A Travellerspoint blog

An Iberian Exploration: Cadíz and Córdoba

It felt odd to return to Cadíz, a compact city we felt we'd fully explored a week earlier, but we hoped that the Carnaval celebration would make the detour worthwhile. The sight of the same hotel we'd stayed in before and the familiar streets of the old town reminded us that every place we ever visited continued on with its own existence parallel to ours even after we had moved along and rarely thought of it. We went out for a walk and found that while the streets of the Casco Historico may have been the same the atmosphere was quite different. The old town was already packed with revelers in the early evening, many of them in colorful and creative costumes.

As the sun went down we made our way to the ancient city gate where a crowd was gathering to watch the Carnaval parade. The floats and revelers had already begun to pass through the gate and the joyous procession continued for another hour. After dark we returned to the crowded alleys around the market and found them approaching a state of bedlam. We held out as long as we could but soon it became apparent that inebriation was becoming the dominant theme and we retired for the night.

The next morning the drunkenness had thankfully vanished but there were still plenty of festivities and costumed characters roaming the streets. This was the fourth Carnaval I'd experienced on three continents and it was amazing how completely different they all had been. The Cadíz version was more reminiscent of Halloween street parties in major American cities than it was of the Carnavals I'd seen in South America and Trinidad. The vibe was awesome and the setting in the Casco Historico was unbeatable.

The Mercado Central was closed but vendors had set up shop in the surrounding arcades so that we were able to put together a delicious meal of crabs, shellfish, oysters and sea urchins.

We hung around the Casco Historico the rest of the morning soaking up the atmosphere and participating as much as we could without ever understanding exactly what was going on. Large crowds gathered wherever there were open spaces and it seemed like things were gearing up for another huge parade but eventually we decided we had seen enough. We still had Andalusia's last great Moorish city ahead of us. We gathered the car and the suitcases and set a course for Córdoba.

In Córdoba we experimented with Airbnb for the first time. Driving through the narrow streets in the historic center was another hair-raising experience. One corner was so tight that it was impossible to negotiate. We had to turn in the opposite direction and then circle a block to get back on the right track. We found ourselves in a somewhat cramped and dingy second-floor apartment that wasn't a very good omen of what we might expect from Airbnb. The sunset brought with it the chilliest weather we'd experienced on the trip thus far and after dinner we kept our evening walk brief. One highlight was the restored Puerta del Puente which marks the entrance of the old city for travelers arriving via the Roman bridge.

It turned out that the shabbiness of our accommodation should have been the least of our concerns. On the coldest night of our trip we found ourselves without any heat whatsoever. We had enough blankets and clothing to keep the kids warm but Mei Ling and I shivered through the night with little sleep. In the morning we were glad to pack our belongings and be shut of the place forever. After breakfast in the municipal market, we strolled the colorful streets around the center. Córdoba had a distinctive atmosphere from the other Andalusian cities with whitewashed buildings and colorful trim that reminded us of the Algarve.

The focal point of the historic center is La Mezquita, an important mosque during the Moorish epoch of Andalusia. After Córdoba was reconquered by Castile the mosque was reconsecrated as a Christian church and a cathedral was erected in the center, but much of the original Islamic structure was left intact, The incongruous result is famed for its great hall supported by an array of stone columns connected by arches with distinctive red and white stripes. The minaret of the mosque was demolished and replaced with a towering classically Spanish cathedral belltower.

Córdoba has its own Alcázar but with limited time and fresh off visits to the castles in Sevilla and Granada we contented ourselves with a visit to the outer walls. Close by is the city's restored Roman Bridge which crosses the Guadalquivir, the same river which later passes through Sevilla. Here the water was muddy and brown in contrast to the blue-green we had seen in Sevilla. We ended our visit to Córdoba with lunch in the Juderia, the city's ancient Jewish quarter which is filled with narrow cobblestone streets decorated with colorful trim and wrought-iron balconies. The neighborhood contains many relics of its former Jewish identity from the days of the caliphate including a synagogue and a statue of the philosopher Maimonides.

