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.