectural jewel that’s littered with famous names – like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. But the legendary architect, Antoni Gaudi, is the clear favourite with Barcelonians – and was about to become our favourite, too.

Once we’d unpacked, ironed our faces and made ourselves respectable, we joined Sandra for a quick get-our-bearings walk – followed by a Midlife Madness Welcome Dinner at Pomarada Restaurant, where we dined on local specialities like Iberian Guijuelo ham, fried artichokes, salt cod puff balls, and other delicacies that I’m not even gonna tell you about, because it would only make you jealous.

We spent Wednesday with Sandra, Sonia (a delightful Catalan guide) and Gaudi! His push-the-limits, fairytale creations are on-show all over the place, starting (for us) at his fantastical public park, Parc Guell. Next, we mingled with the hordes ogling Gaudi’s best-known, must-see Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) – a towering, inspiring, weirdly-wonderful cathedral that’s become the city’s symbol (despite being still unfinished, only half its final height, 130 years after Gaudi began his painstaking work). This magical, inspiring, other-worldly place with its story-telling facades and stunningly lit interior truly knocked our socks off!

Finally, in the afternoon, we explored Gaudi’s imaginative apartment block, La Pedrera – but not until we’d sat down to a yummy tapas lunch with wine-a-la-go-go. Tapas (in case you’re wondering) comprises an astonishing variety of light snacks (like olives, nuts, crisps, tomatoes, peppers, onions, mussels) plus small portions of sardines, other small fish, roast veges, cold meats, cheeses on white bread, you-name-it.

Barcelona had one more special treat for us on Thursday: a pilgrimage to the most visited shrine in Spain. Built around 880AD amongst towering, jagged peaks (in an almost inaccessible location, 50kms northwest of Barcelona) is the great Montserrat Monastery – echoing with untold legends, and home to the revered statue of the Black Madonna (found buried deep in the mountain back in the 12th century).

Driving there around hairpin bends on the ever-upwards edge-of-cliff road was a bit of a heart-stopper … but the mountain views from the chapel of St Jeronimo made it all worthwhile. And the chance to hear the famous boys’ choir singing in the cathedral was something else.

Afterwards, we stopped for another tapas lunch at the vast Codorniu Winery – Spain’s oldest vineyard (founded 1551) and second largest producer of cava (sparkling wine). Mmmm …

COMING UP: Fasten your seatbelts and we’ll whizz you on a high-speed AVE bullet-train to picture-postcard Cordoba. Stay tuned and enjoy the ride …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Three more hotly sought-after Quacky Yellow Ducks have found new homes …

  • JEANETTE secured our ‘Avoiding Capture Award’ – for successfully escaping from the group by sneaking out an unknown back-entrance to the toilets at Sagrada Familia. She was found, thankfully, and returned to the fold, promising she’ll never do it again.
  • ROBYN (that’s right, my one-and-only) picked up our second ‘Lost & Probably Stolen Award’ – for leaving her carry-on bag on the coach instead of carrying-it-onto the bullet-train – thereby giving herself and her husband a panic-attack.
  • PATTY scored our third ‘Lost & Probably Stolen Award’ – for leaving her iPad on the hi-speed bullet-train, thereby causing much hi-speed running hither-and-yon by group members, tour guides, and train-station security staff!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (If the speech bubble isn’t there, click on ‘home’.) Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

GLITTERING, GLAMOROUS DUBAI

Spain & Portugal Blog 01

Tuesday May 14, 2019

When a brand new Mad Midlife adventure is finally underway, it’s a bit like “Pinch me please – I must be dreaming!” But this is no dream – our Spain & Portugal Tour is actually happening! And if you’ve been lying awake at night wondering if we arrived safely, worry no more. We DID! And we’ve already been having the time of our lives!

While you slept under warm Sunday-night blankets, we flew backwards through the time-zones (for 17 looooong hours), landing in Dubai early Monday morning, just as the desert landscape was warming up. There’s no place quite like Dubai, with its modern palaces, its soaring glass-&-steel skyscrapers, its jungle of cranes, its 700-plus Muslim minarets, its 12-lane motorways … all sprawled along the shores of the Persian Gulf.

