A Travellerspoint blog

Manzanares to Jaen castle to Bag End

Things don't go to plan... again

Sunday 19th June
Bag End

Trying to remember what happened a couple of days ago has been a struggle!! But thankfully, going through our photos has got the grey matter stirring and it's all coming back. Or, at least, some of it is!

We'd failed to mention that we ate at the Parador at Manzanares on the evening of our arrival. As staff were still clearing up the mayhem from the two "celebraciones", the main restaurant was, rather annoyingly, closed and dinner was being served in the cafetería. It was very busy but, thankfully, one extremely efficient and friendly waitress looked after us, as well as all the other demanding customers.

We think we've cracked the problem of the expensive and often disappointing meals at Paradors by carefully ordering a selection of starters and sharing them. No expensive main course and, most of the time, no pud. We thoroughly enjoyed our choices here. A lovely and huge salad, some pate balls served with an apple sauce (in a jar, we had to ask what it was!) and a really good selection of Manchego cheeses. We've actually been quite good in avoiding puds (postres) but this time John couldn't resist the Manchego cheese ice cream which had a unique flavour (yes, of cheese, though it would have been difficult to place without knowing what it was) but was absolutely delicious. Try it if you get the chance!

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We've already described our adventure the next day in the last Blog and we left you with nowhere to eat in Manzanares. Curiously, the restaurant we'd gone to look at and which seemed to have gone out of business, eventually responded to a message we'd sent earlier, saying they were open till 11pm! By that time, we'd extricated ourselves from that town's tangled streets (with little help from our Navigator), so we had no desire to get involved again, and decided to eat at the Parador. We went back to the same waitress in the cafetería and chose from the cafetería menu. We both had a very poshly described dish which turn out to be jamón, egg and chips and very nice it was too.

Next morning, Bob packed our bags and we were on the road to Jaén. As we crossed the border into Andalucía and the province of Jaén the landscape turned to olive trees on virtually every square inch, with the odd field of cereals. Olives as far as the eye can see, and as high as they dare go up the side of sierras. Occasionally there would be a large cloud of what looked like dust or smoke, which turned out to be a tractor spraying the olive trees. It's mind boggling when considering how they keep such vast areas of trees so carefully tidied and tended.

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The motorway was busy and fast. John had been determined to stick to speed limits as much as possible to avoid getting caught by unknown cameras. So the whole world and his wife sailed past us. The motorway split and it was much calmer till we reached the environs of the city of Jaén with its magnificent castle and Parador looking down from on high upon this muddly city.

We had been here before and our Navigator had taken us on a "direct" route through the old town toward the Parador. We'd been prepared for this and carefully checked the route which should be taken. We even saw signs for the Parador and thought we were OK. Then the "Ronda Sur" seemed to peter out and we found ourselves on narrow, sometimes near vertical, streets, once again in the old town. We're not sure how, but we eventually got out of it, ignoring pleas from the Navigator to "do a U turn whenever possible" and "turn sharp right then sharp left" and another "do a U turn whenever possible", and found the winding road up to the Parador which is built (in suitable castillian(?) style) right next to and on the 12th-century Moorish fortress which was connected to the city by hidden tunnels. It might have been easier to negotiate the tunnels rather than the streets.

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The Parador was originally built in 1965 but 4m€ was spent on it and it re-opened two years ago. It really is a magnificent hotel in a stunning setting and, as such, apart from Spaniards, who, as ever, were in the majority, also attracted a sprinkling of Americans and other nationalities. It has baronial halls with valuable tapestries and paintings.

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We were given a "mini suite" which was far from mini. A sitting room with balcony. A bedroom with double balcony (though it was too hot most of the time to venture out there) and a splendid bathroom with separate WC and bidet (of course!). The aircon was very efficient and it was a lovely environment to spend time sitting, reading and relaxing in. We also took our books to one of the "baronial hall" type lounges and thoroughly enjoyed a good read. Bob is working his way through "Grapes of Wrath" and John is enjoying the actor, John Fraser's salacious autobiography.

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The first evening we ate in the magnificent dining room and again ordered starters to share. But we over ordered. How anyone is going to eat such a pile of "Papajotes de brenejenas fritas with miel de caña de la Axaraquía" we shall never know. They do make fried aubergine sound so complicated! But we'd ordered a full racion of Jamón Ibérico de bellota D.O.P... blah blah blah, Judiones estofados con chorizo, morcilla y panceta curada, which we and the waitress knew as "fabada" or bean stew. Plus a tomato salad or "Ensalada de tomate, aguacate, quinoa y gambón aderezado con mango" (with a couple of prawns on top).

The "black stuff", offered with a skewer of meat and veg as an aperitivo, was a black salmorejo, a sort of cold tomato soup, not unlike gazpacho. Many non-Spanish noses were turned up at this but we found it quite nice"

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Actually, it was all very nice but, firstly we'd ordered 4 instead of 3 starters, we ordered a full racion of jamón instead of a half, and the pile of aubergine, which would have almost fed the 5,000, so we had to leave some of the aubergines. We struggled up to our room for a good night's sleep in airconditioned luxury.

For Wednesday morning, we had carefully planned a trip back to an old favourite of ours, the historic town of Baéza. A simple drive up the N316, now A316 as it's been upgraded to motorway standard. It seems there are no easily driveable local roads in Jaén. They are either motorways or poor quality and narrow side roads. Of course, the Jaén effect came into play and, despite putting in several waypoints to keep us on course, the dear Navigator took us off piste to do a couple of U Turns, which we eventually ignored and found our way out of this dreaded city.

Baéza is a lovely historic and friendly town and, on two previous visits, we've been able to park in the main plaza. We'd put a couple of what appeared to be parking areas from Google Maps into the Navigator (we must give her a name, rather than all the rude words she's been called on this trip) but she insisted on continuing to go round the plaza ad infinitum. In desperation, John turned into a side road, where there were quite a few spaces to park and only a couple of minutes to the square.

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We enjoyed a coffee in one cafe and then coffee and toast in another. We strolled round the square and spotted a man we'd first seen in the Manzanares Parador. He'd followed us to the Jaén Parador and there he was, having a drink inside the cafe. We then saw him in the tourist office plotting a route to Bag End, no doubt!

