My Return for More Croatian Adventures

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Ban Jelacic Square

In May I visited Zagreb, Croatia. In a short span of twelve days I knew that I wanted to return to this ancient, small city, the capital of Croatia, and explore it and the country as part of my travel adventures.

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Ban Josip Jelacic in the Square Named for Him

When I was in Zagreb, I blogged about “Slaying Dragons in Zagreb” and I have several unpublished photos. This blog entry is a photo collage of my best unpublished photos of Zagreb. It not only is a record of my initial visit but also sets the stage for what is to come.

This week I returned to Zagreb after two very enjoyable months exploring Romania; I have high expectations about my adventures in Croatia. There are traditional foods that I intend to sample and there are ample opportunities to visit places near the Adriatic Sea and the mountains between Zagreb and the seacoast.

Continue reading “My Return for More Croatian Adventures”

Farewell to My Typical Days in Romania

It is 5:00 AM and the neighborhood rooster noticed that the sky is brightening and he begins to crow. Moments later he is joined by another and the chorus is aggravating the dogs and they begin to bark. I am uncertain if the barking is at the roosters or the townspeople who are making their way into Cluj-Napoca. Such has been the typical start of everyday in my exploration in Transylvania.

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Outdoors at Engel’s Bistro

Soon the sun is completely visible and the roosters return to their “more calm” state! But the construction crews on the sides of my apartment now begin their day’s labor as the edges to Cluj expand further into the countryside.

With the seven hour time difference between the Eastern Europe Time Zone and the Eastern Time Zone in the USA,  it is not uncommon that I am awake and going before my friends and family in the USA have gone to sleep! While I have often written about Cluj and my journeys, this entry is about my typical daily routine in Transylvania.

Continue reading “Farewell to My Typical Days in Romania”

Burned at the Stake in Transylvania

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Dracula is based on Vlad III. Credit: Public domain

Dark and highly intense tales of mystery, superstition, and legend are passed from generation-to-generation in Transylvania. I am fascinated with Dracula and his blood-sucking legend which permeates our thoughts of this Romanian region. Transylvania is synonymous with Dracula and to this day there are also many additional local legends involving torture, coercion, punishment, death, magic, beasts, and alliances with the devil that have become common parts of the exciting local culture. Continue reading “Burned at the Stake in Transylvania”

Through My Sensual Sibiu Eyes

You have seen my sensual “girl’s eyes.” You are taken aback by them as you stop and stare. You are oblivious that I am staring back at you. In fact, I see and know more about you than you can ever imagine. I have watched patiently through the centuries as you and those before you are unaware of my silent, piercing gaze. You see me on the surface, through your imagination, as you stare at my deep, dark mysterious eyes. But there is so much more.

Continue reading “Through My Sensual Sibiu Eyes”

My Cluj-Napoca Exploration in Romania

cluj-napoca-on-map180I have now been in Cluj-Napoca, Romania for almost a month and I have made many observations while exploring this small city. This entry into my travel blog is about my observations during my exploration of Cluj.

Cluj is located in the north central Transylvania region of Romania. It has a very long history influenced by Romans, Hungarians, Gypsies, Transylvanian German Saxons, Communists and several religious affiliations.

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Mihai Viteazul Memorial

Cluj is a livable city of about 330,000 people. Much of the population is composed of college students from the 6 universities in the city. I like it here and have decided to return during June and July to further explore Romania in general and Transylvania in specific.

Mihai Viteazul is remembered as a Romanian hero with memorials to him in Cluj, Bucharest and elsewhere in the country. Known as “Michael the Brave,” he was the Prince of Wallachia, of Transylvania, and of Moldavia. He united the three principalities under a single rule which eventually became modern-day Romania.

Through the centuries there has been so much historic interaction between the Romanians and people from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Germans, and others. To recount history would make my head hurt so I won’t. That said, the area in and around Cluj has a huge history and there are many remnants as reminders of the past.

For those so inclined, Cluj presents an exceptional place for historic research and learning. In this blog, however, I am going to emphasize more about my thoughts and observations with some historic notes interspersed.

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Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, was born in Cluj and is remembered in Unirii Square

I arrived in Cluj by train from Budapest in early April. The 7 hour train trip was delayed arriving by 3 hours but once I was settled, my exploration of the city began at its ancient heart, Unirii Square. In and around the square are important Roman artifacts from the 1st century and newer structures.

The newer points of interest include the imposing Saint Michael’s Catholic Church dating back to the 14th century and the massive memorial to Matthias Corvinus, a former King of Hungary and Croatia born in Cluj, Romania in 1443. Banffy Palace from the 18th century is home of the National Art Museum and was the palace for the Governor of Transylvania.  It is located opposite St.Michael’s Church and a block away is Corvinus’ birthplace from the 15th century in the center of the medieval historic museum area where numerous street vendors and outdoor cafes are located.

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From Cetatuia Hill, St. Michael’s Catholic Church dominates the Cluj skyline

The city is bursting with memorials. Preserved old city walls and remnants of earlier protective fortifications are found nearby. There are many memorials to historic and noteworthy individuals throughout the Central Park. And the architectures of the Dormition of the Theotokos Orthodox Cathedral and the adjacent Romanian National Opera House are beautiful. From a vantage point on Cetatuia Hill (once the location of a fortress) overlooking the city, St. Michael’s dominates the city skyline. Just outside Central Park is a monument that is dedicated to the resistance to the Communists and those who died in Cluj during the violent December 1989 revolt that ended the Romanian Communist government.

There are several museums and an attractive Botanical Garden in Cluj. These along with the places I have previously mentioned attract numerous visitors mainly from Eastern and Central Europe. Theater, opera, symphony, and cultural events are highlights within the city. There are many small cafes, hidden bistros and aromatic pastry shops that provide traditional, very flavorful Romanian and international foods and drinks.

