Andalusia: Churches and palaces
I grew up in Latin America and majored in Spanish in college. I studied Spanish history and literature for years. It was always a dream of mine to go to Andalusia and visit the places I had read about. In 1984 I went.
We arrived in Sevilla and took a taxi to the hotel. The driver was very nice, showed us some sights on the way, gave us a few tips. My room was very small and the window opened onto a terrace bar where there is live music until all hours. The first night we met one of the guitar players who was from Honduras. He left six years earlier for political reasons and couldn’t go back. He was very discouraged with the situation there.
In the morning we went through the Cathedral. It was the third largest in the world (first was St Peter’s in Rome, second was someplace in Brazil). It really was a monster. We walked around the Barrio Santa Cruz, the old medieval Jewish quarter. We visited the Alcazar, which served as the Royal Palace and was originally a Moorish Fort. At about ten that night we took a taxi to a restaurant recommended by the barman downstairs. We were the first ones to arrive and had a delicious dinner for almost no money. Everything was inexpensive, at least in dollars.
The next day we climbed to the top of the Cathedral’s bell tower known as the Giralda. It was quite a climb but there was a fantastic view of the city from the top. And while we were up there the bells rang — Very loud.
We did a lot of walking around town, had a simple dinner, and stopped in for an after dinner drink at the bar downstairs. The barman insisted we have a drink on him. He was a little middle-aged man with coke bottle glasses who loved to talk and was very “cute.” He invented 62 different drinks and has won both national and local awards for them. He had seven children and two grandchildren. His oldest child was 24 and his youngest was 12. In his life his wife came first.
He fixed us a drink with crème de menthe, orange juice with gas, and one other liquer that he could not divulge to us. It was delicious.
I bought some postcards and a wineskin from a man in a tourist shop. In the evening when we were looking at the menu outside a restaurant, a man come up to me and said “Hello, how are you? Do you remember me? You bought some things from me this afternoon.”
I was so surprised at first I thought he must be somebody I knew and then I figured out who he was. The people had that je ne sais quoi that made you tingle.
Since the friend I was traveling with was Mexican, it was interesting to go see the Archivo de Indios where the Spanish plans for different cities in Latin America were on display. We saw the plans for the Zocalo, which was Mexico City’s central plaza, and the Castle in Chapultapec Park. Afterwards we walked through a beautiful park and saw the Plaza de Espana. It was built for a World’s Fair in 1929 but because of the stock market crash, it never happened.
We arrived in Cordoba by train. They were having a fair and it seemed like everybody in Spain was in Cordoba. We had a lot of trouble finding a place to stay and we almost gave up but finally we found a room. It wasn’t the best place I ever stayed but I’ve stayed in worse. A lot worse. Actually it was a one star hotel so it really wasn’t bad at all. I don’t know why all of a sudden I had a hotel fixation.
After having a beer and relaxing for a while we headed to the Mesquita. It was originally a mosque that was converted into a cathedral. That place was incredible. You just had to laugh at the stupidity of the human race. Imagine ruining something so beautiful to put in a catholic church that really was nothing to look at. The arches of the Moors and what was left of the mosaics were so beautiful it really was a shame it wasn’t left alone. But it was interesting. The contrasts were very strong.
The Alcazar was a real let down. After seeing the one in Sevilla, this one was nothing at all. The gardens were pretty, though. All the giant roses were in bloom.
Manuel Benítez Pérez was El Cordobes, one of the all time greatest bullfighters and one of the highest paid. I was about 12 when I fell in love with him. I had a huge poster of him on my bedroom wall. I watched him on TV whenever possible and was green with envy when my brother went to see him in person. He was called El Cordobes because he was from a town near Cordoba. I was excited to go to the Bullfighting Museum in Cordoba. I was disappointed. Although there were many interesting things and artifacts about great bullfighters, there was only a bare mention of my beloved El Cordobes. I decided you had to be dead to get into that museum.
