Mezquita Catedral de Córdoba

Córdoba is famous for having the most amazing and unique mosque/cathedral in the world…. “A Mosque AND a Cathedral in the same place?” I hear you ask… Yes, that’s right…. are you ready for a little bit of history? No, just kidding – this time I’m just going to let you enjoy the pics….

Here’s the link to some info if you’re keen

You’re welcome.

Here’s the view from our window – that’s the Mezquita tower.

And if I zoom in….. That’s Saint Rafael up there on the top – he’s the Patron Saint of Healing.

Under the tower is a big garden courtyard that was used for the ablutions – hence all the fragrant orange trees.

So what you can see here is the tower and the garden/courtyard, then the large rectangle is the mosque and the church is the + shape in the middle. Where most mosques in Andalucia were destroyed and a church/cathedral built in its place, with this one, they preserved most the building and created a church inside.

Just a bit of info…. it started out as a relatively small mosque in the year 987 and over the next 250 years, new rulers came and went and added their own extensions. The year 1236 marked the year that Cordoba returned to Christian rule and in the 16th century the renaissance cathedral was built smack in the middle of the building.

It’s the perfect mash-up of Jewish, Moorish and Christian architecture. It’s quite incredible to see and a bit overwhelming to take it all in.

Pic: Wikipedia
Note: obviously no people were allowed in the day this was taken!

It may be unique, but little do people know that our Geraldton Cathedral is decorated in the same way….

Jenny’s thoughts: “I thought it was just awe inspiring. It was so immense that it was hard to comprehend. There is just so much history and it was unlike anything that I’ve seen before…. and I’ve been some churches in my time. I still can’t believe they were able to build things like this in ancient times. It was beautiful.”

The hills are alive…

Driving around Andalucia from Sevilla to Grenada to Córdoba the hills are literally covered – like every spare inch of land – with row upon rows upon rows of olive trees.

Imagine this image for 100s of kms…. in all directions…

It is mind boggling just how many trees there are in this region. Apparently over 50% of the world’s olives come from here.

On our drive through olive country on our way to Córdoba we stopped off to visit Alacalá La Real are more specifically Fortaleza de la Mota – the fort on top of the hill.

Pic: Andalucia website

The fortress has amazing 360° views and although it’s not used anymore, it has a very interesting history. Originally a Roman site – they are still excavating sections – and it’s very well preserved. The church as well has been rebuilt in parts after it was destroyed by all the usual things…. earthquakes, fire and the Napolean’s army. However it is not used as a church any longer as they’ve chosen not to rebuild.

The Romans built some ingenious things back in their day…. I mean, we all know about the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, public health and the aqueducts…. but what have the Romans ever done for us? Well, for one, they seem to have invented refrigeration…. It was a deep well, carved out of the limestone (to show you how big it was in that first pic, that little square of light in the middle – underneath the opening in the ceiling – is a platform where we were standing!). Anyway, they would collect the snow from the surrounding mountains and lay it across the floor over those dug out channels they layer it with straw – layer upon layer upon layer. This would compact the snow and keep it frozen, then as it slowly melted it would drain off in the channels and roll down the the final channel to the waiting person with something to fill it up with. Apparently this would last them all summer.

There was also evidence of a market and a pharmacy with bottles and bowls and measuring tools…. I loved the measurement conversion…. I think we should all start to weigh ourselves in quintals!

Then it was back the car to head for Córdoba.

Hey Andalucia! You missed a spot!

The Almighty Alhambra!

Me Jenny has been talking about wanting to visit the Alhambra in Grenada for ages and here we are! Now there is A LOT of information to give about the Alhambra, so I’m going to try and keep it brief for all those not so interested in history (sorry MLD 🙂

This ↑ was our view of it last night from our hotel near the river. It’s quite lovely all lit up at night.

You can go on your own and wander through, but my recommendation would be to go with a guide (on your own if possible – the big groups were too big!) So Me Jenny and I headed down to the square to grab a cab to get us to the meeting place…

This wasn’t here when we went to bed last night!

Let me just give you a brief history of The Alhambra if I can….
(Scroll down to the ***** if you’re not that keen on this bit, although you might miss out on some nice pics – it’s up to you.)

The name Alhambra means ‘Red Castle’ in Arabic. It is located on top of the hill overlooking the city of Grenada and the hills of Sierra Nevada.

pic: getyouguide

It is located on a strategic point, with a view over the whole city and further across the fields. Roman ruins have also been found, leading people to believe that Romans were already on that site before the Moors arrived. The complex is a bit like ‘the house that Jack built’ – in that there doesn’t appear to be any reason to its muddled up layout and that’s because for approximately 900 years different people have stamped their mark on the place.

Pic: Alhambra Info

The first historical documents known about the Alhambra date from the 9th century when a chap named Sawwar ben Hamdun turned up in 889.

The Alcazaba was used as a military fortress with a view over the whole city, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the first king of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ben Al-Hamar (Mohammed I, 1238-1273), in the 13th century, that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra.

Once the king arrived, some serious renovations began. Water was canalised from the river Darro, and many buildings were built.

These renos were carried on by Mohammed II(1273-1302) and Mohammed III (1302-1309), who apparently also built the public baths and the Mosque, which was later bulldozed and a church was built in its place.

You can see here the church is right next to Charles’ palace. This used to be, and still is, the main street of the Alhambra and down the right hand side you can just see a channel with water running down. The Alhambra was purposely built on this slight decline so that water could travel to the palaces using gravity.

Construction continued on with Yusuf I (1333-1353) and Mohammed V (1353-1391). Then in 1492 the Nasrid Dynasty finally fell to the Christians and the Alhambra became the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabel and the palaces were promptly altered to suit them – in the Renaissance style.

Jump ahead a few years and 1526 came around and Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better suiting the Holy Roman Emperor and it was in direct juxtaposition with the Nasrid Andalusian architecture.

He demolished a large section of the original palace in order to build this huge palace with his name all over it, but it was ultimately never completed due to rebellions in Granada and there were other palaces that they decided to put their money into…. so this one was just left. (You can see in the pics below that every circle and statue shelf – there are about 200 of them – all empty.)

Also, at the end of the battle with Napoleon, in 1812, the French exploded the remaining gun powder so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of their enemies (and probably out of a bit of spite) and destroyed many of the buildings.

Then an earthquake in 1821 did a bit more damage and then it was left abandoned…

Until 1829 when this bloke came along – Washington Irving. You might remember him from writings such as ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. He had done a bit of travelling around Europe and fell in love with Andalusia. He visited Grenada twice and on his second trip he stayed at the Alhambra with his mate, Russian Prince Dolgorouki.

Pic: Cicerone Grenada Website

The Alhambra of 1829 was a little different to what it is today. It was abandoned and inhabited by vagabonds and travellers. This surprised them, however what was really shocking was seeing the walls covered in graffiti. Back then (and probably still today) this was how travellers immortalised the date of their visit. Washington thought this was an outrage and vowed to fight for the preservation and reconstruction of the Alhambra.

W.I. and his friend, the Russian prince decided to give the First Guest Book of the Alhambra, so that visitors and travellers could sign that instead of the palace walls. A simple solution really. Then he wrote articles explaining the need to recover the Alhambra and give it the place in history that it deserved. He also wrote his book – ‘Tales of the Alhambra” which prompted people to stop and take notice.

Thank you Washington and your Russian friend. There is a monument in W.I.’s name in the Alhambra… This door is closed to the public, but behind it is apparently some pieces of original furniture.

If you’re still with me – well done you! We were at the Alhambra for hours and there was soooo much information – this is as shrunk as I think I could have made it.

***** (you may care to scroll backwards for some more pics – I found that whilst giving the background, I used some of the pics that I was going to show you anyway…. just ignore the boring history words)

Ok, on with the tour……

We started our tour in the Generalife Gardens which were built to resemble the moorish idea of heaven. When I first heard the name – ‘Generalife’ I immediately thought it was 2 words – general life – meaning that this is maybe where they spent their life generally…. but um, no. Generalife is a moorish word which means “Garden of the Architect”. There are thoughts that the gardens and house might have actually belonged to the actual architect or another thought is is the architect is God.

Either way – they’re beautiful.

There are a lot of walk ways and natural tunnels as symbols of the gateway to heaven and the garden is set out quite strategically with straight lines and symmetry with water in the middle and plants, trees and flowers surrounding it.

Just some of the beautiful flowers in the garden… Not as pretty as the flower above though.

