The Medieval Town of La Alberca, Espana

I recently blogged about my adventure when I participated in “Pueblo Ingles.” I reserved my comments in that blog to my observations about the English immersion program and the students. However, there is more to my story about the nearby medieval Spanish town of La Alberca. This blog entry is about my exploration of that tiny Spanish town and my adventure there.

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Buildings at Plaza Mayor, La Alberca

Located at an elevation of 1084 meters, the town with a population of around 1100 is rather isolated in La Sierra de Francia mountains close to the northern border with Portugal. The principle product in this region is delicious Iberian Jamon (ham) which is produced in the area from black Iberian pigs that grow fat eating acorns. This diet gives the ham a very special, enjoyable flavor that is savored by Spaniards as well as those from around the world who are fortunate to experience it. Hams are seen in several shops in La Alberca hanging from the ceilings.

During my explorations of Spain I have visited several Spanish communities and blogged about Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Canary Islands, and Mijas Pueblo. As I walked the narrow cobblestone streets of La Alberca I was taken aback by the distinctive architecture of this community in comparison to the others I mentioned. While Cordoba and Granada are colorful and reflective of an integration of Moorish design and Mijas is a spectacular white, traditional Spanish pueblo, La Alberca, founded in the 1300’s, is dark and has a somewhat French feel. It is one of the best preserved Spanish towns of the period.

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Hams hanging from ceiling

The half timbered buildings surrounding the Plaza Mayor and nearby narrow streets and alleyways are different as their materials come from  the quarries and forests of the mountains. The town goes to great lengths to retain its medieval charm.

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Knight Templar Symbol

The Knights Templar had a presence in La Alberca. Today there are myths and legends about the “monk soldiers” who participated in the crusades and provided safe passage for pilgrims to the holy land. On the Iberian peninsula they also created a strong trading infrastructure, a banking system, and fought for the Spanish kings in the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims.

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A tavern in La Alberca

The town of La Alberca has a tourist interest as it is preserved in its architecture, food, and customs. For those exploring Spain it is a welcome transition into the Middle Ages from the modern communities of Spain and Portugal.

The next stop in my exploration adventure is Romania where I will be searching for Dracula. Stay tuned!

Although I write my blog for myself, I also recognize that a growing number of people from all over the world are now following it. If you would like to receive my blogs in your email as I post them, please enter your address where indicated on the right side of this page. If you have a reply about my blog, please use the link at the top of this story to let me know.

“English Only” – My Pueblo Ingles Adventure

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A typical trail near La Alberca

Last November I read a story in an airline magazine about an English language immersion program held at a resort in Spain. The program, “Pueblo Ingles,” takes place near La Alberca and is offered by Diverbo. The story stated that knowing Spanish wasn’t required for native English-speaking volunteers and that students from Spain were highly motivated to learn. Since I am presently living in Spain, I applied and was pleasantly surprised when I was offered the opportunity to participate in Pueblo Ingles number 1044. Recently, I met my colleagues and attended my first Pueblo Ingles! This post is about my adventure there.

Twenty-two adult students arrived for Pueblo Ingles from all over Spain. Motivated by a desire to learn, they were driven with an intense passion to improve their listening, comprehension, and expression in English. The improvement results that I observed were nothing less than amazing.

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Colin, in his 91st Pueblo Ingles, engages “Quique” in a One to One discussion about “tie up loose ends”

The eight-day Pueblo Ingles required perseverance by the students. It was similar to a “boot camp” facilitated by Diverbo’s superb, energetic on-site staff of two… Sabela and Jez. Every waking hour (often 15 or more) was orchestrated by the Diverbo team. Time was allotted to one to one sessions (between a student and an “Anglo” volunteer), specific subject group discussions, individual presentations, practicing teleconferences, mealtime conversation, theater skits, and evening social activities.

The Pueblo Ingles rule is that everyone is to speak only English during their entire stay. It was almost surreal that the moment that we stepped onto the bus in Madrid for the four hour trip to La Alberca, and until we returned at the end of the program, everyone’s utterances were only in English. Pueblo Ingles quickly became a multicultural experience for both students and volunteers. Not only did the students expanded their English skills at Pueblo Ingles but everyone also learned more about themselves and each other.

