Archive for December, 2011

Most Spanish cities are supplied with both a castle and a cathedral, and Málaga is no exception.  While I realize that cathedrals are frequently the most outstanding architectural feature of the region where they stand, I have a hard time enjoying them.   For some reason, I don’t have the same problem with castles even though a lot of the same objections (corrupt use of power, downtrodden peons, ostentatious display of ill-gotten wealth) apply to them.

Maybe that is because many castles started off life as a place of refuge for all the citizens in the area when the raiders came calling as well as serving as a residence for the local warlord.

At any rate, Málaga is blessed with a cathedral, which we did not set foot in, and TWO castles, which we spent an entire day visiting.   The two castles occupy the main ridge overlooking the city.   The upper one is older, and was the older Moorish castle, Castilla de Gibralfaro.   For some reason, when the Spanish ran the Moors out of Málaga, they didn’t co-opt the Moorish castle for their own use, nor did they tear it down to build the new royal residence.

Instead, they built another castle, the Alcazaba, lower down on the ridge, and connected the two complexes with a walled in “escape path” called the Coracha.  The idea was that if the bad guys over-ran the lower castle, all the people could escape in safety to the upper castle.

This is a rather wonderful model of the castles, which we found in the Interpretive Center in the Gibralfaro.

In the second shot, if you look closely, outside the walls of the castles and the Coracha, you can see the walkway that climbs the hill.   On the other side, there are streets, along which the bus tours of Málaga tote the tourists.  We chose to climb the path, which gave us lots of great exercise along with fabulous views of Málaga, the Mediterranean, and the port.

We decided to visit Castillo de Gibralfaro first, and then walk down the Alcazaba.   This decision was made because numerous guidebooks informed us that one could walk down through the Coracha, and so we felt the logical thing would be to transit from high to low, and from old to new.   The guidebooks were misinformed, you could not walk on the Coracha.   So we got all the way up to the Castillo, walked down through it and explored all its nooks and crannies, then walked back UP to the top of it where the entrance/exit was, walked down the path to the bottom where the entrance to the Alcazaba was, and then walked UP through it exploring all it’s nooks and crannies.

While rather exhausting, it was fascinating and well worth the very sore quadriceps that we experienced the next day.   The only way to prepare for such a tour would be to spend a couple of hours on the Stairmaster every day for a few weeks.   We did not do this.   But no matter.

The interpretive center was rather dark, and so it was difficult to get good pictures, but one display cooperated.   This is a historical document of the school of seafaring that existed in Málaga.   What you are seeing here is a teaching tool, a small scale model of a sea-going vessel, which the midshipmen could use to learn to identify all the parts and rigging of the same.   The figure on the left is a life sized mannequin wearing a Naval officer’s uniform.

We were entranced by the completeness of the model, including the removable masts and rigging, spars, etc.

Th castle walls were beautiful, and you could walk all around the whole complex on top of them.

That exercise provided us with a lot of amusement.   There were many great views, but even more fun was seeing how the birds plant seeds in Spain the same way they do here in America, and then the trees grow in just as convenient locations.

This is one of the views from the walls.   What we are looking at includes the Plaza de la Merced, where Pablo Picasso was born.

I was impressed by the beauty of the gardens in both castles.   Here in one courtyard there was a weeping fig tree, which I had to shoot a picture of because it indicates so clearly why it is that when you have one as a house plant it tends to want to take over the whole house.

Nearby was one of the guard houses, which provided shelter for the sentries during inclement weather.   There were little shelters like this everywhere in the castle.

I find it interesting that the people living in the castle felt that they needed so many guards looking inward…

This is the Plaza de Armes, where drill and practice took place

Nearby is the original gate.

This little entryway was open to the sky above, facilitating the dropping of rocks and pouring of boiling oil onto the enemy if they succeeded in storming the gate.  Imagine fighting your way up through the passageway below after you finally made it through the gate and managed to escape the rocks and boiling oil.  Observe how the defenders can line the walls and shoot down at you like shooting fish in a barrel.

Not a lot of space for amassing your forces, and it was a steep uphill grade out of there.

This is a view of the castle walls taken through an arrow slit.

Just above the original gate, on the tower, there was a splendid view down the Coracha to the Alcazaba.

After all that upping and downing, we felt in need of some refreshment, and hied ourselves off to the little cafe that was situated outside the interpretive center.

Yes, that little kiosk was the entire kitchen, washing up area and bar for the cafe.   We were quite amazed by the menu offered.  So amazed that we were compelled to photograph it.

One wouldn’t really expect such a small establishment to offer such a comprehensive and varied selection.

We were not the only customers with expectations.

Having been refreshed by a nice copa de rioja, we descended to the Alcazaba, pictures of which I will save for the next post.

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Esoteric imagery

Yesterday evening as we were driving home from Christmas dinner at my folks house, we saw one of the youngest crescent moons we’ve ever witnessed.   New moon was shortly after noon on the 24th, this was at 5 p.m. on the 25th, a young waxing crescent moon that was only hours old.