Posted by zzlangerhans 09:03 Archived in Spain Tagged travel cadiz spain family carnaval carnival cordoba blog iberia Comments (0)

An Iberian Exploration: Gibraltar and Granada

Gibraltar is one of the more unusual places in Iberia. Aside from the fact that most of its area is occupied by a gigantic monolith, Gibraltar is also the only overseas territory that still exists within continental Europe. Spain was forced to cede it to the British in the early 18th century to end the War of the Spanish Succession, one of many humiliations the British visited upon their continental rivals over the centuries before the rise of Russia forced the two old enemies together. This quirk left over from an ancient war became strategically important during World War II when Gibraltar became a staging ground for British military operations against the German military despite Spain being sympathetic to Hitler. Spain continues to have aspirations to reclaim the territory but these have been dampened by the overwhelming desire of the natives to remain under British rule. In a 1967 sovereignty referendum, only 44 out of more than 12000 inhabitants voted to rejoin Spain.

We parked our car on the Spanish side of the border to avoid any delays at the border and then walked a mile down the featureless road past the airport towards the end of the peninsula. The sheer limestone face of the eastern side of the Rock loomed ahead of us ominously. Once we were past the border the ocean breeze felt so good that we continued all the way through the town to Europa Point at the southern tip of the peninsula. Here we found the surprising Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque, a gift from the King of Saudi Arabia that is one of the largest mosques in a non-Islamic country.

We doubled back into town towards the cable car base station. As we were painstakingly ascending the road a van stopped alongside us. The driver called over in a British accent and asked if we wanted to join a tour of the Rock. We politely declined, telling him we were on our way to the cable car. He shook his head and told us that the cable car wasn't running due to high winds. We looked at each other dubiously. We were barely feeling a breeze and it seemed like a typical tour operator trick to tell us the cable car was closed. He must have guessed what we were thinking because he immediately said that down here we had no idea how strong the winds were at the top. He quoted us a price that really wasn't too bad so we didn't have much to lose by joining the tour. We were pretty tired of walking anyway.

The van took us first to the viewpoint at the Pillars of Hercules monument followed by the entrance chamber of the St. Michael's Cave complex. These touristy stops hadn't been on our agenda for the day but we took it in stride as part of the overall experience. The real prize was the view from the top of the Rock, where the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the Mediterranean like rippled glass. Shipping vessels slowly pushed through the shadows of the clouds without a visible wake. To the north were the airport and the Spanish town of La Línea de la Concepción, a sight that resembled the view from the window of a landing airplane.

At the summit we also encountered the Rock's famed population of Barbary apes who came to the van en masse in hopes of being fed. Our guide was a good citizen and followed the directive not to feed the animals, but that didn't stop them from jumping on the roof of the van and positioning themselves very close to us. The animals are actually macaques and not apes, and their origin is uncertain although they lived on the Rock long before the first humans arrived. Decades of close contact with humans has made the monkeys quite bold and one even leaped onto the back of someone else in our group. It was neat to have this unexpected encounter with the wild animal kingdom but we had to be watchful of our babies in this unpredictable environment.

The van deposited us in the center of Gibraltar's old town which might have passed for any small English town except for the congested pedestrian street filled with brand name boutiques and of course the Rock looming in the background. We ordered lunch at a pub which looked promising but turned out to be horrendous slop that would have embarrassed any self-respecting English publican. If there was more to see in Gibraltar we missed it because we had a three hour drive ahead of us to Granada.

We couldn't appreciate Granada on the drive in because it was pouring rain. We went straight to our hotel in the center which occupied several upper floors of a high rise and once again I left the family in the car while I checked in. The hotel didn't have any parking and the receptionist showed me on a map of where I could find a subterranean garage. She must have seen the expression on my face as I contemplated hunting for my destination through the narrow old streets in the downpour and offered to have someone park the car for us. That brightened my mood considerably and made me very appreciative of the hotel which was otherwise quite ordinary. She broke out a couple of umbrellas and we hustled everyone inside while the porter drove off with our car.

By the time we were settled the rain had died down somewhat although there was still a constant drizzle. Between our plastic ponchos, a large trash bag, and an umbrella from the hotel we were able to jury rig enough protection to keep ourselves dry while we explored. We quickly found a pedestrian street lined with crowded little restaurants and enjoyed the best tapas of the trip thus far. The old Muslim quarter of Albayzín was very atmospheric at dusk, somehow somber and energetic at the same moment while shrouded in a light mist. We found a terrace with an excellent view of the majestic Alhambra stretched across the top of its hill.

