Published: February 2nd 2010January 19th 2010
I'm not sure why, but for some reason you fart more when you lie down.
I think it has something to do with the fact that air bubbles travel up, and it's much easier to dispel said air bubbles when they aren't caught on the roofs of your lower intestine. Pursuant to the above idea, I would recommend that you don't ever fart in a sleeping bag. Sure, that may be a little easier said than done at times, but if you fart in your sleeping bag, it inflates and then subsequently deflates like a balloon. This pocket of fetid gas will soon move toward your head and wake you up without any effort from you in your comatose state. If it's not bad enough that YOU do it, don't camp with someone that tootles like the crowd at the Dalby Cabbage Festival. That being said, on with the show.
Gibraltar is a strange place for a couple of reasons. Number one, it's English, but only about as English as the names of the eleven billion construction companies and “English” style supermarkets like Morrison's and Tesco Express. The rest of it has pretty much been taken over by the
locals, and the poms aren't happy about it. What do you expect? You decree a patch of land the size of a postage stamp, on the bottom end of a country 1500km from it's motherland as a military outpost and a part of the UK? Did you silly pommy buggers really think you could just put a big fence up and only let people in that were fat, white and boring? Haha... think again.
So we turned up in Gibraltar after the cursory check of our personal documentation, and a few strange looks from the guys holding the border in the direction of the van. That was easy. What wasn't easy was the fact that there are about 1000 parking spaces in all of Gibraltar. That might sound a lot for a postage stamp sized municipality, but when there are fifty thousand cars, it can be a bit of a hassle. Actually, it's a total f**king nightmare. Cars, vans and even large trucks are simply parked a la Espana i.e. double and sometimes triple parked for the day. Too bad if you're the guy inside and need to get out, you're outta luck buddy. We eventually skived three hours
Standard Monkey Pose
worth of free parking in the Morrison's supermarket carpark. Of course this is only reserved for customers of the place, but we figured that if we used it later to stock up then that would be okay. We parked Van (as in Morrison, my new name for the new wheels) and then toddled off down the main street.
Someone said that Gibraltar is like a typical English beach town in the Summer all year round. Sounds all tickly, but I think that's a load of crap personally, as it looks like no English town I've ever seen, even at the beach. It looks like a bunch of touristy tat shops stacked next to eateries, piled on top of just-like-home Irish Pubs and the like. It's a very weird little place - people have strange accents too. I decided after guffawing at the ULTRA low prices for booze for a few minutes (£7 for a 750mL bottle of Jim Beam!) that my money would be better spent getting a well needed haircut for the same price. I got a great haircut and spent the first of the pounds we had left over from the UK, and we had 21.97 left.
Hurray! We finally found the tourist information centre and got ourselves sorted out for lunch before driving up to the “Upper Rock” area. It's a steep drive, readers, and the new bigger engine of the van thrived... on loads of our fuel that is. Thirsty little beggar, so it is.
But the rock! Holy moley! If I didn't mention that you can see it from half a universe away, then I'll say it now: You can see it from half a Universe away! How about that? The drive up was in beautiful sunny weather, though rain loomed in the distance, and took us to a toll booth where we paid for our tickets to get in. These came to £22 exactly. Spot the problem? That's right... we were exactly 3p short. Unbelievable. Luckily we had a guy that was interested in the van and where we got our spare parts for it, and overlooked the incredible shortfall. We had our lunch by “The Pillars of Hercules,” an incredible lookout point overlooking the oil-tanker riddled bay of Gibraltar, and right out into the hazy distance to Morocco. Yep, that's right, we could see Africa! We were both so excited, and
ate our cheap UK lunch of two chicken and mushroom pies, some pre-made pasta-in-a-box, and a couple of yoghurts. Normal food! Yay!
Our drive around the rock then took us to St Michael's cave, an ancient limestone cave discovered way back when, where concerts are held due to the size and incredible acoustic properties of the place. The thing that really struck us about the cave, apart from the fact that there was nobody in there but us at the time, was that all the walkways were handrail free: you were literally standing right next to the ancient stalactites and walking amongst the stalagmites. There was classical music playing in there at the time, and this really highlighted aforementioned acoustics, and was surreal... such beautiful sound in the perfect place to hear it.
