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Published: January 27th 2008
Not sure if you were aware, but I had a very adventurous childhood, including a stint living in Spain with the family. So, of course, when the parentals came for a visit in November, it was time to get that part of the family living in London (ie my bro and I) together for a trip back to our old stomping grounds.
My brother, his girlfriend and I flew into Malaga, on the Costa del Sol in the South of Spain (how posh does that sound?) and met the parents, who had already had some time in Spain, brushing up on their Spanish. Pablo Picasso was born there, but other than that and as an entrance to the Costa del Sol, I'm not sure I see much to recommend it.
Accordingly, we headed off pretty quickly toward the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex built for the Moorish monarchs of Granada. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, being one of the best examples of Moorish art in Europe. While we did not get a chance to check out the inside (by the time we got there, the tickets were all sold) we spent some time wandering the gardens and
various buildings which are open to the public, which were amazing in themselves.
We then headed to Ubeda, another UNESCO world heritage site (seems it was turning into the 'world heritage site tour of the South of Spain'). It was established in about 200BC and is world heritage listed because of its renaissance buildings. In one of the many highlights of the trip, we stayed in one of said renaissance buildings, in a parador (basically a classy hotel in a historic building). The particular historic building in which this parador operated was a 16th century palace overlooking the Plaza Vazquez de Molina. While some unfortunately placed scaffolding made photography in the plaza difficult, it was truly lovely.
Our rooms were fab, and I decided I could cope with being a princess living in a palace (just in case there was any doubt on that score). Unfortunately I was unable to luxuriate in pretending to be a princess as traveling with the parents means sleep-ins are discouraged. Instead, we wandered around town (with mum and I sneaking off for some shopping), including checking out the views of the largest olive groves in Europe. In case you are wondering, my
brother can confirm that olives straight from the tree are NOT AT ALL tasty. In fact, he went so far as to say that it was the worst thing he had ever tasted!
From Ubeda we headed to Cuenca, which is (you guessed it) an UNESCO world heritage sight. It is famous for its 'casas colgadas' (hanging houses) on the edge of the gorge of the river Huécar. The houses were literally built clinging to the cliff edge - apparently only three of these houses remain - and they are surely the most photographed sight of cuenca (I know that I took more than my fair share of pictures - from both near and far). Even the cathedral has mini hanging houses as part of its facade!
The old town of Cuenca is certainly worth exploring, with narrow cobbled streets suddenly ending in viewing points, providing amazing views of the gorges. Cuenca is charming, and I would definitely recommend it to all visitors.
We also managed to find a few hidden gems on our drives, for example the town of Inznatoraf (the location of the infamous olive tasting incident). Apparently, Iznatoraf has only about 1,200 residents (and
is not an UNSECO world heritage site - it barely rates a wikipedia entry), but they sure do take pride in the town! It is located on the top of a hill, with some fab views and the houses that line the immaculate cobbled, twisty streets all have carefully tended flowers bursting from their balconies and around their front doors. It is lovely, and you can just imagine the pressure in the streets to 'keep up with the Gonzales''.
We also checked some ruins on op of a hill in a town I can no longer remember the name of, which were pretty cool. Love it that ruins are just dotted all over the countryside in Spain!
For the last two days we headed to Madrid. Rather than do the museums and churches tour of Madrid, we did the 'family memory tour'. That meant starting at the Eurobuilding, the serviced apartments where we spent the first three months of our time in Madrid. (It also meant an end to the UNESCO world Heritage tour of Spain - but that is not a big failing, because there are no UNESCO sites actually in Madrid.) We even managed to locate
out favourite restaurant - VIPS, which mum loved because it was close and served food at a time when her Aussie kids wanted to eat, rather than at 9pm, and we kids loved because there was a toy/gift shop on the way in.
That evening we did the 'tapas tour' of the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol. We tried all the faves: patas bravas, calamare, garlic mushrooms, sardines, jamon, boquerones, gambas, my brother's favourite - tortilla española and croquetas (although we avoided the salt cod). You have to have a good appitite though, because with each lot of tapas, they also give you bread, olives or some other free sampler, so you end up with more than you bargained for.
The next day we drove out to Humera and our old house and school (which is now a university). The house looks the same, although with red walls rather than white and increased security fencing.
Interestingly, while they have upped the security at the entrance to the house, they have reduced the safety at the back, by removing the swimming pool fence the parents installed - apparently the Spanish are not as worried about kids
and open water as Australians. Mum and dad said when they installed the fence, there was a lot of concern from the neighbours that it would ruin the 'look' of the backyard.
We know all this about the backyard because we headed to the Casa de Campo, Madrid's biggest park. While it used to be a hunting ground for the monarchs, we did not see any wildlife, nor did we find the 'secret cave' we used to explore as kids (can't have everything). We did, however look slightly criminal as we tried to climb the wall surrounding the park to check out the back yard. One walker in particular looked as though he was considering calling the police (but fortunately, decided that the five of us, despite clearly 'loitering with intent' did not look like criminals!). As an aside, while parts of the park are lovely, there were certainly a lot more prostitutes near the main train station than any of us recalled, seemingly undeterred in attempting to ply their wares by the fact that we had a full car (including mum!).
Finally, we even met up with some Spanish people in Humera who we knew from when
we lived there. Gotta love the 'drop-in' visitors from Australia! Was great to see them, I think their main reaction was shock at how tall my brother had grown!!!
It was a real trip down memory lane (and I think my brother's girlfriend has heard enough family reminiscences to last her a lifetime!).
PS - In case you were wondering, there are about 40 UNESCO worlld Heritage sites in Spain, so it's not like everywhere you go is an UNESCO site - we just happened to choose the good places.
Now it seems like an oversight that there is no UNESCO site actually in Madrid, and I wondered if the Smith family home could qualify. I checked out the criteria and I reckon we could sneak it in under this criteria:
"to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance" - being a crucial part of the 'living traditions' of the Smith family.
Now UNESCO prefers this to be used in conjunction with another criteria, in which case we could go for:
"an outstanding example of a type
Very typico of the plazas in many Spanish towns
of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history"; or
"represents a masterpiece of human creative genius". I mean, our old house is pretty lovely.
I reckon we'd get it in easily ... I'll start writing the application now.
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