We heard a lot about how the moors decorated their palaces and it was fascinating. They use Arabic words and phrases intertwined with plant motifs, and a lot of tessellating, and symmetrical patterns. The idea, which I thought was interesting is that the Islamic symbols are fluid and ask the view to let their mind wander around the patterns rather than focusing on one thing.

This grandiose room was designed for the Sultan to receive visitors and people wanting things from him. I couldn’t get a very good photo of the entire room, but it was huge and square with 3 little alcoves in each of the 3 walls (the 4th being the door). The Sultan would sit in the one in the middle opposite the door and he would have one advisor in each other 8. How they communicated and advised from those positions, I’m not sure – impressive, but not very practical.

Some of the palace buildings and indeed entire palaces that were destroyed were never rebuilt and gardens have since been planted in those locations surrounding the ruins which is a nice way to walk around and have a look.

Me Jenny got politely asked again to please not touch the walls in one of the palaces by our guide and there are signs all through the gardens to please not touch the plants. Bless her, she had to walk like this with her arms beside her side.

These photos are not doing this place justice. It was huge, with a million people and sometimes you just can’t capture amazing spaces in those circumstances. They let in 6,000 to 8,000 visitors every day and you have to work around big groups which our guide, Senny did with expert ease. He was so enthusiastic and explained everything really well. He was interesting to listen to and had some great stories.

And here’s the view from the top…

Jenny’s thoughts: “I thought is was breathtaking. It was historically interesting and beautifully restored and the gardens were beautiful.” She added: “At least I was short and sweet.” Whatever!

So there you have it.

Sing us a song Edith

So, we went into a frock shop and I popped upstairs to the mezzanine level to try on a frock. And this is what I heard….

Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en rose’ is playing on the speaker.

Me Jenny, who is sitting downstairs waiting for me says to the shop owner: “Oh I love this song.” – Shop Owner: “yes, I love it too.”
“What’s her name?” – Shop Owner: Edith Piaf.”
“Do you sing?” – Shop Owner: NO RESPONSE

When When I came downstairs there was a lovely dog in the shop and Jenny whispered to me: “Her name is Edith Piaf.” “Who? the dog?” I replied. “Yes!” Jenny said laughing.

As I as purchasing the frock I had to speak to the shop owner and I asked, “Your dog’s name is Edith?” and he looked at me confused and said, “No, why?” Confused, I asked again, “Her name is not Edith Piaf?” and it finally dawned on him what had happened and he roared laughing…..

“No”, he said, My dog’s name is Pepé. The singer is Edith Piaf. Oh I get it now. You thought I said that the dog was Edith?”

So I thought that Jenny was asking the shop owner the name of the singer (maybe she couldn’t remember) and then asking him if he sang – which wasn’t really an odd question, except that wasn’t what was happening at all.

Poor unsuspecting Pepé had come in unnoticed by the shop owner prompting me Jenny to ask her name at that exact moment…… and then hilarity ensued!

We all laughed – in English, in Spanish and poor Edith Pepé didn’t know what the hell was going on. I think when I finally get a dog of my own, Edith Piaf will have to be on the list of names.

The road to Ronda

Ronda was a bit of a surprise. We’d forgotten we were going there… and what a lovely surprise she turned out to be.

Apparently the 3rd most visited town in the south of Spain and all because the town is split in half by a gigantic 100 metre deep gorge and connected by this amazing bridge. It’s called the “New Bridge” even though it was completed in 1793. There are two other bridges – the Puente Viejo (Old Bridge), which dates from 1616, and the Puento Romano, which actually dates back to the Moorish period, between the 9th and 15th centuries. The older two are nowhere near as spectacular as the New Bridge and are inconveniently in the wrong place for getting from one side of town to the other, but they’re there.

A bit like Mandurah – we used to have an old bridge, then they built a new bridge, then replaced the old bridge with a new bridge which we all call the new bridge…. but what of the old new bridge?

The two sides of town are the old town and the modern area. The construction of this bridge took 40 years and was so dangerous that 50 workers lost their lives.

Both sides of town and the bridge between them were packed with tourists. We noticed a hot air balloon getting ready for take off as we crossed over.

Once on the other side (it’s really not that far across) we got to have a sticky beak in the old buildings, which as you would have come to guess by now – I love.

This doorway, when open, has an amazing view across to the mountains. It’s also pretty lovely closed.

  1. view up the street
  2. an antique Moorish communications device
  3. traditional transportation
  4. a lovely view over to the mountains

In the street there are these lovely shaped trees with little fruit on them. When they’re ripe they turn red like a strawberry, but taste nothing like it.

The first stop along the street was the Don Bosco house, originally owned by Don Francisco Granadinos and his wife Doña Dolores Gómez. Don Bosco had become friends with Frank and Delores and when they died they left the property to the Salesian Congregation – founded by St John Bosco, with the purpose of being a house of rest, healing, hospitality and care for the elderly members of the Congregation.

They did leave one slightly creepy condition – that they never leave the house….. Frank and Delores are in coffins in the upstairs part of the house, which I understand, ’cause why would you want to leave this view?

And this beautiful house…

Me Jenny with Delores and Frank…. oh they’re watching you alright!

A pretty garden and this view…

There is a lovely seating area dedicated to Don John Bosco done nicely on painted tiles…

However I can’t help think that perhaps the top of his head didn’t need to cross two tiles. Look, I’m not an art critic, I just know what I like.

We kept strolling up the street for more views…. as had everybody else. Luckily these groups move on pretty quickly as they have to keep up with the tour leader and her scarf on a stick.

Again, cars are meant to be limited in this area, and the streets are so narrow – some starting quite wide, but narrowing at the other end. Cars are meant to stop and wait for pedestrians to move past, but if they did that, they’d be sitting there all day.

Each time we got a glimpse of this balloon it tried to get off the ground, but then slowly floated to the ground again. Spoiler…. it never got into the air.

Also in this pic you can see the forest (the dark trees) are where the wild pigs live – the pigs of the famous Iberian ham. Our guide lived over in that area and she said if she leaves her car outside the fence at night, the pigs, after rolling in the mud, come and scratch themselves up against her car, leaving a brown mark at pig height.

Here’s something else I didn’t know. Orange trees come in sweet – the ones we eat and bitter – which you don’t eat, but they do have a lovely aroma, so they line the streets with them. You can tell the two apart because the bitter orange trees have this double leaf system going on. Spain sells all their bitter oranges to the UK for the making of marmalade and the skins are used to make gin – win/win/win!

There are iron bars on every window. Apparently this is for security, but most importantly so they can show off their iron working skills.

If you do have a car here – this is pretty much how you park… hard up against the wall and touch the car in front and and sometimes behind as well. I don’t know how they got in and out. Safe to say that you probably wouldn’t own an expensive car if you lived here and had to park on the street.

Another example of different religions having used the same building, or building on in their own style to extend the original building.

They charged a fee to see inside that church, so we went to have a look at the church of the patron saint of Peace… when Me Jenny heard our guide say this, she thought for a moment that she said ‘peas’ and thought, that’s a little odd, but maybe she’s the patron saint for ALL vegetables – you know how your thought process goes…. it turns out that Maria wasn’t the gardener Jenny thought she might have been. lol.

Isn’t this a pretty church?

This smaller church is looked after by the school next door and is run on donations. They have a statue of Mary/Maria at the front of the alter and if you zoom in you can see that she is wearing clothes made out of material. Apparently there was a famous bull fighter who came to the church to pray that nothing bad would happen to him during his fight and when he came out unscathed, he paid tribute to Maria by having a dress made out of the finest materials and jewels, which she’s wearing in pics 1 & 2, which is about 200+ years old. Since then she as acquired a number of different outfits and it can take a whole day to change her. Pic 3 is another statue who also has a wardrobe change every now and then.

Our next stop was to the famous bull ring. Let me get this out there – I don’t like bull fighting one bit and had some mixed feelings about going in there. In fact, I can’t quite believe that it still goes on today (it is banned in some places in Spain, but not all).

The bulls are privately owned, but they are put out into the wild, with little to no human contact so the they go crazy when they arrive here…

First, they are washed – cause, who wants to fight a dirty bull? The cleaner has to stand behind the wooden barrier to hose them down in case of death.

The bull ring is also a horse riding school, so there are horses, and these are the rooms the bulls are kept in before the fight. Pic 3 shows the upper level where there are rectangular doors in the floor that open up into the bull rooms below so they could throw them food.

Then out they come for the entertainment of the masses…

This bull ring is apparently the biggest in Spain (or probably the world?) in size of the actual ring was built in 1785. The stadium only holds 5,000 people. There are stadiums with bigger seating capacity, but with a smaller ring.