A couple of days ago, I caught Mallory in the act of exploring the tree.  I love the expression on her face in the first shot.

Mostly she has been able to leave it alone, although there were a few of the kitten ornaments on the floor on Christmas day.

By the way, unwrapping presents is probably the best idea humans have EVER HAD!

Here are a  couple of images I was moved to take during the cruise.   They don’t really fit into any category.

The first one was taken during our lunch at Fuchal, Madeira.   The dish was an appetizer, melon drizzled with Madeira.   The sun was refracted by my water glass.  I was entranced by the rainbow across my food.

The second was taken late in a meal aboard ship.   We had ordered a special bottle of wine from the Wine Connoisseur’s Collection.  As we were finishing the last bit, I had just swirled the wine in my glass and looked down on the table to see the shadow of the glass of wine projected on the table cloth.  I actually went to our cabin to get the camera so I could capture this rather beguiling image.

Happy Boxing Day!

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Our vacation began with our attendance at a yearly bash thrown by one of our friends who is a blues musician.   We went to the party/blues jam at his place in the country and ate, drank, danced and made merry.

The very next morning, our niece Alex drove us to the airport in St. Louis, where the adventure began.  We checked in, blew through security in about ten minutes and rode the tiny 50 seat commuter jet to Atlanta.   There we spent a pleasant layover at a piano bar in the middle of the concourses, and then wended our way onto the big jet that was to take us across the Atlantic to Spain.

There was a short wait while the plane received new batteries that functioned, as our pilot opined that even though there were backups, he really didn’t think anyone wanted to start off across the ocean with a set of non-functioning batteries.   We only had to wait 45 minutes, and during the course of our flight to Spain we more than made up for the delay as we arrived in Madrid 20 minutes earlier than scheduled despite the delay in Atlanta, and we all got free wine and beer with our dinners because of it, so it was all good.

We found the shuttle bus from the airport to the center of Madrid with no trouble, and debarked the bus at the main train station.  There we found the “Left Luggage” service, and divested ourselves of our carry-ons.

That train station is something else.   The older part of the terminal has been made into an indoor tropical garden.

It even has a turtle pond, full of red-eared sliders.

This made me wonder where all these guys came from, if perhaps this isn’t the rehab facility for abandoned baby turtles that got too big for their terraria.

Well, we had a while before our train to Málaga, so like proper gardeners, we walked down the beautiful main boulevard of Madrid past the Prado area to the Royal Botanical Gardens.    It was school tour day there.   Pre-teenaged girls sound the same in every language — shrill and hysterical.

Right away I had to get a shot of this Spanish bee, busy pollinating a species of rhododendron.

Then I spent about ten minutes trying to get a good shot of this squirrel.   He was not thrilled to be pursued by American paparazzi, and so I never really got a good one.   Still, I was entranced by his bright red tail and very tufted ears.

The first spot that truly beguiled us there was a demonstration vegetable garden.   All this proves is that you can make your food source an extremely attractive place.

There was a cycad garden just along the way from the vegetable plots.   I really loved the way they used the native slate to set off the planting.

There were long alleys of grape arbors on three sides of this garden.   We marveled at the iron work, wishing we had something like this back in Missouri for our grapes, and also being pretty sure that the cost would be prohibitive.   Still, wonderfully beautiful.

Most of the gardens were pretty low key, since it was late November.   We found our way to the greenhouse area, though, and found plenty to look at there.

The first house we entered was quite old.   I loved the iron pillar supporting the roof.

Check out the date at the base of the metal pillar.

The walkway in this house was also a drainage ditch, covered with metal grill work.

We escaped this greenhouse right about the time a gaggle of giggling girls entered with their guide.

Right next door was a series of three houses that started out as tropical, transited through temperate and wound up as a desert climate.   Not only were there walkways down at ground level, there was a cat walk that you could access by way of wonderful spiral stairs.   In the tropical house, you risked being misted, but we decided to experience the plantings from up there anyway.

It was worth the climb and the occasional wetness.

Back down at ground level, we truly enjoyed the various succulents.   The living rocks were blooming.

Such very cool plants.   I love the way the flower buds coming out of the “rock” look like little tongues protruding between lips.

They had lots of cacti, from all over the world.   Some were even native of the US.

There was an extensive collection of carnivorous plants too.

Our layover in Madrid was nearly over.   We walked down the boulevard back towards the train station, stopping at the Museo de Jamón (Museum of Ham) for lunch.  As we walked along, we admired the amenities provided for pedestrians, and the well regulated traffic of the capital city.

Back at the train station, we retrieved our luggage and proceeded to the waiting area mear the train platforms.   By this time, jet lag was starting to affect us, and I went off and exercised my Spanish acquiring a couple of cups of expresso.