Our last evening in Cordoba, I said goodbye to my friend who had to return to The Hague. I left the next morning on my own for Grenada on the bus.
I arrived in Granada about 1 pm. The bus stopped just about everywhere along the way. We came through Baen and Priego. The countryside was beautiful. Millions of olive trees, millions of red poppies, winding mountain roads, hills dotted with castles, white-washed farm houses. Priego was a small city up in the mountains that had a beautiful view and a little river that cut its way through a gulch.
In Granada I managed to fight my way into a taxi with a driver who turned out to be a real sourpuss. He just dropped me at the bottom of the hill so I had to climb up to the hotel. I had a very nice room with a large bathroom and a window that looked out onto a small patio. I liked it.
Granada was surrounded by mountains. I stayed right below the entrance to the Alhambra, the Cathedral was about 2 blocks away and the Albacin with its narrow winding medieval streets was right across the street. I couldn’t believe how perfect it was. Granted I knew I wouldn’t see everything Granada had to offer but I would see what was important to me. The Alhambra awaited me.
Something I couldn’t believe was how much the Spaniards reeked of garlic. At ten in the morning. I couldn’t imagine what they had for breakfast. Or, maybe they just ate so much of it, it came out of their pores.
First thing the next morning I trekked up the mountain to the Generalife, the Moorish Kings’ summer palace. It had some beautiful manicured gardens and a nice view of the Alhambra, the main palace and fortress. Then I walked over to the Alhambra itself. Its gardens were breath-taking and the view was something else. The Casa Real, or Royal House, had carved archways and ceilings and the baths had colorful tiles. I saw the room where Washington Irving wrote “Tales of the Alhambra” in 1828. But really what I liked the most were the gardens and pools and fountains.
That afternoon I went to the Royal Chapel in Cathedral downtown where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel were buried. There was a group of school children being guided around by their teacher. When they came to the big statue of Ferdinand and Isabel lying on their deathbeds, the guide told them to notice that Isabel’s head had sunk deeper into the pillow. She said it was because Isabel was smarter than Ferdinand and so her head weighed more. Made me laugh.
On the train back to Sevilla and I couldn’t figure out the seating. It looked like I was in the right place but the seats didn’t match up with my ticket and I couldn’t understand if they were assigned or not. There was A guy in the car who seemed to be having the same problem. We communicated in Spanish the whole time we were trying to figure out where to sit. When we finally decided on a place to sit, it turned out he was from Washington State, USA. He spent time in the Peace Corps in Colombia and traveled around Latin America, but this was his first trip to Europe. We compared notes and agreed on how similar Spain was to Mexico and Latin America in general. “The children are like their parents.” He was gong to Ronda and then on the Gibralter so we parted ways about halfway through the trip.
The next morning I was flying out of Seville into Amsterdam. My Mexican friend called me early in the morning to tell me Schipol Airport was on strike. Instead of flying to Amsterdam, I had to go to Madrid and try to get a flight to someplace nearby.
On my way to the airport the taxi driver went on about how I needed to spend two months in Sevilla to really appreciate it and listed all the festivals and what a wonderful place it was. Sevilla was really geared for tourism. At the airport I told them to just check my bag to Madrid because of the strike and they hadn’t even heard about it so it was lucky my friend called.
In Madrid I managed to get on a flight to Brussels so I went to telephone my friend to let her know. It took me a while to figure out the phone. Finally I asked a very nice man what I was doing wrong and he told me I was using the wrong coins so I had to get change and go back and start over. I finally reached my friend and she said fine, Case would meet me. I had no idea who that was but, OK.
My flight was delayed for four hours so I went back and called my friend again. This time she told me Case was very tall and very Oriental. Finally I arrived in Brussels and fought my way out of a packed luggage area and walked through a crowd of people looking for a very tall Chinese guy. I got to the door and was just standing there wondering what I should do because I hadn’t seen anybody fitting that description and all of a sudden there appeared before me an Indonesian man of average height asking me if I was looking for Case. I was so relieved. And so was he.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.