Southern Spain & Gibraltar

Seville

After our time on the beaches of Portugal (see blog here), we ventured to Seville, Spain to visit some friends who are stationed nearby in Moron. We were both last stationed in Dover, Delaware, so this was a fun opportunity to visit while we are both overseas!

We met up with our friends Eric, Liz, Addy, Emma and Lilly in the beautiful Plaza de España in Seville (Sev-ee-yah) and took a very leisurely walk around the inner city towards the Cathedral de Seville. The kids were SO excited to see each other! As we walked and Derek and I got a mini tour and history lesson from our friends, the kids were totally distracted with laughing, catching up, and clinging to one another. It was so sweet to see! It was also great to be with friends we hadn’t seen in over a year and a half and feel like time had hardly passed. Sure, the kiddos had grown up a bunch in that time, but they fell right back into the swing of things effortlessly. It’s always reassuring for military families to know this is possible, as there are more goodbyes and see-ya-laters than these children could ever be prepared for. Even today, we knew, would be short-lived, but it was precious nevertheless and we certainly made the most of our half day together!

Colorful tile work!
Beautifully painted banisters and buildings in Plaza de España

From Plaza de España we walked past the University of Seville, pointing out the Hard Rock Café, stopping for drinks at Starbucks, and seeing one of the “most expensive and luxurious hotels” in Spain, the Hotel Alfonso XIII. It boasts a high-end clientele including Audrey Hepburn, Sofia Loren, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana, and scenes from Laurence of Arabia were filmed there. Rooms start at $1200 per night!

We made many stops along our way…to look at street artists and entertainers, to grab an ice cream, to find a bathroom for the kids, to take pictures with doors…

The “magical” floating street performer!

I loved looking at the architecture and was finding it difficult to pinpoint the styles as it didn’t look distinctly Gothic or Arabian. We learned that although the city was founded by the Romans, it was later ruled and developed by the Moors for 800 years. Then the Christians overtook the city in the mid 1200’s and Muslims were exiled. Much of the Moorish architecture was embellished with more Gothic styles, including the great Cathedral of Seville which was built over the existing big Mosque. Evidence of both Moorish and Gothic architecture can be seen all over the city, as well as the vibrant, colorful Spanish patterns on tile work and flooring. It’s a beautiful and culturally unique place indeed!

It was a gorgeous day, and we let the kids run wild in the Plaza de San Francisco after a pit stop for gelato from Amorino. We just hung out and visited until restaurants opened for dinner in the evening. We walked around the narrow streets looking for a good place to have tapas and found a great little restaurant called Bar Catedral Sevilla. It was decorated with huge bull heads all over the walls, and the menu was great – we just wrote down all the tapas we wanted to try and the kindly staff brought it to our huge table plate by plate by plate. It was so fun to try it ALL the things. It felt like we stuffed ourselves – and when the bill came it was surprisingly low! We tried various breads, dishes, croquettes, and jamón, a fresh-sliced, delicate and richly flavored cured ham – similar to prosciutto. One thing I would’ve liked to try but we didn’t have enough room in our bellies was paella. We will just have to go back someday!

After dinner it was pretty late, so it was time to say our goodbyes. We reminded the children that it wasn’t really good-bye, it was “see you later!” It was fitting that a lovely opera singer was gathering a crowd as we went our separate ways. Almost like a soundtrack to the departure! We were given the most beautiful piece of street art by our friends as a gift, which was extra special as we stopped to watch the artist for a little while and the kids asked her a bunch of questions. The painting is already in the frame shop – what a special memento from a lovely visit! We were so grateful to have had the little window of time to spend with our friends. I wonder where in the world we will see them next?

Sayonara for now, Hitzfields!
A little bouquet of dandelions …
Liz and Bri, moms of three!
Watercolor street art – what a nice gift!

Gibraltar

The next day we drove south, from Seville to Algeciras. We stopped for pastries (as usual) and made our way to Gibraltar. It was a disappointingly cloudy and dreary day, but we had zero complaints as the entire week up until that point had been perfectly beautiful, sunny and warm. It didn’t stop us from making our way to the top of Gibraltar – the kids were gung-ho to see the “monkeys!” I am convinced I have three monkeys of my own living with me…as there is nothing they won’t climb!

We learned that Gibraltar has been occupied by the British for over 300 years. There were many sieges and battles that took place over the last 500 years, but the British have overcome them all and remain a steadfast military post on the gateway to the Mediterranean sea. The Barbary macaques (or “Gibraltar apes” as locals call them) are a tailless monkey – the only surviving monkey colony in Europe. Their existence in Gibraltar has unknown origin, but some believe the Barbary pirate invasions brought the apes with them in the mid 20th century. The old British legend says, “The British will rule Gibraltar as long as the apes remain.” So, when Winston Churchill learned their numbers were dwindling in the mid 1900’s, he had more brought in from Morocco to ensure their survival.

