Thursday, 18 February 2010

Very worthwhile detours

written 15th february

Needless to state, we didn't get eaten by werewolves or killer owls.  In fact the only thing which disturbed us from our slumber was a flock of German-sounding walkers, displaying full winter plumage of brightly coloured macs, hiking boots and trekking sticks, their chattering call echoing loudly in their natural habitat.

We moseyed on out a bit later on - cold here, we're back to jumper, two fleeces and two pairs of socks! - and found a beautiful green lake and an impressive dam.  Built between 1914-1921, the Embalse de la Guadalahorce is apparently part of a network of dams and reservoirs in Andalucia which provides Malaga with both water and electricity.

The dam is 74m high although the water is 340m deep

and it is somthing like 84Hm3 (not sure what that actually is but sounds like a lot!) of water - pretty impressive.

Back on the road,

we had Fuenta de Piedra in our sights following a lovely drive through the olive groves,

where we found the nature reserve and a few of the promised flamingos in the very distance.  Unfortunately you can't get very close and there weren't many of them huddled by the waters edge, but we saw one swooping around in the sky - all pink and legs and neck - amazing!

From the video in the information centre, it looks like the lake is a natural aquifer lagoon and a pretty amazing sight in the right season (presumably summer) when it is full-on flamingo season.  And, we have found that the word for flamingo is flamenco so it is flamingo dancing after all! :)

Just a musing on some other words, as we are on the subject of words, we have found out that the spanish word for senior citizen seem to be Jubilados, which i think is rather nice, but I noticed the word for disabled on parking spaces is minusvalus - which I was working myself into indignant outrage on behalf of disabled people who do absolutely have value, until Will pointed out that our word invalid - in-valid - is the same - I had never read it like that before - outrageous isn't it! 

Anyway, I digress.

The flamingo lake also had maps of other local national parks and we saw a picture of some fanastic looking stacked rocks, less than a hundred or so k's south (so in exactly the wrong direction, back east across from the morning's lake but hey ho, we have time today) so off we set, in the nice sunday afternoon sunshine, across the plains towards El Torcal, just south of Antequera, towards the Mountains of Malaga.

All was well, if a bit lowering cloud, until we rounded the side of the mountain and turned up the actual road to the El Torcal park and hit a wall of cloud, which just kept going.  We could just about see some shadowy rock shapes next to us and when we got to the visitor centre, we found it closed for refurbishment and a few other cars and motorhomes in the same predicament.

Still, got to make the best of it, so we walked to the mirador

to see the picture of what we should have seen and had a cup of tea in the vain hope that it might 'blow through' - at least, it was an excuse for a cup of tea anyway :)

Apparently this is the only place in Europe where there are these particular types of rock formations, so glad we went, but another one to come back for another time!


We have also finally fished out the 1001 places book again, for the first time since Portugal, and have discovered that we have missed Arcos de la Frontera, west of Ronda, just south of Jerez, which is apparently one of the most spectacular moorish walled cities in Spain, built in a natural amphitheatre over looking a valley.  Oh well, one for the rest of you Bill, Brian and Eric.  Maybe we'll be back. 

Driving back down, into the sunlight, and back north to Cordoba,

we looked back and could see the clouds spilling up over the mountains to the south and rolling down the northside - pretty spectacular but we are definitely heading in the right direction now!

After a fuel conserving motorway drive north through endless olive farm landscape, we were just thinking we should be nearly there when we crested a small rise, and there was Cordoba, an ugly sprawl below us in the valley.  But, still just about daylight, we happened upon the tourist kiosk almost immediately for a map so all good.  It turns out that Monday is weekend day for all Cordoba attactions, so everything is closed, except the Mezquita fortunately which is the only reason we have come here.  Even better, it turns out that although the normal price is €8 each, between 8:30 and 10:00 everyday, it is free - now that is worth getting up for!  And for the full freeloading experience - ;) - you can park in some quiet roads, just across the river from the Mesquita, in between the two town centre bridges (Roman bridge and Milleflores bridge) so you are only five minutes walk away...  brilliant.