I forgot to mention that outside the entrance to the cave, we met the first of the monkeys that inhabit the rock. Yes, real monkeys. Barbary Macaques to be specific, which are the only wild primates in Europe... you know the type: bum-scratching, flea-picking, mostly ambivalent towards tourists unless threatened? That's them. We made the stupid “awww” sound that Japanese tourists make a lot, and
took a few photos. But there were more to come, as we drove down to... the Ape's Den! And it was closed. What sort of a rip off joint was this? I was paying hard earned British coin to see Monkeys in their thousands, flinging poo and wrestling each other... not just laying in the sun scratching their balls in small groups. We managed to get a few photos of a group sitting near the locked door to the den, and then moved off to the Great Siege Tunnels.
It's an impressive name for an impressive place; 200m of tunnels bored into the solid stone of the Rock. There are some ancient cannons and some silly wax statues in there of soldiers and the like, one of which yells, “HALT! WHO GOES THERE!” at a phenomenal volume when you walk near the door. If I hadn't already been for my daily poo yet, I would have done it then and there. It scared the bejesus outta me. Right at the end of the tunnel I also took it upon myself to step in a nice ankle deep puddle of freezing rain water that had collected in the foot of
No! Bad Monkey!
a stairwell, and squelched back to the car in a huff with Aleks laughing so hard she could barely walk along behind me. (AW - No really, it was that funny). We finished off the sights of the day with a small Moorish Keep and I also visited the 100 Ton Gun: a Victorian “Supergun” of which there were only 10 made in the world. And it is MASSIVE. See photos.
That night we moved north to La Castila camping for a laundry/shower/airing out the bedding gig, and spent the night relaxing watching Gladiator on the laptop and drinking wine. Heaven. You just don't realised how much you miss electricity until you have to beg for it. We liked it so much we stayed another full day, which gave us ample time for washing and drying. It also gave me a bit of time to tear off a few blogs and organise some photos, which as you can tell is still a priority, as slow going as it may be. The night of the 15th of January saw us drinking some local wine, calling Mama Lips and Scotty whilst drunk, and also making friends with a local fox. The
stay was great, and it was nestled amongst some huge old Eucalyptus trees that made us feel a lot like we were at home. The owner, Pepe, had lived in Australia for ten years in the seventies, and was a total champion: we got along with him like a house on fire!
The next day we bolted for Ronda. Those of you who know Aleks well will know that she is incapable of relaxing for any longer than four and a half minutes, and so the next day was nose to the grindstone. The drive to Ronda from the campsite was one of the worst roads we have been on yet, including those in Poland, and that's saying something. It was tight and windy and the potholes were massive, but the payoff was that we got the top and got an incredible view down over the rolling hills all the way out past Gibraltar and to Africa. It was one of the best views I've ever seen, and in perfect blue-sky sunlight as well. If you want to google map it: we drove the A369 through Gaucin and Algatucin. The drive was punctuated by the most beautiful little pueblos
blancos: little white villages on the sides of the mountains. The top of the trail was pretty high at 1200m and we stopped to have a couple of local oranges on a bench at another lookout just as 50 flying road bikes went by with a roar. Totally magical.
Ronda itself was just unbelievable. My barber in Gibraltar had told me that the place mustn't be missed, and that I would just have to see it, he couldn't describe it. We parked the car in a garage under the main square and immediately walked out into something from an advertisement for Spain. At the risk of sounding like a camp hairdresser, it was just FABULOUS. It was all golden yellows and ruddy terracotta, and people wandering a slow walk through little streets, squares filled with pigeons and kids playing... Aleks was gushing like a broken tap. After checking out the tourist info, we paid €6 to get into the bullfighting ring: the Plaze de Toros. Built in 1785, it is unanimously regarded in Spain as the number one bullfighting ring in the country.
