Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The rain in Spain stays mainly in...Gibraltar

Where were we? Ah, yes, we were speeding south on the famous European high-speed, er, bus from Madrid to Granada. It was a rather unremarkable journey--Andy and I slept most of the way--but I would like to point out that after all the supposedly "third-world" places we have been, Spain is the first country we've been to where the driver actually lit up a cigarette on the bus. It was parked at the rest stop, but still. Spain needs to catch up with the rest of Europe with the no-smoking-indoors rules...

The main attraction of Granada is the Alhambra, and what an attraction it is! It's a huge complex of old Moorish palaces, military buildings, and gardens, built in the early to mid 1000s, when Arabs controlled southern Spain. Here are some pics.

Great view of Granada and the surrounding hills from atop the Alcazar:

Best ceiling ever:
One of the many lovely courtyards in the palace complex:
Star-shaped ceiling dome with windows--note the fantastic blue color in the ceiling details:
We were lucky to have beautiful blue skies sandwiched between two days of rain in Granada!
Bottom line: If you ever go to Spain, make sure to visit the Alhambra. It was my favorite place on my first trip there in 1999, and probably my favorite again on this one. So cough up the 12 euros, and get there early in the day (tickets were sold out by 1PM the day we went, and that was in the relatively quiet winter season...).

After our visit, we made our way to our second couchsurfing host of the trip! Gabriella is an Italian astrophysicist studying in Granada, and she has a great apartment down an alley in one of the old parts of town. We couldn't have asked for a better host--right away, she proposed taking us to her favorite part of town, the old Moorish part that we would never have found on our own. Best of all, it had a great view of the Alhambra from afar. Check out the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains in the background.
We then met up with two of her astrophysicist friends and went for Moroccoan-style tea and sweets at one of the local teterias, or tea shops. There is a whole street of them in Granada, aptly named Calle de las Teterias. Andy will post pics from that outing in our next foods post. Everyone was so nice to us, and didn't even try to strangle Andy when he quizzed them on all the "discoveries" they are or aren't making about space.

That night, we found ourselves staying up too late yet again sharing a wonderful homecooked meal and conversation with Gabriella and another friend of hers (he gave us Morocco travel advice, and we taught him some more English swear words--good trade!). Meals are wonderfully epic and social in Spain. Then we bedded down for a few hours. One of my favorite things about beds in Spain is that they have one pillow, no matter what size the bed is--the pillows are just always made long enough to fit.

We had bought tickets for the 7:15 AM train to Algeciras, so we needed to be up and out early. When we got up, it was still dark and wet from the overnight rain. As we walked to the train station, we passed plenty of other people...still out from the night before! Most of them were hitting the all-night schwarma shops, getting their post-clubbing drunk food. Those Granadanians are party animals, I tell you.

Turns out that the 7:15 train on a Sunday is not the most popular train in Spain. We had a car all to ourselves and settled back for one of the prettiest train rides I have ever been on, four hours through the south of Spain. We passed many Irish-green fields and olive groves...
We finally arrived in Algeciras, found a hotel room, dropped off our stuff, and headed off for our final excursion in Spain...or, I should say, in the UK. We were off to Gibraltar!

In case, like me, you didn't really know much about Gibraltar, here's the short version: The rock of Gibraltar is a giant limestone rock jutting out into the Mediterranean. It was considered by the Greeks to be one of the pillars of Hercules, and has been of military importance (and therefore sacked) for centuries. The British got ahold of it in the early 1700s, and never gave it back, so, now it's basically a British military base and colony of 30,000 people sticking off the bottom of Spain.

You have to go through (a very lax) passport control to get into the town, and once inside you can get pounds sterling out of the ATMs, buy fish and chips, and pose for silly pictures with Britannica such as this phone booth:
So, here is the famed rock. Note the fog. The rain finally caught up with us in Gibraltar...but it was on and off all afternoon, and amazingly, whenever we were visiting an outdoor part of the rock, it stopped raining! We really had the best luck with weather in Spainbraltar.
The bad weather led to strange lighting that made the views from the top of the rock incredible. I think this is one of the best pictures Andy has ever taken. Way off to the left of this picture is the Mediterranean and Africa, while to the right the land you can see is Spain. It was cool to gaze out toward Africa the day before our voyage there.
The options for getting to the top of the rock are few and expensive--there is a funicular, but it costs 20 or 30 euros per person and closes in the rain. We ended up paying a little more than that for a 2-hour taxi tour, stopping at all the highlights. Pricey, but apparently it was Andy's dream since childhood to visit Gibraltar or something, so it had to be done.

In addition to the views, there were other cool bits of the tour. We visited some limestone caves that were very impressive (well, except for the endless loop of Theme from Canon in D that is piped in through a sound system in there...sigh).
And, of course, there are the apes. The British soldiers brought some apes from Africa to Gibraltar as pets back in the day, and now there are five or six families of 60 baboons each living wild up there. Well, "wild"--they hang around in certain areas waiting for tourists to come feed them.

Here you can see a shot of two apes. The dominant is sitting on top of the submissive one.
There were also military tunnels to visit, and an old Moorish castle that had been sacked a huge number of times. On the ramparts of the castle, we discovered another fascinating bit of wildlife: a slug.

We returned to Algeciras for a quiet night--it's the big port city, but there's not too much of interest for tourists to see or do there. The next morning, we slept in, then walked a few blocks to the port, and paid 20 euros each to get on the next passenger ferry to Tangier, Morocco...

...which is a whole new world (yes, the Aladdin reference is deliberate). More on that soon!


  1. Technically, baboons are monkeys, not apes, as I'm sure you'll learn once you begin the safari parts of your journey :-)

  2. Fantastic. I totally miss Spain. Hope you're enjoying Africa

  3. Ah, the Alhambra looks just like my pictures from 1999! Did you pass many pleasant hours in the garden like Washington Irving?