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Andalusia Spain - WOW what a trip

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This trip started as a business trip for D.  He had a conference in Madrid and then we were going to spend a several days in the south of Spain.  The conference was canceled due to the volcano ash, but since we had such cheap flights we went anyway and WOW was it a fabulous trip!  One article I read described Andalusia as having raw passion.

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It is a unique place with an exotic mix of Spanish, Jewish, Gypsy, and Moor influences.  The landscape is dotted with olive trees, castles, and white-washed villages.


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Our flight landed early evening but we wanted to get a jump start on the five-hour drive south so I selected a little town for the night that was an hour and a half drive from the airport.  What was intended to be just a place to sleep ended up being a hidden gem!

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A spectacular sight right outside of our B&B was the famous windmills immortalized in Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote
, written in the late sixteenth century.


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The story goes that Don Quixote saw the windmills and thought they were giants; the sails were the giant's arms.  His sidekick Sancho tried to tell him they were windmills, but he tried to battle them anyway.

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What we found interesting was that we never read about or had ever seen photos of the windmills.

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They truly were a unique site and didn't we luck out on this perfect blue-skied day! 


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We arrived on a Monday, the day most restaurants are closed.  We found one that was open but they were only serving one type of tapas (an appetizer or small snack in Spain).  D ordered a beer, a lemonade ale for me, and the tapas dish.  The bill... 2.10 euros.  That is less than $3!! 

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A few interesting tidbits about Spain; despite all the news about the financial crisis in their country, we found it to be thriving with a lot of road and home/building construction.  People are very friendly and welcoming.

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They also take VERY long breaks in the day where EVERYTHING shuts down for their siesta from 2:00 to 5:00!

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During lunch, up until the break is over at 5:00, tapas are served.  And then they do not eat dinner until 9:00 (at the earliest).  Restaurants do not open until then.  Eating really can be a challenge.  So we ate lots of tapas!

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They love their Jamon Iberico (cured ham) considered to be a "culinary treasure".  The most desired is from the black Iberico pig that was raised on acorns.  It is cured between 24 and 36 months.  Iberico ham is one of D's favorites.  Here's the selection in the grocery store.


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Most of the bars and restaurants will hang the hams for all to see.  Note the little cones that are on the bottom, this is to catch the fat drippings.

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Enough tidbits....let's get on with the trip.  We headed south for the Andalusia region of Spain.  The landscape is said to be just about as close to paradise as possible.  And we certainly agree.  It was absolutely breathtaking and probably one of the prettiest we have ever seen.

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Spain is the world's leading olive and olive oil producer and distributor.  There are over 300 million olive trees in Spain.  All of them perfectly spaced and perfectly manicured.  

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About 80% of the olive trees are in Andalusia, the area we were in.  They are very slow growing and produce fruit after fifteen years; up to 140 years.  There are approximately 260 different types of olive trees.   The best oil to buy - extra virgin.

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The poppy flowers (red streak in photo above) were in bloom - one of my favorites, but oh so hard to photograph.

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We decided to have a picnic lunch during our drive so we stopped at a little store that sold bread and cheese.  The cheese we selected needed cut.  So in our best Spanish, we asked the grandma running the shop if she could cut it for us.  She pulled me behind the counter, handed me the knife and showed me that she was too shaky to cut it.  Classic!

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We stayed at La Haza, a 250-year-old traditional cortijo (old farm house) nestled in acres of olive trees.  We stayed here four nights as it was a good location to explore the area.

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We did the "white-washed" village drive and stopped at many of the small towns famous for their narrow cobble stoned streets and slow-pace of life.

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The drive was somewhat overwhelming visually as there was so much to take in.  Every twist and turn had unusual sites and views from goat herders with their flocks,

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to hairpin turns on a twisted road with breathtaking views,


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to tiny perched towns with churches that sit on top like icing on a cake.

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We had one full day as "nature day" {oh joy}.  We started off by visiting a colony of pink flamingos at Fuente de Piedra Lagoon, one of the largest lagoons in Spain. 

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The reason the flamingos go to this lagoon is that it has a very high salt content.  It is one of the only places in Europe were they breed.  The are here in the spring and summer and fly to Africa for the winter. 

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We have never seen real pink flamingos so it was very exciting.  

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Next we went to the Lobos Wolf Park.  

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The wolves are raised by humans, meaning bottle-fed but then are left to live in their natural setting with the pack.  They are in fenced areas but are free to roam very large spaces.

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The main reason the husband and wife team set up the park was to study the wolves and their social behavior.  It was a very interesting tour, especially watching them being fed.  

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 They also have a few other animals including these two pot belly pigs.....which I could not resit taking a photo of. 



How about a kiss?

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Our last site for nature day was the stunning El Torcal Nature Reserve known for it's unusual limestone rock formation.   

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It is said to be 150 million years old  and there we were...walking all over it!  There were unusual colorful flowers sprinkled along the path.

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This vibrant green is dramatic.


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Including wild orchids (they said there are 30 varieties of orchids  in the park, we only saw one).  I have never seen an orchid growing in the wild.

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D's climbing instinct kicked in, and no matter what shoes he's wearing, he will climb.  Look carefully and you will see him hanging on the side of the rock.

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 Me on the other hand am just happy to be hiking in my dress,,,,,,wait does this face show "happy to be hiking?"  I don't think so.  

