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Spain Trip

I originally posted a trip report in the Spain Forum rather than Trip Reports. In the original report there is a link to some pictures from our trip. I am cross posting here for those who read trip reports regardless of country.

Having visiting Cordoba, Granada, Toledo, and Barcelona in 2017, and Seville, Madrid, and Avila in 1984, we decided to return to Andalucia in February 2020 to visit some of the smaller towns and to return to Seville. I will add that we are in our middle 70s as an explanation of why we may have traveled at a slower pace than many. Due to COVID-19, the timing was not the best. When we left on February 22, there seemed to be little risk. There were few cases in Spain and most of those were in the Barcelona and Madrid areas. A few days after we arrived, the number of cases in Barcelona and Madrid escalated and the first case was reported in Seville. Nevertheless, there remained very few reported cases in Andalucia and most of the COVID-19 news was centered on those two cities and Italy. While many people were discussing the pandemic no precautions were required or taken in our region. Most people were concerned but not overly so because there were so few cases in the region. More about our return to the US at the end of this report.

Our first stop was for two nights in Carmona, about 20 minutes from the Seville airport. This was an add-on due to a change in flights by our airline, TAP. Carmona is a small town with beautiful entrance gates, remnants of the city wall, an Alcazar, and many plazas and churches. Many of the churches were not open and due to limited hours of the Alcazar we were not able to go inside. In our 1.5 days there we were able to visit a couple of churches, spend hours walking through the town enjoying the architecture, walls, and plazas. It was a great start to our trip.

Next we moved to Ronda. On the way there we stopped at the pueblo of Setenil de las Bodegas, a white town famous for being built into rock overhangs above a river. It’s also famous for its meat products and we enjoyed some of them under an overhang at our outdoor lunch.

We spent four nights in Ronda enjoying the beautiful scenery. The historic town is built on a hill separated by a gorge. The most famous pictures of Ronda are of Puente Nuevo, with its arches built deep into the gorge below. Ronda has several museums; churches; plazas, parks, and viewpoints; and of course, city walls and gates. It claims to be the birthplace of modern bull fighting and has a large bullring, which we only saw from the outside. We visited Palacio Mondragon and Casa de San Juan Bosco, mostly to see the gardens and views. We also visited Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor. In addition to visiting the church, we climbed up the tower for a walk around the roof and a great view of the town. At this time of the year there were not too many tourists and we were able to wander through the town enjoying all the sights without a crush of other tourists.

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Part 2
While in Ronda we took a day trip to two Pueblos Blancos. First was Zahara de la Siera, a pretty town built under a Moorish castle. Our age got the best of us and we did not climb all the way up to the castle, but we did enjoy the views and the atmosphere of the town. Next we drove over winding mountain roads to Grazalema, another scenic pueblo, this one built below limestone peaks. We spent a couple of enjoyable hours walking around the town, enjoying the views, and having lunch in a plaza.
Next we spent three nights in Marbella, set on the Mediterranean Sea. We stayed in the historical center, which is very small, but beautiful: white buildings, many of which have flower pots on the walls; streets with potted plants and flowers; public wastebaskets painted with various scenes; pretty plazas and parks. Yes, I was the crazy person taking pictures of wastebaskets. We enjoyed walking on the palm tree lined promenade along the sea. An interesting sight is several Salvador Dali sculptures on Avenida del Mar, which ends at the sea. We also had an interesting lunch of pescaito. It was described as small fish so we thought anchovy size. We asked how many fish were included and the waiter said: A lot, they’re really small. And so they were! This stay was meant to be down time between other towns with more walking so it was a relaxing and enjoyable three days. Marbella certainly lived up to its name!

From there we drove to Cadiz where we spent four nights. Set in the Gulf of Cadiz in the Atlantic Ocean, Cadiz is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Europe. It’s filled with historic buildings and monuments, beautiful plazas and parks, churches, castle fortresses, and promenades along the sea. We were able to visit various churches, including Oratorio de la Santa Cueva which has three paintings by Goya. We also visited Castillo de Santa Catalina. One of the parks has some trees that are claimed to have been brought back to Cadiz by Christopher Columbus from the new world. A visit to the Mercado Central resulted in an interesting lunch of raw oysters, really tiny boiled shrimp, and other sea food. We also spent a lot of time enjoying the various plazas. I felt we needed at least two more days here as there were several sights that we didn’t have time for.

