Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Since it is the site of our wedding, Gibraltar will always provide special memories for VFC and wifey and the fact that we were married there overshadows the fact that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were also married there.
Gibraltar is still a British territory, although this is an item of contention between England and Spain. The only way that really affects you as a traveler is that it may take hours to get through the border crossing into Spain. It is easy to get into Gib, but not so much getting out. This is Spain's way to protest England's control over The Rock. If you do visit Gibraltar from the Spanish side, it's always a good idea to park at the border and walk through the control point. Buses and Taxis on the British side are plentiful, making the trip easy and convenient.
Of course, the biggest attraction on Gibraltar is 'The Rock'. Standing 1400 feet above sea level, The Rock is a sight to behold and from the top, provides fabulous views of the Meditterranean Sea. It is possible to drive up the winding road to the touristy areas of the Rock, but it is recommended to ride the cable car. The ride in the cable car is steep and from there you'll get an amazing view of the city along with a nice adrenaline rush when you look down at the rooftops hundreds of feet below. The ride is treacherous enough that some people would rather walk down the Rock instead of riding the car down again. Twice I've had to walk down because the scaredy cats with me would't get back in. The walk down takes about 2 hours and it's all steep downhill, but you are able to see some historical sites that you would miss out on if you were in the cable car. Old cannons and some caves will entertain you on the way down.
On the top of the Rock you'll gain a slew of new friends with the Barbary Apes that live on the top of the Rock. They are pretty selfish, as they'll look to steal anything you might have handy, so hang on to your valuables. I've seen those monkeys rip peoples bags out of their hands and rummage through them for food. If you don't have what they want they may throw your stuff over the side. Some of the monkeys will jump on your shoulder and hang out with you for a little while, or they may just sit there and stare at you. You never know with them monkeys.
Aside from the monkeys, who will provide loads of entertainment, enjoy the fabulous views from the top and grab a bite to eat at the snack bar.
Once you've been to the top of the Rock, it's time to enjoy Gibraltar. The city itself has one long stretch of shops and you can spend all day going in and out of them. If you're there with your wife, hide the credit cards. Restaurants are plentiful and serve traditional English dishes such as Sheppard's Pie and Fish N Chips. In authentic British fashion, a pub entices you in at just about every street corner.
There are many nice hotels and hostals in the city, including The Rock Hotel, which is built a litle ways up the Rock giving you excellent views of the Med and the city itself. Amazing how they came up with that name for the hotel. We stayed at Elliot's hotel for our wedding, more central to the restaurants and bars. I enjoyed the pool on the roof.
Don't miss out on a little stroll through the old cemetary which holds gravestones that are hundreds of years old.
If you want some beach time, you can find a great beach on the backside of the Rock which also provides a place for great Scuba Diving.
Whether you do Gibraltar as a day trip from the Andalucia, Spain side of the border or do a full vacation in Gibraltar, you're sure to come away from the experience satisfied. Unless one of the monkey grabs your camera and throws it off the top of the Rock.
Friday, January 25, 2008
click the pics for the full album!
Ronda, Spain is one of Spain's most historic, and beautiful cities. Located in the mountains of Andalucia, Ronda is 45 minutes from Spain's Costa del Sol and just up (or down) the road from Zahara de la Sierra.
The beautiful El Tajo gorge splits the city in two, and the hundreds of years old (and hundreds of feet tall) Puento Nuevo bridge connects the two sides.
Ronda is a gorgeously splendid town in every way, shape and form. Your journey back in history starts with the drive to the town, through winding mountain roads with spectacular views. Don't worry, the roads have been modernized, so if carsickness and steep dropoffs alongside the road bother you, it's not too bad.
When you enter Ronda, there is a park at the edge of the main street where you can look straight down and admire the 300 foot drop into the valley below. It really is an amazing sight to see how this town was built literally on a cliff's edge. A little further down the road, right next to the historic bullring, a lookout point actually stretches over the edge so you feel like your hanging in thin air when you look over the side. Amazing.