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Resort Mountain Villas were shared by a student and an Anglo

The twenty-three English-speaking volunteers came from all over the world. Joining me were native English speakers from several USA states, England, Ireland, Canada, Wales, and Malaysia.

“Anglo” volunteers paid for personal round-trip travel expenses to Madrid from / to “home.” In addition to their travel expenses, students (and sometimes their employers) also paid the Pueblo Ingles program fee.

The resort area is very attractive with snow-capped mountains and forests nearby. Walking trails with moss-lined stone walls retain their charm from centuries past. It was easy to envision medieval days with peasants tending to their animals and crops.

Superior Spanish-themed meals were provided at traditional eating times in Spain: 9:00 am, 2:00 pm and 9:00 pm. Pueblo Ingles lodging was in the resort’s rustic villas and almost all activities were held in the lodge and dining facility near them.

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“Suckling pig” and baked potatoes were lunch in La Alberca

From the very beginning students and Anglos met as complete strangers and magic began. Both people listened to each other and communicated in English. The Anglos had the responsibility to ensure that he or she was understood and that the student’s words were correct in both context and pronunciation. It only took minutes and everyone moved beyond talking about their families, jobs and why they were at Pueblo Ingles. People soon were talking about everything… important and irrelevant, global and unique, dreams and fears, etc… Learning began to take place in the interactions between people who a few moments prior to meeting were complete strangers; and learning transcended English into learning about the value we have for each other. This value became visibly apparent with sad “good byes” at the close of our Pueblo Ingles experience.

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Phil and Fabiola in a One to One session

One to one, 50 minute interactions were at the heart of Pueblo Ingles and every Anglo volunteer was able to interact with each student so the students heard the diversity of the ways English is spoken. The one to one discussions began from a specific phrase or words.  The Anglo explained the meaning of phrases such as “wear out,” “wear down,” or “burn the candle at both ends” which have meaning other than the specific words when translated. Soon students began to “think in English” and comprehend rather than translate words and phrases literally. Phrases like “hold your horses” and “paint the town,” which otherwise would have a confusing translation, became meaningful. It was visible when the phrases were understood by the students.

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As the prince and two ugly sisters, actors David, Andres, and Tony reenact an abused scene from Cinderella (photo by Dee Wolk)

Phrases such as “break a leg” took on meaning for skits and theater performances by the students and Anglos. Enjoyed by everyone, they provided an entertaining way along with group problem solving activities to learn while acting, playing, and thinking in English. Student presentations will always be remembered each time someone hears something about “Drone Deliveries,” “MOOS” and many more. Each student prepared a presentation for an audience and honed it during several of their one to one sessions. Several Anglos also made presentations including topics such as: “London,” “Mindfulness” and BINGO.

Many students desired to learn how to better equip themselves to participate in teleconferences. I will never forget Azucena, one of the students, in the one in which I participated as a venture capitalist. I was stunned when she proposed (in crystal clear English) to obtain funding to “expand” her fictitious business for “hermetically sealed containers for use in submarines!”

At the end of each day everyone was exhausted from the learning experiences. The participation in the one to ones, discussions, presentations, skits, and conferences was more intense than I thought it would be, especially for the students. I don’t know where the students’ energy came from but the passionate desire to learn and develop was there everyday.

Following the 9:00 pm meal there were always social experiences. We participated in a Spanish tradition from the Galician region and drank the fire burnt “queimada” with the blue flame. Each group of people (the Spaniard students are pictured) sang a song (or two) chosen to represent their country of origin. Other than the Spaniards, we Americans were surprisingly the next largest group. We did a very good job singing a mashup of “American Pie” and “Yankee Doodle.”

One morning we walked together to the medieval town La Alberca to view the architecture, and enjoy Iberian ham (that is made only from black Iberian pigs), cheese, and wine at the Bodega. Symbols of the Knights Templar and the Spanish Inquisition appear on two buildings. This Spanish community is very different from others I have visited in Spain in its architecture as seen in the photos from that visit.

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Wine, Cheese and Iberian Ham in the Bodega at La Alberca

In my blog entries, I often describe the beauty of the communities I have visited. However, for this post the real beauty is in the student perseverance and their accomplishments. My limited writing about the town of La Alberca is intentional to focus attention to what had been accomplished by the student participants.