We moved on to Arcos de la Frontera where we spent three nights. On the way there we stopped at Monasterio Cartuja de Santa Maria de la Defension. We were able to enter the gate in the beautiful outer walls but the church itself is only open during services so we could only admire it from the outside.
The historical center of Arcos de la Frontera is really small; pretty much everything can be seen in one day. It is set on a ridge and there are viewpoints throughout the town to the river below and the landscape beyond. The town itself is also hilly with narrow streets so sightseeing was real exercise! There are several historical churches and buildings, and of course, arches. The owner of the apartment we rented knew we would not move the car until we left so he volunteered to take us on a ride outside of town so we could see the town from below and other sights. We repaid his kindness by taking him and his wife to lunch. Though we speak and understand some Spanish and they spoke no English, we still managed to have an interesting conversation.

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Part 3
Lastly, we spent six nights in Seville. We were lucky to stay in an apartment just a five minute walk from the Cathedral and a couple minutes more to the Alcazar. Seville, of course, is beautiful. The Cathedral, Alcazar, historical buildings and plazas, and the outdoor restaurants made it a special visit. We spent a few hours in the Alcazar. We did not visit the Upper Royal Apartments. There are so many beautiful tiled rooms, gardens, and courtyards it was impossible to see everything! The next day we spent a few hours in the Cathedral: so many beautiful chapels, altars, and monuments, including the tomb of Christopher Columbus. We did climb the 35 ramps and 17 stairs of La Giralda tower. We had great views of the various roofs and domes, the church bells, and the city below. We did not buy the ticket to visit the roof. Of course there are many other churches in Seville. Two we visited are Iglesia del Divino San Salvador and Basilica de la Macarena.

We also went to Las Setas, a modern, mushroom shaped structure. We took the elevator to the top and walked along the structure, an undulating path with great views of the city. The weather was great so we spent some time each day enjoying the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. We were lucky to see some outdoor Flamenco near Puerta de Jerez. I felt that we needed another three days to see the sights and neighborhoods that we couldn’t fit in.
The above activity took us through Friday, March 13m which is where our trip got tricky. Due to the time difference, we learned about the order that after Friday no one from Europe could enter the US and the clarification that this did not apply to US citizens all at the same time, so we weren’t too concerned. By Friday night the Spanish news was that there should be no large gatherings and that the government would announce shelter in place rules on Saturday. We shopped for food for the next day’s breakfast and went out for lunch. Knowing what was to come, we bought extra meals to eat in on Sunday and spent our last day in Seville watching TV, the news and travel shows where we watched Spanish tourists enjoying beaches in South America while we sat on the couch. But food and boredom were the least of our problems. We were scheduled to fly on Monday from Seville to Lisbon then non-stop to SFO. Our Lisbon to SFO flights were cancelled and rebooked twice, beginning on Saturday afternoon and then on Sunday. Both days we spent hours on Saturday and Sunday on the phone before receiving notification of the rebookings. But before we left for the airport on Monday we found our flight to SFO was cancelled again. Luckily, after we arrived in Lisbon and after much discussion with ticket agents (will spare the ugly details of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) we did get flights home. We changed planes in Boston where the screening process was very efficient. We finally arrived at our home at 2:30am Tuesday morning, tired but none the worse for the wear.

The weather at this time of the year was great. Warm in the sun during the day and cool in the shade and at night. The food was just delicious! We ate lots of tapas, small plates which were almost a full meal. If we are lucky enough to return to Andalucia, this would be the time of the year we would go.
Though our trip ended on a sad note due to the suffering and uncertainty around us, we will not let that spoil the memories of the great experiences we had visiting some of the towns along the Aldalucian highways.

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Carol, it sounds like a wonderful trip and I am glad you were able to take it, to get home, and that you were safe. Thanks for reporting on it! February feels like ages ago.....

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That is so true, like another lifetime! And yes, it was a wonderful trip. Thanks for your comments!

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And I looked at your photos from your other report - loved them. :) Places new and places familiar.

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Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it and helped me dream of what to do after all of this is done. Keep safe everyone.

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Thanks, Nancy. We all need to have dreams, though they may be deferred. Let's keep on dreaming!