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The heat got to us and we drove back to the Parador. We'd carefully looked at our route on the street map of Jaén and ignored pleas to turn off, as well as signs to the castle and Parador. We then found ourselves in the swirling city centre, with its trams and heavy traffic. We managed to get back to the route to Baéza and out into the country again. We turned round at the next junction and tried again. This time we followed the signs for the castle until they disappeared, of course. But by some stroke of luck, and trying to keep our cool, we followed the road we were on without diverting. Eventually more signs for the castle and Parador appeared and we found ourselves back in the same parking space we'd used before, right by the entrance to the hotel. Phew!

The rest of the day we spent recovering, relaxing and reading. And we ate Flamenquíns de Tenera in the magnificent and baronial "cafeteriá". These are usually rolls of ham, stuffed with stuff. But these were beef and were pretty good. But the chips were not up to those served at Manzanares!

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Thursday was the day for our journey home. We had a nice breakfast in the lovely restaurant

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and set out for Mazarrón. We decided to follow the signs for "Granada" etc out of the city, as soon as they appeared, ignoring any directions from the Navigator. We found ourselves back on the road North, to Baéza but eventually hit the motorway and followed the signs for Granada. All the time, at every junction, the Navigator was telling us to return to Jaén for more U Turns etc but she finally gave up and directed us off the motorway to cut a corner not far from Granada city, and on to the motorway to Almería. She got it right for a change!

We stopped at a nice, family, mesón and were home without further incident. Phew it's been hot but we have thoroughly enjoyed this little trip, and the various "incidents" and plans going awry all added to the fun.

We do hope you enjoyed it too and thank you for sticking with us and for the comments which help to keep us going!

See you in America in September! Take care and stay cool.

Posted by Johnash 08:00 Archived in Spain Tagged paradores jaen manzanares paradors Comments (11)

Tilting at Windmills

...the camera that is.

13th June, 2022
Room 1004, Parador de Manzanares

Some memories to record which may get forgotten otherwise. On today's ramble through the La Mancha countryside, right in front of us (had to brake to avoid them) was a little family of partridges. Aka The Partridge Family. Boom boom. 12 little dots plus Mum worrying them across the road, as fast as their little legs would take them. No time to get the camera focused, of course.

And an observation that, in many fields of both olives and vines, and sometimes barley, we've puzzled over the fact there are small solar panels dotted about, most with little huts, some without. We've even seen them over one of those the big wine containers. We speculated that the panels maybe to power pumps for irrigation purposes. Any ideas please? And what ARE those wine containers called? You see them everywhere here. This is a picture of our current Parador at Manzanares, with one in the roundabout.

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Back in Chinchón, it's worth showing a few photos from the lovely gardens, right by the swimming pool, at this fab Parador. A visit to it, right in the centre of Chinchón is well worth the trip. It's the smartest of the Paradors we've visited on this trip,

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Yesterday started with a bit of a disaaaster. We wheeled our bags over the cobbles to the Parador garage round the corner, loaded the car up, waited for the big doors to open as if by magic and there, over the road from the entrance was a car parked leaving insufficient room (it turned out) to exit the garage. A few toots resulted in much arm waving from the lady driver (casting no aspertions here!) and no sign of her moving. So John decided to go for it.... SCRAPE, along the side of our immaculate car. It turned out the woman was waiting for the car in front to move, but she could have told us that! (Note, some miles on, we stopped at a petrol station to refuel and they were selling scratch repair stuff in a tube. A couple of minutes applying that and virtually all the damage all-but disappeared. Even so, it was not the best of starts to the day.)

We carried on as regardless as we could in our quest for Manchego windmills and towns, and found a few of interest. There was even the obligatory storks' nest on top of a church spire. (It's a good job they don't come down to Murcia as I don't think our chimney could take the weight!)

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We stopped at a delightful little town that Arthur insisted on calling Orgazm, despite their having dropped the 'm' ages ago. We saw quite a few people coming out of the church and we were joined outside the cafe by some of the smartly dressed lady churchgoers.

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The famous windmills at Consuegra:-

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We arrived at this modern Parador which has tons of parking, only to find virtually every space taken. It being the weekend, there were two 'celebraciones´ going on. A huge one for someone's first communion and another, a kid's birthday party, leaving little room for the Parador guests to either park or eat! Here is some of the parking available today. There must have been at least 100 cars parked up yesterday. Spaniards do like their big celebrations.

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Today we had a route carefully planned. Firstly to go and visit the capital of this province, Ciudad Real. But with 40º forecast, we decided to skip the big city. We carried on with our plan to visit what is probably our favourite town here, Almagro, and its lovely Parador. We had a coffee in the bustling Plaza Mayor, then a drink in the cool of the Parador. And, yes, we even caught one man smoking AND eating at the same time.

On the way, crates of onions, we think:-

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Which-a-way??!

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Almagro

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We then decided to drive to have a look at the important wine town of Valdepeñas and then Villanueva de los infantes (or INFATNES, as one big traffic sign had it).

Well, we couldn't find our way into the centre of Valdepeñas as a tunnel under the railway was closed and no sensible alternative route was signposted apart from one that appeared to go through a factory.

Then we got to the very interesting town of "Infantes" but found nowhere to park within walking distance of the interesting bits (bearing in mind it was 39º outside!).

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So we decided to come back to Manzanares, via the centre to check out a restaurant for this evening. Well, that didn't go too well either. We had fond memories of visiting the Manchego Cheese Museum here but have discovered that it's closed on Mondays, of course. As we drove in, we found the outskirts of the town to be ugly. The centre is a maze of narrow whitewashed streets and our GPS tried to take us down one way streets the wrong way. Clearly someone at the Ayuntamiento has recently come up with a new cunning street plan for the centre. She took us down a road, promising the restaurant was at the end, only to find our way out to be blocked by newly placed planters, making this long street a dead end, unmarked as such. Luckily we only had to reverse a couple of hundred yards before doing a 67 point turn to get out of the place! We eventually found the restaurant, and it had closed down!

Despite all of these "adventures" we had a thoroughly enjoyable day, letting our luck take us to places and along roads we would not have explored and sights we would not have seen otherwise.

Tomorrow, the challenge of getting up to the castle on top of Jaén, where the Parador is located.

