Curious about Columbus (Huelva, Andalusia, Spain)

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My grandmother is with us now. We were going to stay a few days in Seville but have decided to head to Portugal to see my mum’s sister (and my grandmother’s daughter). Along the way we make our final stop in Spain: Huelva. The town from which Christopher Columbus set sail on his second and fourth voyages to the New World.

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The famous sailor stands watch over the sea. He’s impossible to ignore.

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Unfortunately we’re about half an hour too late to attend the museum. It’s closed for the afternoon so we can’t go in and learn about Christopher Columbus’ life. But we can see the exterior of the monastery where he lived for two years before his voyages to the Americas. It’s incredible to realise that this historic figure who I learned about in school would have walked past this very crucifix on a daily basis.

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We are a little cheeky. The museum is closed but a large gate is open so we let ourselves in. The gate could easily be mistaken for an entry because it is situated before the official entry. Others do the same thing. We take some photos quickly before we are kicked out (rightly of course). These replicas are the same size as the boats that set sail across the seas. The men who sailed them must have been either brave or foolhardy, regardless of what history has taught us about their actions and effects there of.

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Huelva is still very much a port town. Boats and the sea are obviously its lifeblood. I ponder at the identity of the men and women who live here. Do they identify as men and women of the sea? How many have been here for multiple generations?

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How many families of today’s Huelva have called the ports here home since the days when ships were made of wood and powered by wind? It’s an interesting thought on which to end a fascinating time in Spain.

A night in Seville (Adalusia, Spain)

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We arrive in Seville just before dark. Our apartment is a gorgeous space inside the old palace walls. I do some work while Mum goes for a walk. Later, I join her to see a little of the city.

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We walk around taking in the atmosphere of this lovely city. There’s a plaza at the end of every street and an old church in every plaza. We don’t walk long but it’s all quality.

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It’s our last night together just my mum and me. We eat tapas at a really good little restaurant and sit on the terrace. We realise it’s only the sixth meal we haven’t cooked ourselves, including breakfasts and lunches. It’s only our second actual tapas and this is much better than the one we tried in Granada. We sit a while and enjoy the atmosphere before Mum has to go to the airport to pick up her mum.

Carnaval in Cadiz (Andalusia, Spain)

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We’re heading for Seville today because my grandmother arrives from Holland tonight. It’s only a couple of hours drive and Seville is Mum’s favourite city in Spain. So it’s tempting to just drive straight there. But Mum says “why don’t we just take a quick stop in Cadiz while we’re passing anyway”. And with that one sentence, we find ourselves experiencing what is reputed to be the second biggest Carnaval in the world after Rio.

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But we don’t learn that until we’ve been in the town for a little while. It’s still morning when we arrive and, other than a small busload of tourists near the cathedral, the town is quiet. We take our time exploring the waterfront, with its fortress walls. Cadiz was one of the first cities to be founded in Europe. The Phonesians established the city in 996, more than 1,000 years ago. It’s been an important port town since.

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The seagulls love it here too. These are big birds, not the little seagulls we have at home. In 2008 the city had to cull the population because it had grown to plague proportions. Over 10,000 eggs were destroyed. That’s a lot, but pales into comparison with the 45,000 nests that were not touched by the council.

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We walk to the fort that stands at the end of a long rock wall jutting out into the sea. When we read about the Battle of Trafalgar there was reference to the French changing formation so they could retreat to Cadiz. I imagine this fort would have been part of the defense mechanisms that they were hoping would protect their ships. It’s not difficult to imagine soldiers and sailors lined up on parade within the fort’s walls.

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Nor is it beyond my imagination to consider the countless times men looked through these windows out to sea to watch the Armada and other military vessels head in and out of port.

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There’s a sand sculptor creating his art near the end of the rock wall that leads back to the town.

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It’s still quiet in town … I still believe an orange tree is worthy of a photo. Mind you, orange trees are very Spain and they are all fruiting right now.

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We reach the market area where seafood is being sold from small tables. There’s small dried prawns, oysters and sea urchins.

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But this is not a market. It’s Carnaval. Stalls are being set up and people in costume are just starting to arrive. We take lunch and then it’s all on. Music and laughter fill the streets. Cadiz has a ten day Carnaval and, despite it being Monday, the atmosphere is fantastic. No one is working; they are all partying and dressed up in costumes. Floats start to move around the city. Not in a single parade but each float takes a different route; allowing more people to see the spectacle.

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The musicians on the float play some music then drink some booze. The floats move, sometimes with music and sometimes with drinking. Mum explains the festival because it’s similar to what she experienced as a child growing up in Holland. She tells me it brings back memories to happen to be here for Carnaval.

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Alcohol flows freely. Some more freely than others, like these free samples of beer that are being given out by the cup full.

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In other places it looks like random individuals have bought alcohol in bulk to sell on the street from shopping trolleys and ice boxes. They call out their offerings and probably make a mint.