To finish our day we had a little luncheon overlooking the ‘Old Bridge’.

Thanks for your help Ronda.

Adios Sevilla

On our last night in Seville we wanted something a little bit easy. We’d had our tapas lunch and the thing about tapas is that you only have a few small dishes to share and that fills you up for a couple of hours and you think I couldn’t possibly eat dinner…. then dinner time comes around and you think – how could I possibly be hungry? But you are.

Across the road from our hotel is La Bartola, a nice looking restaurant/tapas bar that didn’t look like a plastic chairs tourist joint.

The whole way there (remember we have to walk through a 5km tunnel to get to the reception from our room!) I practised “una mesa para dos por favor” (a table for 2 please). Then Me Jenny walked in first and said “Hi” to which the waiter replied, “Hello, table for 2?” I was robbed, robbed I tell you. However from that point on they were very nice and let me brutalise their language for the rest of the evening.

A lovely spot.

Out there on our own

Our plan was always to go on day tours in each of the places we visited and thus far the tours and the guides that our lovely travel agent Lyn Tyson organised for us have been outstanding! Honestly, there hasn’t been one that we haven’t liked (except the lady at the cathedral – but we organised that one ourselves!) But we also enjoy a bit of down time where you can just stroll aimlessly through the streets to see what you might find. Today was one of those days.

We exited our hotel and turned right.

Shades over the street – ingenious!

We found ourselves back at The Mushroom and I gave it another look. I’ve decided that I don’t mind it (like my opinion matters to anybody in Seville!) but I still don’t think it goes with the beautiful old buildings it billows over.

We stopped off for a lovely coffee in this square not far from the ‘shrooms…

Then just because it’s all about the eating and the drinking – we stopped for Tapas and sangria. We tried a couple of lovely dishes while we watch the couple at the next table devour 2 whole chickens – that’s dedication.

Then she was home down some lovely streets…

As they are trying to restrict cars in the old town, there are plenty of other modes of transport around Seville. We’ve passed people on Segways, electric scooters, horse drawn carriages, pushbikes, motorbikes and the occasional mobility scooter!

And when you see the streets are this tiny and you have to resort to walking like Me Jenny here…. you can understand why.

Cádiz – by the coast

Today we’re heading to the beach and our luck was in – Delia was again our guide. She picked us up with our driver, David, who was also lovely. He spoke a little bit of English, so we ‘Spanglished’ our way through the day with Delia as our interpreter.

Cádiz, we learned is pronounced like Cardiff, but the a ‘th’ instead of the ‘ff’ at the end, and is Delia’s home town where she grew up, so again, this was a personal highlights tour. First we hit the breakwater wall out to the Castillo de San Sebastian. It was a pretty windy day, so the water was choppy, but you could imaging how lovely it would have been on a flat day.

This building used to be the place where royalty would come to ‘spa’. Heaven forbid they get a bit of sand on their feet or mingle with the common folk. It’s now the Underwater Archaeology Center Headquarters.

Here it is on a warmer day with more people – (obviously not my photo)

And here it is at low tide… (again, not my photo)

Once we’d taken in the sea breeze and I nabbed myself a couple of bits of seaglass (Chris – you would have been beside yourself!) we headed into the main part of town. The plan was to hit the markets, grab some food for a picnic and head to the beach.

Naturally in the middle of the town – there is a church.

The walk through the town was lovely – this old knife shop had been around since knives were invented.

And this building shows you what it was like back in the days where you paid taxes by the amount of windows you had…

Delia suggested that we try a local drink – sherry mixed with 7up. We weren’t sure ourselves, but with the assurance that somebody else would drink if it we didn’t like it – she bought the smallest amount on offer – 2 litres! This is also a way to support the local shops.

I think this shop keeper was a bit sick of answering this question…

Then – of course, churros, to eat while we looked around the market…

Then to the market… Stall after stall of fruit, cheese, meat, seafood and desserts.

We were discussing whether or not we would try a custard apple, and Me Jenny reached in, as she does, to give it a squeeze – well Delia almost tripped over herself – arms reached out with a slow motion “Noooooooo, please don’t touch!” Apparently the shop keepers prefer that you don’t squeeze their merch before you purchase it…. have you seen the avocados at Woolies? They might want to adopt the same approach.

With all our goods in bags we made our way back through town to the church square – check out this hotel pool that overlooks the church!

David picked us up in the van and we were away to our next stop of Vejer de la Frontera, which claims to be one of the most beautiful villages in all of Spain! Big call, I’ll let you be the judge, but it was certainly interesting…

Let me start with ‘La Cobijado’ – the traditional dress of the Vejer woman. At first glance I thought that she depicted a lady of Islamic faith as the scarf and dress look like the burqa, however, this dress comes from Castilian origins which would’ve been a mix of muslim, christian and jewish customs of women covering themselves (or at a least their heads) in public.

Over the centuries this traditional dress has been mandatory, discouraged and forbidden during the times of civil unrest because it was so easy to hide weapons underneath it and it is only recently that it has been bought back for special occasions.

The dress consists of a white petticoat with embroidery bands, a white blouse with lace, and a black skirt which is tied at the waist, then on the top – a black gathered cape, with a silk lining that enables the woman to be covered completely, except for an eye.

The cape can then be flung off to hang from the waist down to reveal the inside of the head covering and starts to look a lot like dress with a bustle… #fashion!

It seems that every city/town/village in Spain has a Plaza de Espana – some more grand than others. Vejer’s is the one with the lady and the fountain. It was at this spot that Me Jenny and I were waiting for our guide when we overheard two men and a woman walking up the street.

Man 1: (in a very posh English accent) Well, you’re not going to find a man bag up here Kevin!

We watched the trio heading up the street and into a shop where Kevin did in fact exit the shop with a purchase. Well done Kevin!

Up the hill, we had our own little win….. this chap was perched in his favourite spot….

Then as we passed he rolled over….. what was I meant to do?

Just wandering through these streets, cool with the shade and beautiful with their white colour and pretty flowers was proof that it deserved to be in at least the top 10 of pretty villages.

Remember I mentioned that Delia had told us in the Hidden Gems tour of Seville that there are no signs left that Jewish people lived there – they’d all been destroyed, Vejer was the same, except if you know where to look…. This is a Catholic Church, but if you look closely – there is a Star of David above the door.

Just a random door way….. why, what does your foyer look like?

Then we came to one of the prettiest views in the town…

All those people eating lunch clearly didn’t realise that if they had moved their chairs up the street a little they could be looking at this instead of the wall.

You see, it doesn’t take much to make your windows look pretty….. sure these are a little dead, but at least they tried.

There was one last thing to see in this town – the castle.

Where you could get these kinds of views….

  1. Back in the day there was a rule put into place that only residents of Vejer de la Frontera are allowed to work in on the lands around the village. You’re not allowed to bring your cousin in from Seville to work and that rule is still in place today.
  2. It’s very important to have a terrace attached to your property and it’s important to fill it with plants and antennas.
  3. That’s Morocco.
  4. Wind power the old fashioned way
  5. Wind power in the 21st century
  6. A pic of me – just in case you thought I wasn’t on this trip!

Time for lunch. It was late afternoon – just right for Spanish people, for us – we were a little peckish! We knew it would be too windy to eat at the beach, but it was nice to head down there and dip our toes into the Atlantic, and just to the right of that old fort you can vaguely see the outline of some hills – that’s Morocco again. Besides Tenerife in the Canary Islands, this is the closest to Africa that I’ve ever been.

So into the natural park we went for our picnic. Here Delia is mixing our 2 litres of sherry wine spritzer while David looks on to make sure the measurements are correct. Me Jenny can’t wait. We didn’t think we’d like it, but result – at least ½ a litre was drunk.

I’ve not been good at taking photos of the food because I’m generally too hungry at the time and then when we’re finished I think – ‘Oh damn! should have taken a photo!’

However, I did get a pic of the figs. We also had a couple of different types of ham plus some dried tuna (which I didn’t love), 3 types of cheese, bread, olives, nuts, custard apple (non squeezed), and a special chocolate cake for dessert. Lovely!

Let’s just go back here for a little minute.

You’re welcome.

Seville’s Hidden Gems

This morning we were meeting our guide to take us on a little walk around the interesting neighbourhoods where the tourists don’t normally go.  I was quite looking forward to it.