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Posted by Johnash 14:34 Archived in Spain Tagged molinos parador manzanares manchego la_mancha Comments (8)

Chinchón in Madrid Province

Not, Nanking!

Saturday, 11th June 2022
Room 037, Parador de Chinchón

Thank you so much for your comments! Where would we be without them!

Before we talk about our latest stop, a quick rewind to Alarcón.

A tour party on the battlements, viewed from our castle window.
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We've finally come to the conclusion that meals provided at Paradors, whilst they should be applauded for offering local and regional dishes not found elsewhere, they are overpriced and often not executed well. So we were pleased to find a little restaurant in the village with sensibly priced food. It, and other hostelries, are kept alive by day time trade with visitors coming in by car and tour buses. So, to start with, we had the place to ourselves, but later 3 other parties came in. We were served by the very amenable owner. Bob went for the 'Menú de degustación' while John shared an enormous salad and had Presa Iberica as main course. Presa was our find in Ronda. These were good but not quite up to Ronda standards. Will leave the pictures to do the talking.

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On our way from Alarcón to Chinchón, for which we took mainly the AP36 toll road, we noticed a marked change in scenery from barley etc to mostly vines, with fruit and olive trees interspersed. We also noticed a decline in road conditions as we crossed into the Communidad of Madrid. Really windy and rustic roads took us to the edge of town.

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We knew the Parador was right in the middle of Chinchón town and feared the worst about approaching the place and then parking the car. The area in front of the Parador is available to park for around 10 minutes while checking in and getting bags to the room. Of course it was chaos when we got there with a large taxi and other cars parked there, mostly with mafia-like drivers in attendance. John managed to squeeze into a tight spot between two large trees, allowing some of the cars to leave, which meant we could park safely and check in. We were helped by a nice lad called Dani who escorted us to our room then came out to show us where the garage was. Parking there was less stressful than anticipated but we decided the car would not be coming out until our departure for the next Parador.

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Of course, a wedding was going to happen that evening, but our room was away from the dining area and we could hardly hear the noise even though the reception was still in full swing when we walked through to get to our room at midnight, having started at 7pm. We have seen other wedding parties going to various venues, with various levels of "poshness".

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The Parador was constructed out of an Augustinian Convent (and prison) founded in the 15thC, and is very smart. A lot of tourists are in town today, mainly Spanish coming out from Madrid and other parts of Spain. We've not encountered any English at all. And the Parador seems to be on most of their walking tours. Despite all the tourists, who clearly keep the town going, there is little or no tourist tat.

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The wonderful Plaza Mayor has many restaurants sited there and is very much the heart of town. Apart from some churches and ermitas etc, the place is not packed with sights. However, a full day can happily be spent here, especially with a lot of that day being spent making a beer or coffee last for hours, whilst we people watch.

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Apart from the Plaza Mayor, which is right on our doorstop, other sights require quite a climb up steepish streets. Then a tourist train came to our rescue and took us round all of the places to see, with no effort on our part,

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Our meal last night was taken at Restaurante Plaza Mayor with a delightful waiter (despite the ring in his nose). John's Chuletitas de Cordero and Bob's Lubina were really quite good, if not quite up to Monica's standards!

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This morning, Saturday, saw a small market in the plaza.

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A great place to visit. And we have another evening of people watching and eating ahead.

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Posted by Johnash 13:26 Archived in Spain Tagged parador chinchon communidad_de_madrid Comments (6)

Amazing Alarcón

Quirky Cuenca

Thursday 9th June, 2022
Room 103, The Tower, Parador de Alarcón, Province of Cuenca

Many would think we are bonkers to enjoy drives through vast hectares of cereal fields etc. But then, much to the amusement of friends in the USA, we thoroughly enjoyed our drives through Kansas and Nebraska!

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It's been just like driving through one of those paintings of bucolic scenes of rolling hills with patchwork fields of different colours. With combine harvesters doing their work everywhere, some fields are amber with swaying barley, others, already cropped, are yellow with stubble. And then there is the bright orange soil of fields that have already been ploughed following harvesting, many now sprinkled with green as the next crop of sunflowers begins to peek through the soil. Yes, after much research via Google, we believe that two main crops are grown in Cuenca, those being barley (and its very important straw!) followed by sunflowers. Also important are mushrooms, grown in vast sheds, and azafrán (crocuses for saffron), which we did not notice. The landscape must be quite different when the sunflowers are in full flower and turning with the sun.

Our drive from Albacete to Alarcón was mainly along the old N3, now relabelled as NIII following its replacement as the main Valencia-Madrid route by the A3 motorway. Driving here has been a delight with mainly empty roads; though mysteriously, one stretch of the NIII had a lot of lorries on it. We could not work out why they were not using the motorway, then we passed through one dusty town where many lorries had stopped for their 10 o'clock 'desayuno'. Apart from that, it's like driving in England in the 50s, with empty roads, and lovely rustic scenes. Our drives have been so enjoyable.

We stopped in a non-descript village where they were rebuilding the church - the idea was to have a quiet cold drink. This is what we got....

Click for video. Click back arrow to come back here!

The old men enjoying their peace and quiet:-

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We couldn't work out quite what the forthcoming attraction is. A jamonero is a holder when you are carving your jamón.

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We arrived at Alarcón, an ancient village now with a population of 189 people, and its Parador, which was once the castle of the Marquis de Villena, compulsorily purchased in 1964 and converted into a Parador. Our room is in the tower, with a window peeking over the battlements. Each room occupies one floor of the tower. If you look closely at some of the photos of the tower, you may spot Arthur in the lower window (probably tying up his shoe laces, as per usual!). (On closer examination, you won't, our window was below the battlements).

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Yes, this is the Parador:-

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Our very impressive room, in the tower.

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We took a walk round town and there was hardly a soul about, apart from a cat and a guy who has set himself up as parking attendant in the free public car park by the entrance to the Parador. He has decked himself out in a uniform, but he is harmless and welcomes the odd 50 centimos that parkers (is there such a word?) give to him. We'd read that people in Trip Advisor reviews found him threatening and demanding but we did not find that, and the lady at check in confirmed he was harmless. We may try and sneak a picture of him as we leave for Chinchón tomorrow,

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Today we took a drive to check out the city of Cuenca. We decided the easiest option would be to drive to the Parador, park there and have a coffee, while checking out the place and the famous old town, on the the other side of the ravine from the large and impressive Parador. A footbridge gives access to the old town, but it's very hilly and we were content to view it all from a distance. We decided we would not come back and stay there as, for one thing, parking, even in late morning, was a nightmare! Not our cup of tea, but very pleased we had decided to visit the place.