On the way back home Cleo's stroller abruptly disintegrated. One of the struts had been bent in Morocco and the metal framework finally gave way on Granada's cobblestones. I was able to tow her stroller backwards until we reached the edge of the modern city where we miraculously found a small department store that was open with a large selection of strollers. They even had a toy one for Cleo to play with. We found one that was somewhat more expensive but definitely superior to the one we'd destroyed with the added benefit of a transparent rain cover.

Another benefit of the hotel was that they arranged tickets for us for the Alhambra on short notice. We hadn't been aware that reservations sometimes need to be arranged days in advance although I'm not sure if that's typically the case in winter. This sprawling fortified Moorish palace is the best known building in Andalusia and one of the pre-eminent tourist destinations in all of Spain. The Alhambra was converted from a hilltop fort into a Royal Palace in the 14th century, after the reconquest of Andalusia was nearly complete and Granada remained alone as a Muslim state subject to Castile. Once the last Muslims were expelled or forced to convert in the late 15th century, the Alhambra was converted into the Royal Court of the Castilian king with many Renaissance-style alterations to the palace. The enormous complex contains many separate buildings and courtyards in a juxtaposition of different architectural styles. We started our exploration in the Generalife, the main garden of the palace complex. Although it was cloudy and murky it wasn't hard to see the gardens' magnificence. There was an enchanting combination of the elements of vegetation, water, and architecture that made the gardens very enjoyable to explore.

The palace itself was also very impressive but had a sterile feel that we hadn't experienced at the Alcazar of Sevilla. Perhaps it was because there were more areas which were roped off and inaccessible,but the Alhambra felt more like a museum. We felt that the artwork had been more beautiful and intricate at the Alcazar as well. We spent some time passing through the different sections of the palace and admiring the views of Albayzín below us but we didn't linger much longer than we felt obligated to.

We spent the afternoon exploring the more modern part of the town center. This was more similar to other major Spanish cities such as Madrid and Valencia with majestic Victorian multistory buildings and colorful townhouses. Despite the rain which never stopped completely for more than a few minutes at a time we were impressed by the energetic vibe of the city and the way that tourism didn't seem to dominate the atmosphere the way that it did in the center of Sevilla.

The next morning we got an early start because we had to drive all the way back across Andalusia for our second visit to Cádiz of the trip, this time to experience their famous Carnaval.

Posted by zzlangerhans 10:13 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

An Iberian Exploration: Marrakech

Despite our vigilance on the train we had little warning of our impending arrival in Marrakech. It was dark outside and we didn't realize we had pulled into the station until the train screeched to a halt. We rushed to haul our bags and kids into the corridor with no idea how long it would be before the doors closed. Everyone else who was leaving the train had gotten off in the first few seconds, and there was absolutely no one around to make sure that we all got out together. I got Mei Ling and the kids onto the platform and then began tossing the bags and the stroller furiously after her. In the back of my mind I realized I had absolutely no clue what Mei Ling would do if the train took me onward to God knows where. We had no way of communicating and she didn't even know the name of our hotel. Finally I leaped onto the platform with the last bag and it couldn't have been another two seconds before the train door closed behind me. We had averted disaster by the narrowest of margins. Due to our late arrival in the only dining option was sandwiches from a street cart. Our hotel in the medina was ensconced in a maze of narrow alleys with high walls and it was quite unnerving to hunt for it in the darkness. In the morning the labyrinth was less foreboding but we had to be careful to establish a series of landmarks to be sure of finding our way back to the hotel.

We had expected Marrakech to feel even more remote from Western culture than Fes, but here we were mistaken. As soon as we began our exploration the first morning we found that we were in a city that was very accustomed to European tourism. Much of the merchandise in the markets seemed designed for travelers, especially the hundreds of thousands if not millions of colorful leather slippers that were on prominent display.

The souk was even larger than the ones in Tangier and Fes and the prospect of exploring every inch of it was futile. Everything one could think of was available for purchase, from street food to chameleons. Exuberantly colorful local craftmanship was prominently displayed throughout.