Overall, Pueblo Ingles is a very challenging program for everyone but especially for the students who persevere without “free time” to do anything other than focus on their English listening, comprehension, and expression objectives. I certainly admire the students for their dedication, patience, and hard work toward achieving their English language goals.

Everyone will long remember our Pueblo Ingles, the work done there together, the joy and happiness, the sentiments, and the friendship bonds which the participants developed with each other.

Although I write my blog for myself, I also recognize that a growing number of people from all over the world are now following it. If you would like to receive my blogs in your email as I post them, please enter your address where indicated on the right side of this page. If you have a reply about my blog, please use the link at the top of this story to let me know.

My Mijas Adventures and Experiences

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One of only a few remaining old houses in Mijas Pueblo

Goodness how quickly the winter months have gone by! It seems like a few hours ago that I returned to my “Costa del Sol” mountainside perch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. In a few weeks I will be gone from the charming Mijas Pueblo. Over the two winters here I have become very aware that Mijas is a place that is tantalizing for the senses and that’s what this blog is about. I hope in reading this you will sense what I have and that Mijas Pueblo and the Costa del Sol will become new stops on your bucket list.

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Burro Taxi in the streets of Mijas Pueblo

Recently I had lunch in the USA with a colleague. He pointed out that I have shared images and words about many of my Spain journeys to Granada, Ronda, Cordoba, and the Canary Islands but had documented my Mijas experience only in a limited way. So with this blog I share the sensations of the village I call “home” from having “wintered” here for the past two years.

Mijas Pueblo is located on Spain’s southern Mediterranean Sea coast and the nearest city is Malaga, Picasso’s birthplace. Gibraltar is located about 70 kilometers further down the coast. The village buildings are almost always white and the town is situated 450 meters above sea level on the side of a 1600 meter mountain.

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Remnants of the 14th century fortification in Mijas Pueblo

Remnants of ancient civilizations dating hundreds of years BC are evident along with artifacts from times when the area was dominated in succession by Romans, Visigoths and Moors. The village name is derived from the Roman name “Tamisa” which was shortened to “Mixa” and ultimately “Mijas.” Today, tourism is the principle economic resource of the community with thousands of people arriving everyday from every part of the world. In the oldest part of the pueblo stood a fortress and parish church that also served as a watchtower. Today, the church is still used but the original settlement area is now a park, the Parque La Muralla.

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Fuengirola and the Mediterranean Sea from Parque La Mueralla in Mijas

Parque La Muralla is flooded with crisp mountain air and overlooks that provide spectacular panoramic views of Fuengirola and the Mediterranean coastline. On clear days the Rock of Gibraltar and the mountains in Morocco can be seen. Beautiful semi-tropical vegetation flourishes in the park and provides pleasant fragrances among the walkway paths and flowing water. Climbers often scale the rocks to the top where the park is located. I love this park as an excellent place to find stillness sitting on a rough rock seat and listen to the birds and running water. Even the tourists are mesmerized into silence by the stunning beauty and views found here.

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Mijas Pueblo street vendor roasting almonds

There are numerous visitor attractions in addition to the vistas, old white buildings, and roughness under one’s feet on cobblestone streets. “Burro taxis” have been in existence ever since tourists began to arrive in the village. At one time the “taxis” were a means to get around but today they are an attraction. Many people hold their noses around the burros but I find the donkey smell brings authenticity to this old community.

There are many other smells wafting through Mijas like fresh baked goods, street vendors roasting their almonds in a sweet sugar mixture, and delicious foods cooking at Gambas where the “menu” lunch on the hidden second floor terrace is only €7.25 including soup, bread, entree and wine!

The wind often howls through this community, stiffening the flags, and swaying their poles. Walking with the wind at your back is so forceful it makes you feel like a human sail! And when it rains on the mountain, water gushes through the ravines toward the sea. I have been thoroughly soaked in the drenching downpours. As storms and wind approach, the villagers lock themselves inside and the town vendors scramble to bring their pottery and leather wares to indoor safety.