The plaza is painted a simple white on the outside, but he interior tour is
complex and beautiful, and the main ring is a corn-coloured sandy yellow, in which you can see hundreds of shoe and hoof prints intermingled across the surface. There is also an arms museum in which there are over 200 different types of rifles and pistols from across the ages 16th century to 19th century. I wish my Dad had been there as he would have absolutely loved it. Some of the engraving on the guns were just incredible, and there was also a section on duelling, just like in your standard Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns. You heard right: there were tens of boxes of custom made duelling pistols, and a huge write up along the walls on the rules and origins of the tradition. It was great for me, but Aleks was bored. And I thought she liked Westerns.
After that we made our way out to a lookout down over the plains of Ronda. The city itself is built on top of a rocky outcrop that is sort of split in two and connected by a dual tiered bridge that must be easily 35-40m high. You can't quite see it from the lookout, but you can see the
river-bottomed sheer fissure that the bridge spans and it makes you say “wow”, for sure. What you can also see is the huge ring shaped basin of land next to the town, and you're just going to have to look at the photos to understand what I'm rabbling about. We made ourselves some jamon (ham), emmental (cheese) and pomodoro (tomato) sandwiches on Spanish baked bread and revelled in only wearing t-shirts. It was just fantastic to lay on the warm concrete in our sunglasses after months in the cold. We revelled in it for a little while, kicked a few pigeons and were then on our way. The other highlights of the town were fairly standard... the 15th century Puente Neuvo or “New Bridge” which was the bridge I spoke of earlier, the accompanying “Old bridge”, an 18th century iglesia (church) charging €4 each for entry (didn't do it obviously), and an 18th century town hall.
One thing that we did stop off at was the Museo del Bandolero - basically like their version of bushrangers. Bandits, essentially. The museum was a combination of wax figures, documentation regarding the bandits and their personal effects, lots of photos and also
stories of their escapades. It was really cool, as I had no idea what a huge role they played in the formation of Spain's history. The place was also run by the most beautiful girl I'd seen in a long time (apart from Aleks of course). Think classical Spanish senorita. Other than that, the Casa del Reyes Moro looked a bit pokey, the Arabic baths were closed, and we also saw the Arcade Felipe V. We really covered a lot of ground in the city, and got to wander some completely deserted but picture perfect alleyways complete with flowerboxed balconies, washing swaying in the breeze outside people's windows, and ankle-breaking cobblestones ahoy. After we were spent, we had a Calippo and jumped in the car to head towards Cordoba.
After overnight in the standard truckstop near Cordoba, we drove into town and found ourselves some free parking... it was Sunday, dear readers, and that means you can park in even more ridiculously compromising positions than before at no charge! As we headed toward the local tourist office for our map and “must see” list of opening hours and the like, we were immediately struck by a monstrously large yellow
What Is This?
building taking up what seemed like half the city. It was, of course, the local Mosque-turned-Cathedral, or the “Mezquita”.
Mosque-turned-Cathedral? Confused? Listen, if f you don't know the story of Catholic reform over the Moors in Southern Spain and the subsequent Spanish Inquisition, go check out Wikipedia, as it's far too long and I'm far too lazy to put it on here!
Because the Mosque was closed between 11 and 2, we didn't want to go in there at 10:30 for a half hour visit it lest we not get our money's worth. Instead we wandered out to the old Jewish and Arabic quarters of town and checked out a 14th century synagogue. We got a bit lost in the streets in that area, and after twenty minutes of laughing at the dead ends and our foiled map reading ability, we arrived outside the old town walls in the beautiful morning sunshine. We then made for the Alcazar de los Reyes Catolicos a.k.a The Palace Of The Catholic Kings. On the way there Aleks lined up with a bunch of locals at a small stand selling churros; these are essentially like slightly more savoury doughnuts but are long
and stretched out and are a real favourite with the Spanish. They are a little heavy on the goopy doughnut mix and don't have the sugar to top them off, so they're hard going, making us feel a little bit sick.
The Alcazar though was a real find, as it didn't have much of a write up and had a fairly unassuming fascade. The interior was a standard interior for a place of import from the 16th - 18th centuries, apart from some HUGE Roman mosaics that had been mounted on walls. They were really impressive: how the hell did they get them from the floor to the wall when they're 25m square in size? The real selling point was not the interiors though, it was the gardens outside. The gardens were what I expected Versailles' gardens to be like. They were full of citrus trees of huge variety, little lakes and water features, and some pretty incredible hedgework of various shapes and sizes. There were flowers and all sorts of different plants, and on the whole it was just beautiful. See photos.