One of the most emblematic sights at the Marrakech souk is the rows of multicolored cones at the many spice shops. No need to wonder what happens to the cones if someone actually wants to buy some of its contents. The cones are purely for show, paper shells coated with glue and a thin layer of spice to advertise the products stored in more conventional bins and jars.

Eventually all travelers find themselves at Jemaa el-Fnaa, a large open square in the heart of the medina. The square was the most distinguishing characteristic of Marrakech for us vs. Tangier and Fes. During the day it was filled with every type of vendor and performer who expected they could make a few dinars from the tourists who flocked to the square and its rooftop cafes. Some women tried to accost us to draw henna tattoos on our hands, but I knew this to be a scam from our guidebook and we refused. They rely on the tourist not wanting to refuse what seems to be a friendly approach from a local and then charge an exorbitant price once the design is completed. We did allow a snake charmer to entertain the kids with his reptiles and watched some acrobats and musicians perform, and we were sure to tip them fairly.

After dark Jemaa el-Fnaa is transformed into a huge open-air food festival filled with barbecued lamb restaurants and snail carts. The lamb was succulent and delicious but the boiled snails were truly an epiphany. There were dozens of these carts arranged in a grid on the square, with the owner standing behind an enormous bowl piled high with plump snails in their shells. Upon receiving a few dinars from a customer he would fill up a bowl and cover them with a steaming, spicy broth. Mei Ling and I loved the taste but by far the biggest snail aficionado was Cleo who kept dragging us back to the carts long after we'd decided to move on to more substantial fare.

The evening entertainment had changed as well. The acrobats and snake charmers were gone, although now there was a guy with an enormous vulture which I allowed him to place on my shoulder. When I felt the bird's talons pressing into my neck my first instinct was to play dead, until I realized that was probably the worst possible thing I could do.

People were also beginning to congregate around a few bands of musicians that were playing lively folk music on guitars and drums. The audiences were almost all local people but they were very welcoming and one young girl took charge of Cleo showing her how to dance and keeping her away from the lantern in the middle of the circle. It felt great to see Cleo laughing and enjoying herself and I made sure to record the moment so she would always be able to hold on to that experience long after she had forgotten the episode.

On our second day in Marrakech we also spent plenty of time exploring the medina and the souk, but eventually grew tired of the endless shops selling leather slippers and handbags. We stole away from the old town to visit one of the restaurants our guidebook recommended where the tables were arranged in a verdant courtyard around a tiled pool. We were joined by the restaurant's pet turtle who enthusiastically consumed lettuce from a dish on the floor while we had our own lunch.

Near the restaurant we stopped by the Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech's luxurious and colorful botanical garden. The vivid cobalt blue color of the buildings is named after the garden's creator, French artist Jean Majorelle. Afterwards we returned to Jemaa el-Fnaa where if anything it was even busier than the previous day.

All too quickly our time in Morocco had come to an end. We had an exhausting day ahead of us with an overnight train back to Tangier followed by an immediate transfer to the ferry and a full day of sightseeing at Gibraltar. It turned out that our decision to extend our visit in Morocco beyond Tangier had been the right one. I'm sure that someday when the kids are all old enough we'll return to visit some of Morocco;s other remarkable cities such as Chefchaouen and Essaouira and perhaps even spend a few days camping in the desert.

Posted by zzlangerhans 05:59 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

An Iberian Exploration: Tangier and Fes

The mighty Mediterranean begins meekly enough at the Strait of Gibraltar, where only nine miles separate the continents of Europe and Africa. The shortest ferry departs from the small Spanish town of Tarifa and arrives in the Moroccan port of Tangier just one hour later. Having no appetite to deal with Moroccan city traffic and rural highways after barely making it through Iberia, we left our car in the lot at Tarifa. Mei Ling encountered a group of Chinese tourists in the ferry terminal who were impressed no end by our kids. Soon enough we were on the boat headed to Africa, a first for everyone in the family except me.