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Breakfast at Bella Vista

Mijas is thought to be home to around 7500. This seems like a high number as it includes many from the UK who either live in Mijas or own holiday property here. As I leave the town for my next exploration, I will miss many people. Steve and Brenda run the shop called “Tickled Pink” and they have tolerated my consulting pontification. They are very friendly folks and when you come to Mijas be sure to stop in.

Bruno operates “Bella Vista” and everyday makes my usual €3.70 breakfast called the “Andaluz” which is “pitufa con tomate, zumo de naranja, y cafe con leche.” It is a delicious natural treat found in this town. Fares Jaber at Clinica Mijas is the town doctor and has watched out for my well-being. He is my age and a new grandfather. He always stops me on the street to shake hands and to ask how I am doing. Joanne and David from “Mijas Rentals and Sales” have found places for me to stay in the village and have been great helpers even when I have locked myself out.

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Burro

I will miss Mijas’ sounds… the rooster crowing daily at sunrise, the donkeys and their incessant screaming hee-haws,  the small brass band from which sounds crisply spring over the pueblo during Sunday bullfights, bells jingling on horses clomping along pulling carriages transporting visitors through the streets, bells tolling from the three barrio churches, the town hall quarter-hour chimes, the sensual Spanish acoustic guitar player at La Alcazaba lunch (with exceptional lasagna and tapas), the sultry screaming guitar with clapping castanets at flamenco dance exhibits, and the butane delivery people honking their truck horns as they drive through the narrow, one-way village streets yelling out “bu tan oh” from the driver’s window.

I have enjoyed visiting “Mayan Monkey” for superb ice cream and hot chocolate made from real Belgian chocolate and I like dropping in on one of several bakeries for afternoon snacks and a tea or cafe latte. It has been nice living in Mijas, walking through the streets and being acknowledged by the villagers with warm greetings in Spanish which I return in Spanish too.

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Dracula

I hope you enjoyed reading about my Mijas explorations and the impact on one’s senses. My next adventure on leaving Spain at the end of March will take me on a new exploration as I seek to learn more about Dracula and Vlad in Transylvania. I will travel to Budapest following my next trip from the USA and then journey by bus or train to Romania and the small city of Cluj-Napoca which will be my base through April. From there I will launch my next adventures and the new explorations with blogs to come about them.

My Cordoba

In the 1970’s actor Ricardo Montalban was not only famous for staring in the TV series “Fantasy Island” but also as Chrysler’s celebrity spokesperson for marketing the Cordoba automobile. Who can ever forget his rich voice saying “soft Corinthian leather” when describing the car’s interior? Cordoba was “my car” although I never owned one. I did have high expectations for my explorations of Cordoba, Spain, linked by name although it is uncertain if Chrysler intended it to be so. Huge by today’s standards, in the ’70’s the Cordoba automobile was actually a “junior size” Chrysler! My excursion, however, was not a junior size at all; it was huge as I experienced another aspect of the culturally rich country of Spain.

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Interior of the Grand Mosque

Through the ages Cordoba has been everything from a small Roman outpost to the seat of power during the periods of Muslim occupation. Evidence has been found of humans in the area between 42,000 and 35,000 BC! An interesting fact is that Cordoba is believed to have been the most populous city in the world in the 10th century! Today, Cordoba is a small modern metropolis of about 300,000 and is protective of its Roman, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian heritage. That heritage loudly screams throughout the city, particularly in the area surrounding its famous UNESCO World Heritage Site mezquita (mosque) landmark as well as the Roman Bridge dating from the first century!

The city has witnessed numerous changes through the centuries which were driven by religious-based conflicts involving Christians and Muslims. In 1236 King Ferdinand III secured the city during the Spanish Reconquista. Since then numerous mosques were converted to churches including the huge one where the sanctuary was created in the middle of the existing mosque. The Christian era also brought about a dark period of the Spanish Inquisition with Cordoba at the epicenter. During this period non-Christians were treated as second class citizens with Jews and Muslims often forced to renounce their faith, leave, or die.

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Peaceful Park in Cordoba

Walking through the narrow ancient streets one can celebrate the heritage where today Christians, Jews and Muslims live together in peace among the past Roman remnants of a beautiful city.

