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Aisling I
Back in Ayamonte

Rick, Christopher and I arrived back in Ayamonte on Friday night. We all miss Katherine, so the things we have done since then have been tinged with a little sadness that she is not here to experience it with us. Our family road trip was so wonderful and eventful that there is too much to describe in one entry- we've started with Sevilla (below) and will add more installments over the next couple of days. In the meantime, it is fiesta weekend in Ayamonte- a fantastic cultural experience!

South Spain & Gibraltar 2007
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Rick and I have dreamed of returning to Sevilla (Seville) since our first visit there in 1999, and we were keen for Christopher and Katherine to experience its magic. We had hoped to sail to Seville, but the journey up the Guadalquivir River requires at least a full day, and as of September 2nd we were still nearly sixty miles from the mouth. With the clock winding down to Katherine's September 7th departure -and all of us growing a bit weary of coping with the cramped living space onboard Aisling- we decided to catch a bus into Seville, about two hours from Ayamonte. When we arrived at our hotel in downtown Seville at 5.30 p.m., an electronic thermometer on a nearby building was reading 34 C- relatively cool for summer in Seville. It seemed hotter.

The hotel Las Casas de la Juderia, created from a series of neighbouring houses in the old Jewish quarter, was a delightful place. It is built around interior, open air courtyards and has a small roof-top pool and solarium. Our rooms-complete with walk-in showers, huge Jacuzzi bathtubs, wireless internet and satellite TV- seemed unbelievably large and luxurious. This presented a bit of a dilemma- the wonders of Seville versus the miracle of BBC. (If that sounds ridiculous, consider that we've been away from the comforts of home for nearly three months!) Nonetheless, the thought of tapas drew us outdoors. We wandered through the narrow lanes surrounding our hotel, trying to follow our progress on the Lonely Planet maps and sampling a selection of small plates along the way. We tried a delicious savory stew of vegetables and squid, Spanish tortilla, tiny clams in garlic/olive oil/cilantro sauce, Iberian ham and more. We finished the evening in one of the courtyards of our hotel, listening to Spanish guitar over a glass of white wine.

The next morning we headed straight for the cathedral, hoping to hear the choir sing at 0930. Seville's cathedral, reputedly the largest in the world, is magnificent. It was built on the site of a 12th century mosque, of which the famous Giralda tower was originally the minaret. Although the upper parts were added when the tower was "Christianized" in the 16th century, its Islamic origins are easily recognized. The main cathedral is primarily Gothic, with high vaulted ceilings, and the splendor of the gilded altarpiece is breathtaking. In spite of this, the overall impression is of darkness and gloom. An elaborate tomb inside the cathedral houses the bones of Christopher Columbus (although there is some controversy about this, since the Dominican Republic claims that Columbus is buried beneath a monument there.) After spending a few minutes listening to the all-male choir in one of the chapels, we headed off in search of coffee and breakfast.

To our astonishment, we spotted a Starbuck's a few minutes' walk from the cathedral. The guys were firmly of the opinion that going there would be "just wrong". Rick said it was an embarrassment. (Sure, but he doesn't even drink Starbuck's in Canada!). Katherine and I held firm and ordered an iced caramel macciada and grande caf� de la semana to go. It tasted like home. Meanwhile, Christopher had located an acceptable caf� for breakfast, and from there we headed to the Alc�zar.

The Alc�zar is over 11 centuries old, and the site has been used as a fortress and palace by a series of Muslim and Christian rulers. The Palacio de Don Pedro ("Pedro the Cruel") is built in the mud�jar style (a term used when the Christians adapted Moorish features in the construction and decoration of their buildings). The tilework and architecture is stunning. The Alc�zar gardens are also unforgettable- we wandered there for over an hour and even managed to navigate our way through the maze.

After more tapas for lunch and a swim in the hotel pool, Katherine and I headed out for another walk, stopping to try a bag of churros along the way. These finger-sized pastries are deep fried, sprinkled with sugar, and served with a small cup of warm chocolate sauce for dipping. Decadent, but yummy! Our intention had been to revisit the cathedral and take a more leisurely walk through the interior, but unfortunately we had misread the times in our guidebook and when we arrived it was closed for the day. As always, we were trying to cram too much into too little time.

For our last night in Seville, we decided to splurge on a nice dinner, so we made reservations at Restaurante Egana Orista and dressed in the best finery we could muster. The prices on the menu were initially a bit shocking, but the meal was stupendous. Bread, huge caperberries, olives and warm sausages were served before we ordered our meals. Then came the delectable appetizers (mushroom and prawn lasagna, foie gras terrine, goat cheese salad with fruit and walnuts) and equally wonderful main courses (braised leg of lamb for Christopher and Rick, codfish in a garlic cream sauce for Katherine and a delicious Iberian pork dish for me). In the end, the cost was slightly less than we would have paid for a comparable meal in Montreal or Toronto- partly because the cost of wine is so much lower here. Rick was delighted when the maitre de gave him several issues of a food and beverage magazine, one of which featured an article on Egana Orista, complete with recipes. The evening will be a very special memory for all of us.

The next morning, we rented a car at the Seville train station. Our plan was to drive to Evora (one of Portugal's world heritage sites) spend one night there and then head to Lisbon to drop Katherine at the airport. First, though, we had to find the car, have the usual family dispute about who had rights to "shotgun" and get the car out of the parking lot. The confusion at the "salida" had all the elements of a Lucille Ball-type farce. Exiting required a bar-coded ticket, which Eurocar had failed to provide. Rick decided to drive up to the gate anyway, and repeatedly pressed the intercom button while cars lined up behind. Finally, an attendant responded, but Rick's Spanish was not up to the challenge. The attendant's English was only slightly better, and the resulting exchange had the attendant repeatedly bellowing "Need tee-kay" and Rick responding "No tee-kay in car, No tee-kay in car" while the rest of us howled with laughter. Finally the attendant appeared in person- about five feet tall and wearing an orange jumpsuit, a weightlifter-style belt, and enough gold neck chains to redecorate the altarpiece in the cathedral. Body language can be far more explicit than spoken language, so he had no difficulty telling us that only inconsiderate foreign ignoramuses would try to get out of a parking lot without a tee-kay, and that we needed to go back to the Eurocar booth and get one.

That done, we finally made out way out of the city and headed north on a small secondary highway. We had breakfast in the courtyard of a small roadside cantina, and continued our drive through a mountainous landscape of wheat-coloured fields dotted with olive groves and grazing cattle. Periodically, we spotted hill-top castle ruins. After crossing the border into Portugal's Alentejo district, we began to notice large dusty-green trees with bark stripped from the trunks. Eventually, we realized that these were cork trees (Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world). The panorama of the dry fields, sprinkled with the cork trees throwing great shadows, reminded us of Monet's wheat field paintings.

We arrived in Evora in early afternoon, having gained back an hour from the time difference between Spain and Portugal. Next installment- Evora!

South Spain & Gibraltar 2007
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09/11/2007 | Kathy
Ah, Fawlty Towers in reverse, I speak Spanish, I learn it from a book......

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