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Into the somewhat ugly outskirts of Cuenca. We noticed, however, how busy the whole city was, with everyone going about their business.

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We drove both ways on different "CM" (Castilla-La Mancha) roads, making a loop of really pleasurable motoring. Gosh, how we love living and exploring here in Spain! Tomorrow, off to Madrid Province and the Parador of Chinchón.

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One footnote. On our drive back this afternoon, we went through a "town" with no houses, just old industrial units on a 'poligono', on both sides of the road. Some were closed down, but many were still operating. They all had quite new metal "towers" (can't think of the right word! Silos?...) rather like the ones seen containing feed at piggeries etc. We could not work out what they might be used for. Wood chippings?? As it turned out that every single unit was occupied by manufacturers of doors and windows, or "carpinterías". There must have been at least 20 units involved. How odd.

And here's the "broom" we've been talking about. Does anyone know what it is?

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PS We have now safely arrived at the Parador right in the centre of the ancient town of Chinchón. Very interesting! More soon....

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Posted by Johnash 14:52 Archived in Spain Tagged spain cuenca alarcon parador aclarón Comments (8)

Interesting Albacete

Yes, it really is.

Room 103, in the Tower at Parador de Alarcón
Wednesday, 8th June 2022


Firstly, thank you for taking the time to write your comments. They really are appreciated!

Yesterday morning, we set out on a pre-planned tour to find out more about Albacete Province. We could have gone East or West to find some interesting parts of this somewhat ignored province. It would have been a longer drive to the West to the area south of Alcaraz and the Parque Natural de los Calares so we went East, across the vast flat plains containing mostly barley, but interspersed with vines and apricot trees, towards the town of Chinchilla.

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Here's that bright yellow broom of which there's a lot about!

In Chinchilla, we took a few wrong turnings as the road our dear Garmin wanted us to go down was 'No Entry". We luckily found somewhere to park for a few photos, then again for a coffee at the lower end of the town.

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Those of our readers who have driven towards Madrid may have wondered, as they crossed and re-crossed the Madrid railway line, why the sign "f.f.c.c. Cartagena-Chinchilla"? The mystery was solved when we were looking at a map which had railway lines marked. It is at Chinchilla that the line from Cartagena and Murcia joins the mainline in from Valencia. So our line, when it re-opens(!!), is a branch line up to the main line into Madrid! Mystery solved. f.f.c.c is an acronym for "ferrocarril", Spanish railways.

Breaking the skyline from time to time were restored windmills, symbolic of La Mancha. Of course, many have not been restored and these are now just a small, sad pile of stones, their materials having been "nicked" over time. This one had more remaining than most:-

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We then drove on across those flat plains until, suddenly, there appeared this vast limestone gorge through which the river Júcar has chewed it's way. There was no one else about. And the viewpoint we had read about gave us stunning views into the gorge of the road winding its way down, and the town of Jorquera. Bob looked up the population of this fascinating town but sadly found that the population has descended from 2,500 in 1950 to 378 currently. How very sad is that? An example of the de-population in rural Spain of which we have seen a lot of examples in the villages we have driven through.

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We carried on, round scores of U-bends and under overhanging limestone. We weren't sure we were going to fit under in places.

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We arrived at the next town on the river, Alacalá de Júcar . This town was clearly not in decline: far more accessible and not far from the motorway. It had modern dwellings and cafes on one side of the river, contrasting sharply with the old town over the old Roman bridge. There was even a sandy beach from which people were swimming in the cool-looking river. We were lucky to find a parking space in a rambla, right by the beach. At busier times, it would have been impossible. That made it very surprising that there were hardly any other visitors, apart from those on the beach. Indeed, apart from those staying in the Parador, we have seen very few other tourists.

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After a rest back at the Parador, we got a taxi into the city of Albacete (at around 7pm). Cost of taxi was 9€. We preferred doing that to worrying about finding parking. As it turned out, there were a number of parking garages in the centre, but it still seemed quite a difficult drive round the bustling city centre. Yes, bustling it was! A largely modern city with lots of not unattractive blocks of flats and a lot of busy shopping streets There had obviously been some planning control as the city did not have lots of blocks with totally different styles and nor were there empty plots, so often seen elsewhere in Spain. As so many live in the centre, the evenings would bring them out to promenade, chat over a drink, shop and, later eat. A very successful and growing city. Not a great deal of history, but we did start with El Pasaje Lodares, an elaborate, "modernist" shopping arcade, not quite the "Bond Street" we'd seen it described as, but very nice just the same.

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From there we stumbled out into the bright sunshine and the busy shopping streets which lead us to the quite impressive cathedral. On the way we spotted the glistening dome which forms part of the Gran Hotel.

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Over the road from the cathedral was the knife museum. A very impressive and comprehensive story of the history and manufacture of knives, around the world and over the centuries, Albacete being an important knife-making centre.

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The last couple of photos show the bike and "pan pipes" knife sharpeners used to (and still do) use. We used to hear the peeping pipes of the knife sharpener going round the streets of Puerto de Mazarrón but have not heard him for a while.

We had a restaurant lined up for an evening meal, only to find it closed for "descanso", or rest. We had another up our sleeves, just round the corner. Wow! Tuesday was Píncho Night. Just 1€ for each pincho chosen from a vast selection set out along the bar. Just help yourself to what you fancy and and put the used stick, which holds them together, in the pot on the table. When it comes to paying, the (very nice) waiter counts them up, adds the price of your drinks, and that's it. Bob was not very hungry and our total bill for quite a substantial "meal" (for John!) was just over 9€. The picture shows one consisting of smoked salmon rolled round a chunk of cream cheese, the other jamón with a fried egg on it. The choice ranged from one topped with a whole black pudding (small size), to large croquetas, pate with olives, etc etc. A wonderful end to our little visit to this interesting city!