There are numerous parks throughout Cordoba like the one pictured that are quiet where you can pause, reflect and enjoy the simple sounds of water bubbling in the fountain. As in the pictured park, ancient pillars stand reminiscent of Roman times. Other parks are significantly larger and city planners appear to have gone to great lengths to incorporate them among the very wide avenues surrounding the ancient city walls.

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Roman Bridge

Most of my time during my exploration of Cordoba was inside the old city walls and remnants of them. Outdoor cafes are plentiful on the cobblestone streets among ancient buildings created mostly in the last 500 years. I was in awe walking across the preserved Roman Bridge and the cathedral where the bell tower stands among the orange trees and was constructed surrounding the original minaret.

I found the food and drink to be different from other places I have visited in Spain. There was often a blend of creations that reflected the cultures that I mentioned previously. I didn’t care for the local wine and found the famous cold, thick, tomato-based salmocejo soup to not be to my taste either. Regardless, there are plenty of different foods and drinks that more than provided very enjoyable sustenance!

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Cathedral Bell Tower

Just like the Cordoba automobile of my youth, the city of Cordoba in Spain holds a special charm… one which is much longer lasting.

Cordoba is a beautiful modern city surrounding an old city with an outstanding Roman, Christian, Jewish and Muslim heritage. It is easy to see why this ancient place is preserved as a World Heritage Site for us and future generations to enjoy.

My Exploration Holiday in Granada, Spain’s Albayzin

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The View of old Albayzin from the Alhambra

Situated below the massive, historic Alhambra in Granada rests the compact, densely populated, ancient district of Albayzin. Inhabited initially by Romans, some say that people have been in the area prior to the 7th century BC. I stayed in Albayzin, a World Heritage Site during my recent exploration of Granada and the Alhambra. My blog about the Alhambra is available by clicking here.

I knew I was in a place quite different in Albayzin when the taxi driver dropped me off at the top of a hill and pointed to narrow, cobblestone steps as the route to take to find the place I had booked. Going through the narrow walkways was like being on a scavenger hunt in a maze looking for the street and door number where the GPS and mobile phone didn’t function.

There is much debate about the origin of the name and spelling of “Albayzin.” It is, however, certain to have a Moor context. The guide at the Alhambra said that the inhabitants are often referred to as “the miserables”… not to be confused with other “miserables” of France. His explanation wasn’t exactly adequate that “people are just miserable there.” I never did find out why.

For this community there is a major influence and feeling reminiscent of the Moors. The buildings are hundreds of years old. The narrow cobblestone “streets” are almost always only wide enough for pedestrians. Going up and down the hills requires that one be sure footed, have a sturdy pair of shoes with excellent soles, and remain focused for ever present steps and the time-worn slippery stones.

At night, the walkways take on an eerie feeling even though they have been brightened by modern street lighting. One can imagine ages past when an unfriendly encounter might be waiting just around a dark building corner.

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There are Numerous Flamenco Shows as Shown in the Poster

The Albayzin is small and exists on a hillside leading downward to the Darro River that runs between it and the hill on which the Alhambra sits. It is one of the oldest centers of Muslim culture in Granada and you can sense the cultural influences not only in the architectures but also in the food found in many modern restaurants where a flamenco show often comes with dinner.

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Lunch at El Trillo

I ate at wonderful reasonably-priced restaurants in the Albayzin. At one particular meal the taste sensations created through expert use of herbs and spices were delightful as pictured… rice with chicken curry, shrimp, asparagus, greens, and slices of oranges. At another restaurant I ate scrambled eggs with potatoes topped with dried Iberian ham and at yet a third I delighted in eating a “fowl stew with raisins and nuts in a light dough.” I have never experienced foods like these.

The architecture in the Albayzin is distinctive where plain wooden doors in the district disappear and are replaced by works of art typical of many European cities as you leave it. The buildings outside the Albayzin take on a traditional Spanish feel and and statues commemorate famous events that have changed our world (click on the photo for a description).

In the Alhambra there are water features everywhere reflecting the Moor past. There are fountains below the Alhambra but they tend to be massive while those developed by the Moors are much smaller in scale and simpler in design.