We waited in the hotel’s grand foyer…

Check out his awesome furniture collection in the grand foyer…

Then, the lovely Delia turned up – by far our favourite tour guide yet! She was lovely. Friendly, caring, interesting & funny. The type of person you’d want to be friends with (yes, I know we were paying her)

We started with the Santa Cruz area – where our hotel is located and worked our way outwards from there. The first laneway she took us down was this one with beautiful greenery making a natural ceiling, then she stopped at a gate and explained the tit was part of our hotel. It was completely familia to us…. then we walked to the next gate and saw – the door to our room! All this time we thought this laneway was a corridor of the hotel and thought people walking through there at all times of the day and night were a bit inconsiderate with their noise level – but it’s a street! and people walking probably didn’t even know that people were sleeping – just over there.

Santa Cruz is the old Jewish quarter and Delia, who is an archeologist told us how sad she thought it was that there are not many Jewish remnants left in the city. All of the old synagogs were either destroyed or converted into churches (as were all the city’s mosques). There are only a few bits and pieces and you need to know where to look for them.

Recently there has been some excavation happening around Seville and during the digs, they came across levels of Jewish graves (possibly one century and then another century buried on top of that). They wanted to preserve the tomb, so they kept it in the exact place where it was found – then built a car park over the top of it. This is just a piece of wall infant of a carpark – luckily the space happened to be empty so we could have a look, but you can see by the reflection that a car was trying to get in there – not the most peaceful memorial space, but at least they did something.

This square – Plaza Santa Cruz used to be where one of the city’s synagogue’s was located. It was turned into a a church, which was then later destroyed, so they made a lovely garden space instead of rebuilding. This statue in the middle used to be in a different location, but when they had the expo in 1929, they thought that the snakes like dragon figures didn’t fit in with the look they were going for, so it was up and moved to here, with the cross and the catholic symbols, they clearly didn’t give much thought to the fact it doesn’t really go with the Jewish faith, but here it is.

It gets very hot in the south of Spain, but as soon as you step out of the sun – you’re instantly cool making the city very pleasant to walk around when the sun is not directly overhead (but at that time you’re generally inside eating tapas!)

One thing that Delia told us was that the people who are from the south of Spain are very friendly. They’ll welcome you into their homes and be your best friend forever…. but when you actually need them, they’re generally busy that day. A little like this story behind these historical homes you can find all around the city. People who live there have to open the door for the the public to have a look as they are part of the city’s history, however they’ve gotten around that rule by opening the door to the courtyard, but putting a huge iron gate at the street, so you can still see in, but only from a distance.

Oh now… this is a sad story, but may also be a warning for some readers….

Just around the corner from this square lived a beautiful young lady named Susona Ben-Suson.

It was the year 1840, in the final years of the Jewish community in Seville. The newly-emerging kingdom of Spain was enforcing people to either convert to Catholicism, or leave the city. Some stayed and ‘converted’ – pretending to be Catholic in public and practicing their real faith in their homes. There was suspicion among some Christians that those who converted maybe did it with their fingers crossed behind their back and were fearful of a revolt.

A man by the name of Don Diego de Suson, a wealthy merchant, and a recent catholic convert. He was alarmed by the threat to his position, and the christian suspicion, so he convened a secret meeting of prominent converts to discuss the possibility of an armed uprising.

His daughter Susona, however, had a Christian boyfriend, a young chap who lived in another part of town. She overheard the meeting with her father and the other converts, (which took place in the square near her house) and she feared her boyfriend would be put in danger by an her father’s plan, so she waited until after dark and she hightailed it across town and told the boyfriend every last detail she knew. He promptly reported them all to the authorities, and they were immediately arrested, brought before the Inquisition, tried and executed right there in the square.

So now Susona’s father and brother (who was at the meeting) had been killed and she was left alone in the world. She went to her boyfriend and asked what was to become of the love after this and he told her that their relationship was finished as he could no longer trust somebody who would betray their family like she had done.

Stricken with remorse Susona joined a convent and never spoke again. When she died she had left instructions that her head be removed from her body and placed into the window of her house (where, morbidly, it stayed as late as the 18th century) as a warning to others not to betray the trust of their families. Apparently after her head was finally removed a wooden replica was put there in its place.

Now in the square, there is a small tile with Susona’s skull painted on it. After hearing this story right out the front of the house – I felt a little sick, goosebumpy and very loyal to my family.

Here we’re standing in the square of Elvira. The street on the left is called in Spanish – the street of death and the street on the right – the street of life. Apparently during a religious culling of the city christian soldiers chased Jewish people through this square and the people that ran down one street were able to escape and the people that chose the other met their fate. It’s also eery to note that at the end of the street of death is Susona’s house.

Apologies for the gruesome story….

Now, tell me this statue of Jesus doesn’t look exactly like Rohan Atkinson!

Here are some more lovely gated houses…. have a look, but stay back please!

Moving on from Santa Cruz and we headed out of the tourist area and into where the locals live. These re regular residential streets and here’s a very rare garage – I love that it’s painted to look like you’re driving into an estate.

Delia had told us that she was going to show us “the mushrooms” – it was a new art thing and I was imagining it to be a small installation… but we turned a corner and looked up.

It’s called the Metropol Parasol. It’s a wooden structure that is 150 by 70 metres (490 by 230 ft) and an approximate height of 26 metres (85 ft). It  claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world.

I think I like it, but I don’t think I like it in this context. It’s surrounded by Seville’s beautiful old buildings and doesn’t really ‘go’. You can buy tickets and go to the top for a great view over Seville and there is a fresh food market and cafes on the ground floor.

Fiery Flamenco

Our tour tonight was across the river to the neighbourhood of Triana which has a very rich and colourful history.

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Until the 1850s, the district of Triana was linked to the rest of the city by a single floating bridge made from boats tied together side by side.  It was a place where ‘undesirables’ were sent to live.

The river was the great divide between the sevillano and the trianeros.  If you lived in Seville it would have meant that you had a bit of cash, maybe you were a merchant, you might have been royalty or nobility?  If you lived in Triana, you were more likely to be part of a religious minority group – Jewish or Muslim, an outsider – Romani or perhaps just a bit hard on your luck…  This is where flamenco was born.

For centuries, the bulk of Triana’s population was Romani (not to be mistaken with people of Romania). The Romani (or Roma) are an itinerant Indo-Aryan ethnic group.  The have been known as ‘gypsies’ in the past, (possibly because they travelled to Spain from Egypt) which is considered derogatory.  They lived in communal compounds of small, crowded houses arranged around a multi-purpose courtyard that they used as a laundry, a meeting area, a workplace and a performance space. Some of these houses are still around today that you can sneak a peak through the gate and into the courtyard.

The story that we were told is that after a hard day the residents of these shared houses  would be going about their business in the courtyard…. somebody would be sweeping, another person, scrubbing clothes, a man might have been cleaning his shoes and all of these things made a sound – the sound of percussion.  Then as somebody started to ‘sing the blues’ about their day, dancers would freestyle to the rhythm.  The songs would generally be about hardship and heartbreak, and the dancing would translate the story into dramatic, emotional, passionate movements (including the stomping with their feet)…. and thus Flamenco was born. You can see this being made into a musical, can’t you?

The sound of Flamenco song is like melodic wailing and sounds a bit like the muslim call to prayer.  The guitar is something out of this world and to be able to play efficiently takes years and years.  The singer, the percussionists and the guitar players are all a backdrop to the main attraction of the Flamenco – the dancers.  Their movements control the music, rather than the other way around.

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So how did it get the name ‘flamenco’?

One theory is that the word is a derivative of the Spanish word meaning “fire” or “flame”. It could also come from a word derived from the Hispano-Arabic term fellah mengu, meaning “expelled peasant”, referring to the Andalusians of Islamic faith.  It may also have been used for fiery behaviour, which could have been applied to the guitar players and performers.  Something else I read was that the word is Spanish for “Flemish” (meaning “native of Flanders, Belgium”, at one-time owned by the Spanish).

But, I think that’s reading way too much into it….. flamingoes live in the saltpans of Cádiz – which is where the Roma would have entered Spain from Egypt…  I mean, they would have walked right past them.

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Now look at this side by side below and judge for yourself!

Now, having explained all that – we went to a Flamenco show with our lovely guide, Chris.  We walked to the other side of the river – via a new stable bridge and she explained the intricacies of Flamenco and the history of Triana.

