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.

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.

Hiking the Rock of Gibraltar (Gibraltar, not technically Spain)

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We start our day with breakfast on a rock wall overlooking the Mediterranean. I cook up onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and ham, allowing them to simmer into a sauce before I scramble eggs. It’s delicious and the perfect breakfast to enjoy with such a view.
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The drive to Gibraltar is largely unremarkable. We take the toll road so as to avoid the slow going through the beach side tourist hotspots that mark Spain’s Mediterranean coast. And then, there it is, the Rock. We’re both quite stunned at how high it is. It’s quite daunting to think we are about to hike up to the top; all 426m of it.
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But first we have to pass through immigration because Gibraltar is part of Great Britain, not Spain. Immigration barely look at our passports as we flash them. It’s probably because we are Australian so do not require any visa to enter the UK. Once across the border it’s clear that we’re not in Spain anymore. Everything is different. Signs are in English. Prices are Pound Stirling, there’s red post boxes and red phone booths with the symbols of the British Crown emblazoned on them. Restaurants sell greasy British pub food, supermarkets advertise British products and the policemen are bobbies.
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At Customs a woman looks at me with disbelief when I tell her we will walk to the top of the Rock instead of taking a tourist bus. “It’s 9km” she says. “No worries” is my response. She doesn’t look impressed but it is her job to sell tickets on the bus, especially because the cablecar isn’t operating today. We don’t know exactly where the path to the top leaves but find a sign in the middle of the town. The sign leads up some steps and it makes sense to just follow.
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The steps lead to a road that promises to climb all the way to the top of the Rock. It goes past the Moorish Castle where a British flag flies proudly on the roof. We decide not to enter because it is already after 1pm and we don’t quite know how long the climb will take. It costs 1 Euro or 50p to walk up the Rock of Gibraltar. The cost for a car, minibus or cable car is much higher. If you take the road, the cashier is at the Moorish Castle.
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Unsurprisingly the road climbs ever upward. There is no relief at all from the ascent. But this is okay because we’re both quite fit and don’t struggle at all with the effort. It’s just a lovely day out walking.
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And the views from the road are absolutely breathtaking. You can see the the town of Gibraltar laid out in front of you and the shipping port is in full swing. Every turn in the road brings yet more views.
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It couldn’t be a more perfect day for hiking up a mountain. The sun is shining, a gentle breeze is blowing and the air is crisp.
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Large terns call constantly, filling the air with their song. It is the sound of the sea and makes the Rock feel so exotic to me. It’s a sound I’ve heard often on movies and other soundtracks but never for myself.
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Three-quarters of the way up the road we come to the famous monkeys of Gibraltar. It is said that Gibraltar will remain British as long as the monkeys live on the Rock. I don’t know how true this is nor do I support a colonial world. But it’s an interesting story and the monkeys are funny to watch. We have no trouble from them; though it is also said they do try to steal food from many travelers passing through.
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This point of the road is also the narrowest part of the Rock. It’s like a razor-back with a steep drop down to the sea on the east. There’s a plaque telling the story of some Spanish shepherds who scaled this very cliff in an attempt to take back the territory for Spain. They were captured by the British and imprisoned, and the path they used was destroyed to prevent followers.
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From here the summit is shrouded in cloud and mystique.
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The Mediterranean Steps lead down the eastern side of the Rock from the summit. They are steep and narrow. We set off down them, stopping not on a concrete step cut into the cliffs to eat lunch with a view.
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Just as the road led ever upwards, the Steps lead ever down. The views aren’t as good as those on the way up because there’s too much mist.
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But the views back up the Rock’s steep cliffs more than make up for the mist. It’s as huge as it looked from a distance. I feel so small here. Nature is so immense.
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While there’s few views into the distance over the sea, we can take in the ships waiting outside the harbour for their turn to load or unload. There are so many ships here. But then, the harbour is large and busy with ships. I’ve read it’s a tax haven, so perhaps this is why.
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The walk down is gorgeous with the cliffs and ships and also the flowers that are in bloom. They add more colour to the green, blue and grey world of the Rock.
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At the base of the steps we follow a narrow overgrown path around the point of the rock and down to the road. There’s a carpark here that allows people to talk just 1.5km each way up the steps to the top of the Rock instead of walking the 5km up the road from the border and then back from the carpark to the border. But then you do need to negotiate Immigration both to Gibraltar and back into Spain with your car.
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Then we walk back across the airport tarmac (there’s a commercial airport runway to cross between Customs and the town of Gibraltar) and into Spain. Again, Customs don’t care to look up for our passports so through we go. Our hike from where we parked the car has taken about four hours.