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We get into the spirit and buy some brightly coloured wigs from one of the many African men who have laid down their wares on white sheets. It’s funny now because people are taking photos of us too; just as we are taking photos of others who are dressed up.

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And dressed up they all are. This is not a festival reserved for children. Men and women of all ages, from young adults to the elderly are all taking part. It’s quite amazing really that we happened to come to the only town in Spain where Carnaval would take place during our stay. It’s a wonderfully fun afternoon of festivities and colour.

The Lighthouse of Trafalgar (Andalusia, Spain)

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It is only a short drive from Vejer to the coast. After exploring the town we drive down the hill and across the flat lands to the Faro de Trafalgar (Lighthouse of Trafalgar). This was the lighthouse that was the marker the sailors would have used for the famous battle of the same name.

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The sea is relatively calm today. But it can get so rough and dangerous here too. The colour of the water is amazing.

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As are the shapes of the windblown sand. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place to while away an hour or two.

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We sit back, relax and enjoy the sunshine. This is living.

The white town of Vejer de la Frontera (Andalusia, Spain)

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Vejer de la Frontera is something else. The town sits atop a hill in a particularly rural part of Spain that hasn’t yet been overrun by olive groves. Tall white electricity windmills stand spinning wildly in the blustery winds. Every ridge and flatland for miles from the sea is touched by this alternative electricity farm. And then, there above it all, atop a hill untouched by the tall spinning posts, there is Vejer de la Frontera. We’d read it was a cute white town but didn’t expect anything like this.

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We’ve stayed overnight in Vejer, eating out at a fantastic restaurant Corredera 55. It’s drizzling in the morning so we take it easy, heading out to explore the town around 11am. And what a town it is to explore. It’s not large and all the touristy sights are closed today. But sometimes it’s these local experiences that are the nicest.

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We start in the Old Town. It’s surrounded by a fortress wall with four old gates. The gates and old buildings are fascinating because they are not white. They are the only structures in the town that are not painted white. So they stand out starkly.

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The Old Town is home to the castle and cathedral. The castle is small but the walls are extensive. You can walk up on them and look down across the farmlands.

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It’s days like these where I just walk around a town taking in the simple things that I love the most about traveling. Sure, the grand sights are impressive but they are just sights. This is real life and atmosphere. It’s a simple do it yourself pleasure.

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There’s so much to see from the way colours pop when they are contrasted against pure white.

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To local decorative touches like these old wine casks outside a taverna (pub).

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Naturally, the town has its fair share of crosses. Spain is Catholic after all and Catholicism has a long history here given the battles the Christians made against the Moors.

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The pretty Plaza de Espana must look wonderful on a blue sky day but the skies haven’t yet turned blue by the time we get there (they do turn blue later in the afternoon). The brick fountain is tiled in bright colours and the ever-present orange trees are fruiting profusely. I can picture locals sitting here enjoying the day while children play soccer.

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A dog asks for pats as it sticks its head out of its master’s window. The master is home peeling potatoes in the kitchen (I see her through the window). Naturally I pat the dog. Inside I hear a voice baby talking to the dog and I can just imagine that the lady is saying words to the effect of, “Oh did someone just pat you little doggie? Was it a nice person?” . Haha

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We walk up to the back of the New Town where there are some old flour grinding windmills. Originally the town tried to use La Mancha windmills like we saw on our quest for Don Quixote. But the winds in this region are too strong so the windmills fell over. This led to an adaptation by making the windmills wider to have a more solid structure. There are supposed to be some walks leaving from here but we can’t find them. Perhaps we looked in the wrong place or maybe they are just something locals need to know about. The information brochure is less than helpful so we give up. Instead we are happy with our adventures in the town itself.

Beas de Granada to Granada hike (Andalucia, Spain)

We’re in the Seirra Nevada area so go through some websites looking for hikes. We find a range of options both in the mountains and the foothills so choose the Beas Granada to Granada hike. It promised views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, including the snow-capped Veleta, and also the chance to follow old shepherd’s routes.

To start the hike we wanted to catch a bus to Beas de Granada. To catch the bus you go to Avenue Capitan Moreno and take the 300 bus to Beas de Granada. There’s a bus stop not far from the intersection with Avenue Del Hospicio. We wait at the bus stop for the 8:30am bus. At 8:45am we see a number 300 bus arrive and think it’s ours. Apparently it’s not. The bus came and went while we were waiting. Be aware – the number 300 bus does not stop at the bus stop but in the far bay of the bus zone way down near Avenue Del Hospicio. And it doesn’t have a clear sign: just a small board on the dash. Not to be undone, we take a taxi instead (the next bus isn’t until 10:30am) for about 35 euros.

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Beas de Granada is a cute town wedged between the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It looks agricultural with its small plaza alto (high square) from which the walk begins.

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We follow the route instructions and topographic map that we downloaded from the internet. Almost immediately we find ourselves walking on farm tracks among the almond blossoms and olive trees.

