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Iberian Adventure

After leaving Africa, we headed north of the equator to Barcelona - looking at fall instead of spring.  What a day makes!


Andrew, Patrick, and Patrick’s girlfriend Skylar joined us in Spain for a much-anticipated family vacation.  We all stayed together in a beautiful, large Airbnb.  One of the real highlights was a cooking class where we learned how to prepare a favorite Catalan meal. We had a rocky start because Betsey made a mistake on the start time, but we arrived just as the meal prep was starting.  The boys reminded us that we needed to ‘roll with the punches’, a favorite phrase of ours when they were young.  Along with 5 others, we peeled, chopped, stirred and seasoned our way through several dishes including garlic shrimp, a traditional potato tortilla, seafood paella and Catalan crème. There was a lot of wine, laughs and fun along with an amazing meal!  


We explored Barcelona with a Tour by Locals learning about the history of the city (most of which we’ve forgotten), wandered through the Gothic Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the famous market of the Boqueria and stopped along the Ramblas for an amazing lunch with several different tapas. Saving the best for last on the walk, we visited the Sagrada Familia, a catholic church designed by Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s favorite architect.  The church has been under construction for about 140 years with 5-10 years to go.  Apparently inspired by nature, it is bold and innovative – either you like the style or you don’t.  The inside is a cascade of light, both stone and glass while the outside is detailed and heavy.  Truly unique!

After a lovely warm few days in Barcelona, we flew south to Sevilla, home of the Alcazar, the Sevilla Cathedral and birthplace of flamenco dancing.  The Alcazar, built as a fortress and then as a palace, is a beautiful blend of Moorish and European architecture with lovely arches, spectacular tile work and wonderful gardens (site of Dorn in GOT). It is apparently the oldest royal palace in use in Europe.  Sevilla Cathedral is the 3rd largest church in the world behind St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  It is incredibly ornate in all its gold finery, a testament to the wealth and importance of the city when it was completed in the 1500s.  It also supposedly contains the remains of Christopher Columbus, who remains an important figure as are all the European explorers in this part of the world.  The church was erected on the site of an old mosque that was destroyed in the 13th century.  All that remains is the former minaret, 104-meter high Giralda Tower.  Mark and Andrew climbed the tower – no steps, just ramps in case you wanted to take your horse up as well!  


We took in a traditional flamenco dancing show – small venue and front row seats – great view but uncomfortable seats had everyone squirming a bit.  Not quite the show we saw several years ago with couples dancing but still interesting with one dancer and a guitar player for each number.  The review was mixed – Andrew said he was glad he saw it but not to his taste while Skylar convinced Patrick to sign up for a dancing and paella lesson a few days later.  Unfortunately for them, the class was ultimately cancelled.  Deciding we needed one more change of venue, we rented a car for a day trip to Cadiz, a city on the Atlantic, just north of Gibraltar where Columbus departed for the ‘New World’.  The city, today a seaside resort, is arguably the most ancient city still standing in Western Europe dates back to 1100BC.  We had no particular agenda in mind but wandered around the old port and found some 600-year-old fig trees date back to the 1400s. Hard to imagine we were looking at the same trees as Columbus did before he left!

After a great visit with the kids, everyone traveled their separate ways.  Patrick and Skylar headed back to Philly, Andrew to New York and we headed east for a quick trip to Granada to see the Alhambra, an Islamic architectural palace, and a fortress.  As we headed by train through the Spanish countryside, it was easy to see why half of the world’s olive oil is produced here.  There were olive trees everywhere and for miles.  What a beautiful sight!

Like so many structures in this part of Europe, construction on what became the Alhambra started in the 11th century and continued to evolve until the early 17th century.  It was a royal palace where Christopher Columbus received his royal endorsement for his explorations to the new world.  Today it is a UNESCO site featuring beautiful tile mosaic walls, carved stucco and geometrical wooden ceilings.  We had a wonderful tour guide who not only explained the design details but also gave a glimpse court life in the context of the structure.  An audience with the king involved waiting for days in one of the palace’s many rooms with all of its details reminding you how rich and powerful the king was.  Interesting perspective!  An unexpected pleasure was, coincidentally, running into friends from San Diego in our hotel lobby, Steve and Gina Considine – they just leaving Granada, us just arriving – nice to see friendly faces away from home.

Since we had now been out of the US for more than 3 months, Google Fi suspended our data service so we had to get SIM cards that would provide data in Europe.  No big deal, we had done this before…. off to the Orange store.  All was well, phones worked, we wandered around the city and eventually headed to the train station to go to Malaga where we would fly to Lisbon.  At the train station, we discovered Betsey’s passport was missing  and the train was leaving in 20 minutes.  After many phone calls to the hotel, the conductor finally helped us connect with the Orange office.  Sure enough, they had the passport. (They had just sold us 2 SIM cards, had the numbers and didn’t think to reach out to us???)  The train conductor told the Orange folks to get the passport to the train station and she would bring it with her on her morning run to Malaga the next day.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, it all worked out.  Mark met her on the track with a big box of chocolates and we had the passport again.  On to Portugal!