Within minutes of arriving in Tangier it was clear that we were in a vastly different place from Europe. It wasn't that the buildings and streets were obviously old, they had been just as old in Lisbon and Cádiz. Everything was just a little bit rougher around the edges. The paint was a little more chipped, the tiles more cracked, the alleys narrower and twistier. We had a sense here that the rules were a little less firm and there was a little less orderliness about daily life. While that feeling may have been just a little intimidating, we quickly saw the innate advantages within the controlled chaos of Morocco. All we had to do was keep walking and exploring the city and the experiences that make travel worthwhile would come to us. The possibilities seemed endless.

We had a traditional hotel in the medina, the labyrinthine historic quarter of the city. Most of the medina was devoted to commercial activity, especially that related to food. It was hard to tell if there was a defined marketplace as food vendors seemed to be everywhere in the old town. The meat, produce and especially the olives were splendid. Eventually we found a restaurant that piqued our interest and had an excellent meal of the Moroccan specialties tagine and bastilla.

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then headed straight back to the medina. On Saturday morning the old town was even busier. I think we must have been through every street and alley in the quarter and even found a terrace with a view over the ocean.

In the morning all the seafood markets were open and they were very busy and energetic. The counters were piled high with huge, exotic fish and spiny lobsters. The fish had the familiar gleam of having been caught early that morning. The fishmongers knew we were only there to look but they were still friendly and welcoming.

The butchers had rows of lambs' heads, viscera hanging from hooks, and even live rabbits. One vendor held a rabbit over the counter for Cleo to pet. Fortunately she was too young to have any idea what was going to happen to it.

There weren't may things that couldn't be found in the bazars and souks of the medina. Aside from things to eat there were beautiful displays of metalwork and ceramics. After some more exploration of the different markets and street foods we were finally ready for a delicious lunch that included many of the most appetizing delicacies we'd seen that morning.

In the afternoon we jumped on a train to Fes, our first experience with intercity public transportation with the kids. Fortunately we had the foresight to leave the large bag and Ian's stroller in the trunk of the car in Spain which made moving around a lot easier, but it was still a little unnerving hustling the kids and the remainder of our luggage into our seats. Cleo provided the entertainment for our compartment during the four hour trip to Fes.

We were glad we decided to explore Morocco beyond Tangier because Fes had a completely different feel to it. Now there were way fewer Europeans and there was a more authentic feel to the old town. We were based in a beautiful riad, a multistory estate home that had been converted into a hotel, and we were just steps away from the iconic Blue Gate to the medina.

The souk began immediately inside the Blue Gate and followed the widest street through the medina, although most of the sidestreets seemed to be devoted to stores selling food and dry goods as well. Eventually we gave up trying to keep track of where we were and went with the flow. As in Tangier, the stalls selling olives and pickles were the most colorful and intoxicating. The snail stalls looked as though they had been literally overrun with the striped gastropods which encrusted the doors and walls along with filling sacks and baskets.

The most exotic food we encountered was camel meat. It wasn't hard to figure out which restaurants sold it as it was generally advertised with a severed camel's head displayed prominently at the entrance. This was before any connection had been made between camels and MERS, so it was probably the first and last time that we'll be eating camel. It was an interesting novelty, but I wouldn't have known I wasn't eating ground beef.

The souk spilled from the covered arcades into the streets and squares. We braved the intermittent drizzle and plodding mules to traverse every branch of the market we could find.

Outside of the souk there wasn't much of interest to us in Fes. There are beautifully-decorated mosques and madrassas in the city but most of them are off-limits to non-Muslims and we had recently been immersed in Moorish design at the Alhambra of Sevilla. We admired the tile work and engravings at the entrance of one madrassa and then pushed on towards the far side of the medina where most of the city's famous tanneries are concentrated. On the way there were plenty of opportunities to appreciate the amazing diversity of Moroccan artisanship.

Some of the tanneries are a thousand years old and their design and techniques have never changed over the course of time. The large courtyards packed with dense arrays of stone vats filled with colorful liquids are a unique sight. From the terraces overlooking the tanneries are amazing views over the top of the medina.

We could have probably returned to the souk a dozen times and found an undiscovered alley or shop each time. However it was time to take our leave of Fes as we still had the city ahead of us whose very name was almost synonymous with markets, Marrakech.