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There was a taxi rank over the street and 8€ brought us back to the Parador where we finished with a drink on the lawn under the stars and the quadrangle lanterns.

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What a smashing day we had!

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Posted by Johnash 15:15 Archived in Spain Tagged albacete_province albacete_city river_júcar paradors Comments (11)

Albacete: Is It Really Boring (or not?).

We will find something of interest.

Monday 6th June
Room221, Parador de Albacete

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Firstly, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It means someone out there is reading this stuff, so we carry on....

It was not an early start to set out for Albacete as we both had appointments with a GP, to renew our prescriptions, at the health centre in Mazarrón town. We lost the GP who has looked after since we got onto the system, as she retired, and we've been hearing horror stories about a shortage. However, we were delighted to find that the very nice and presentable doctor we saw this morning is our new GP. Hooray. We love the Región de Murcia health service, which really looks after its "clients", as it calls us. After struggling away from the farmacia with a shopping bag full of drugs, we returned to Bag End and packed the car.

Once on the Madrid road, from Murcia, the motorway quietened down and it was, like most roads in Spain, a pleasure to drive, and not much busier than the perennially empty AP7.

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Wonderful barriers of oleander form the central reservation on this motorway

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Patrons of our favourite restaurant in Puerto de Mazarrón will appreciate this!

We started to look for somewhere to have a light lunch. Our Garmin GPS was predicting possible places to stop and crossed fork & spoon signs on the motorway were popping up. We are very wary of these, as, usually, you're dumped in the middle of nowhere and the only place to eat will be in a village with streets the width of a donkey and nowhere to park. We took a big chance, hearts in mouths, and followed a crossed fork & spoon sign off the motorway. It seemed to be taking us nowhere but eventually we ended up in the small and dusty town of Tabarra. We stopped at a likely looking bar, which the Garmin had told us about, but it was CLOSED! Through the town and out the other side and voila, a restaurant with tables outside with a Bodega opposite appeared.

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It was quite busy at it approached 1.30 and the Comedor opened. However we only want a light lunch and John went in to order two 'pinchos' of tortilla and a couple of Vichys (lovely fizzy water). We sat in the car park, under the metal shade provided for cars, but now adapted into an outdoor sitting area. The tortilla was delicious and sufficient, with some wonderfully fresh bread, to see us through.

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Rather than take the motorway, we decided to stay on the N301 to Albacete, about 40 minutes away. This would have been the main Murcia-Madrid road before the motorway was built. What a lovely drive through bright yellow bushes of what John called "broom" but might be something else, fields of barley, ready to be harvested, and orchards of apricots. Plus one field of vines, presumably to supply the bodega. I think we saw 4 cars on that road, plus a "Donuts" van. Arthur explained to Stan that these were not allowed on the motorway as they might explode. He also explained why they take the centres out of donuts, which was to make them less explosive after taking out the detonators.

We arrived at the Parador, which is the middle of nothing, apart from fields of barley and an air force airfield. This also served as an airport for Albacete - a vanity project, which, like so many, has failed. Extremely polite and friendly staff (a couple of late middle-aged señors) checked us in and asked if we remember where the lift was, which we didn't. It was quite a challenge finding it as it looked like another room. We're on the second floor with a balcony looking towards the empty pitch & putt course. Empty because John did remember that they wanted vast sums of money to play on it.

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This Parador was built in 1960 to bring tourists to the area, in "Manchego" style. Yes, of course, Albacete Province is in the Region of Castilla-La Mancha. We would probably call it "colonial" style. The buildings are set in a square around a green quadrangle and a fountain in which the very numerous sparrows had great fun bathing and bitching. We had a nice cool drink in the rather warm shade there.

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Most readers will know that Albacete was once part of the Kingdom of Murcia. In 1822 the province of Chinchilla was created, composed of municipalities in the provinces of La Mancha, Cuenca and the Kingdom of Murcia. Albacete was twinned with Murcia into one province. Then, with the death of Franco and the adoption of the Constitution in 1978, the province of Albacete joined the Castilla-La Mancha Region leaving Murcia as an autonomous community, that is, it's a region and province in one. (The history is far more complicated that that, of course. But Albacete was once combined with Murcia, and the former couldn't wait to break away from the latter!).

Dinner here tonight, which will be reported upon tomorrow.

Tuesday 7th June 2022

Well today, we think that we've proved that Albacete Province is far from boring and, this evening, we hope to find something of interest in the city as well. We'll report back on all that in the next Blog. Just to round off yesterday:-

For convenience and to explore local cuisine, we ate in the pleasant restaurant at the Parador. A nice room but with very uncomfortable, very upright chairs. I'm sure they fit the style of the Parador but someone should have tried sitting in them before they ordered hundreds of the damned things.

However, the food was generally good and interesting if, as is the case in all Paradors, rather expensive. The staff were friendly and attentive and falling over each other (literally on one occasion) to serve us. We like to get the menu in Spanish as English translations can be dangerously inaccurate. However, rather bizarrely, the menu available was in English, with Spanish below each item. We had to make do with that.

For starters, Bob had a selection of Manchego cheeses which came on a board with legs. ("Quesos DOP, Queso Manchego, curado y semi-curado, con paté de queso con azafran"), that cheese dip with saffron was delicious. But why the legs?

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John risked the "Asado Manchego con huevo cocido y atún en aceite de oliva". He wasn't so keen on the "roasted red peppers" which were hot from an excess of raw tasting garlic, but the tuna and hard boiled eggs were nice!

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For mains, Bob had "Merluza de pincho rebozada en pistachos con ensalada de brotes". Hake chunks in a sort of pistachio batter, which was delicious.

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John's "Paletilla de cordero manchego asada a la manera tradicional", a shoulder of roasted lamb was very nice but we forgot to bring the mint sauce!

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Tomorrow we set off for Alarcón in Cuenca Province. We will try and catch up with today's excitement as soon as poss. Thank you for bearing with us and, again, thank you for all the comments which really are much appreciated.

Posted by Johnash 14:26 Archived in Spain Tagged spain mancha parador albacete castilla-la Comments (12)

More Paradors!

A 10 day tour, not far from home

5th June 2022
Bag End

So for those of you who suffer from insomnia, we're planning another Blog covering 5 more Paradors over 10 nights, starting tomorrow.