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I have to admit - this place was amazing, just look at how vast it is. Look very close - you can see a wee-me in the photo below.


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On our way down the mountain, our drive was delayed....

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by sheep!  We have seen this many times before but we still find it very humorous.  I was so excited I jumped out bare-footed to take photos!

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How many sheep can you count in this photo?  

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I are asking how many sheep photos is she going to post......but this photo is just so cute, I had to post just one more.



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As we drove down the road (and I put my shoes on) we wished that our viewers could hear all their bells jingling as they crossed the road.  Well lucky you!  We came across another flock and this time we recorded them.  Make sure your volume is on.


On to our next adventure, the town of Rhonda.  Described as majestic, the town is split right down the middle by the El Tajo Gorge. 

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Rhonda is also know as the birthplace for modern bull fighting. 


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Our third B&B was in one of the little white washed towns, Arcos de la Frontera, built on the edge of a cliff. 

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What a challenge to park in this town.  Well, actually parking was second to driving. 
These were BY FAR the smallest streets we have ever driven on.  We had a small car, but even with this, we had to pull in the side view mirrors to go down the street. 

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We wanted to show just HOW small the streets were so we took this shot after we went down the road and parked!

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It is amazing how the towns hang off the side of the cliffs, like they could tumble down at any minute.  Our B&B was on this cliff - just off center to the left, white with two windows.

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It was a converted palace built in 1729.  The roof top was an open terrace and was the entrance to our room.  It was magical at night.

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The neighboring town of Jerez is know for it's sherry, horses, and flamenco dancers.  While we were there, we visited the sherry bodegas of Lustau, which is D's favorite.  

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We arrived and the sign on the door said no tours without a reservation.  D was so disappointed.  A women came out and asked us if we would like a tour (D was dressed up that day, and I think this helped).

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They still make sherry like they have for the last hundred years and store it in barrels in their huge cellars that look like a church with arched ceilings.  The high ceilings are used to help control the humidity.  

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At the end of the tour we had a tasting of five sherries, one brandy, and a vinegar.  We bought two bottles and a vinegar.  We were limited to how much we could carry in our suitcase  :  ).


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As for the Flamenco dancers, we did not get to see any but their colorful presence could be seen throughout the region.


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Our funnest meal was at La Taberna de Boabdil, a restaurant our B&B recommended.  As I mentioned before, dinner in Spain does not start until 9 and we entered this one at 8 so we were the only one in the restaurant.  

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What a crazy place, set in a cave.  Because we were the only diners - the owner/chef really gave us a lot of attention.  The food was a delight and unusual mix of Jewish, Moroccan, and Mediterranean.  It was served in small portions and drinks with each the chef is pouring tea.



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By the end of the night we were still the only couple!  It was as if we hired the chef to cook a private meal for us.  He was very friendly and gave me a big hug when we left.

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Cemeteries around the world are always very fascinating.  Each country has such different ways of burying.   This one has, by far, the most beautiful view we have ever seen.  

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They also are unique in that they are buried in condo-like structures and at the front they place flowers, photos, mementos, etc.

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All of our B&B were charming with lots of personality, but the last was the most impressive - a farm where they raise bulls for the bull fights. 

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It has been in the family for over 100 years as a bull farm and training facility (bull ring below).

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Two years ago it was transformed into a B&B.  The owner did a brilliant job of making this a luxurious place to stay.  Nothing but the best linens, soaps and fresh roses in the rooms.

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The grounds of the farm were also....I am running out of words to describe Spain's about magnificent?

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Extremely colorful?

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We took a tour of the farm and got to feed a few of the bulls.  You can tell by my posture I am ready to make a dash if need be!

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Donald was a little more relaxed.

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This guy was not quite as friendly!


A peaceful shot taken in the early evening

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Hey, what about me.  I put lipstick on for the photo and everything!

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and last but not least, my favorite photo of D, thinking so intently.....blackberry and i pod, one in each hand.

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Disclosure....we actually forgot the good camera so all photos were taken with our two little point and shoots.  But this did not slow us down....we took 2183 photos!!!!!   This may be a record.

What you would like to see MORE of the 2183 photos?  :  )  Check out the album in the upper right hand corner at the beginning of this page.  Enjoy!



Never a dull moment in the city

We took a walk today and stumbled upon the gay right parade, called the PINK Party. 


I am not sure I really need any words for this blog...other than is was certainly colorful!



In so many ways!!!

























Just about everyone "came out" to support the cause!



A new outfit for the Manneken Pis



The Mannekin Pis changes his outfit frequently, but each outfit is usually only on display for a few hours.  He has hundreds of outfits.  When a new outfit is being introduced, there is always a celebration. 


This one was in honor of Portugal.






There was dancing....







And music.....




and drinking - they were giving out sample of Port wine, a very special drink from Portugal.




And of course, Jean-Pierre was there. 



He is at EVERY Brussels event - even events that have nothing to do with the Manneken Pis.  He is a blast to watch as he has replica of the Manneken Pis and he wheels it around the city.  When people come up to look at it.....


He "pees" on them with water!  He was especially funny on this day as he was perched on the corner and he was spraying cars as they went by.  This is a very crowded intersection so the cars have to come to a complete stop to make the turn.


This is when he gets them!  Everyone was getting a good laugh, even the people IN the cars!


Always a fun time to see the Manneken Pis get a new outfit!