Posted by zzlangerhans 08:45 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

An Iberian Exploration: Sevilla and Cádiz

After three calm days of small towns we found ourselves back in a major city again. We arrived in Sevilla a little over an hour after crossing the border into Spain. Our hotel in the historic center had advised us that GPS would misdirect us but the detailed instructions they had provided didn't serve us much better. The maze of narrow one-way streets was even more complicated than in Lisbon and a good deal more crowded, but at least there were no winding alleys that deadended at the top of a hill. Eventually we found the hotel and disembarked. Our location couldn't have been better, smack in the middle of Sevilla's pulsating touristic core and a hundred meters from the legendary cathedral.

Once we were settled we couldn't wait to get out and explore. Sevilla's old town manages to accommodate its deluge of tourists very tastefully, providing appealing pedestrian streets and outdoor restaurants without the gaudiness that afflicts many other popular European cities. We realized as much as we tried we couldn't walk more than a block away from the hotel without getting lost, but that was probably the most efficient way to explore the city. At the bank of the Alfonso XIII Canal is the medieval Moorish Torre del Oro. One of the most famous cultural aspects of Sevilla is flamenco and it wasn't long before we came across a performance right on the street.

Although the restaurants in the Casco Antiguo looked appealing their menus and reviews didn't match so we decided to walk a few blocks north to a tapas restaurant that seemed to be a better bet. Here we found Las Setas, a huge wooden sculpture in Plaza de la Encarnación that is formally known as Metropol Parasol but acquired its nickname from its resemblance to a clump of giant mushrooms.

Dinner was good although I've had better tapas in my hometown of Miami. During the night my stomach was very upset and I didn't get much sleep. I'm not in the habit of blaming any gastrointestinal problems on the local food but I'm fairly sure the trouble this time came from eating beef tartare at dinner. I had almost exact same problem after having beef tartare my first day in Paris as well, although I've eaten the raw meat dish countless times at home without any problem. This time I learned my lesson and never again tried beef tartare in Europe. In the morning I was still queasy but not enough to get in the way of walking to Mercado de Triana for breakfast. Sevilla is a great city for food markets but unfortunately at this time I hadn't developed my travel research skills extensively and we only had one on our list. On the long walk to Triana we passed by Sevilla's brightly-painted bullfighting ring, known as the Real Maestranza.

Crossing the Puente de Isabel II into Triana we might have been forgiven for thinking we were crossing the famed River Guadalquivir, the only major navigable river in Spain. In fact it was the Canal de Alfonso XIII that runs along the old course of the river before it was diverted away from the city center to avert flooding. A similar phenomenon occurs with the Alte Donau Canal in central Vienna which many mistake for the Danube. Welcoming us to Triana was the Capilla Virgen del Carmen. Although reminiscent of 16th century Mudéjar architecture, the colorfully-tiled chapel was built less than a century ago.

The two hundred year old Mercado de Triana is located at the foot of the bridge. The current version of the market was inaugurated in 2001 and blends modernity and tradition in a very pleasing manner. I was still feeling the effects of the previous night's gastronomic misadventure and even the appetizing sights of the market couldn't awaken my appetite, but Mei Ling did quite well with the Sevillano specialty of stewed snails.

We didn't stay long in Triana because we still had the city's major sights ahead of us. Seville's cathedral is reminiscent of Spain's other majestic Gothic cathedrals but what sets it apart is its sheer size. At the time of its construction it replaced the Hagia Sophia as the largest cathedral in the world and it still holds that title, although there are now two basilicas which are larger. The cathedral stands alone in a large plaza without any other significant buildings to detract from its magnitude. The vast edifice has fifteen different entrances, each with a unique ornate design. In front of one entrance is a replica of the Giraldillo weather vane that crowns the belltower. Inside the cloister is an orderly array of the famed Seville orange trees surrounding a central fountain.

It's just a two minute walk from the cathedral to the other star of the Casco Antiguo, the Real Alcázar. Although this castle has a Moorish appearance similar to other Spanish Alcazárs, most of the structure was built after the Christian reconquest of Andalusia in the Mudéjar architectural style. Inside the castle the exquisite details in the cavernous rooms and courtyard are breathtaking. The Celebration Room has enormous tapestries and colorful tile designs that extend seven feet up the walls.