A couple we've been to before (Albacete and Manzanares) both of which are "modern" Paradors and not that interesting but they fit into a neat route from Bag End, up to Madrid Province then back down again, and back home via Jaén. We have visited the Jaén Parador too but that is an interesting one and it's a long time since we were there.

Even in "boring" places like Albacete, we are determined to find some things of interest; there may even be a knife museum there. Who knows!?

So, only if you fancy it, please join us on this new "adventure".

By the way, as some of you will know, this trip was planned as a cheer-us-up project after we had to cancel our long-planned trip to UK (Norfolk Broads, North Wales, etc), due to a nasty bout of vertigo that John suffered just as we were about to set out. I'm pleased to report that, after many weeks and a lot of aggro, Brittany Ferries are at last coughing up the refund that we were due, having paid extra for "Flexi" fares. The refund is going to more than cover this Parador trip. It only took them 36 days to respond!

Here's the route if we were to travel between Paradors on the most direct route (which for the most part we won't!). Please follow us and let us know what you think. But only if you fancy coming along with us, this time.

More soon.

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Posted by Johnash 10:00 Archived in Spain Tagged spain jaen alarcon parador albacete chinchon manzanares Comments (16)

Rounding Off in Ronda

A busy town.

Bag End
9-12th November 2021

Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments.

Back home! Yes we are, and struggling to conclude this Blog. But here we go.....

As mentioned, we had our guided tour of the wonderful Mezquita in Córdoba on the day we were due to travel to Ronda. After that so memorable experience, we got a taxi back to the Parador, visited the aseos, and got on the road, hoping that the Garmin GPS lady would follow the pre-planned route to Ronda.

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Ronda is in a funny space without a motorway nearby, not that we wanted to go on the motorways.... but, we came to quite a high sierra with low cloud settling on the top. Senora Garmin suddenly turned us down an 'N' road to the right for 12km and wanted us to go up a windy road, whose surface was not in the best condition and there was not really room for two cars to pass. Bob consulted our road map of Spain which was slightly more helpful than consulting a globe (we still had not found a detailed map of Andalucía) and we decided to turn back the 12kms and go up the road that had been right in front of us. It was a good road, if a bit windy, and we headed up a glorious sierra and onto the foggy summit.

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We safely descended to the other side and got onto a fairly busy 'N' road that took us, via various odd diversions, courtesy of Sra Garmin, right into the centre where the Parador is located.

We'd done our homework and knew the car park was underground and had been told via Email to park and go in for help. Luckily there was space under an arch to leave the car for a few minutes, only to find a long queue to check in and a Dutch couple at the end who already had steam coming out of their ears. A Portuguese couple had apparently been at the desk for around 20 minutes and continued to ask the one person on duty more and more questions. In a way, it was good that they were upset as we were able to adopt a 'calm down this is Spain' attitude, otherwise the steam would have been coming out of John's ears. He went off to see if he could find another member of staff who could advise about the car park but the only one was a waiter serving in the lounge and terrace (which are open to the public) but he was overworked serving drinks and was not interested in answering our questions.

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But meanwhile, Bob had taken the bull by the horns, pushed in and asked the sole woman behind the desk if we should park. She said "yes" and told us to press the buzzer at the gate. We did this and waited about 5 minutes before she deemed to divert her attention for a short while away from the questions being asked by the Portuguese couple, to press the button that opened the gate. This opens outwards so, if the small warning sign was ignored, it would smash into the front of the car. Luckily John had noticed it and parked well back. We found a fairly accessible space and noted that, by 3pm, the car park was almost full. What you do when it is full? I have no idea, but we decided there and then that we would not be taking the car out again until it was time to go home!

We returned to the lobby to find that there had been no progress and the Portuguese couple were still asking questions which the lady behind the counter was answering carefully and slowly, with the aid of maps, leaflets and other visual aids. By this time, the Dutchman's steam was super-heated.

40 minutes later we were checked in and had the keys to the room. When asked if there was a problem finding space in the car park, the check-in lady said "I don't have problems", which was not really that helpful.

With the queue dispersed, two men came on duty to sit behind the desk for the rest of the evening with nothing to do.

Luckily our room was on the "ground floor" so no lifts to get to it. We found a smaller room than we'd had to date. We had booked a "superior room" as per usual but we think that that is what guaranteed the balcony and magnificent view we had. We did not face the famous bridge across the gorge but did look down over the gorge and towards the wonderful Andalusian campo spread out before us.

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We settled in and went and had a coffee in the lounge. It took a while as the waiter was still up to his eyes, but a second one came on to take over so we managed to order at the bar rather than sit and wait wondering if the next millennium would arrive before the waiter. The tactic worked and our drinks were quickly served.

We had a walk out to look at the bridge then to find somewhere for dinner. There is one main pedestrianised street in Ronda with many, quite stylish shops (clothes, shoes, different types of tourist tat etc) and it's almost ¾km long.

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We spotted a likely place to eat and grabbed the last free table outside (though it was a bit chilly they had "flame heaters" which were quite effective). We then realised how lucky we were to get seats. For the rest of the evening, potential customers were turned away as they were "completo" the outside waiter taking great delight in telling them. Some were told to wait on the other side of the street and were eventually called in, but most were unlucky and turned away looking somewhat gloomy.

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When we got our main course, we realised why it was so popular. The food was excellent. John had ordered 'Presa Iberica' which seemed to be on all the local menus (along with Rabo de Toro) and Bob ordered the more familiar 'Secreto' of pork. 'Presa' is also pork but a cut from the back and it came as several steaklets which were tender and as delicious as any good beef steak as the meat is marbled with fat. The 2nd picture here is of Bob's 'Entrecot' from the following evening - yes it was so good we went back again). Also, instead of the ubiquitous chips the meals were served with either sliced steamed potatoes or small "roast" potatoes. And really good value given the quality of the food.

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A lot of tourists are attracted to this town. It is only a 40 minute drive from the Costa del Sol so we think a lot of excursions are run up from the coast. It's a nice town with the aforementioned shopping street, several interesting churches, palaces, plazas and the famous (infamous) bullring which is what attracted both Ernest Hemingway and Orson Wells to spend a lot of time here. Or rather it was the ghastly bullfights that did that. Very few bullfights occur now in Spain, thankfully, and we saw no posters for any 'fights' at this bullring which has the largest sand circle in the world.

