Tuesday, September 25, 2018

More touring in Spain

With my failure to make the 400m finals (by 0.07 sec), I had more time off than anticipated.  I made 5 trips in my little rented Fiat 500.  1) to Tolox, 2) Trevélez, 3) Ronda, 4) Cordoba, and 5) Granada, Sierra Nevada, and the beach near Nurja.

The first trip to Trevélez was recommended to me by a friend who had been there.  It is the second highest village in Spain at nearly 5000'.  I went up there alone on my day off on Friday after the 200m prelims.  Driving east toward Motril, then north to the great Sierra Nevada mountain range, my first glimpse of the Sierras was awesome.  These are peaks over 10,000' and look as high as the Rockies, particularly due to their proximity to sea level.   I've heard that on clear days, one can spot the African coast with binoculars from up there.  As I got higher into the Sierras, I came upon the Rule Reservoir and stopped to call my parents and take a few photos:

As usual, olive trees were everywhere and the higher into the mountains I got, I started seeing almond trees, which I stopped to sample.
I spotted Trevélez from a distance, a typical 'white village' of Andalucia, tightly situated on the mountain and made of white stucco with Spanish tile roof.

I drove to the top where the paved road ended, was sorry to not have an SUV to continue to the higher terrain.  The roads were ridiculously narrow and really meant for walking.  The locals eyed me but were probably used to tourists as is seemed obvious that is what their economy depends on.

This town is famous for it's dried cured hams, hanging in almost every store.  I don't eat ham but nevertheless I tried it.  It was quite good with the local manchego cheese, one of my favorite cheeses.  But, you'll never see the Spanish putting mustard on their ham and cheese.  Olive oil if anything.

I walked into a cafe a had a delicious cafe con leche and into a tourist shop where I bought a fig and almond bar.  I had a brief conversation with my limited Spanish with the owner who said he was 55 yrs old and had lived in Trevélez his whole life.    Not a bad situation.

I wrote about my trip to Tolox in the mountains west of Malaga in an earlier post.  I went with John and Carlos.

I went to Ronda,  with Sandy on Thursday. Ronda is a magical city built across the deep El Tajo gorge west of Malaga.  It was a cool drizzly day and was happy to find a cafe for some of the usual cafe con leche.  The views from and of Ronda are tremendous.  We drove both above and below the city.

I found a guitar shop and a local guy was about to play a concert for about 7 or 8 people gathered.  I wish I could have tried out some of the guitars in there.  There were some good ones but the concert was about to start and it wasn't a good time.  We decided not to stay for the concert.  

We drove back into the sunset which gave the landscape a beautiful tone. I stopped for a few photos ... wheat fields and windmills.

Saturday, Stephen had a car so we met for breakfast at my hotel and  drove to Cordoba to see the grand Mosque-Cathedral, and whatever else we could find.  I also wanted to see the Alcazar Gardens but they closed early (2:30).  But, I did find the guitar shop of José Rodriguez, and a nice cafe for an early dinner. 

Entering the courtyard of the cathedral, it was filled with perfect orange trees surrounded by moorish tile and masonry floors.  The  medieval Mosque-Cathedral, containing both Muslim and Christian motifs, was grand and immediately impressive for it's series of stone arches and highly detailed alters.

After enjoying the Mosque-Cathedral, Stephen and I navigated through the narrow streets to the guitar shop of Jose Rodriguez. It was a small shop with a tiny waiting area. I honestly could not imagine how this guy could get any work done, with his work space open to the public and people walking in and out.  He didn't speak any English and I stood around for 10 minutes with others and decided to leave and come back right before the 2-4PM afternoon siesta.  Stephen and I had a cafe con leche and I returned to his shop just before 2.  There was a guy in there who spoke a little English and I managed to tell him I was a guitar professor visiting from the US.  He closed his shop and showed me 2 spruce guitars and a flamenco.  His prices were high but appropriate.  4500 Euro for the standard concert model, 6500 Euro for his top German spruce guitar ($7650).  The first guitar was ok, but the second, his top model was really superb.  Very colorful and loud.  If it were a bargain, I would have bought it.  I played for about 15 min.  Stephen seemed to really enjoy the scene, me playing, Jose listening, and trying to communicate not knowing much of each other's language.  Stephen took a few photos, I thanked him and we were off.

We then had a great dinner in a street courtyard of fried cod and headed back to Malaga.

Granada, Sierra Nevada, and the beach
Saturday was my last day to tour and I could not find a travel companion so I took off to Granada on my own, with the goal of seeing the cathedral there and then driving up to the ski resort in the Sierras.  I arrived and found parking in an impossibly narrow 4th basement level urban parking garage.  Thankful for the smallness of this Fiat.  The cathedral did not disappoint.

