Category Archives: Spain

Balcon de Cielo and the Sierra Nevada

We arrived at a place called Balcon de Cielo on Tuesday May 20th and stayed for two nights and one full day.  It is an eco-lodge owned and run by friends of a friend of Jocelyn’s.  Axel and Katie have a wonderful place and are great hosts, we had a great time here. They have about 10 acres high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains outside of a little town called Trevelez which is apparently the 3rd highest town in Europe.  It is a beautiful place with nice big rooms, a bar and dining room, and views for miles.  It is also right on the edge of the Sierra Nevada National Park.  They have only been open for about a year and it was very cool to be on the ground floor of something that I think will be even more amazing than it already is.  They have just hired a new farm manager named Mary who will be planting a large garden to provide food for the kitchen and they will also be planting a vineyard to make their own wine. Along with Mary came her partner Jan who is the new chef.  More about his amazing cooking later, but he’s worked in high class London restaurants for the past 10 years including one owned by Gordan Ramsay himself, so he definitely knows what he’s doing.

Our first afternoon, we arrived in Trevelez after a 3 hour bus ride from Granada.  The bus ride was a bit harrowing on narrow, curvey mountain roads, but it took us through beatiful scenery with big snow packed peaks and whitewashed mountain towns perched up on the sides of them.  Axel was there to pick us up at the bus stop and drove us back to Balcon De Cielo where we got checked in and rested up a bit.  Later that afternoon Axel took us on a walk down to the river below the property and filled us in on all kinds of things from the history of the farm and the area, to various kinds of plants growing there, and his plans for the vineyard.  After the walk and little more rest we had our first of two dinners in the dining room.  The first course was tapas made of Spanish cured ham, and homemade kimchi that was delicious.  Next, we had roast pork that was perfectly tender and very tasty.  Finally, dessert consisted of stewed fruit including cherries from their trees and home made milk keifer.  Not only was it very good, but also very healthy for dessert.  All of this was washed down with a few glasses of Andalucian red wine.  It was awesome and since we were the only ones in the dining room for much of the time it was like having our own personal chef, which was incredible.

Our first and only full day, we went for a hike up into the mountains and into the Sierra Nevada National Park. Axel gave us a ride into Trevelez and we started the hike from there just picking up the trail where one of the streets ended.  Unfortunately it was raining, so we got soaked to the bone on the way up but luckily the sun came out on the way down and we were able to dry out a bit. Luckily some rain doesn’t bother us Oregon folks.  It was absolutely gorgeous and definitely the most “wild” feeling place we’ve been thus far I think.  We didn’t see any other people during our 8 hour hike except for a couple of guys on horses most likely going up to check on their cattle. It was really nice to get out into some wilderness after the big cities the last couple of weeks.  Once we got back to Balcon de Cielo we took showers and then headed up to the dining room for dinner again. This was a repeat of the previous night with more amazing food and wine.  For a starter we had perfectly cooked asparagus with more of the homemade kiefer.  The main course was rabbit with peas and Spanish chorizo.  The rabbit was stuffed with a sauce made from the organ meat along with some freshly picked wild mushrooms.  Along with more of the local wine, it was absolutely delicious. Dessert consisted of donut peaches cooked somehow that made them delicious with some kind of frozen concoction that I’m forgetting the name of sprinkled over the top.  Needles to say at this point, it was delicious.  All in all another splendid meal. Aside from being a great cook, Jan also provides great entertainment telling jokes and generally being a character.

We couldn’t have asked for more from our experience in the Sierra Nevada and at Balcon de Cielo.  The only thing we could wish for is that we could have stayed longer.  We will definitely be going back and I highly reccommend it to anyone, you won’t be dissapointed with the experience.  The scenery is amazing and Axel, Katie and crew provided a wonderful experience making us feel welcome from the moment we arrived and providing amazing food and atmosphere.  Thank you guys so much!  We will be back for sure.

We’re almost done with Spain and will be heading to Tarifa for one night and then on to Morrocco!

Granada

We spent two nights and one day in Granada after arriving there by way of Cordoba on Sunday May 18th.  Granada was the last bastion of the Moors in Spain and it definitely has a more Moorish feel.  It is also fairly hilly and is situated right up against the Sierra Nevada mountains that you can see towering above from the city. Our first night in town we took a taxi from the bus station to our hostel and got checked in.  From there we walked up the hill to a view point in front of St. Nicholas’ church where you can see the whole city below and the huge Moorish fortress/palace of Alhambra silhouetted against the mountains.  It is really a beautiful site especially right at sunset when we were there.  On the way we stopped at a little tapas bar to get some food, but first I ordered a beer and to my surprise got a free tapa along with it.  It had a little meat sandwich, some fries, and some potato chips.  It was definitely plenty to eat, so for 2.50 Euros, I got a beer and a pretty good amount of food, not a bad deal.  The bartender told me that you get a tapa with each drink, so for 5 Euros, you could have a couple of beers and be really full.  Apparently this used to be the tradition throughout Spain but it has died out everywhere except in Granada.  I must say, I like the tradition and it definitely makes eating here cheap.