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I would almost be so bold as to suggest that almond blossoms could compete with cherry blossoms in the most beautiful flower stakes.

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We pass agricultural scenes of small tractors, farmers pruning olive trees and bon fires burning off the cut branches.

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It feels so good to be out of the city and in the fresh air. The grass is billowing gently under the breeze, the sun is shining on our shoulders and the gravel is crunching beneath our feet.

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We climb steadily upwards. My fitness has improved a lot over the past couple of months and I find the ascent easy. And of course there’s the reward of climbing: the views. Unfortunately, it’s too hazy today to get any real views of the Sierra Nevada. The Veleta (the highest mountain in Spain) is only visible because the sun is shimmering off it’s snowy summit. But the views around to the foothills more than make up for the lack of high altitude scenery.

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The trail is a mix of farm tracks, herding paths and gravel roads. Normally I prefer to walk on single track trails but here this mix of terrain feels appropriate. After all, rural Spain is centuries (or even millenia) old so there is a lot of history in these trails.

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We follow the trail along the ridges between Beas de Granada and Granada, always with 360 degree views of the farms and mountains. It’s so pleasant out here under the Andalusian skies. It makes me want to return to Spain to walk some more of these rural trails. Previously, when I thought of hiking in Spain I thought the only option was the Camino de Santiago de Compastella. But now I see there are so many wonderful options to hike more remote and less trod paths … paths I would love to come back to one day … like the GR7 that runs through this area.

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It’s almost lunch time when we come to a big old wall. I wonder what stories it would tell.

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Nearby there are a couple of picnic tables so I can ponder this thought while we eat our lunch. Mountain bikers ride past us on the trails as we eat. It’s funny how we barely notice them while we walk but now there seem to be plenty of them out on the trails. There are some walkers too, including a man who looks like he’s walking home from work. That would be a nice commute.

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Not far from Granada we come to an exercise park that overlooks the city. Naturally, we make time to have a laugh here. Mum tries out some new functions she’s discovered on her camera and I pretend to do exercises.

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Before long we’re walking through the olive fields that lead to the Alahmbra.

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Where ancient trees and new create a gorgeous structural atmosphere to the world after the relaxed beauty of the hills. It’s good preparation for the streets of Granada that we will soon be navigating on our way back to the hotel.

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It would be so easy to spend weeks wandering from town to town here in Spain with the narrow cobble stoned streets, white washed buildings, plentiful food and gorgeous landscapes. Perhaps one day I will … it depends though on how side tracked I get exploring the rest of what life and the world have to offer. For now, I am totally satisfied with the days’ hike. It was about 16km (10 miles), which is perfect for a relaxed walk.

Cazorla to Granada (Andalucia, Spain)

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We’re not exactly sure what to expect today. We know we want to drive to Granada but the road is still a mystery. I love days like this where we set off with limited expectations other than to reach a certain destination. They leave a sense that anything is possible. And that it is. I mean … look at this gorgeous road we took through an olive farm.

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And these views of the mountains in the distance.

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After taking the scenic route from Cazorla to Jaen we are stunned to see a huge castle at the top of the hill. Mum had read that there was one there with fantastic views of the city but I don’t think even she was expecting this experience of n actual huge castle so high up in the hills above Jaen.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, entering a castle is serious business. You need to pass inspection from the knights in shining armour first. Apparently I passed and was allowed entry. Either that or the knight wasn’t paying good attention.

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Castillo de Santa Catalina (The Castle of Saint Catalina) was first built in the 8th Century as a Moorish fortress in the time of Islamic Spain. It was later captured and improved on by King Ferdinand III in 1246 after he pushed the Moors out of Spain. There’s a museum inside the castle that is well worth a visit. But the real beauty of this place are the views.

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They are incredible. This photo here shows a huge white cross that stands in memorium of soldiers killed in a war (I can’t read enough Spanish to know any more than this).

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After leaving the castle we drove to a small olive oil factory and took a look around. It’s not olive season here so the factory was running but not producing anything. It looked like they were cleaning. The Jaen region of Spain produces 50 per cent of all Andalucia’s olive oil, 30 per cent of all Spain’s olive oil and 10 per cent of the olive oil in the world. That’s some impressive statistics.

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We stop along the way to buy some supplies from a supermarket. We’ve been eating simple meals of bread, ham, cheese, vegetables, pasta, yoghurt and fruit while here; only dining out half a dozen times in the total trip (note: I’m writing this about a week after the events of the day). Supermarkets are always interesting and tell a lot about the culture and diets of the locals. Here, ham is clearly an important food and buying ham on the bone means something very different to what it does at home. These ham legs even still have the hoofs attached to show that they are real.

We arrive in Granada just on dusk and check into our hotel. We take a walk around the city and buy some dinner. I go for a huge plate of broadbeans with ham and egg. It’s absolutely delicious in its simplicity. Tomorrow we will explore Granada properly; we think it will be an interesting place.