The splendor of Andalusia Part 1

Plaza de Espana, Seville

This trip was something of a dream, as the places we visited had been on my mind for some time, and originally I had wanted to visit them by train from Madrid. However, with concerns of Covid 19, we opted for a road trip of 16 days, to give each place its due. We flew into Seville, with an 8 hour layover in Zurich (which became a feature not a bug, as our son would say) and spent 4 days there sans car, then picked up the car, and continued on to El Gastor, Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and finished off in Carmona. The timing worked out very well. All these destinations are well worth a few days. So onward!

Seville was charming and everything that we had hoped for, despite (or maybe because of) being invaded by hordes of Scottish and German football fans. The Scots, who at first seemed belligerent, turned out to be harmless, nay friendly! We high fived them and cheered them and it was all good fun.

Scots fan encountered on top of Las Setas

One morning we couldn’t get out of our apartment door for the never ending stream of fans passing by in the narrow street. The only way was to join and march along with them, cheering. It was a fun experience. So in Seville apart from ambling around the ancient streets we visited the impressive Alcazar with its splendid gardens, the not so impressive Triana market, the lovely promenade along the river with the Torre de Oro, Plaza de Espana and gardens, the Metropol Parasol, otherwise known as the Setas (Mushrooms), best viewed towards nightfall for a wonderful panorama over the city. We also attended the obligatory flamenco show (most enjoyable) and sampled our first amazing tapas. Our trip was off to a splendid start and the Air bnb we picked was well placed in walking distance of the Setas.

We then headed for the Santa Justa train station full of dejected Rangers fans, and picked up our car (was supposed to be a tiny Fiat 500) . The car rental people insisted we could not have that car as our luggage would not fit in the boot, and this would result in a fine from the police if stopped. Never mind, we said we will risk it. The upgrade was too expensive. When we went down to the lot to pick up the car we were presented with a massive VW. No, I said that isn’t our car. Yes it is, she said. We don’t want to pay for an upgrade, we insisted. Mismo precio (same price) she said. She phoned the office and repeated this. Okay we said. Got in said car and drove off for our next wonderful destination- El Gastor.

Now I am sure you have never heard of this one. Neither had I till I researched the area around Ronda. I knew I wanted to visit the “pueblos blancos” , the famous white towns clustered around Ronda, of which there are many. It was hard to know which one to pick as a base. Until I came across Lesley and Terry’s “Casa de las Flores“. That had to be the one. You see why.

The lovely Lesley and Terry from the UK met us outside the local church in the tiny two street town, after having sent a map to show us where to park. The place was perfect as was El Gastor, quiet and gorgeous and with friendly people who smile and say good morning. It was the best place to tour around the white towns. I had planned to do some hiking in the gorgeous countryside around, but the temperatures of 35C and over did not really suit. We did visit aforementioned Ronda, as well as Zahara de la Sierra and the incredible Setenil de las Bodegas too. But really there are many options for interesting tours around the region.

It is hard to capture the stunning beauty of each of these places. There are so many white towns you just have to pick a few.

After the three lovely nights in El Gastor we continued on to our next stop, two nights in Malaga. Here we were lucky enough to stay with Pablo de Michael, the charming host at Patio de Arance. Fortunate in that when I was pickpocketed , losing the key to the apartment he came to our rescue in a short time and all was well. He also gave us a lovely map of the city and some recommendations of what to see and do. Despite the theft we had a great couple of days walking along the promenade and wandering in downtown which felt a bit like a Spanish version of Tel Aviv. The beach did not overly impress but we did eat a marvellous curry one night. The highlight was a visit to the Picasso museum of Malaga. Very little remains of the Jewish “Juderia” but there are a few pretty streets of boutiques and restaurants you can wander around.

I think this is the place to take a breather before we continue on our way to Granada, Cordoba and Carmona, all historical heavyweights. Stay tuned!

Part two Taiwan Golden Week trip

On the next morning we decided to explore a different part of the city.So we took the metro to the old neighbourhoods of Wanhua and Ximen which has lots of very old temples and a building called the Red House which was built by the Japanese as a market and is now used as a centre for independent artists to exhibit their wares. The neighbourhood had lots of very interesting old buildings,lovely coffee houses and as promised lots of temples too.It was a great place for a Sunday morning walk.

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The Red House in Ximen District Taipei

After a bit of wandering around we ended up in a Bird Sanctuary where we met some Taiwanese scouts who were bird watching with a telescope.We chatted to them for a bit and then they packed up and cycled off to see Longshan Temple.They offered for us to come but since we had just seen a bunch of temples we wandered off again,and by complete chance wound up next to the Longshan Temple but didn’t go in.We just took the metro back to Ximen District to check out the area around the Red House,which had been deserted at 11am but which was now packed with street performers,shoppers and restaurants.

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Temple in Wanhua district of Taipei

Since the next day was raining we decided to spend it at the National Palace Museum which is supposed to be a ” not to be missed” place for first timers in Taiwan.It was indeed a very good museum with a wide range of exhibits,ranging from calligraphy to Ming Pottery and so on.Most was labelled in English too.

The next day we took the fast train down to Kaohsiung.The only hitch was that on arrival at the HSR station it transpired that the tickets we had bought on 28th September for 1st October were in fact for 28th September.We had told the lady at the ticket booth that we wanted advance tickets and not same day tickets and pointed on the calendar date.However since I didn’t check carefully what the ticket date was,our tickets were invalid.Fortunately the nice guy on the gate allowed us to exchange them (at no cost!) for non-reserved seats,meaning we could take any seat in carriages 10-12 and there were plenty of those so we got a seat and enjoyed the scenery flashing by at approx 250 kilometres per hour all the way. We arrived at Kaohsiung actually earlier than we were supposed to,had we got the train we had booked .We crossed the road and found a car rental agency,booked a car for the next day and proceeded to our lovely hotel the Silken,5 minutes walk from the main station.The hotel room was massive and had a huge bathroom and jacuzzi and free buffet breakfast!

After a quick rest we walked down town and went in the direction of the harbour .First we walked along the river bank and then arrived at the harbour,where there was a huge rubber duck floating in the water surrounded by Taiwanese having their pictures taken.Then along the promenade was a night market of foods so we sampled various things and had a rather splendid first day in Kaohsiung.

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very big duck

Next day we duly picked up our rented car and drove down to South Bay on our way to the southern tip of Taiwan.The way down was not as picturesque as we were expecting but the beach where we ended up that night made up for it.We stopped at a restaurant called Bossa Nova and had something to eat.We asked her if she knew of a place for us to sleep and she said she would ask around.After our (amazingly delicious ) meal she said there was a room right next door her in a sort of B and B place and took us over to see.It was perfect,right opposite the sea front and also really cheap.So we put our stuff in the room and went to have a walk on the beach.There were a large quantity of school kids celebrating their end of school there and they all waved and wanted to be photographed.

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Beach Boys

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Pink Beach Lady

And that’s enough for today,as we have to go out to meet some friends… to be continued