But what really attracts the visitors here is the incredible bridge across the gorge. The original 'old' town is on the other side of the bridge. Much quieter but full of interest. Although there are two smaller bridges over the canyon, the "Puente Nuevo", the main attraction, was completed in 1793. The old town had no room to expand so the bridge allowed this to happen on the other side of the canyon. It certainly is an incredible structure.

Our next day in Ronda, having decided not to move the car from the car park, turned into a lovely, gentle day. We were out soon after breakfast and had the 'mirador' and much of the old town to ourselves as we discovered what it had to offer, long before the tourists starting arriving. Always an advantage of staying in a city centre.

We started at the mirador and then on to the bullring.

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We wondered at the bridge and crossed it into the old town.

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That's the Parador over the bridge.

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One of the smaller, older bridges can be glimpsed in this photo

In the old town, cafes, and people, were in short supply but we found one (a cafe that is) in the centre of the ayuntamiento plaza which had a church on either side.

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In one of the churches , at the altarpiece where you'd usually have the statue of an apostle or ancient saint, stood the statue of a young man wearing what appeared to be a 1930s suit,. There was also a modern picture on the wall of what we assumed to depict him having a vision. We've tried to do some research on who this might be but have drawn a blank. And there was no one in the church to ask.

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So can anyone solve this mystery, please??

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We pottered around for the rest of the morning, stopping frequently for 'another coffee'. We also bought a pastry to create a mess with in our room (there being no tables at the pasteleria). The rest of the day we spent reading and pottering. We went back to the same restaurant again in the evening, having booked a table(!) and had another delicious meal.

It was really nice to have a day "off". But it did mean the Blog is this late! John even managed to finish his book, a rare event, which was Elton's autobiography "Me, Elton John". A good read!

The next morning, following the routine Parador breakfast, we finished packing and were ready for the long drive home. We had made up a thermos so stopped for a coffee in a layby somewhere. We stopped again on this side of Granada at a mesón we'd stopped at before. We were disappointed to find that they no longer had any tapas and the only food available was tostadas or a "sandwich". We each had a toasted "mixto" - ham & cheese - which was passable. We will find a different place to stop next time. The place was all but empty which was understandable.

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We were home in about 5½ hours but it did seem a long drive this time. Maybe another stopover on the way would be in order next time! It was sad that Sofi was not there to complain about how long we'd been away but I know she is around here, pleased to have us back!

Now back to planning our trip to UK (Norfolk and North Wales) next May and, hopefully, back to the USA in the Autumn of next year. Fingers crossed!

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Thank you again for all your support and we hope you enjoyed following us on our little adventure, despite the ramblings.

Take care!

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Posted by Johnash 10:49 Archived in Spain Tagged bridge ronda parador Comments (9)

The Magnificent Mezquita of Córdoba

Some more on this wonder of the world.

semi-overcast 18 °C

Bag End
Saturday, 6th November 2021

We do appreciate all your comments and other support. Thank you very much!

So, we're now back home after a l-o-n-g drive from Ronda. Sorry for the delay in updating this Blog but we had a nice "doing not much at all" final day in Ronda before we returned to Bag End on Thursday. Since then, we've been trying to remember what we do when the weather turns cold!

Back in Córdoba.... before leaving on this trip, we had contacted the cathedral who sent us a list of guides along with the languages they spoke. John Emailed a selection but only got a response from one of them. She said her English was not up to doing a full tour but put us in touch with Ángela who was great. She offered loads of info and help, even before we got there. She alerted us to the fact that the weekend we were there was a holiday weekend (All Saints) and the place would be packed, which it certainly was. So we arranged to have our tour on Tuesday morning, before we set out for Ronda. (You may remember some of these photos from the last episode but had to be repeated here to complete the story).

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We packed and loaded our bags into the car after breakfast and checked out of the Córdoba Parador, confusingly called Parador de Arruzafa above the entrance, which is the name of the road, and maybe the district?

A word on the breakfasts. They were all well organised. A buffet of most things you could think of though eggs, bacon, migas etc are cooked to order. On the table was a pair of throw away tongs for each person, and everyone was expected to use those as well as wear a mask, of course, whilst helping oneself. Anyone not abiding by the mask rule was reminded swiftly and firmly by waiting staff to conform. Well done!

The first entry into the Mezquita was 10am. Ángela sent a taxi to pick us up and she met us at the gate to the 'patio' or gardens. There was a big line of people to get in but we waited whilst learning about the patio and the other buildings around. The tower, built for the cathedral, had inside the original minaret from the mosque. Near there would have been the Islamic school and the patio would have been used for washing before taking prayers.

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The mosque (mezquita in Spanish) would be the third largest in the world if it was still operating as a mosque but it could now never do so as Christians have buried bodies in there, which is a definite 'no-no' for a mosque. So it all now counts as a cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption though, interestingly, most locals don't know it as that, but still refer to is as la Mezquita.

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We apologise for all the history and we're trying to pick out the really interesting bits from the "one hour" tour which turned into at least two hours. The potted history here relies heavily on the style of "1066 And All That" which only mentioned about two dates. John did 'A' Level history but only ever knew about 3 dates (1066, 1492 and 1815!).

We never knew Visigoths built churches, but they did, here, and that started the whole thing off. Then came the invading Muslims and in 785AD (when did they start calling it CE??) the Emir started the Mezquita. That was phase 1. The colourful arches not only hold the roof up but their tops act as channels when it rains which is sent shooting into the surrounding streets, soaking any passers-by.

No expense was spared on this construction, and the first part is where you enter, which is what we now did. Although this was the second time we went in it is still so gob-smackingly wonderful and not to be missed. The pillars are important as they give clues to which part of the Mezquita you are in. In the first part, they have bases and are of marble, but not so obviously so as......

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...the first extension. Emirs/Caliphs like to try and out do each other and their power often stemmed from their great constructions. So in 836 AD or so, a second part was added by the latest Emir. Columns here didn't have bases but were again of marble. In both parts, the red colour of the arches depended on the bricks that were used.