The bullring is a sight to behold, as Ronda is the birthplace for modern bullfighting. The bullring is now a museum and you can walk out into the center of the ring and pretend you're a famous bullfighter if you want. You can even practice the moves of a Matador....make sure you look good, though, because when you think you're alone in there fighting an imaginary bull, there's always someone watching and taking pictures. Never happened to me though, I swear.
There are many beautiful restaraunts, cafes and tapas bars surrounding the bullring, including a hotel on the edge of the cliff that actually has glass floors. Sorry I cannot remember the name, but it's worth going in for the glass floors, and downstairs there is a great cocktail bar. VFC loves cocktails.
The bridge is simply amazing. You can stare at that bridge from all angles and never get bored. There is a museum dedicated to the bridge built right into the bridge itself. Inside you'll embark on a photographic journey of the bridge's history through time.
At dusk, eat at the restaraunt right next to the bridge that is built into the side of the gorge. From there you can watch the sunset and admire the true magnificence of ROnda. You'll appreciate more the size of the bridge because you'll have a chance to notice how tiny the people look crossing it. You'll laugh at the expressions of fear on their faces when they stop on the bridge and look down. Then you'll remember you shouldn't laugh because just hours before you were up there looking like a fool, too. It's comical.
Directly across the bridge stands the mansion of an old Moorish ruler. It's a beautiful old building that has been somewhat modernized and well worth the few euros to get in. The flower gardens and pools are splendid and date back to the Moorish times.
One of my favorite activities when travelling to Ronda, Spain, is to hike down inside the cliff itself. The entrance is around the corner from the mansion. DO NOT attempt this if you have any health issues because it is a workout, but you can travel down hundreds of stairs and marvel at the various hidden rooms that were once used as 'bath houses' and ammunition storage. Once at the bottom you can walk out onto a patio onto the 'rio Guadalevin', which runs through the gorge. From there you have the opportunity to see the bridge from the bottom and you can truly marvel at it's greatness. You'll also be able to see how the dwelling on the opposite side are built directly on the cliff's edge above and you have to wonder what will happen if erosion ever catches up. If you want, you can even discuss that subject with your newfound rat buddies that will be hanging out riverside with you. At times when the water is still, the rats will hang out in the bottom of the gorge. Don't let that deter you, however, they usually hang out on the other side laughing at tourists.
Another can't miss opportunity is the church of Santa Maria. The artwork inside is astonishing.
For a little bit of a break from Ronda's magnificent history, take a stroll through the Hunting Museum. There is an absolutely fantastic assortment of stuffed wild animals, many so lifelike you think you're about to become dinner. I enjoy that place every time I go, and if you click on the pictures above, you'll see me hanging out with the animals.
Take your time with the sites of Ronda, Spain, you don't want to rush through all there is to see. Take a few days in Ronda if you can. Stroll through the city itself and up the walking street filled with endless shops, restaraunts, bakeries and cafes. Have a cafe con leche or a manzanilla and some tapas in the town square by the fountain.
Ronda, Spain is a must see in a lifetime place to visit. The history, the terrain and the way man built into that terrain transports you back in time.
I'd travel thousands of miles for a day in Ronda. You should too!
Or you could just click on the pics above, copy the full album, save them onto your computer and tell everyone you've been already!
Monday, January 21, 2008
Barbate is a charming beach town situated along the Costa Trafalgar portion of the Costa de la Luz in the Cadiz province of Spain. The town itself dates back to the Roman times where it served as a center for the fishing industry. In more recent history, Barbate was the known summer vacation spot for the former Spanish Dictator Fransisco Franco.
The drive to Barbate is just as beautiful as the town itself. Barbate is surrounded by a protected pine forest and offers fabulous views of high cliffs, rugged terrain, pine forest, and of course the ever-beautiful coastline.
As you descend onto the remote Barbate, you can smell the aroma of the fresh seafood being lightly grilled in garlic sauces in the many tapas bars along the coast. There was something about the seafood in Barbate that made it seem even fresher there than anywhere else on the coast.
The beach is absolutely fantastic. Soft Spanish sand; crisp, cool water and nice sized waves. Barbate is a center for water activity, though not to the extent of Tarifa. The horizon is lined with wind surfers, and the water dotted with small boats taking scuba divers on Scuba diving tours. Running parallel to the beach is a promenade which stretches about 2km along the coast. The promenade is great for running, walking or to just grab a bite to eat at one of the many tapas bars. Even better you could just relax with a Tinto Verano and admire the beauty of the beach and the beach-goers.