We did manage to get up this morning (I know, who'd have thought!) and did indeed get into the Mezquita for free at 9am.  And it was well worth the 200km detour we have taken to get here en route from Ronda to Granada. 

The site has been a place of worship since the visigoths built their christian Church of San Vincente here in the 6th century.  When the Moors kicked them out, they built their mosque on the site.  At that time, Cordoba was the muslim capital of Al-Andalus and Europe's largest city, and the mosque, started in 785, was enlarged and elaborated in three phases between the 8th-10th centuries and has been described as the greatest visual representation of homesickness ever constructed.  When the christians reconquered Granada in 1236 they fortunately kept most of the building but reconsecrated it to prove their absolute dominion over the muslims and in the 16th century set about building a cathedral in the middle and chapels round the edge.   And it is awesome.

It really doesn't look much from the outside -

in fact like many of these places, it looks much better after dark when it is all lit up -

but once inside the courtyard, you step through an archway into an immense shadowy hall, full of red and yellow double arches disappearing off into the darkness in every direction.  Once you get over the initial awe and urge to take a million pictures and actually get inside - past everyone else doing the same! - it just continues like this,

until you reach the middle when it suddenly opens out upwards and the low ceilinged gloom gives way to an incongruous bright white nave, soaring upwards above you -

the cathedral itself is suddenly very familiar,

being similar to many others we have visited, it is the unexpected and unfamiliar setting which really sets it off.

Morning mass was in progress when we arrived but as it is all sequestered in the central cathedral section, you can walk round the muslim part with the catholic chants echoing round you.

There are christian chapels built into all the walls around the edge, full of the usual art and effigies we have come to expect, carves friezes of naughty cherubs, as well as various exhibition areas with bits of preserved masonary and plaster casts of various muslim and christian graffitti carved into the stonework, and at 10:00 - once the paying visitors are in ;) - the treasury opens which is full of the usual intricate gold and silver plated efforts with which the catholic church at once displays its wealth and encases its mysteries.



After an hour and a half, we felt we had squeezed every cent out of our zero euros entrance fee and headed on out again.  Being monday, we did of course miss out on all of Cordoba's other treasures; the muslim baths, the palace, the jewish synagogue (recommended in the LP), the artisan market etc etc, and being raining, we didn't fancy wandering the maze of tiny streets which is the Jewish old town - we have done a lot of "maze of typical streets" recently - but the Mezquita was the thing we came to see, and see it we did, so we set off south again, more than happy with our Cordoba experience.

Granada next - another moorish palace - and one I am really looking forward to.  We have heard all sorts of things about Granada, unfortunately many of them focusing on break-ins and car crime and the like, and have been warned off the main Alhambra carpark especially, so in the hope of secure parking, wifi, and a proper shower for a change, we forearmed ourselves with the details of two campsites and steeled ourselves to accept the €25 per night fees, in exhange for an unvandalised car.  Unfortunately though, the best laid plans of mice and men do not always come to fruition.

After a pleasant drive south - again, fuel conserving motorway - littered with castles on hills and past olive groves and olive oil plants where you can probably stop and buy some straight out of the press in the right season, we came to the outskirts of Granada - and our first view for ages of proper snow capped mountains! - and set about finding the cheaper of the two campsites.  Which turned out to be under the motorway, semi-flooded and despite three other motorhomes being parked up, completely deserted with wide open gates.  We hung around for long enough to find that the promised wifi was locked before deciding that if it wasn't going to provide us with a good night's sleep, free wifi and more importantly a secure parking place, we had better things to do with our money and set off into town.

Thence ensued the usual seven circles of hell of a new town, road works, diversions, restricted roads, lack of signs, traffic clogged misery.  We did find the tourist office and eventually the other campsite - one useless, one closed - and have now resorted to pointing ourselves as upwards as possible, to Sacromonte, in the hope of somewhere quiet to stop for a cup of tea and some chocolate to calm our frayed nerves....

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