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A Former Mosque Converted to be a Church

Just like in the Alhambra, each of Albayzin mosques that existed prior to the Christian monarchs’ “Reconquest of Spain” have been converted to Catholic churches like the one pictured. Note the bell tower was erected atop the mosque’s minaret.

On exiting the Albayzin area there are many tourist shops, coffee shops and places where young people hang out. These are mostly nonexistent in the Albayzin.

Overall, Granada with the spectacular Alhambra, Generalife, and Albayzin provide a rich Moorish past that is ever present even after 500 years following the Reconquest by Ferdinand and Isabella. In the city there is a complimentary blending of the Moor and Spanish cultures which makes Granada really special for me and very enjoyable for every visitor!

Alhambra – My Exploration in Granada, Espana

Towering over the city of Granada sits the spectacular Alhambra, a once great, self contained, red-walled city with palaces, mosques, and homes. With construction by the Moors beginning in the 9th century, the Alhambra (derived from Arabic meaning the “Red One”) overlooks the Albayzin, a World Heritage Site and the oldest part of Granada. The Alhambra has evolved through the centuries from its original Acazaba fortress (the right side of my photo) to be a seat of Iberian ruling power and authority for Muslim sultans and emirs and Spanish Christian kings and queens.

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The Alhambra at Dusk

Today the Alhambra is Granada’s jewel with an average of 10,000 visitors every day. This World Heritage Site has seen numerous notables come and go as well as physical changes over the centuries. In many cases, we can only imagine the Moor’s mosques, schools, houses, baths, gardens, and government buildings. Many structures have disappeared from neglect, war, vandalism, or, as in the case of the mosque, replaced by other buildings such as the Catholic church and another Palace built by Carlos V.

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Column Inscription at Generalife Palace

Following the conclusion of the “Reconquest of Spain” from the Moors in 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand set up a residence at the Alhambra. In the same year Columbus came to the Alhambra to seek financial support for his adventures which was eventually granted as we all know. Napoleon had soldiers quartered within the Alhambra city walls during the Spanish War of Independence. As the troops withdrew in 1812 they blew up several structures thus destroying an important part of the world’s heritage.

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Water Flows Naturally Through Man-made Fountains and Pools in Alhambra and Generalife

The rich Alhambra architecture combines Moorish and Renaissance Spanish with numerous water features and gardens that have been preserved and meticulously restored. The emirs even had their summer palace and rural getaway estate and gardens called “Generalife” which means “Architect’s Garden.” Generalife is adjacent to and outside the Alhambra city walls. It also is a World Heritage Site with its picturesque small park with trees, gardens and several man-made water features on the grounds of a simple-looking palace with many ornate interior wall decorations.

While walking through the grounds I could see how their construction met its objective for providing a calming place for the rulers to relax and unwind from their responsibilities. The park has several very old trees as well as newer plantings which was intended so the park would forever evolve. In the summer vegetables are grown in the Generalife.

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The Throne Room is at the Far End of this Reflective Pool Inside the Alhambra Palace

In addition to Generalife, the nature themes of plants, water features, and gardens are inside the Alhambra also. All of the water flows naturally through a system of small aqueducts that bring fresh water from the nearby mountains. Water features are everywhere and are important to the Muslims. The plants and trees inside the Alhambra are meticulously maintained. Water is always in the center of each building in courtyards except for those built by the Christians.

In 1492 when the Moors surrendered following a siege of the Alhambra, Ferdinand and Isabella moved into the Alhambra as a residence. Where the sultan once held court, the Spanish monarchs then did in the same room.

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The Palace Residence Entrance is Stunning

The entrance into the residential area of the palace is very ornate. The sultan’s palace rooms are jaw-dropping beautiful as are his “first wife’s” rooms. The sultan’s “first wife” is not numerically determined by marriage date but rather the first with whom he has a male heir. A courtyard with an interesting fountain is between the sultan’s suite and the first wife’s suite. The fountain was given to the sultan 700 years ago by a local Jew and represents the tribes of Israel. The tour guide said that in past ages the relationships between Jews and Muslims were much different than today.

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A “First Wife” Room and View

Views of nature are present from each room in the palace. There are numerous walkways through gardens and water features are everywhere. The existing grounds are quite special today and one can imagine what they were like when the Alhambra was a bustling city.