What I love the best about Barbate is that it is still relatively unkown to foreign tourists. It's definitely a summer vacation spot for Spanish vacationers, but unlike other towns along the coast, this little haven of paradise is still a secret. In my opinion, this adds to the authenticity of the Spanish experience, as nothing in the town overly caters to anyone but the Spanish themselves.
If you do plan a vacation to Barbate, try to find time to see the old Church in the town center, it is a sight to behold. Also try and get around the protected pine forest, there's some beautiful landscape in there. Both edges of the town beach are great spots for wade-pooling. As the tide goes out an amazing array of sea life gets left in the small wade pools. Crabs, squid, Sea-Horses and octopus are commonly left behind. That is the first place I saw an octopus turn about 10 different colors when I surprised it in a wade pool. Until then I didn't know that an octopus could do that in self-defense. I never did claim to be too smart.
When it comes to beach vacations, I'm easy to please. I don't need much more than a beautiful beach, a few local drinks and food close by. A bed in a hotel is nice (many options in Barbate), but I don't mind sleeping on the beach either. Barbate offers all this in a magnificent way. This unique village is one of my favorite destinations. A perfect little remote beach town with Spanish charm.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The hotel Playa de la Luz is situated directly on the beach in Rota, Spain, in the Cadiz Province of Andalucia.
Rated a four-star hotel, The Playa offers you fabulous beach views, night time entertainment, great food and even better drink! If it's a nice beach vacation you're looking for on the Atlantic coast of Spain, the family-oriented Hotel Playa de la Luz is about the best you could do.
The 'Animacion' staff offers various activities for the children throughout the day, including painting, swimming and various games. During the time between the planned activities the can hang out in the 'Kids Club' play room where the staff supervises them while you can enjoy a pitcher of Sangria or an ice cold Cruzcampo. At night the children are entertained with sing-and-dance-alongs on the beach with the Animacion staff, where they all sing and dance to latest Spanish dance tunes. The family atmosphere of the hotel almost makes me think they have the kids' enjoyment in mind before the adults'.
The night time entertainment consists of performances by local dancers and singers. There's little more relaxing than sitting on the patio next to the Playa pool and watching the moonlight glisten off the water, while the Sevillana dancers work their magic on the stage. The singing and the dancing encourages you to fully enjoy the Spanish culture, really truly magical.
In the meantime, the courteous staff continues to refill your pitchers of Sangria and offers you another trip to the Andalucian buffet, or another dish from the top-notch restaraunt.
The daytime could prove to be very stressful, however, as you're faced with the decision to either soak in the sun from the beach on the soft Spanish sand; or soak up the sun from a sunbed on the beach patio; or from the poolside patio. These decsions make you want to sit down and have a Cruzcampo while you decide what to do. What a tough life to live. Hopefully you've booked a weeks vacation so at some point you could try it all.
Located right next to the beach, the hotel beach bar offers you a great selection of tapas or full dishes, and you can enjoy a nice cold Cruzcampo or Tinto Verano with your meal. The locals will be flocking to the beach throughout the day and may join you for a Cafe con Leche at the bar.
During the high tides, the Atlantic ocean crashes against the wall just below the beach patio, adding to the delight of taking a summer nap, while listening to the waves crash ashore. That sound is what I miss most about Spain.
The hotel offers you various dining experiences. Aside from the tapas bars and buffet, there is an exquisite indoor patio restaurant where you could enjoy the fabulous local seafood. It's also a great place to book a wedding or another big event.
You're a 15 minute walk away from old town Rota while staying at the Hotel Playa. Rota offers an array of authentic Spanish tapas bars and restaraunts that are open until all hours of the morning, as is the European way.
An old, refurbished castle located near the centuries-old lighthouse offer a glimpse into Rota's past.
Our experience at the Hotel Play de la Luz proved to be everything we'd expect in a Spanish beach vacation, especially if you're travelling with children.
There's no life like the good life, and you'll live it at the Hotel Play de la Luz.