We spent a lovely portion of the afternoon parking and then joining a tour up the rock. It is not the most convenient to drive onto Gibraltar, but we did it anyway, and managed to score a free parking spot near the gondola. Pure luck. Visitors are not allowed to drive up the rock, so you can get up there three ways: walking, gondola, or on a tour. The line for the gondola was SO long, and for our family it cost about the same to do the gondola or the tour, so we opted for the tour, which we didn’t have to wait for at all. We saw many people walking, and had we trusted the weather and our weary feet, we may have too. It is quite a hike to the top of the rock, so we were glad to be with an expert guide who took us to the pillars of Hercules, St. Michael’s cave, and then to several beautiful lookout points atop the rock.

The narrow path for tour vans and tourists atop the Rock of Gibraltar. Apes are everywhere!

It didn’t end up raining on us, but we didn’t have the visibility people talk about from that point – all the way to Africa. Instead we got plenty of up-close and personal encounters with the Barbary Macaques and enjoyed a history lesson from the born-and-raised in Gibraltar guide who took us up the rock. He told us about movies filmed here, as well as the economy of the tiny region, which is basically the size of Manhattan in NYC. “Online gaming is huge now, as well as shipping, and then of course tourism.” He told us. We got a kick out of the apes interacting with the vans – even jumping into the windows! And we were told that they have learned to unzip backpacks, so to hold on tight to our belongings. We noticed one ape jumped right up onto a guy wearing a backpack and tried to pull it off of him. He was quick on his feet and got out of there with his backpack intact! Our guide pointed out the many, heavy iron loops that had been secured into the rock face and explained that they were used as pulleys to hoist cannons up the rock during the several sieges of Gibraltar in Britain’s history. Additionally, we were told of the nearly 34 miles of tunnels in just 2.6 square miles of land area inside the rock of Gibraltar that are currently not available for touring (except with special permission). They have had many uses over the years, including hiding and housing thousands of British soldiers during attacks.

St. Michael’s Cave is a lovely natural series limestone caverns that is now colorfully lit and used for parties, events, and even weddings! Upon exiting the caves, we got our first glimpses of the apes. One wasn’t very friendly and Beau had to be quick on his feet to dodge the lunging macaque. As we moved up the rock, though, we met plenty of very friendly, active and playful monkeys – including babies – who were grooming each other, munching on treats, and jumping through the trees onto rocks.

The best view we got of the Rock of Gibraltar
We were ushered along pretty quickly by our tour. Not a lot of time to linger…

The last stop, pictured above, is another lookout point over the city, marked with a plaque depicting Queen Elizabeth’s visit in the 1950’s to the spot. It was easy to see where the walls of the old city marked the original boundaries of the peninsula, and then where excavation and development expanded the territory out into the bay. The real estate in Gibraltar is, as can be imagined, astronomically expensive. There is a heavy military presence there, and the feel of the shops and restaurants is distinctly British. I’m glad we got a chance to see it once, even though the day was less than spectacular for photography and views.

Dash water – similar to LaCroix! Mmmmm

ALGECIRAS

We stayed in Algeciras, across the Bay of Gibraltar, in order to be closer to both Gibraltar and Tarifa, Spain, where we took the ferry to Morocco the following day (see blog here). Algeciras wasn’t that impressive of a city – in fact, we found Tarifa to be smaller but much more welcoming. There were cute streets and eateries in Tarifa, where Algeciras felt run-down and kind of dead. We had a great place to stay in Algeciras though, and loved being able to wake up with a sunrise view of the Rock of Gibraltar!

We did our fair share of walking on this trip, logging 4-5 miles per day. There wasn’t much to see in Algeciras, but I still appreciated the architecture around town! We ended up just shopping at the local store for some grocery items for dinner instead of waiting for the restaurants to open up late. It would take a while for us to adjust to Spain (and Italy) and how they do meal times!

Merida

On the way back to Portugal to fly home to Hungary, we stopped in the sweet little town of Merida, where we intended to have a pit stop for lunch and gas. Instead, restaurants weren’t open and the place was quiet. Sundays in Spain feel like ghost towns in some places! It was good to walk around anyway, and fun to see the ruins in the city, including the Temple of Diana. The kids were just fine eating at McDonalds – something we haven’t done in over a year and a half – and we noticed the food tasted a lot better than what we remembered from the states. Certainly fresher ingredients and a much larger menu that felt overwhelming!

The Temple of Diana in Merida, Spain

Overall we were so glad to have spent a little time in the south of Spain, visiting with friends, bopping over to Gibraltar and enjoying a full, amazing day in Morocco. We loved the food, found the culture friendly and familiar, and look forward to bringing the kids back one day to the northern parts. When asked what she remembers from Spain, besides her friends, Didi said, “the flamenco dresses!” Beau said, “the bulls” and Willow said, “maracas!” I certainly will remember the tapas, the music, and the strange hours kept by Spaniards! Haha! Until next time, Spain!

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