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Then came the final extension by al-Mansur ibn Abi Aamir ("Almanzor") in 987. An interesting guy who started off as a sort-of regent for the
heir to the Caliphate, who was too young to rule. And ended up refusing to give up power and acted effectively as Caliph, though his status was strictly that of a Vizier (players of the Alhambra game, please note!).

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This is the "signature" of the mason who created this pillar (of fake marble). Most items had such a signature.

Are you still with us? This extension was done on a budget and the red in these arches was created by using paint and it can clearly be seen where this cost-cutting has lead to the red colour fading from the arches. And the pillars were not of marble, though they were made to look as if they were.

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The Muslims were chucked out of Córdoba in the 11th Century and the Mezquita was plundered. Then the mosque and caliphate was briefly restored until 1236 when it was reconquered by King Ferdinand III. Not much was done to the mosque though it was used as a Christian cathedral. Wealthy families did build chapels round the Mezquita which was why there was opposition to the following.

In 1523, power hungry Bishop Alonso de Manrique, who wanted to become pope, instigated the building of the great cathedral in the middle of the mosque. This was opposed by the city council and by locals alike. But the bishop managed to persuade the King (Charles V of Castile) onto his side so the cathedral was built, in effect, on top of and into the old mosque.

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Lots of various works and restorations have been done since, but that is the point where the Mezquita we now know reached the magnificence we see today.

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We thanked Ángela for our wonderful tour (well worth the 50€ fee, plus taxi and tickets - reduced price for pensionistas). We reluctantly bid farewell to the centre of Córdoba, and went our separate ways.

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We got a taxi back to the hotel and started our drive to Ronda. Watch out for the final episode of this Blog.

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Posted by Johnash 12:14 Archived in Spain Tagged mosque cathedral cordoba parador mezquita Comments (10)

Cor.. Córdoba!

A stunning place

semi-overcast 19 °C

Room 16, Parador de Ronda
Tuesday, 2nd November

As ever, thanks so much for all the comments; they are inspiring, literally!

We left you after a rushed trip into town on holiday Sunday evening when the place was packed. We stopped at what became a favourite cafe for a drink and some tapas.

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We had dinner at the Parador using a 15% discount coupon from the previous Parador. Not any pictures apart from Bob's Berenjas in batter with honey (starter) and John's Rabo de Toro (main course). John had Pate de Perdiz (partridge) as starter and Bob had tuna which was pink and delicious (but out of focus) as main course.

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Holiday Monday saw it raining again so we decided to come up with another rural drive, but only after heading for a precinct to buy some cheap T-shirts etc as we were rapidly running out of clean clothes, with no laundries available and certainly no drying weather. At 10.30 the car park at the shopping centre was already packed. Something else the Spanish do these days on a wet fiesta day!

It was good to get out on the open road again, especially as it had, miraculously, stopped raining. We headed for the town of Pozoblanco. An interesting small town well off the main road but, as it turned out, an important agricultural town dominated by the Covap co-op. We'd planned to try and find somewhere for a meal later but spotted some tables out in a side road and decided to stop for a coffee.

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The cafe was full of old men and this old man went in to join them to order a couple of cortados. We actually felt quite welcome. We noticed on the blackboard outside mention of Flamenquínes. Our phones told us that they were a Córdoban speciality consisting of pork or jamón rolled with what looked like cheese inside, and fried. Bob thought we should have ordered 4 of these thinking they would be croqueta-size.

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The owner of the bar kept going round with snacks on plates which must have been a tradition on a fiesta day. The number of old men kept increasing, as did the noise. We waited ages for our Falmenquínes as they were incredibly busy. The bar owner arrived with another large plate and Bob went to take it from him, thinking it was our Falmenquínes. The owner refused to let go, so a bit of a tug of war ensued over the plate. Then Bob realised to his embarrassment that he was merely offering yet more free snacks.

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Eventually a waitress came on duty and assured us that our Falmenquínes were on the way. We hoped they would be worth the wait. More snacks appeared and this time, Bob did not try and take control of the plate.

We did notice that a local dentist would not be making much money from the gathered men, guessing that there were no more than half a dozen teeth between the lot of them.

Finally the Falmenquínes arrived, served with a pile of patatas fritas and fresh tomato. So we got our meal, but rather earlier than anticipated! And it's a really good job we didn't order 4 of them, else we'd still be there trying to finish them.

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We carried on our planned trip and saw something interesting (gosh!). There was a magpie in the road, dealing with some roadkill and something crossed in front of it. Having debated what it could have been, we came to the conclusion that it could only have been a lynx. Then, within a few miles, we saw a sign warning us "Pasos de Linces", so it almost certainly was a lynx we'd seen.

The forests of trees were all well maintained and we saw cattle, black & white milking cows, sheep and pigs grazing amongst them. But we still could not puzzle out what these trees were. We were not convinced they were carob so we stopped for a close look and saw an acorn-like fruit on them. We have since determined that they are Holm Oaks and that the "fruit" are indeed acorns. These are harvested and fed to pigs. And a locally well known jamón is subsequently created.

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The end of a thoroughly enjoyable drive saw us back at the Parador. Still not raining so we quickly got a taxi into town. We already had tickets for the last entrance into the Mezquita at 5pm, bought online "just in case". Despite the fact that we had a guided tour booked for today, we decided to have a first look and take some photos. Tomorrow (now today) we would learn all about the place. So here are just one or two photos as an 'aperitivo'.

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Walking in and seeing the place "in the flesh" was moving to say the least. Despite there being many other visitors there, we were able to find quiet spaces, which was quite remarkable. More on the magnificent mosque and cathedral in the next edition!

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We found an empty table at what had become our favourite little cafe and sat and watched the passers-by as dusk descended and the street lights come on. Somewhere we could hear a classical quartet playing and that time was magical. (It turned out to be cellist playing with a backing tape but it did sound convincing).

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A very full but extremely fulfilling day. Thank you for listening and sticking with us! And finally, what do you make of this guy, seen on our drive?

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To round off this episode, a couple of shots of the public rooms of the lovely Parador de Córdoba.

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And something missing in our bathroom? What do you think?

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Posted by Johnash 18:07 Archived in Spain Tagged cordoba parador mezquita pozoblanco Comments (14)

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