This is the theatre we visited. You are not allowed to take any photos of the performance and quite frankly there wouldn’t have been a chance because the show was so energetic you couldn’t take your eyes off the guitar players fingers, the dancer’s feet/facial expressions or placement of fingers, or at time the singers floppy fringe (will he flick his head again? I wish I had a clip to lend him….. #thoughts).  Honestly, we were exhausted when it finished!

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Afterward we tried a couple of tapas restaurants to sample a few dishes.  I wish I’d taken photos of them. Can you believe I didn’t, in this day and age?  Anyway, one of the restaurants was this little place that has it’s own flamenco tablao, which is a stage designed to amplify the sound of the dancing.

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Then we wandered down along the river and over a different bridge – there are so many to choose from nowadays and slowly meandered home.

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The verdict: We were very happy that we saw authentic Flamenco in its birthplace of Triana and we were in awe of the way the dancers could move their feet so quickly as well as tell a dramatic story with their face; we were amazed by the guitar player’s expertise playing so well and so spontaneously and we were impressed by the singers voice and his ability to keep his fringe mostly out of his face and I loved the costumes. However…. as with all traditional/national/folkloric performances, I can’t say (and I strongly feel that Me Jenny would be in agreement) that it would be my go-to.

Grandios Seville

Today was going to be a big day, but first things first – brekky.  In the breakfast area there is a bottle of olive oil on every table.  No butter, no salt, no pepper – just the essential accompaniment to any dish.

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This is looking down on our foyer waiting room which is typical of the buildings in this area where many families would share one building.  There is always a central open courtyard with a number of rooms off it – each room housed one family.

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We were headed for Place Espana – a must see if you come to Seville!!!  It was walking distance, as is everything really and our walk took us through the lovely Jardins de Murillo & Jardins del Alcazar (the Royal Palace). It is all very picturesque.

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And even space for a little sit down when needed…. don’t you love the school photo position.  Feet together please Jenny!

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Along the foot paths there are marked sections for bikes only.  Each little silver emblem on the road marking the way has a picture of a little bike, but if you look at it upside down, it’s a smiling face.  Most people kept to their rightful side depending on their mode of transport – foot or bike, but some were still yet to learn the Sevillian ways…

Then, we arrived…

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This building is incredible and this photo does not do justice to the sheer size of it.  It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition held in the next year.  It’s got ALL the architectural styles in there, Baroque, Renaissance, Moorish – It’s got the lot!

With a massive forecourt and it’s curved shape and fountain in the middle, it made a perfect backdrop for Me Jenny’s uno dos tres – TURN

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Here’s a little photo journey…

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A great place to sit in the shade for a little water up!

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Now there are people everywhere and 98% of them are all taking photos – of the buildings, of each other or of themselves… the other 2% are asking strangers to take their photo for them.

The whole way along the front there are these little alcoves with tiles and a mosaic tiled map of each region in Spain.  I noticed that one of them was called “Jaén” and it sounded and looked a little like “Jen”, so I ushered Me Jenny over to take a photo.

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There was a couple sitting on the bench having their photo taken by a stranger and when they finished and said their thank yous, etc…. they stood here to see what type of photographer the stranger was.  Jenny sat for a few moments which they didn’t notice, nor did they detect my close proximity, so I thought ‘Oh for goodness sake, they can be in the photo – where are we going to display this picture anyway?  It’s just a bit of fun…’

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They did finally move and a small queue had formed behind me for other people wanting to do the same thing.  I directed Jenny to point to her ‘sort of’ name so that you could see the reason she was sitting in this random spot.  It was then we realised that she couldn’t lift her arm or shoulder (recently broken and replaced) any higher….

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A quick swap to her good side and we were away.  We don’t even know where the region of Jaén is!

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The front of the building even has a moat (I don’t think it’s for defensive purposes, because they left out a massive chunk at the front gate!) You can even hire row boats to have a paddle up and down.

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There is a lovely big river that runs through the centre the city separating Seville and suburb of Triana – the home of gypsies and flamenco!

Earlier we’d booked an English speaking ‘skip the lines’ guided tour for the Cathedral as the ‘walk in yourself’ lines were hideous!  I won’t bang on about our experience with our tour guide, but let’s just say it wasn’t the best.  Anyway, we were in the cathedral…

And it was amazing…. it was HUGE!

You can’t imagine how big – this was just one side and I think I’m standing about half way down!

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Everything is ornate and gold or silver and generally covered by bars.

This one statue is made entirely of silver.  You can only just make out Mary holding a baby (I assume it’s Jesus) and in the other hand she’s holding a….. well our guide told us it was a grenade.  She told the whole story about the statue and the meaning and kept mentioning the significance of the grenade.  You know when you know something is wrong?  An English lady who lives in Spain said, “You keep saying grenade, but in English we say Pomegranate.  A grenade is a bomb.”  Then she did this amazing mime to explain what she meant by bomb.  The guide later referred to the ‘siimbolism’ of the same fruit and called it a “pommygrenade”.  I don’t know if she was being derogatory to the English lady or not? (I’m kidding, I am.)

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I can’t decide whether I like this alter or not.  It’s a lot to take in and it’s covered, if not completely made of gold which is a little over the top.  I do however like the wrought iron gate and the filigree work.

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Christopher Columbus is buried in the Cathedral in this tomb.  You can see the pommygrenade under the front guy’s foot.

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There are chapels off rooms that are off other rooms which link back to a different chapel – the place is huge.  This is one of the ceilings of one of the chapels.

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On the left here we have Jenny’s new day hat and on the right – we can stop looking…. I’ve found the holy grail.  It’s not as big as I thought it would be.

One of the most bizarre stories about this cathedral, (which funnily enough we didn’t hear from our cathedral tour guide, we heard this story from a different guide on a different tour – nothing to do with the cathedral!) is that there is a crocodile hanging from the rafters (a wooden replica) that has a great story to go with it…

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So there is a wooden crocodile, an elephant’s tusk and what appears to be a horse’s bit hanging from the ceiling.

The story goes that in 1260 King Alfonso X’s tried to marry his daughter off to the son of the Sultan of Egypt.  The son showered her with a number of exotic gifts, including spices and materials, a crocodile, an elephant and a giraffe. When the boat arrived from Egypt with the now deceased animals the princess was not impressed.  So for that reason and the fact that they were from different countries, spoke different languages and followed different religions, she refused to marry him.  A variation of this story ends a little nicer for the animals – Apparently the princess refused the gifts and the animals lived out their lives in the gardens of the Royal Palace (the Alcázar) and when the crocodile died it was stuffed and put on display.  The crocodile was eventually replaced by a wooden replica and the croc hanging in the church today is a second replica of the first replica (the first was destroyed in an earthquake!)

Sevillians love this story and don’t want it to be lost over time.  It’s odd though that they’ve chosen the cathedral to hang them in, but there they are.

 

 

 

Adeus Portugal… Hola Espana

See ya round Lisbon… today we’re headed to Seville in Spain.  Soooo much new (and some the same) history to learn… soooo much tapas to taste… soooo much sangria to sample…. soooo much flamenco to watch.

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We are staying right smack bang in the middle of the old Jewish Quarter in one of the most fascinating, beautiful and bizarre hotels we’ve ever stayed in before….

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It is a hotel that has been converted from about 27 old Jewish houses and has a tunnel running along the -1 basement level to get guests between the houses…

Here is a video of us getting from the reception to our room….

 

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And… randomly, it has a roof top bar and swimming pool…

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Where the barman makes killer mojitos!

Check out this coat of arms that was on a pot on the roof…. do you think somebody has had a crack at drawing their own version?

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As we are smack bang in the middle of the oldest area in Seville, it also means that we are very close to the tourist area.  We went straight out into the tiny streets in search of our first Sevillian tapas…  It’s very easy to get lost in these narrow windy streets, but generally it doesn’t matter which way you go as most streets lead to the Cathedral…

We knew where the Cathedral was and we were headed that way, but first – Tapas!  I would have taken a photo of what we had, but all the plates were scoffed before I could get the phone out!  We tried spinach with prawns, beef cheeks in blue cheese and Iberian jamon all washed down with dos cold cervezas.  We also tried out our best Spanish on these poor unsuspecting waiters and I think we did un muy buen trabajo.

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Then a wander around the Spain’s biggest cathedral and the 3rd biggest cathedral in the world…. although it is the biggest gothic church in the world – so many claims to fame! (we’ll go inside tomorrow)

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Then a meander down some more streets, passing the remaining section of the old wall that surrounded the city…

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We weren’t even part of this tour group… we just jumped on the back of the line as there is no overtaking in these narrow passageways.  Heaven forbid you’re in a hurry!

