Monday, March 10, 2014

Southern Spain Part 2: Seville, Gibraltar and Ronda

On our trip to the Andalusia region of sunny southern Spain, our sun ran out after the first three lovely days spent in Nerja and Granada.  When it rains as much as it does in Europe, you can't really let it stop you, or else you'd never see anything!

The next stop on our trip was Seville, which I'd heard wonderful things about.  The drive from Granada was about three hours.  We also wanted to see Córdoba which was on the way between Granada and Seville, but sometimes you have to give in and admit that you don't have time to see absolutely everything.  (However, I would love to go back to Andalusia during the sunny season when we can take advantage of the beaches, so maybe we can see it then!)  The three hour drive was extremely blustery, but it was gorgeous.  There were mountains and rolling hills covered in olive groves as far as the eye could see.  Once we got to the city, the drive got a bit more tense...driving in Spanish cities is not for the faint of heart.  I actually think it beat out Florence as being the worst city that we've ever driven in.  We were trying to find our hotel which was situated in the old town among the tiny, narrow, one way streets.  If you miss your "turn" which at many "intersections" could have been one of six ways, it would take you at least 10 minutes to get you back where you need to be.  After about 30 stressful minutes of this, we finally found our hotel, dropped off our bags, found the parking garage, and then got lost trying to find our hotel again.

When we headed out to see the sites there was a steady rain, but luckily it wasn't cold.  After tapas for lunch, we headed to the Moorish Alcázar palace since most of it is indoors.  It is the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use today.  It has beautiful Moorish architecture, but in a different style than that of the Alhambra in Granada, built in the Mudéjar style beginning in the 11th century.






It was pouring as we left the palace, so we ducked into a bar to have a drink while waiting for the rain to let up.  The rain did let up, and we actually had a little peek of sun and blue sky!  We enjoyed walking around the city, especially the quaint Santa Cruz area.  Many of the old streets and courtyards are lined with orange trees, making the city smell like oranges.






The next day we woke up absurdly early to drive down to Tarifa, the southernmost point of Spain as well as Europe.  We had plans to catch the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier, Morocco where we had a tour guide hired for the day.  It's just a short half hour ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar.  We went to the ticket window to collect our tickets, and were told that the ferry was going over, but would not be coming back that evening because of bad weather and mostly strong winds.  We already had a hotel booked in Spain that night and were not prepared to stay the night in Morocco. I was pretty disappointed.  Instead, we drove 45 minutes to Gibraltar to spend the day.

Gibraltar is not part of Spain; it is a British Overseas Territory.  You have to go through a border crossing as you cross into Gibraltar.  It's really weird, but you drive across the airport runway to get to the main town!  We hadn't had breakfast yet, so that was first on our list.  We found a pub where we had a yummy full English breakfast.  (The people that live there speak English with a unique accent.  When we heard them talking to each other it was hard to understand what they were saying!)  As we left the pub, we looked up and saw two monkeys running across the top of the building!  Gibraltar is known for the wild monkeys that came from northern Africa.  It was pretty cool!


The biggest tourist attraction is the Rock of Gibraltar, which is also a national park.  We drove up the steep winding roads to the park, where our first stop was St. Michael's cave.  It's a beautiful little cave, where they sometimes hold classical music concerts.  They had classical music playing, and we were the only ones there.  It was really peaceful and a neat experience.





After the cave, we drove along the narrow road to the Ape Den.  On the way, a random monkey hopped onto our windshield and hung out for a while.  We weren't quite sure what to do!  He eventually hopped on the roof and off of the car.  That was definitely something we haven't experienced before!  We parked the car once we got to the Ape Den, which is just an area where they put food out for the monkeys.  The monkeys were walking around everywhere!  They are so cute!  I was looking at a monkey hanging out on the wall, when he looked into my eyes and then hopped onto me!  I just kinda stood there, waiting for the monkey to make the next move.  I guess I bored him because he didn't stay for long.  Then just a minute later, two monkeys hopped on Kyle's back and started playing!  They were there long enough for me to snap a few pics.  It was pretty awesome!















You can see the airport runway you drive across to enter Gibraltar.

After watching the monkeys for quite a length of time, we went to check out the Siege tunnels, dug out and used by soldiers during the Great Siege in the mid-late 1700s.  It was pretty interesting to walk through.  After seeing the tunnels, we checked out the Moorish castle.


We headed back into town for a late lunch before heading to our hotel just in the nick of time.  The winds were really starting to pick up, and by that evening there was pretty much a tropical storm.  The winds and rain were really intense!  It looked like hurricane footage you see on TV with palm trees barely hanging on!


The next morning the sun was out, and we had an amazing view of the Rock of Gibraltar before heading to the final destination of our trip.  We were heading to the small white washed town of Ronda in a gorgeous mountainous area.  It was an amazing drive on a bumpy back road.  We stopped several times for Kyle to take pictures along the way.


Ronda is a beautiful town situated on a dramatic cliff overlooking a river gorge and the surrounding hills and mountains.  The town dates back to the early Celts in the 6th century BC.  We walked the historic streets, looking at the beautiful old sites.  We stopped in the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, the Mondragon Palace, and the most impressive Puente Nuevo bridge that crosses the river gorge.  We had a wonderful lunch of regional tapas and browsed through neat little shops.  We stayed in the beautiful Hotel San Gabriel, which was also visited by Rick Steves!  Don't be fooled by the sun in the pictures below...the wind was really brutal!

Amazing views along the drive

It's hard to believe people live there!















The inner courtyard of the Mondragon Palace







We left the next morning and headed back to Málaga to return our car and catch our flight back to Stuttagart (via Zurich).  We had such a wonderful time.  Spain is definitely a favorite of mine.  The people are friendly, the food and drink are excellent, and it has such diverse beauty from the deep blue Mediterranean to the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains.  I can't wait to go back!