My exploration of the Alhambra was exceptional and there is so much more to see here. Things we learned in school are only a very small part of the exciting (and often sad) history of Spain and the influence that past has for us today. In my blog about the Albayzin district (click here) I describe my exploration of Granada outside of the Alhambra walls where history there also impacts our American way of life.

Here are a few additional photos that I hope you enjoy. The photos are the church built over the Muslim mosque, the ceiling in the sutan’s residence, a walkway through the Generalife retreat, the fountain given to the sultan representing the Tribes of Israel, and the entrance to the Alcazaba fortress.

Tenerife – My Canary Islands Exploration

Through the ages the volcanic Canary Islands grew from the Atlantic Ocean floor off the coast of Western Africa. I have long been fascinated by these islands so last week I gave myself a getaway exploration birthday present for the Thanksgiving holiday… after all, this birthday was the big one!

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Julio Nieto’s fish woman with a basket of fish on her head and in her pail at the harbor is a tribute to Santa Cruz’ fishing industry.

I had several decisions to make about going to Tenerife. The first decision was where to stay… north or south on the island. The island actually has two international airports serving mostly Spanish flights in the older north and mostly other Europeans in the newer south. I wanted more of the traditional flavor so I chose the north and the old town of Santa Cruz where fishing was at one time the predominate trade.

The belief is that Tenerife was initially inhabited by people from Africa about 2500 years ago but nobody is quite certain about where the natives came from. As European exploration accelerated after Columbus’ voyages to America, the Canary Islands became a “jumping off” point for voyages to the New World. In the process, Spain conquered the island’s inhabitants in the 15th century and despite attempts by others, has retained control ever since. No where more than in Santa Cruz can you feel traditional Spanish influence. There are no longer any purely indigenous people on the island.

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Black sand beaches of Candelaria on Tenerife

Except where changed by man, the island landscape has been shaped by volcanic activity. I toured the island which is almost the size of Rhode Island in the USA. The difference between the south and north is striking. The Playa de Las Americas in the south is about 50 years old with construction and things to do characteristic of Northern Europe along with its beach with yellow sand imported from Africa. You feel wealth in the south. In contrast, Santa Cruz has traditional black sand beaches with many lava rocks in the water. The  visitors in the north are notably older than those in the youthful Playa de Las Americas in the south.

In the center of the island is El Teide volcano and the national park. At 3718 meters (12,198 feet) it is the highest point in Spain. Weather conditions didn’t permit going there during my visit. However, an Ultra Marathon did take place which ran from the south of the island to Santa Cruz and went along the volcano rim! The volcano and national park will be a topic for some future adventure to the island.

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Thought to be about 1000 years old this Dragon Tree is the symbol of the Canary Islands

During my tour of the island I ate delicious Canary Island soup with potatoes, chick peas, ham, onions, carrots, and short spaghetti-like pasta. I also went to Icod de los Vinos where I saw the famous Dragon Tree in the Parque del Drago. The tree is thought to be about 1000 years old and is one of the most photographed trees in the world. Legends say that when dragons die they become dragon trees. This one is a symbol of the Canary Islands and has a 20 meter diameter at the base and is 17 meters tall. It is thought to weigh about 150 tons!

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The church at Plaza De La Iglesia in Santa Cruz

The Parque del Drago and the dragon tree is located next to the town church in Icod de los Vinos. The architecture in Santa Cruz and throughout the traditional portions of the island is colorful and beautiful. The church at the Plaza De La Iglesia in Santa Cruz is an example in its simplicity and surrounding gardens and fountains. I found this everywhere I went on Tenerife.

The beautiful, traditional town of Santa Cruz is very much like what you see throughout Europe but with a Spanish flare. There are always numerous shops scattered in with the old town buildings. It was fun to walk through “Old Town” along the waterfront, watch the people, and eat at outdoor cafes. Several of the cafes have Christmas decorations displayed and street vendors are now roasting chestnuts.

The beauty of this land comes from the volcanic history which has given shape to the mountains, provides for lush vegetation, has given birth to a banana industry, and provides stunning scenes along the ocean. The island calls for visitors to come, enjoy, and most of all, return.

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Atlantic Ocean waves crash into volcanic rocks on Tenerife Island