After leaving the cathedral, I wandered around an upscale urban market close to the parking garage. It was a paradise of seafood, and produce. I could definitely see why people live well here.

Granada market
 I found my way out of Granada and headed toward the Sierra Nevada resort town of Pradollano, Europe's most southerly ski resort at 6900'.  The highest peaks of the Sierra Nevadas are over 11,000'.   Unfortunately, it was socked in with rain and fog,  I couldn't get much of a view.  The road to the observatory was gated and a sole gate tended sat in the isolated shack.  This destination was filled with empty hotels and bicyclists who would take van to the top and ride down.

I started back, stopping numerous times to enjoy the view below the fog and I decided to not take the highway back but to take a smaller road through the mountains.  It was really cool.  Fortunately, I found a gas station where I fueled up and had yet another cafe con leche.  Funny that gas station coffee in Spain is better than you get pretty much anywhere in the US.

As I approached Nurja, I decided to drive the coastal road and look at some of the beach views.  I wasn't planning on swimming but that changed when I saw a really cool beach.

It was 300' or so below the highway and above the beach were the remains of an old castle.

Granada market

 I carefully made my way down the difficult rocky slope and onto a pebble beach.  There weren't many people there.  Of the sparse beach patrons, some were naked or partly clothed, not surprising ... (and actually a bit refreshing compared to the conservative area of the US where I live).  The water was crystal clear and there was no sand!  It was all smooth pebbles, like walking in jewels.  I took a few stones as souvenirs.  I later found out that this beach was called Las Calas del Pino and was regarded as one of the finer beaches in the area.

Not having a towel nor a swimsuit, I stripped to my underwear and took a brief swim.  It was refreshing, the water temp about upper 70s.  I then scrambled back up the cliffside and had a brief chat with a local that could speak some English.  It was beginning to thunder and I started my drive back.  My time was short because I would be attending a flamenco show that night with teammates, Roxanne, Dale, and Lucho.

Road through the Sierras
Beach - Las Calas del Pino

Clear water pebble beach
I got back in time to attend the flamenco show near the Malaga cathedral. Due to the near impossibly navigated narrow streets in town we took a bus from a meeting point at the team hotel toward the Malaga cathedral.
I had a 2 course dinner of paella and turkey and potatoes with dessert.  The flamenco show featured a very good male dancer and few older and not so good female dancers and a singer and a guitarist who relentlessly hacked out very percussive rhythmic accompaniments, nothing particularly virtuosic or nuanced.  However, noticing the palmas (clapping) ... it was the real deal.  This was a popular restaurant version of flamenco.  Probably not the highest in the gitano art form but nevertheless, the first and only flamenco I saw there.  I was expecting flamenco to be more mainstream and visible but it still remains a subculture, even in Andalucia.  I met the guitarist afterward, he didn't speak any English but we compared nails.  I had the characteristic ping pong ball glue ons, he had very hard and long ceramic nails, hard as rock ... appropriate to his aggressive and percussive style,  He was no Sabicas, but got the job done and knew his rhythms. 

Malaga Cathedral
Flamenco show

It was just after dinner I got the text informing me I had indeed been assigned to the USA 4x100m team.  I actually didn't think my appeal would go through but it did.  It made for a nice end to the day, I'd get a chance to race twice on Sunday.

After the relay races on Sunday and the award ceremonies, I sat out on the lawn of the stadium, watching the sunset and I began chatting with a US teammate who was there with her daughter and were drinking champagne.  I had a glass and a nice chat with her.  I felt a bit sad that the meet was over and I didn't do well individually.  But nevertheless, it was well worth the trip.  I was really very hungry.  Not eating anything all day, due to the huge meal I had the night before.  I knew the hotel restaurant would be closed and so, still in my uniform, I put my t shirt and sweats over the USA kit and drove through the streets of the local village of Campanillas near my hotel just hoping to find a coffee shop or cafe open on Sunday night.  What I found was absolutely perfect...   a wonderful coffee house with sandwiches, pastries and the usual great spanish cafe con leche.   I called Roya and video chatted from this place. It was just what I needed.  Had a great chicken sandwich and 2 coffees and a pastry.  Was a bit sad knowing this would be my last cafe con leche in Spain, and I'd soon be heading for the 'land of bad coffee and rednecks'.  It was a great trip despite the disappointments.  

coffee shop in Campanillas
The trip back was exceptional because I had 3 seats to myself.  What luck!  I arrived back in Sewanee for a stunning sunset, the same day I left Malaga.   Life is good.

Welcome home sunset - Sewanee

I'll probably expand this post in the future with more details, but that's it for now...  

it's about the journey.  Athletics, a good way to see the world.  

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