Today, after a spectacular sunrise, we traveled to Granada for a tour of the Alhambra. The Alhambra is one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen. It is impressive in both its physical structure but also its unique blend of Muslim/Christian history. Spain was occupied by Muslim forces for over 800 years. Once retaken by the Christians, the fortress had Christian elements added. While I’ve been here before, I never grow tired of special places. This place is indeed special to me. The last time I was here, Lucy was about 5 months pregnant with Megan. We took a special picture here in front of one of the entrances. We were able to reproduce that picture today. We also had a young expecting couple with us on our tour. They took their picture in the same spot as well as a group photo with us. What a special moment. We managed 5.6 miles today.
After our tour of the grounds, we had more time to shop. Granada is known for inlaid wooden items (and Spanish Guitars). We picked up a few items for ourselves and some friends. We had time to continue our shopping once we returned to Malaga attempting to remember everyone.
We decided to have dinner in Malaga instead of our prepaid dinner since we were nearing the end of our journey. We opted for a dinner at an Irish pub tonight. I had fish and chips with mushy peas.
Tomorrow is our last day. I’m starting to want to move permanently to Spain. I’m in love with their way of life. One odd but special thing I’ve noticed here. I was never given a restaurant bill before asking for it. The Spanish appreciate their customers are are willing for you to stay until you are ready to leave, no table flipping here.
Today we’re moving our home base from Madrid to the coastal town of Malaga by way of high speed train. We had a long way to go, but still managed to get in 6.07 miles before bed. We checked out early in the morning and made our way to the train station. Sadly, this station was the site of the fairly recent Madrid terrorist attack. These high speed train rides are really an event in and of themselves. I wish we had these in the states. Our ride today was three hours through beautiful countryside at 186 mph, at least once outside the cities.
Once in Malaga, we checked into our new hotel. We lucked into an ocean view room. I could have slept on the balcony. At lunch, we had a slightly difficult time ordering due to the language barrier. The waiter worked hard to help us understand our options. Lucy and I both ordered what he called Chorizo. What I hoped would be sausage ended up being a bowl of spicy broth with various pig parts. While I skipped the organs, I did try tripe for the first time. I found it to be mostly flavorless and tasted mostly of the rich broth. Oh well, when in Spain.
We had a large amount of shopping time today around a central plaza. We explored the shops and streets with euros hot in our pockets. Lucy and Megan had to try a unique luxury, the fish foot spa. You have to take care of both your feet and purple pedicures while hiking, so they jumped at this opportunity. I was the cameraman for this operation.
We ended our day by finding our way to the beach. Finally the elusive Mediterranean stretched in front of me. It was all I hoped it would be. Beautiful water and grayish volcanic sand as far as you could see.
Our guide surprised me a dinner with a wrapped present. She had found the red wine Torrijas that seemed absent in Madrid. We enjoyed it in our room as we got ready for bed. It was better to me than the milk version. Maybe it was the baker, but more likely the thoughtfulness of our guide that made this great. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Another fun filled day in Spain. Today brought another 5.4 miles in hiking. We had nice variety today. We spent the morning in Madrid, the afternoon in Toledo, and the evening back in Madrid.
We started today with a formal Madrid city tour. We made stops today at the Madrid bullring, Real Madrid soccer stadium, an Egyptian temple given to Spain, and the Royal palace. Spain’s monarchy is a figurehead much as it is in Britain. The palace is no longer lived in but rather a meeting place and occasional formal state dinner location. I couldn’t help but think the palace is opulent but completely impractical as a home.
The afternoon brought a trip to Toledo. Toledo was possibly my favorite stop on this trip. I’ve always enjoyed the smaller, older towns over the big cities. Toledo had it all. The town was an invincible fortress in its day. It was built on a steep hill that was surrounded on three sides by a river. Only a small percentage of the population could swim at the time, but certainly not in armor. The forth side was protected by a wall. The topography of the land would allow half a day to see an approaching army. Toledo was in a sweet location.
Once at Toledo, we walked the old city, visited the Toledo Cathedral, the Church of Santo Tome, and St Mary’s Synagogue. Some interesting points about these locations. The cathedral had shackles hanging on the outside to represent the reconquest of Spain from Muslim control. St Mary’s synagogue was actually built by Muslims for the Jewish population in the city. Such an interesting mix of culture. Toledo was a place you could easily spend a month. After a visit to a sword factory for some Spanish steel, we returned to Madrid.
Tonight brought a tapas dinner followed by a flamenco show. I had my first paella today. In fact, I had it twice. Seafood paella for lunch and chicken paella for dinner. No doubt today was a full day.
Hola from Espana! The day that never ended. The first day of a tour this far away tends to be tough. We flew through the night to Madrid by way of Amsterdam. Once landed, we immediately met our tour guide, dropped off our luggage, had lunch on our own and then hit the city. We hiked 7.68 miles.