As part of the wait we decided we should go to a little cafe and
How Very Patriotic
find ourselves some food, so we picked one at random and wandered in, ordering some coffees, an alaparga bocadillo (cheese, egg and bacon sandwich) for Aleks, and paella con pollo (impossible to describe) for me. The paella was something I had been waiting to have for a really long time, and it came out served in a pan designed for consumption by two. I didn't even bat an eyelid; as Aleks hooked the netbook up to the free WiFi for some cursory email checking, I demolished the whole thing without leaving one grain of rice (but I gave Aleks some of course). It was absolutely massive. I don't know how I wasn't choking. The serving wench looked at me rather strangely. I thought back to an image of Homer Simpson eating all the food in an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant and the old sea captain calling him a “remorseless eatin' machine, arrr!” I can now conclude that paella is one of my favourite things to eat in the whole world, and if anyone can cook it well, I'll have your children for it. By that stage two o'clock rolled around and we made our way over to the “Mezquita”, paid our
€8 each and then went inside.
The Mosquito was started in 785, used continually as a mosque till 12-something, then a cathedral was built smack bang in the middle of it in the mid-17th century. Strange place to put a cathedral, in the middle of a giant mosque. To us these days it's a fairly ugly cock-up in terms of structural and architectural continuity, but it didn't worry them-back-then one little bit. The interior of the mosqthedral is just insane. It has these rows and rows of redbrick-and-white plaster checked archways atop cylindrical columns right up to the centre, where the giant Renaissance vaults-and-naves of the church go up another thirty feet unto the air. It almost seems to me as if the Catolicos walked in, realised how shit hot the Moorish architecture was, and tried to outdo them. The result is that, though the Catholic structure is huge beyond description and as flash as a rat with a gold tooth, it ruins the whole thing. We took one look at the centrepiece, shrugged, and moved back to look at more Moorish stuff. We spent nearly an hour in there trying to capture the essence of the place with
the camera, but to small avail. After a while, we jumped back in the car and headed off to Sevilla.
That night in Sevilla was Sunday night, and apparently this is a good night in Spain to go and see a flamenco show. So, of course, this is precisely what we decided to do. After driving all the way into the middle of Seville and nearly getting stuck (like “fold your mirrors in and go really, REALLY slowly” stuck) in the tight oldtown streets that we can never seem to avoid, we parked the car and chilled out for half an hour or so. Whilst chilling we spruced our filthy selves up a bit and then moved out to the backstreets, desination: La Carboneria... Lonely Planet's recommended local free flamenco spot in Sevilla. We were a little bit early though, and the place was nothing more than a hole in the wall with no real signs or anything. It seriously looked like just another front door in the street: oh, but there was a handwritten piece of paper saying “Not Open Until 8pm”. But that was no problem for us, and we sat down for a coffee and a
What A View!!
couple of beers at Bar Levies just around the corner.
8pm came, and we walked back around the corner to find the door open and an old guy stoking a massive red marble fireplace, and the walls of the lobby-type-area covered in huge ancient Flamenco show posters. There was a small stage in the front area, but the business end was out the back by the bar. That area was simply rows and rows of bench seats and tables on a split level floor; apparently it was an old coal yard back in the day and had been converted for exactly this purpose by the family who owns the place.
We were the first ones to arrive apart from the staff, and so we asked where the best place was to sit to see the show and ordered two sangrias just to make sure we were being real gringos. We also discovered at that stage that the show wasn't till 11pm, but there was no way in hell we were going to miss it: we'd come halfway across the world to see it, so three hours was nothing. We drank beer and talked crap and watched the people
A Very English Bus
peter in slowly over the hours... everyone from couples to a group of travelling Americans (yay) and families and locals. The diversity of the crowd was pretty astonishing actually. Eventually the hour came and three very Spanish looking people took the small stage: a guy with a guitar, a guy with a long black ponytail and a scarf around his neck, and a rather plump but very authentic spanish Senorita. The first thing they did was ask (in Espanola) that the crowd be quiet and no photos or video be taken, and then seated themselves and took a deep breath.