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So what did we learn about Portugal?

After the chicken, we carefully made our way back over the slippery tiled cobbled streets back to our hotel for a chicken filled ‘guts up’.  This is our hotel on a slightly inclined street…

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It was lovely to sit inside our room and watch the rain come down as we dined on our hotel room made pingos and pastries.

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Then it was see ya round Lisbon and later alligator Portugal.

So what have we learned about Portugal?

  • A number of civilisations lived on or tried to overtake the Iberian Peninsula over the years, like the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Vikings, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, the French had a crack, the Spanish – you remember the inquisition?
  • 1147 – King Alfonso I and the crusaders took Lisbon from the Moors and as long as the Moors promised the they would convert to Catholicism they would be allowed to live, but they’d need to build another city of their own – which they did – just on the other side of the city wall.  It wasn’t all as friendly as that though if you so a bit of research into it.
  • 1200s – the Church of St Dominigo was built in Lisbon
  • 1308 and again in 1537 – The university was transferred to Coimbra
  • 1500s – a Portuguese explorer accidentally came across Japan and did a bit of trade – they claim that they shared their recipe for ‘tempura’ with the Japanese…. funny you don’t find much tempura on Portuguese menus.
  • 1750 King José becomes King and he appoints the Marquis of Pombal as his chief minister and luckily because in…..
  • 1755 – Lisbon had an earthquake followed by 3 huge waves – a tsunami if you will then a fire that destroyed 90% of the city and killed 40,000 people and the Marquis of Pombal was instrumental in rebuilding the city
  • 1834 – Organised religions were abolished
  • 1910 – Portuguese Republic was formed and the last king flees into exile in the UK
  • 1933 – 1974 – Portugal was ruled by a dictator – Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (as in HP’s Salazar Slytherin!)
  • There is a bridge called ‘April 25th’ in Lisbon named for freedom after that date in 1974 – when the dictatorship ended

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obrigada e adeus!

xxx

 

The little red tram that could

Today is our last day in Lisbon and indeed Portugal, and we were determined to get on that damn tram!  Having learned our lesson with the No. 28, we decided to head down to the big archway and try our luck with the red historic tram.

We just have to get through these crowds of people first….

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The line was relatively short – only 18 people in front of us and this tram only takes 20 people at a time – no standing.  There was a little mix up and confusion, therefore a long wait, but it did give me a good chance to help our some tourists with their travel needs.  I was able to tell a group from somewhere, I’m guessing Eastern Europe based on their accent, which buses went where – basically I just pointed to the map on the side of the bus stop and drew my finger along the line… but it seems to help.  I was also able to let them know that yes, they would be able to get off at the castle, but no, I didn’t know how long the trip took.

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Finally on and in our seats at the back – tram bogans and we were off…

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At the top of one big hill the driver let us off for 5 minutes to have a look at another cathedral.  He was being kind, but he also wanted to get out and have a smoke mid way through the ride.  So I jumped off and took a couple of snaps, but there were so many people coming in and out of the church that I gave that a miss.

… and I didn’t want to leave Me Jenny for too long on the tram on her own.  Goodness knows what could have happened.

We flew around the corner and the lady on the headphones told us about a thin blue house to our left…. people live here…  My guess is they have to crab walk from one end of the house to the other.

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Finally at the end and we can tick the tram box off our list of must dos.

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We had a little look around the massive square – Praca do Comercio that was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake and subsequent tsunami and fire.  One guide told us that that is the square where all the ‘commercing’ happened.  They erected a statue of King José I who was king at the time of the 1755 earthquake (or hearthquake as they say in Portugal) and subsequent tsunami and fire.  He looks very regal and strong on his horse….

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… but there’s something about the look on this horse’s face that tells me that he actually had a bit to do with things at the time and was never given recognition.

The top photo is not mine – but from Wikipedia and obviously taken on a lovely day…

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Since we’ve been in Portugal and in fact before we even came, Me Jenny and I were very much looking forward to trying the Portuguese chicken.  With all the Nandos love you’d think that chicken was a diet staple here… but that’s not the case.  Yes, they’ve heard of Nandos, but that’s about it.  So as today was our last day, we went in search of chicken – with or without peri peri sauce and where do you go when you’ve got no wifi?

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A place was found, a small walk was taken and in no time at all we were sitting down to a lovely Portuguese rotisserie chook and a glass of their finest cerveja.

As we dined, the skies opened up and the rain that had been threatening to fall for the last week finally fell.  So brollies out and we headed home with a bag of pastel de natas for later…

 

Top Tour Guide

This morning we were tour guideless until this afternoon, so we had the day to wander at our own pace just looking at stuff.

This is the Santa Justa Lift – built by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, an admirer of Gustave Eiffel’s work, hence the similarities in style.  It was built back in 1902 as a way for people to get from the top part of the city to the lower part and on the first day people were so excited at the novelty of it all 3,000 tickets were sold.

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Today’s loose plan was to jump on the historic yellow tram – the No. 28 and do a bit of a circuit up the big hills… Me Jenny loves a tram, she does.

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Then when we found the stop where you get on – there was a line with – I kid you not! – 300 people waiting to get on a tram that holds 20 people sitting and possibly 10 people rammed in the middle – standing.  Before we’d seen the line we asked the tram driver where we caught the tram and he said: “See that line of people?” and when he saw the looks on our faces added, “Yes, it is very boring!”  So we did an about turn and made our way to the hop on hop off bus.

There must be something about my face that says “I will answer your question in any language – come on ask me.”  The yellow Bus Company should have given me a small commission for fielding questions about tickets and directions and what colour line goes where… I don’t mind giving a bit of assistance where I can, however I may have inadvertently sent a French couple to the wrong square – it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

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We chose the purple “modern” route because that was the first bus that came along, and it is really only now that I’m realising why we drove past a lot of boring residential high rises – ’cause that’s the modern area.

We did have to pass through a bit of old stuff first though before getting the new stuff…

Lisbon is known for it’s street art and while some of it is dirty tagging, which is NOT art people, there is a lot of fantastic pieces on the sides of buildings.  I mean – look at this…

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Then we roared into the modern era…

The closer we got back to the centre of town, the older things got, you know once the statues start appearing, you’re close.

This bloke here – Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, 1st Marquis of Pombal – or just The Marquis of Pombal to his mates is responsible for rebuilding Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755 – Have I mentioned the earthquake 1755?  It was followed by a huge tsunami and then fires which wiped out 90% of the city and 3/4 of the citizens died.  I ask if I’ve mentioned it before (I know I have) because we’ve been told about it approximately 23 times – sometimes completely unsolicited.  It’s a great story though, so there’s that.

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We got off the bus one stop before the end and we had a little bit of time before our 4.30pm walking food and wine tour started, and as luck would have it we came across this fabulous bakery/patisserie – Fabrica de Nata where they were making the Pastel de natas and it would have been rude to just walk on by.  We only had a pingo (little coffee) though as we didn’t want to spoil our appetites for the walking tour.

Then we settled in for some serious people watching… Yes, for those following on at home – Me Jenny has purchased a new scarf.

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When it was time to meet our small group walking tour we had to mosey on over to the next square and wait by the fountain – so we did.

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Just to prove that I’m actually on this trip as well….

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Then we met Madelena – what a hoot!  Our group consisted of an American couple from New Orleans, a Canadian couple living in New York, A Californian couple who are living in Valencia and their two friends from the states who were visiting and 4 lady friends from Sweden who travel together every year.  A lovely friendly bunch of people who chatted and got on well together.  We were invited in the first 10 minutes to visit with the couple in Valencia – so now we have two new best friends.

Our first stop was to A Tendinha – a small bar that sells the codfish balls and we tried these with a glass of green wine – this is the wine that’s made with grapes that are picked a bit before they are ripe so the taste is light and fruity with a bit of spritz.

This place was Lisbon’s first ever ‘drive thru’ as you can see from the tiled picture – Men would ride their horses to the door and call out his order and the staff would make it and bring it out to him.

I already knew I like the cod cake and the green wine was quite nice – although it probably wouldn’t be a ‘go to’.

Let me just talk to you here for a minute about the Portuguese obsession with cod.  Back in the day when the exploring on ships was starting out, they were trying to work out what food they could take with them that wouldn’t spoil, so they asked the Vikings who were pretty experienced at this type of thing already and they told them – salted cod fish…. but cod fish don’t live in the waters around Portugal, so they went to Canadian waters and caught them there.  Canada has a shortage of cod now by the way and you can blame the Portuguese.  There are other fish in the Atlantic that they can catch, and do, but they love the cod – it’s their national food which they can’t source locally.  Crazy!