On our only full day in Granada, we started out with a self-guided walking tour from our guide book.  This took us by the old silk market, the cathedral, and the old Moorish bath house.  From there we went to the Alhambra fortress.  Unfortunately we were too late getting tickets so we weren’t able to get in to the main palace in the complex, but we were still able to see everything else. The place is huge containing multiple palaces, a fortress and acres of gardens. It was very impressive and beautiful, but also very crowded with tour groups which takes away some of the charm.

Next we head to a place high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains called Balcon de Cielo.  We’re looking forward to getting out of the city and heat for a couple of days. Pictures of Granada below.

Seville and Cordoba

We were in Seville, Spain from May 15th through May 18th. We had a great time there, although it was the first place we’ve been so far where we can say the weather was indeed hot.  The city is designed to deal with this however with the narrow streets and tall buildings as well as hundreds of orange trees providing ample shade.  Luckily our room at the hostel also had an air conditioner that we made good use of.

Our first full day in Seville, we took a walking tour to get familiar with city and learn a bit about it’s long and complicated history.  This region of Spain, called Andalucia, was first a Roman city, then Gothic, then under the control of Islamic Moors for almost 800 years before it was re-conquered by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.  All of these civilizations definitely left their mark here, making for very interesting architecture and culture that mixes elements of all of them together.  After the walking tour, we went to the Seville Cathedral.  This is the third larges cathedral in the world and the largest by volume.  It is absolutely massive both inside and out and contains a very interesting mix of Islamic and Gothic architecture.  It was actually built on top of the mosque that occupied the same site and actually incorporates parts of the former mosque including the iconic bell tower.  It also contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus, which was interesting to see.  Our first night, we went to a bar that specializes in Flamenco music, which is the folk music form from the Andalusia region.  Flamenco is a very interesting style of music that includes guitar, dancing, singing, and handclaps all of which produce very complicated rhythms and a visually stunning experience with the dancers flying around the stage.

Our second day in Seville, we went to the Alcazar Palace.  This place was really incredible and I would say one of the best buildings we have seen so far on the trip.  It is a stunning example of what is called Mudejar architecture that blends Moorish styles with more Western and Gothic styles.  The intricacy of the workmanship in the tile and masonry is unbelievable.  It is also surrounded by acres of gorgeous gardens that I’m sure you could spend days in.  After the Alcazar, Jocelyn split up to do a little solo exploring and then got back together for dinner.  We then went to another Flamenco show, this one a little bit more serious than a bar show at an actual theater.  This was also a good time and really let us get a better feel for the music since there wasn’t people talking over it and it also gave us a better view of the performers than we had at the bar.

On May 18th we left Seville and headed for our next stop of Granada by way of Cordoba.  We stopped in Cordoba for about half a day and went to the Cordoba Cathedral or Mezquita as it’s called.  The Mezquita is really beautiful and very different from the other cathedrals we have seen.  The reason is that it is an actual Mosque that was just turned into a Cathedral and therefore retains all of the distinctive striped-arch columns, etc.

We’re now in Granada, so more to come soon on that.  Pictures from Seville and Cordoba below.

Barcelona Part 2

Highlights of our last few days in Barcelona included the Sagrada Familia cathedral and a day trip to Montserrat.  Of course there was also more time on the beach and swimming in the Mediterranean. We left Barcelona on May 15th for our next destination of Seville in Southern Spain.

The Sagrada Familia is an absolutely breathtaking building and definitely the best cathedral we’ve seen so far on this trip. It was begun in 1882 and is still under construction with only about half of it completed up to this point. Given that it is already incredibly big and beautiful, I can only imagine what it will be like when it is completed.  It was designed by the famous Modernist architect Gaudi and it definitely has a modern feel in comparison to the Gothic and Norman cathedrals we’ve seen so far on this trip. Outside it is huge with ornate carvings, sculptures, and towers.  Gaudi’s architecture was very much influenced by nature and the geometry found there.  This is visible on the outside, but once stepping in, you really get a sense for it. He wanted the inside to feel like being in a forest with the columns rising up like tree trunks and the light filtering in as if through a canopy of leaves and it definitely feels that way.  It is big, airy, and bright unlike the older cathedrals that can sometimes feel dark and dingy if still immense.  It is a sight to see and if you ever go to Barcelona and only do one thing, I think visiting here should be it.  Hopefully I can make it back when it is finished which is scheduled for sometime in the middle of this century after 200 years or so of work.