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Banffy Palace

Services to sustain the infrastructure appear to be a challenge to the city authorities. Basics such as utilities and transportation are provided well. Although it is interesting to walk back in time in the city among old structures and memorials, the buildings that look good are maintained by private investments. It is sad to see deterioration of the public buildings such as the historic Banffy Palace which is literally crumbling. Many of the residents see this as a difficult reality where spending decisions have been made to allocate revenue among many competing priorities.

Under the prior Communist regime people recall long queues for small amounts of meat and bread. One person told me that it was special at Christmas to be able to get his only orange for the year. Life today, although difficult, is better. Life outside the city is very much at a subsistence level and I will discuss that in a future blog. The massive ugly housing projects during the Communist era remain as a stark reminder of that sad time.

Almost everyone I have met is pleasant and speaks English… and often a third language in addition to Romanian. Everyone has stories that they are happy to share about themselves, their country, its history, and the world. The people are often highly educated with post-graduate degrees but many times find themselves doing service related work or jobs with lower skill requirements. Pay is low for all positions. Many Romanians go to other European countries to work in construction and agriculture. Buying fresh flowers from street vendors or the market is really big in Cluj. Everyday there are beautiful floral displaces in many places.

Cluj is a very nice Eastern European city. I like it and the surrounding area and will blog more over the next few months about my observations from my explorations throughout Romania. If you have comments, please let me know in the space provided below.

My Adventure Stalking Dracula

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“Dracula’s Castle” in Bran, Romania

Dark legend surrounds “Count Dracula” and his vampire wives as living in their Transylvania castle. Nourished by blood that they suck from their victims at night, these vampires are rumored to live an otherwise solitude life in the Carpathian Mountains. With wisps of clouds hanging low in the deep forest, I ventured to Bran Castle in Romania. The castle is otherwise known as “Dracula’s Castle.” This blog is about my latest exploration to learn more of this character made famous by Bram Stoker in his book and by Bela Lugosi, the actor in the 1931 Dracula movie. A light drizzle on a cold, gloomy, dismal April day set the mood to visit such a place shrouded in mystery.

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Eerie clouds from an inside the castle vantage point

Standing outside the castle entrance I observed a young Orthodox Christian couple taking a selfie and then blessing themselves prior to ascending the slippery, uneven stone steps to the open castle door.

I didn’t bring any garlic or wolfsbane with me but my traditional Romanian pork stew lunch was so loaded with garlic that I thought that only a breath directed toward any vampire would overpower and easily repel them. As I walked into the castle’s entry room, I noted the locked basement door were it was logical that vampires would be “resting” during daylight in their native soil. I saw no bats and heard no wolves; I saw no red eyes staring at me from the shadows. As legend has it, vampires cast no image in a mirror so I remained vigilant to look for mirrors but I found none.

The small castle has all the mystery one might expect to lend credibility to Bram Stoker’s creation. In reality, Dracula is based somewhat on Vlad III, “The Impaler,” Prince of Wallachia, who I will discuss a bit later. Stoker in his genius drew from tales he heard of the castle (that he didn’t visit) and other legends from Eastern and Central Europe. It is amazing how authors and screen writers can paint images in our minds so we escape into an artificial reality… and Stoker was quite capable of doing so with Dracula.

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Castle Living Room

Constructed atop a huge rock, this small but imposing structure is a large interesting house with many rooms containing numerous artifacts of medieval furniture, carpets and utensils. The interior is often dark and certainly must be even more mysterious at night with its secret, dimly lit passages between floors, fireplaces, and numerous staircases throughout the building to link the rooms. In the 1931 movie, the castle entrance and cob-webbed rooms are larger than the actual castle. However, the castle in Bran provides exceptional inspiration for one’s imagination. And in this house there are other things that one doesn’t find in one’s house today.

Among the things to see in addition to the medieval furnishings are medieval clothes, suits of armor, ancient weapons, shields, items for torture and execution. The castle is very artfully decorated and I must say that the exhibits for torture and execution were the most compelling I have seen. The cruel inhumanity and ingenuity for inflicting pain and death from simple objects is amazing. I felt ill seeing them. And that’s where Vlad comes in; he is known as “The Impaler.”

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This portrait of Vlad III, painted in the early 16th century, hangs in the museum at Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria. Credit: Public domain

Count Dracula might be a fictional character who emotes fear from the scenes painted in imagery by Stoker and the movie by Lugosi. However, Vlad III, was known in his time as Dracula (Drăculea, in old Romanian). He was real and, in a sense, blood thirsty medieval prince. Known as “The Impaler,” Vlad would have been a terrorist tried on crimes against humanity for his brutally for the ways he punished his enemies. You can read more about his life and his brutality elsewhere on the Internet.

One of Vlad’s infamous ways of execution was to impale the person by driving a large wood stake about 2 1/2 inches in diameter up through the person’s torso along the spine, through the neck and out their mouth. If the procedure didn’t kill them, they likely would last only a short time until they did. Vlad was known for having mass impalements and reportedly washing his hands in the blood of victims before eating his meals among the “forests” of them. These forests of rotting flesh were his design to deter advancing enemies and to warn populations about the consequences of dissension to his rule.

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A view looking toward Bran, Romania

This castle known as “Dracula’s” was not where Vlad lived. He was at another one that today is rubble, However, the images for the biting, blood-sucking vampire tales are drawn from imagination based on facts and legends from this mysterious part of Europe that provide interesting and often gruesome stories (of which the Bran Castle is part).

I hope you enjoyed learning more about Dracula, the castle, and Vlad. If you have a reply or comment, please post it above where indicated. If you would like to receive my travel blog in your email, enter your address where provided on the right side of the page.

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.