To describe a the staggering audio-visual experience of a flamenco show in words is like trying to describe a Carpaccio painting to someone who's never seen one before. You just have to see it. But i'll do my best to give you an idea. It starts out with clapping, loud and in time, then staggered and syncopated, perfectly opposed between the man without the guitar and the woman. The man begins to sing in a low voice, deep in his register, in Spanish and it it obviously very emotionally charged. The guy with the guitar starts to play your
Our Foxy Mate
Camping Near Gilbraltar, Spain
classical minor -key melody and chord strings, and also taps his foot, as do the other two. As they heat up, it becomes a stomping, finger snapping, clapping and singing barrage, made all the more explosive by the fact that the stage is just a box of wood and is amplifying the sound incredibly. The guitar was so loud too, I was just amazed at the sound coming out of a small-bodied instrument.
Then the senorita gets up and closes her eyes and starts stamping and shaking and dancing like mad, snapping her hips and swirling her skirt. They get so into it, and the crowd sits there like they've all been whacked across the face with a large cod. It went for about half an hour, and they took a small break in the middle to uproarious applause from the punters, and finally finished off and took a bow. Wow. Their timing was microsecond perfect and the sad fado-like wail of the singing was perfectly matched to the guitar. Get on a plane, and go see one now. We finished up the night at about 1am, then wandered back to the car for Aleks to drive us to
Aleks Chillin Like A Villain
Camping Near Gibraltar, Spain
a truck stop. I certainly wasn't driving, I was too busy clapping and stomping.
The next day (18th of January) in Seville was a bit more relaxed and started late, pursuant to our late finish. We parked the car and walked out into nothing less than twenty degrees of steaming hot humid Andalucian weather. Yessiree, and we were happy. We knew that this of course meant rain, but nonetheless made hay while the sun still shone. The local Cathedral and Alcazaba were extortionately priced, so that was a bit of a disappointment but nothing we hadn't seen before a million times in other cities. We hadn't seen much in the way of parks and the like, and so instead made our way down to the parkland area of the city, and wandered through the orange trees and enjoyed thawing out in the high temperature.
The Lonely Planet made the recommendation of the Plaza de Espana, which looked (like most of what we'd seen so far in Europe) shitty and under construction from the outside. Luckily for us though, we were not deterred by this, and upon alighting into the interior, found a most phenomenally large and intricate area
Standard Stunning Scenery
En Route To Ronda, Andalucia, Spain
like none we'd ever seen before. It was big to the point of comparison with the front of Versailles, but more to the point was covered with incredible hand painted decorative tilework that must have taken eons to complete. Every major town and city in Spain had it's own dedicated tiled section with illustrations and paintings of the history of each respective area. It also had a huge fountain right in the middle, and a canal running around the inner perimeter. This was sadly drained at the time due to the impinging construction, but from what we saw in postcards around town, it's usually filled with water and people rowing themselves around in rowboats. Damn, stupid construction.
We walked back towards the centre of town and promptly got completely lost in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, checking out various old alleyways, dotted with fountains and brightly coloured buildings. There were Spanish guitar players in the streets, one of which we threw a few coins and stayed to listen to for a while. He kept playing even when the rain started to patter down and the music was just beautiful. I think that when I get back I'm going to
More Snowy Mountains?
En Route To Ronda, Andalucia, Spain
buy myself a little Spanish guitar and learn.
Sevilla on the whole was more of a wandering experience, as has been the case with a lot of the towns in Spain. It's not so much about ticking off a list of things that the Lonely Planet has told us about, or that we've found on the maps given to us by Tourist Information, but it's more about getting a feeling of the place, grabbing hold of the vibe and interpreting it for yourself. This is one of things that I have learnt to accept: that sometimes it's not about the tourist attractions, but about immersing yourself in the culture and the general feel of the places you go.
Which is exactly why we treated ourselves to a Chinese lunch when everything else was closed for siesta. Stupid siesta! You're ruining my life man! We got back to the car early, as the rain really started to set in and headed for Portugal, as you do.
See you next instalment, you loyal people you.
- Senor Fishy & Senorita Alessandra
There are more photos below