Montserrat is a mountain range and monestary about an hour train ride from Barcelona. After getting off the train, there is a cable car that takes you up to the monastery perched on a cliff overlooking the valley below. From the monastery there are all kinds of hiking trails that take you farther up into the mountains.  There were a fair number of people at the monastery, but once we got out on the trails we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  It was nice to get out onto some trails and away from the crowds after being in the city for the past few days.  The landscape and scenery are beautiful with interesting rock formations, forests, and amazing views of the monastery and a large chunk of Catalonia.  The monastery itself is also very beautiful. I had always thought of monks living simply in kind of austere places.  This monastery is far from austere however with the inside being as big and beautifully decorated as many of the churches that you see in the cities.  This place is also a place of pilgramage for a lot of people due to a statue of the virgin Mary that was found in a cave nearby.  This statue is in the back of the monastery behind the main altar in the chapel and people line up and filter through to touch the statue for good luck or something.  I think many of the people who were there were there for this reason and hence why we didn’t see many on the trails.

From Barcelona we moved on to Seville via the awesome AVE train.  It is a newer bullet train that whisks you across the country at speeds of about 200 miles per hour.  There is tons of leg room, comfortable seats, classical music playing, and relaxing lighting. It definitely feels like being in the future, unfortunately a future that we’re missing out on in the U.S.  More pictures of Barcelona and Montserrat are below with more to come soon on Seville.

Barcelona 1

We arrived in Barcelona, Spain on the afternoon of May 8th.  We will be here for a total of 7 days.  We rented an apartment here for the whole time through a great website called Cross Pollinate.  The apartment has a full kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom and is right in the middle of the old city close to the beach and all of the interesting sights.  We got a really good deal on it, partly because the balcony is unusable at the moment and there is people doing work on it during the day.  For the price and location however, it has worked out really well and didn’t break the bank.  Our first afternoon and evening here we settled into our apartment and then went down to the beach and had some tapas at a little restaurant right on the shore.

Our first full day, we went out and explored the old part of the city including the cathedral, some old churches and the many public squares.  This part of the city is very interesting and vibrant.  It is really old with parts of the Roman walls still visible.  In one place they actually built one of the new buildings around some of the columns of the old Forum.  You can go in and see these 2,000 year old columns right there in the middle of the building. This old part of the city has that same kind of medieval charm that York does with the narrow winding streets and balconied aparments lining them.  There is interesting people everywhere and something interesting to hear, see, or smell around every corner.  After this, we of course went back to the beach and then had some food at one of the many tapas restaurants.  The meal was simple consisting of bread, cured Catalan chorizo, bleu cheese, and Catalan red wine to wash it all down with.  It was delicious to say the least and the atmosphere in the little tapas shop on a Friday night was really fun.

Our second full day in the city we started out at the Mercado de La Boqueria. This is a huge indoor market right off the main pedestrian thoroughfare called La Rambla. The place was bustling on Saturday morning with all of the locals doing their grocery shopping. There was so much stuff there from fresh produce, to fruit, the famous Catalan cured meats, and a huge fresh seafood market as well. We got some provisions here to make food for the rest of our time in Barcelona and then we went to explore the area around Montjuic.  Montjuic is the tallest hill in the city and provides great views.  There is an interesting castle on top and the whole thing is covered with beautiful parks.  After spending some time on Montjuic, Jocelyn and I split up for a bit. She went to the Fundació Joan Miró art museum and the Catalonia National Museum of Art.  Art museums aren’t really my thing so I spent some time walking around in the beautiful Jardins de Can Ferroro park and at the Muesum of Archaeology of Catalonia.  We met up again at the National Art Museum, which in itself is just an amazing building even if you don’t even look at the art inside.  From there we went to the Magic Fountain and watched the show before heading home.  This fountain is amazing. By day, it just looks like a pretty normal fountain, but at 9:00 PM every night, it becomes a super fountain.  It does all kinds of crazy effects with water and lights all choreagraphed to music.  It was indeed a spectacular sight with the Museum, the Placa de Espana, and the sunset for backdrops.

Our third day, Sunday, I slept in and hung out at the beach while Jocelyn danced the Sardana at the cathedral and visited the Barcelona Center for Contemporary Culture. So far Barcelona has been great.  Beautiful weather, great people, delicious food, and an amazing culture. We’re definitely looking forward to our next few days here before moving on to Seville and Thursday.  Say tuned for more from Barcelona.