Our next stop on the tour was Solar da Madelena.  We’re sure she chose it because of the name, but also they served delicious pork rolls and beer.  The condiments suggested for this dish are mustard, or a couple of drops of peri peri sauce that will burn your lips and ruin your taste buds for the rest of the tour.  I tried both.

Madelena was not just guiding us from place to place, she was also partaking in the food and alcohol…. Because this place was so small, once we’d finished eating, she suggested we all move out onto the busy street to finish our drinks.  We were standing there for about 5 minutes before she asked – who is still finishing their drinks? And she was the only one.

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We pushed on to taste cheese and quince with port wine at Manteigaria Silva (the name Silva or de Silva in Portuguese is like Smith or Brown in English). They had all their cured meats hanging and their cod salted – ready to go.

Now this wasn’t anything to do with food or wine, but it was on the way so we stopped in.  The Church of Saint Domingos was originally building 1241.  It was damaged by an earthquake in 1531 and then completely destroyed in the 1755 quake (the one we ALL know about) Then, as if that wasn’t enough, it was damaged in a huge fire in 1959 and the local government weren’t going to rebuild it because of lack of funds, but the local people got together and demanded that something be done and so they cleaned what they could of the fire damage replaced the roof with something quite plain and it’s been that way ever since.  Now the locals like it because it’s different from every other church.

Now, back to the eating and drinking….

Next stop – Ginjinha – the cherry liqueur which you’ll remember Me Jenny and tried in the town of Obidos, where they served it in cups made of chocolate – well, we got a bit gipped here, and it was served in little plastic cups.

Madelena lined up for us and purchased a bottle which cherries in the bottom. You can really tell that she loves her job.  She does this every day!

As university has just begun this week, there has been a week full of shenanigans and antics for the new students being initiated into their facilities/houses/fraternities, etc…  Apparently the ones in the cloaks are the established students (you’re not allowed to wear a cape until second year, when you’ve earned the right) and the ones with the dunce hats are the newbies.  Here you can see them taking a shot and then tipping the remnant of the cup onto the heads…. this is the future world leaders at their finest.

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Then lastly we went into an old palace that is now a restaurant (those funnel towers sit above the old kitchen) where we sampled a few little dishes – tempura beans (the Portuguese claim to have invented tempura and shared their secret with the Japanese in the 12th century or something like that), chorizo, butter beans & tuna and red wine (Vinho Tinto) from the Douro Valley.

A lovely tour indeed – highly recommended… a few of the group wanted to kick on, but Me Jenny and I headed back to our lovey abode to digest with a little glass of port on our balcony and watch as the night fell on beautiful Lisboa.

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Fado

The search didn’t take too long as Lisbon is all about the Fado.

Fado is a music genre that can be traced to the 1820s in Lisbon. It is commonly regarded as a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. This is loosely captured by the word “longing”, symbolising a feeling of loss – a permanent, irreparable loss and its consequent lifelong damage – talk about depressing!

We found Mascote da Alalaia just up the road which is a tiny little establishment where you can have dinner and drinks whilst enjoying the Fado music.  They have the same two guitar players – one playing the Portuguese guitar with 8 strings and then a professional singer from a rotation comes in each night.

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This is the size of the  restaurant (for scale – this photo is showing half the room)

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This chap played the hell out of the Portuguese guitar – it was like his fingers were made of rubber they were moving so fast.

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And this was our singer for the evening… he had a great voice, even if we couldn’t understand a word he was saying.   He was soulful and full of emotion and probably told the story really well. Who knows?

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However, he only sang 3 songs at a time, and then they all got up, got themselves a beer from the bar and went outside for a smoke….. for 30-40 minutes, then they’d come back in a play 3 more songs, then back out again.  Maybe Fado singing really takes it out of you?  These chaps got bored waiting and played their own music – can’t blame them, Me Jenny and I scrolled through dog pictures on Instagram while we waited.

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The Verdict – I’m not sure that Fado music would be my ‘go to’ genre, but it was lovely in 3 songs lots.

Sintra with a local

We arrived at the front of our hotel this morning to find our lovely friend Fernando waiting for us – what luck!  So we would go to see Sintra with a local.

The drive took about 20 minutes and this part of the world couldn’t be any different from Lisbon or Porto if it tried.  It’s quiet, peaceful and surprisingly, there were not hoards of tourists.

This is one of the many palaces in Sintra.

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And this is the view from those palace steps… what a sweet little town.

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Here is the Main Street in Sintra… bless its heart.

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One of the things Sintra is famous for is a sweet delicacy called the “Travesseiros de Sintra” (the pillows of Sintra) and the Queijadas de Sintra (cheesecakes of Sintra).  Let’s start with the pillows – these were a lovely light pastry with a layer of apple and sprinkled with sugar, of course.  It was lovely and sweet and yes, we tasted one in the shop and bought another one for later.  The cheesey one – We weren’t a fan of.  It didn’t taste of cheese or the cheesecake that we are used to – it was more marzipan texture and that’s nobody’s favourite.

… but they’ve been making them since 1862, so what do I know?

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So we’re strolling through the Main Street and at the top of the hill we see this pub… Apparently old George loved himself a bit of Sintra.  So much so that there are not one, but two bar/restaurants named after him…

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and there are paintings BY him on the walls…  Did you know Lord Byron painted?  On tiles?

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This is the sort of place you could live here in Sintra…. Me Jenny thought she could add something like this tower to her place.  I think it would fit right in.

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There are many castles and stately homes in Sintra and as Fernando told us, you can’t visit them all in one day, so he chose the one that was sure to have the least tourists…. and it was beautiful!  We started walking down the path through the gardens…

The garden was so pretty that we didn’t realise that the further downhill we walked, that meant that we had to go back uphill (don’t think about it until you have to do it!)

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We finally reached the palace and we weren’t disappointed.  It was absolutely amazing!

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carved walls and archways, and ornate ceilings – just crazy to think how much time it would have taken to build this place.

Me Jenny just taking it all in – probably wondering how she could get some carved marble into her place in Mandurah.

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Then it as back out to the garden to begin our uphill adventure…

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Stopping to look at the lovely flowers helped a bit.

We made it to the top and all was well.  Next stop – the western most point in Europe.  This is it.

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This is a popular tourist spot as everybody wants to say they’ve been to the western most point.

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Like us – we wanted to say it as well.

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I don’t know whether it is because we’re Australian and we’re used to being told where we shouldn’t go just in case we’ve got no brains – but here, there are hardly any signs – and even when there are (see below) people take no notice of them.  This photo doesn’t show it, but there was about 40 people beyond the danger sign trying to get a picture of themselves in front of some cliffs….. worth dying for?

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Fernando really wanted to show us a ‘hidden’ gem that not too many tourists know about – the Azenhas do Mar – a cliff town  with a private beach and it’s own sea pool.  There is also a spot where people risk their lives for a photo.  I asked if anyone had called from that point and Fernando said, “It happens.”

As this was only a half day tour Fernando dropped us back in a different part of Lisbon – on purpose, he wasn’t trying to make things difficult for us…  He had booked us into a beautiful seafood restaurant for lunch called Nunes in an area called Belem.  We weren’t super hungry, but ordered some prawns and clams in garlic and let me just tell you – they were tasty!

We were sitting right next to the fish tank that housed these beauties – these blue lobsters are local to Portugal.  They also have a resident seabass in the tank called Tobias.  He’s been there for 9 years – poor bugger.  He’s probably just waiting for his turn to be eaten – or his memory is the of a goldfish and every day is a new adventure.

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This area is home to this massive church/monastery – St Jerónimos as well as other huge monuments celebrating the discovery era and freedom amongst other things.  It is also home of the original pastel de nata – the line was ridiculous.

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Another massive day, so we went back to the hotel to start researching Fado – we weren’t leaving Portugal without hearing some.

L is for Lisbon

Lisbon.  Capital of the biggest city in Portugal and one of the oldest cities in Europe (and therefore the world) and the home of the original pastel de nata – apparently only 3-5 (reports differ) chefs know the original recipe!

This is the view from our room!!!

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We are just walking distance to this beautiful train station…

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And a hop, skip and a jump from the Church of Santa Maria which was destroyed in 1755 – the year Lisbon had an earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroying 90% of the city.  Rebuilding starting almost immediately and work continued on this church until 1834 when all religious orders were disbanded leaving the nave uncovered and the chapels incomplete.