While most found lunch in a shopping area, we ventured across the street to try something more local. I was able to try my first Iberico Jamon carved from the hoof. I didn’t try this on my last visit and had it on my mind. It was served with over easy eggs and potatoes. It met my expectations.
After lunch, we walked through Bien Retiro Park. This park is Madrid’s version of Central Park in New York. The park was bustling with both locals and tour groups.
We visited the Crystal Palace located in the park. The Crystal Palace is a copy of a similar structure from England that housed Winter gardens for the royals.
At the edge of the park is the Prado museum. We had about an hour to explore the building and monumental works of art by the old masters. I’m not well educated on this subject, but the art was mostly of darker subject matter.
Afterwords, we walked to Puerto del Sol to explore and have dinner. This plaza is Madrid’s version of Time Square. We had a little time before dinner so our guide took us to a famous pastry shop for Torrijas. My understanding is that Torrijas are only available around Easter. There are two versions, one made with milk and one with red wine. We had the milk version today. I would describe it as a French toast, egg custard, bread pudding type of desert. It was wonderfully different than anything I’ve had before.
We finished our marathon first day having dinner, getting to know each other better and walking back to the hotel. I did slip out briefly to explore the block around the hotel before falling into a coma like sleep.
Today’s hike was a last minute decision. This weekend’s weather report was a hot mess. We cancelled an overnight hike early in the week only to not have a drop interrupt the weekend. Instead of waking up to storms, it was clear, blue skies. I decided to travel South to the Eufala National Wildlife Refuge.
My trip today started at the world’s first drive thru art and antique gallery museum. That’s right, the world’s first. How could I refuse? It was free after all. You drive through the shipping containers which had a mammoth bone, stuffed bobcat and some likewise unique items on display. It screams of a wife telling her husband to get his junk out of the house and his unique way to get even. I wasn’t that great really but maybe the world’s second will be better.
Today’s hike is listed at 1.5 miles. I did an additional 1.5 miles on surrounding logging roads. The trailhead starts between two large Magnolia Trees just off the parking area. The refuge borders the Chattahoochee River and Lake Eufaula. The trail is very flat and easy to hike. There were some tools left on the trail and other signs of recent maintenance. The one heart thumping surprise was a huge water moccasin sunning near the far side of a bridge. I had gotten way too close before seeing him. Fortunately, he shot down to the stream as fast a I retreated from the bridge. With some patience, I convinced myself that he was gone and continued my hike. I was not happy to find that this trail was a lollipop that circled back onto itself to finish. I had to cross that bridge again. There were a few rocks involved the second time.
This trail was listed as an honorable mention in “Hiking Alabama”. I could rate it no better for hiking. I did feel that this area would be great for bird watching if you’re so inclined. The surrounding fields were full of blackberries, plum trees and trumpet vines. Birds scurried from the underbrush every ten yards. There were signs to not pick the berries.
My side trip today was to the Cajun Corner in downtown Eufaula. I’ve passed this restaurant often but never stopped. The restaurant had a Southern charm on the inside. I had their red beans and rice along with blackened shrimp. It was worth the time to stop. I also saw a bald eagle in a nesting box while driving to town. They are slowly repopulating the area around Lake Eufaula as well as spreading to other areas in Alabama.
I will have a special series of “urban hikes” over the next few weeks. I look forward to sharing those with you.
CAUTIONARY NOTE: I would stay on the trail here and off the logging roads. At the end of the logging road to the left of the trailhead was a boneyard. The remains of more than a few deer were scattered about. While this might be some type of scavenger study, it just felt like poacher activity to me. Regardless, it was a real mess and didn’t smell “fresh”.
Confederate Memorial Park, located just North of Prattville, Alabama, was a unique experience today. It was a beautiful Spring day that we get on occasion in late Winter. The day and hike had some unexpected surprises. My Aunt and her family joined us for a birthday hike. We also stumbled into a group of reenactors doing what reenactors do. They were educating the public, shooting things, playing music and drinking beer – thankfully, in that order.
Confederate Memorial Park was the site of the Alabama Old Soldier’s Home. They housed 104 Civil War Veterans and their wives until their closing in 1939. In addition to the 1.5 mile Nature Trail, they have a nice museum. They also have two well kept cemeteries.
I will have to research this gentleman.
The trail is a short, gentle gravel path that takes you through the forest to some of the site’s original waterworks buildings. You will pass the original stream, pump house and reservoir that provided water to the community. The trail also passes the second largest Poplar tree in the state. I’m not sure who keeps these stats but apparently someone does. I was also not convinced it was still alive. This gentle trail can be handled by anyone.
For a nice meal, head to Montgomery to Tomatino’s. Pizza made by hippies always seems to be the best. If there is better pizza in Alabama, I’ve not found it. They grow herbs behind the counter and make superb pizza. They also have a small coffee/gelato/bakery next door to finish off the day. Give them a try when in Montgomery. You can thank me later.
We have raised $11,300 towards our $15,000 March for Babies Goal. Those last few thousand are always the toughest. Please help us at http://www.marchforbabies.org/youdaman10