Behind the castle a lengthy loggia extends into the gardens, allowing visitors an elevated view of the beautiful landscaping without exposing themselves to the elements. The exterior of the loggia is encrusted with mortar outcroppings designed to give the appearance of the wall of a cave, hence the name of Grotto Gallery.

We spent the majority of our time at the Alcázar exploring the extensive gardens but I'm sure we only discovered a fraction of the many separate sections of the estate. Overall I would be hard-pressed to compare the Alcázar unfavorably to the Palace of Versailles, and it was certainly much less crowded and onerous. Cleo was thrilled to get out of her stroller and we even found a hedge maze which she thought was hilarious.

On our final morning in Sevilla my stomach was settled so we decided to return to Mercado de Triana. This time we had identified our favorite seafood vendor and we had a plan. We bought whole sea urchins and cut them open and ate them right at the stall for an appetizer, then had a full meal at the best of the little restaurants in the market.

As we were on our way out of town we had more time to explore the neighborhood of Triana. Triana was originally a separate city from Sevilla and maintained its independence until the first bridge to be built across the Guadalquivir made Sevilla's expansion inevitable. Few tourists make it this far from the Casco Antiguo, making Triana an excellent spot to absorb an authentic Andalusian urban vibe. There is plenty of energy in the streets, but the sidewalk cafes are filled with locals and the colorful building facades are more representative of neighborhood pride than commercial hustle.

One of my regrets from the trip is that we didn't stop in Jerez for a few hours en route to Cádiz. Since that trip we've made a regular practice of stopping over in cities that we otherwise couldn't have fit into our itinerary and it has worked out quite well. I looked at Jerez a little more closely after we returned home and it was clear that we shouldn't have missed it. We also managed to drive past Ronda, one of the most uniquely beautiful cities in Spain, so I have no doubt at least one more trip to Andalusia lies in our future.

Cádiz isn't one of the most well-known Spanish cities but it has several unique characteristics. It is the oldest city in Spain, having been founded by the Phoenicians who gradually migrated from the Middle East across northern Africa before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. The city is also practically an island, being connected to the mainland by a narrow strip barely wide enough to accommodate a beach and a highway. The strip may technically be a tombolo, a sandbar that connects an island to the mainland, but I was unable to find any reference to corroborate that theory.

The modern portion of the city that is closer to the mainland is largely composed of unattractive block housing and has little of interest to travelers aside from a beach. The landscape changes dramatically on the other side of the old city wall remnant known as Puertas de Tierra. Here in the Santa María barrio the streets become narrow cobblestone alleys that feel like canyons between solid walls of antiquated four-story buildings. Further towards the end of the peninsula the streets of the historic district become mercifully wider and there are some open squares to alleviate the claustrophobia, but overall the impression of the Casco Antiguo is one of extreme density of buildings and population. I think it would have felt quite dystopian if it wasn't so beautiful.

Our hotel in the center of the Casco Antiguo had no parking, so after depositing the bags I found the municipal lot which had been constructed to fit as many cars as possible into the smallest possible space, thereby leaving almost no margin for error. I scraped the side of the car while foolishly attempting to maneuver into a space front-end first instead of reversing, which infuriated me after we had survived our trial-by-fire in Lisbon without so much as a scratch. I put aside my annoyance with myself so that we could enjoy our evening walk around the historic center.

A bright, sunny morning chased away the ominousness of the old town. Our focus was on the Mercado Central, renowned for its fresh Atlantic seafood. The singular market was designed in Neoclassical style by native son architect Torcuato Benjumeda in the early 19th century. Produce stalls fill arcades arranged around the central market hall, which has the appearance of a ancient temple supported by Roman columns. Within the hall we weren't disappointed by the beautiful display of fish and crustaceans.

In the arcades surrounding the market we found vendors selling bags of beautiful, plump live snails. Our appetites thoroughly awakened, we found a seafood restaurant where they agreed to grill the fish and boil the mantis shrimp we had bought in the market. We regretfully took our leave of Cadíz but not before making a reservation for the night after our stay in Morocco for the Carnival celebration.

Posted by zzlangerhans 06:38 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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