Twenty-five years ago there was little here except boiling-hot sand and a few grumpy camels, but gushing new oil and some visionary sheiks changed all that. Today, this glittering United Arab Emirates showpiece is home to some 8 million people – although barely 1.5 million are Emiratis (Arabs). The majority are foreigners, labourers and construction workers from countries like India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh … plus ex-pat professionals from everywhere else.

The first thing you notice about Dubai is the temperature: once you get out from under the air-conditioning, this place can be stinking-hot! And the second thing you notice is that it lays claim to lots of biggests, longests, fastests, tallests-in-the-world.

Our afternoon city tour took us to the 150-year-old Al Fahidi Fort which houses the Dubai Museum (recording the city’s humble past as a trading, fishing and pearl-diving centre) … across Dubai Creek aboard a chug-a-lug ‘abra’ (water-taxi) to the aromatic/gleaming Spice & Gold Souks (markets) … to the magnificent Jumeirah Mosque … past the lavish beach palaces of Dubai’s numerous Sheiks to the 7-star Burj Al Arab Hotel, designed to look like a billowing sail … then out onto the impressive Palm Jumeirah, a manmade island resembling a stylised palm tree, built on reclaimed land and smothered with super-expensive apartments and hotels.

By now, it was evening. And we travelled (almost) to the top of the world’s tallest tower – the incredible Burj Khalifa. The concrete alone in this architectural wonder weighs more than 100,000 elephants – although we failed to see any elephants as we zoomed up-up-up to the observation deck (124th floor) for some super-lofty views. Finally, we grabbed some dinner while enjoying a fabulous water-and-light show.

Phew! By now we were ready to kill for a bed … but what a day!

COMING UP: We head back to Dubai’s vast International Airport and catch another flight to Barcelona (Spain), on the shores of the Mediterranean. So don’t go away …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Our nearly-famous Quacky Yellow Ducks are once again being awarded to Kiwis in our group who do silly, embarrassing, award-worthy things …

  • JENNY, within minutes of arriving in Dubai, picked up our ‘Lost & Probably Stolen Award’ – for mislaying her cellphone. It wasn’t lost or stolen, of course, but losing stuff is apparently a way-of-life for Jenny.
  • KAYE earned herself our ‘I’m Truly, Deeply, Really Sorry Award’ – for apologising profusely after accidentally standing on the toes of a man in the semi-dark Dubai Museum. It was only when she got no response that she realised the ‘man’ was a life-sized model made of concrete!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (If the speech bubble isn’t there, click on ‘home’.) Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.

IN SEARCH OF FLAMENCO, TAPAS, PAELLA & SANGRIA!

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Thursday May 9, 2019

Everyone seems to be going to Spain & Portugal these days. Both countries are enjoying an explosion of popularity, reporting gleefully on record years for overseas visitors. What’s the big attraction? Well, fasten your seatbelts, folks, because we plan to find out!

We’re about to get up-close-and-personal with that region’s seductive culture … its iconic landscapes … pulsating cities … bustling markets … avant-garde art … centuries-old architecture … medieval fortresses … towering cathedrals … and the laid-back rhythm of its daily life. Add to that a great selection of elegant hotels, to-die-for vino and gastronomy, and lots of laughs along the way … we ain’t gonna get bored, that’s for sure!

As usual, I haven’t even started packing yet. Aarrgghh! But my wife, bless her, has organised the important stuff. And, come Sunday evening, what doesn’t get done really won’t matter … because we’ll be up-up-and-away in a giant Emirates jet, flying to Dubai and beyond!

We’re gonna have a BALL! (I can feel it already, in my bones.) And I’ll do my best to share the highlights with you lovely people back home. I’ll add more blog entries once this journey’s properly underway … let you know what our fellow-travellers get up to … and include some award-winning pix.

So, whatever you do, stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (If the speech bubble isn’t there, click on ‘home’.) Make sure you say who your message is for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.