Then it was time to board the train.  I decided I wanted to get a shot of the engine that was going to be propelling us down the track, and much to my astonishment I was allowed to go all the way to the end of the train and do just that.   I’m pretty sure that here in our paranoid country there would be some sort of barrier and guard preventing such foolishness.

Traveling by high speed rail was soooooo cool.   We were speeding along at 300 kilometers per hour.  There was a monitor in every car that let you know just how fast it train was going.

Lots of times it only read 270 kph…  The ride was incredibly smooth and very quiet.  The only way you could tell you were going that fast was to look out the window and see the countryside whizzing by.

I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have things like this here…..  Oh yeah, that’s right.   We have Standard Oil, Goodyear, and General Motors.

But enough sarcasm.   We arrived in Malaga and found our way to our hotel, Los Naranjos, a lovely place away from the city center.

Check-in was a breeze, and once we were in our room (top floor back left in that shot) we availed ourselves of the mini bar and drank a couple of beers to celebrate our safe landing in Málaga.

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We got home from our protracted vacation on Saturday.  Air travel home from Florida was absolutely seamless.  No delays, no problems, no screaming children on the plane, our luggage was not lost.   The only casualty was one of the crystal on-the-rocks glasses we bought on the ship as a souvenir of the wonderful times we had got cracked.   Damn it.

Our niece picked us up at the airport, and we went out to a great Indian restaurant in St. Louis, then spent the evening in a hotel there so we could go to Whole Foods on our way home.   Got home, and Alex went off to Springfield to spend the evening with a friend.  When she got back here on Sunday afternoon, she walked into the house and looked around the utility room, and said, “You have all your laundry done already?”  in a tone of complete disbelief.

Yes sir, I do…   which is why I haven’t posted yet.   All clean and put away, and my living room, kitchen and bathrooms are clean and dusted.   Jim has gotten the yard mowed and the leaves that accumulated while we were gone are in the compost circle processing for next spring.   Ruby has been petted and walked and petted and played with and petted….   Mallory is happy we are home too, although she homesteaded the computer chair while we were gone and is perched on the back of it right now tapping my shoulder and making scritchy noises with the upholstery  indicating to me that I should get my butt off here and let her sleep in her accumstomed place….

I have been going through my pictures, and I have no clue as to how to go about telling you all about the truly wonderful time we had in Malaga and on the Seabourn Spirit in transit across the Atlantic to Florida.   Here is a shot of her in port at Malaga.   She is the little yacht in the middle of the picture between the big giant floating hotels.

Okay, couldn’t you see her?  Here is another view, this one in Funchal, Madeira.   Here she is being dwarfed by the Aida Sol, the Thornton Dream, and Cunard’s Queen Victoria.

We did and saw so much in Malaga, visiting the Picasso museum and viewing the galleries there, including the special Giacometti  exhibit that was in residence.   We visited the castles and the Roman ruins, too.

There was a hillside climbing adventure, too, which I will relate another day.

A high point in Malaga was experiencing the beach side “charcoal grill” restaurants:

 After Malaga, we had such a “fantasia” experience on the way home that all the wonder of Spain almost receded into the file labeled “distant past”.

Honestly, spending 14 days on a Seabourn ship in the middle of the ocean, where if you want to connect the internet connection is like the slowest dial-up via satellite and you are charged $.50 per minute for the privilege so you just don’t bother, is rather like entering a wonderful time warp.   It is a most wonderful time warp equipped  with gourmet chefs, attentive and pleasant waiters, unlimited bar privileges and a house maid.  Jim fits right into this milieu, this shot was taken of him within 15 minutes of us boarding.   Notice the champagne glasses — one of those is mine.

Aboard ship there was a fashion show towards the end of the cruise where passengers were encouraged to volunteer to model some of the jewelry from the boutique.   I volunteered, got a new hair cut and my nails done and was the envy of all the other models because I got to wear the matched natural Tahitian pearl necklace, only $24,000 (and no, I did not get the zeros wrong).

Had to borrow the lipstick.   There was another passenger (also a model) whose mind was quite boggled by the concept of not owning lipstick.  She had a hard time wrapping her head around it, actually.

Here I am modeling one of the “afternoon” ensembles, a Murano glass creation that was only $95.00.

Life at sea wasn’t all food, drink and dancing.   There were plenty of sunsets to watch.   I admit that we slept through almost every single sunrise, largely because we generally stayed up until well after midnight dancing.

Full moon over Ft. Lauderdale at the end of the cruise:

After we watched the ship tie up pierside at Ft. Lauderdale, we went down for our final breakfast aboard.   We were sitting with a couple of new friends, and I said, rather sadly, “The next time I sit at a table and order food, after the waiter finishes serving us, there will be a bill to pay.”

“I know,” said Joe.  “I won’t be able to walk into a restaurant, order three appetizers and then just leave.”

That about sums up life aboard a Seabourn ship.   Luxury, service, intimacy — and no bill at the end of the cruise!

More soon….

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