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We waiting for a table at a lovely outdoor bar where a chap was playing some beautiful guitar music, but no tables became available, so down we sauntered, back to our hotel to enjoy a bevy on our roof top terrace.

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Why not, hey?

Surfin’ Safari

Our fabulous hotel in Coimbra was Quinta das Lagrimas. We arrived at the gate cause they don’t let any old riff riff in this joint (except maybe these two ladies who jumped into my photo)

And we were greeted at the door by Paulo who swiftly took out bags up the stairs.

The room was lovely with two of these little attic window…

And a pretty view, but also….. complimentary pastel de natas and port! Obrigada very much!

But the best part about this hotel would have to be the carpet….. it’s hard to describe, because you can’t actually see it (hehehe)

We dressed again in matching shoes – this time different colours and we were ready for the day…

We met our lovely guide, Fernando (I know, I only just stopped myself from asking…) and we were on our way back down the driveway.

It’s a shame that we didn’t get to spend more time here. In hindsight we could have had a day just wandering around the hotel’s botanic garden.

But we couldn’t hang around as we had more lovely towns to visit…. the first on our itinerary today was Obidos…

… famous for the the ‘ginjinha’ – a thimble of cherry liqueur served in a chocolate cup that you then eat! Perfect. You could have dark or white chocolate and at €1 each – you could have as many as you liked.

The main street is lined with little tourist shops and the village is swamped with tourists for 6 months of the year – the other 6 months there are only locals there… not sure what happens to the shops or their livelihood?

But in the 6 month tourist season – they make the most of it… filling most lane ways with cafes, people playing music and I’m not sure who or what this chap is doing – looks like a character from the Black Plague era, but why you’d want to take you photo with him – I’m not sure. I did ask Me Jenny if she’d like to have a go and she declined… and rightly so.

Next stop was the beach town of Nazare – famous for its huge waves – in fact in 2017 Brazilian surfer, Rodrigo Koxa caught one that was 80 foot tall. This image is probably familiar.

So, this is the beach where it all happened. It doesn’t look to swelly at the moment, but that’s because the big waves only turn up in the winter months…. although this looks like it could be smack bang in the middle of winter today – it was just a bit overcast.

There is a lookout that separates this big wave beach with the town beach on the other side and it also houses a how and why on the waves as well as a cave of surfboards used by surfers on this beach.

Here’s the other side of the lookout and the town beach – check out the rock formation on the left!

The one on the right is pretty scientific….. apparently there’s a bit canyon just off the coast that causes the massive waves… and then this big mythical wind god comes along in the winter months and blows.

Here you go surf nerds – see if you can name who surfed with which board. The one on the right has a violin attached – apparently the owner of this board wanted to combine his two passions.

There was a professional chap taking pics with this backdrop for you to then purchase, but Me Jenny gave me a firm ‘no’ before I’d even suggested it.

One last look down the Nazare town beach and then it was time for lunch.

Fernando booked us a table at his favourite restaurant in Nazare. He was very open about the fact that his friend owned it and that he could vouch for its excellence.

Rosa Dos Ventos – R. Gil Vicente 88, 2450-106 Nazaré – if you’re ever in town, do yourselves a big seafood favour!

We weren’t sure what we would order and then the very friendly staff, including Ramone, the owner, who was born in the town brought over a tray of whole fish for us to choose from… (How do the eyes look MLD?)

We chose the big eyed red snapper (not sure if that is the technical term) and it was going to be butterflied, grilled and served with potatoes.

He brought it over and then proceeded to dig out these muscles, explaining that because the fish is from the deep water, they build up extra muscles around gills – anyway, they were delicious, as was the rest of the fish…. I can also say that we ate none of the 11 potatoes it was served with.

To finish off we were given a complimentary liqueur in these tiny cups. Me Jenny didn’t like hers, so I had to drink 2! It was only polite.

Down to the beach to walk off lunch. Not sure what this chair/brolly combo was all about.

And…. that was the end of our tour with Fernando. We have another tour tomorrow out to the seaside town of Sintra, where Fernando happens to live, so he maybe our guide tomorrow – we hope so, he’s lovely.

School days, school days

Well if we thought yesterday was a ghost town – check this out! You couldn’t even see across to the other side of the river!

We packed our bags, had our brekky and waited out the front of our hotel for our tour guide. As we were sitting watching the vans pull in, pick up their passengers and drive away, Jenny noticed our bags being loaded into a car. I got up and asked the hotel chap, Bruno who said, very confidently I might add, “This is your driver.” So our bags were loaded and we hopped into the backseat. I introduced us by name and asked his name in return. He seemed confused as to why I would need to know his name and stammered “Luis?”. He didn’t seem very friendly or that keen to chat and when Me Jenny started up with the small talk about the weather, we realised that he didn’t speak any English. Something definitely wasn’t right, so I asked Luis to stop the car and I pulled out our tour confirmation to show him our destination, etc….. he said, “No, I go to airport.” I replied, “Not with us Luis, back to the hotel por favor.” We had to drive around the block and as we arrived there stood a sheepish Bruno along with our worried looking guide. I jokingly asked Mr Sheepish, “What are you doing sending us to the airport?” He replied, “The driver didn’t have a name for his passengers, only that it was two women. I thought it was you.” – Here tip No. 1 – maybe don’t assume and No. 2 – Double check that Luis, the non English speaking driver is in fact your English speaking guide BEFORE you get into the car!

All ended well my friends, so no need to panic.

Our actual guide was named Goncalo and he was very knowledgable about the Aviero & Coimbra areas where he was taking us today. He grew up around Aviero and went to the university in Coimbra – so hands on experience.

We arrived in Aviero which is is famed for being “The Venice of Portugal”. Now, we’ve had one guide who said when we told him we were going to “the Venice of Portugal”, “Oh come on!” and another guide who responded with “Oh Jesus Christ, Venice?” So, we were a little skeptical before arriving and we were semi right to be. It was a very pretty town, I’ll give it that, but Venice? I’m with Guides 1 & 2 on this one. However, Guide 3 happened to be the one we were currently with, and he was proud as punch to show us his town….

The other thing that Aviero is famous for is it’s salt farming… I don’t know, do you ‘farm’ salt? Even so, there is a big salt industry here.

Goncalo dropped us off in the middle of the town while he found a park and we popped into this church while we waited. It was lovely and old and lovely….. until we got to this 2015 monstrosity in pic 2! Apparently the old organ, which was an amazing gothic number high up on the wall, broke and instead of having it fixed, they replaced it with this one. In a new church, I might have been ok with it, but I just didn’t feel right about this mismatch of old and new. Lucky it has nothing to do with me and I’ll probably never step foot into this church again…. and it probably sounds awesome.

Then we took a wonder down into the historical old town….

We found another church – I can’t see us getting sick of churches at all…. This one was quite lovely and very fire safe as well. Instead of lighting a candle to say a prayer, you popped a coin into the machine and a fake candle lights up – win/win.

Each place we’ve been so far have claimed to have invented a particular delicacy – usually made by nuns who lived in town’s convent….. funny thing is though, they are all exactly the same. They make an egg yolk cream with yolks, cream and sugar and they used the egg whites to starch their white habits. Then they use flour and water to make the a mixture (not unlike the wafer you receive at mass) and fill a wafer parcel with the egg yolk cream. They are very sweet and although I’m happy to taste them – they are not my favourite.

Goncale stopped us out the front of this place – I thought it was a chemist at first… where he treated us to a taste of an ovos moles…

The one on the left is what we tasted….. but the one on the right looks delicious – only because it looks like custard, but it’s the egg cream. False advertising if you ask me.

Next stop was over the bridge where the Portuguese gondolas, called barcos moliceiros ferried passengers around the canals.

We chose not to go on the boat, but instead we stuck out heads into the central fish market which wasn’t huge, but neither is the town…

Below is the church of Saint Goncalinho – it was built in devotion of the Saint of fishermen and each year there is a festival in the honour of the Saint and people would stand on the top of the church and throw down traditional sweet biscuits and thousands of people would stand in the church courtyard and catch them. It sounds quite civilised. However, our guide had a different take on the tradition…. He said that people do indeed come in their thousands and stand in the church courtyard, but then come armed with umbrellas that they hold upside down both as a collection device and also to protect themselves as people do throw the sweet biscuits down, but the biccies are very hard and they are thrown with such force that head injuries have occurred. People get quite competitive and he even said that he once witnessed a father push his own son out of the way, not to save the child from a visit to A & E, but to claim the biscuit for himself. Sounds like fun.