Granada to Fuengirola via mountains and art (Andalusia, Spain)

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At 3,398m altitude the Veleta is the highest mountain in Spain and the third highest in Europe. In the summer you can drive or cycle all the way to the top. The mountain has a distinct triangular summit that must be so recognisable for the people who call the Sierra Nevada home.

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The road up to the Veleta is a stunning drive. This is alpine driving at its best. The road is the highest in Europe but the top above 2,600m is closed in winter by a barricade. I imagine that it sometimes might close lower down too if there’s any snow. Like everywhere else I’ve been in Europe this year the temperatures are unseasonably high and there’s almost no snow.

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I manage to find a small patch of snow at 2,500m. It’s pretty. But the poor snow quality and low number of lifts open means I have decided against skiing up here. Much as I love skiing, Mum isn’t into it and the cost / benefit ratio is not in my favour.

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Despite the lack of snow and warm temperatures the mountain is still amazing. We’re so high up compared with the relatively flat lands around us that I feel almost like I am looking out of a plane window.

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Our next stop on what will be a massive day is Antequera where there are some neolithic structures. The structures are not so big but it is pretty cool to be in a place that was lived in about ten thousand years ago. That’s a number I can’t even conceive of. It’s incredible to realise that this country has such an ancient history.

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After lunch in Antequera (a picnic in a park) we drive to El Tonrillo de Torcal (Torcal National Park). We weren’t sure what to expect but decided it had to be more interesting than just driving down the highway to Malaga. Well, this place is definitely something!

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Wild mountain goats hang out beside the road, seemingly unafraid of the cars driving past and people taking photos.

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But what the park is most famous for are the pancake rock formations. They are breathtaking and we can’t take our eyes off them. They take their shape from the fact that they were part of an ancient sea bed that was pushed up into a mountain range during the Jurassic Age 150 million years ago.

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There are some walking paths that wind between the rocks, allowing you to get up close and personal to the main attractions. There are two options from the carpark at the lookout: a 3km (2 mile) and a 1.5km (1 mile) walk. We opt for the shorter of the two. It’s already late afternoon and we’re at about 1,300m above sea level so this is not a place to be caught out after dark.

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Despite the short distance, the walk takes us about an hour because we stop so often in total awe of our surrounds. It’s all here: rocks, flowers, trees and deep green grass. An orchestra of visual stimuli.

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We leave the mountains behind and take the long scenic route to Malaga where Picasso was born and lived in his youth. The Picasso Museum and Picasso house are the next stop on our massive day of sight seeing. There’s a free audio tour in the Picasso Museum and I am grateful for it because I’ve never really understood Picasso’s works. Now I do … he was the consummate deconstructionist who then reassembled what he saw in multiple dimensions. I really loved the museum. It was absolutely fantastic.

We end our day in Fuengirola. We don’t arrive until around 8pm and are both absolutely pooped from such a big day of travel. We’ve done it all from tall mountains to ancient structures, a rocky walk to cubism. We don’t even bother with dinner tonight, lazing in our beds surfing the internet instead. A sign of contentment.

Mum’s creative challenge while I have a work day (Granada, Andalusia, Spain)

I need to work for a day and Mum’s going out to explore Granada a bit so I set her a task: take seven creative photos for me. Mum did well and shared with me (and now with you) her impression of Granada.
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Mum decided to buy some mandarins … these are quite Spanish after all.
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As you can see, Mum isn’t shy about asking people to be in her photos.
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Even strangers in the street aren’t safe from her playful nature.
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And she has an eye for design.
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Oh and don’t think that your restaurant or business is safe from her good natured interference.
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She’s a good mum because she even thinks of me and my obsession with knights and all things Medieval.
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The ordinary suddenly becomes extraordinary in my mum’s world.
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And she has a nice way with people who have to work hard for a living, knowing she can have a laugh with them and maybe it also breaks up their day.
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Of course the toro (bull) is a necessary subject for Spanish photos too.
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As are voluptuous fountains.
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And then at the end of the day she used me in my ‘office’.

I did get to enjoy dinner after work at a delicious little Syrian restaurant that was a husband and wife job. The paintings on the wall spoke of a different happier time for the country. And the food was absolutely fantastic – it’s a shame the country is off-limits for travel right now because I would go just to eat.