A Strict Hierarchy

Where will YOU sit???

This is part of a menu posted on the inside window of one of the many bars in Toledo.  As you can see from this very helpful list of prices, there is a pecking order associated with where you sit.

If you take your food and drink at the bar (barra), you get the best price but perhaps sore feet.  If you take a table (mesa), expect to pay a bit more.  Sitting upstairs on the terrace though (terraza) and you will pay a good premium for the right to look down your nose at the cheapskates down on the street.

If you need to find Christina or me, you’ll find us parked at the bar 😛

Competition update!

This is getting difficult! The guesses in our HOW FAR? contest are close together and we’re on the move! I’m going to announce a temporary tie between Alex and Sam, and Tessa and Jim for their guesses of 3,500 and 4000 miles.

Among Friends

Can you spot our van?

We pulled into Toledo around 8pm and we started to scout out places to park and right next to the bus station we found our haven! A huge free parking lot among friends at the base of the hill of the old city. Can you spot us?

Toledo was great town, with pedestrian areas and cobblestone streets. The little tourist train that left from the central square seemed endlessly popular. It was packed every time we saw it go by.

The Juderia

Rubbing shoulders with your neighbors

This is a picture of one of the small winding streets in Cordoba.  Most of these Spanish cities seem to have well preserved medieval areas.  When the streets get cobbled up and twist back and forth in different directions, chances are you have found the area of town labeled the ‘Juderia’.  So far we have not managed to figure out if this where the Jews lived in every city, or if it has become a catch-all phrase for the areas of the city that exhibit this type of architecture.

If they really all are ‘Juderia’ then why did the Jews live in these winding streets?  Was it the poorer area, was it something to do with the way Jewish communities evolved under the foreign Moorish and Catholic cultural pressures?  We haven’t figured it out yet, and haven’t found the right person to ask.

Castles in Spain

In French there is an expression “chateau en Espagne” that means a fantansy, something unrealistic, a pipe dream.

AND YET, in Spain, along the highways at least once an hour (for our van that means every 60-70 km depending on whether we’re going uphill….), we saw the ruins of old castles dotting the landscape, up on distant hills.

Chateau en Espagne from the van

I wonder what that means… Spain is the land where dreams come true? Or that the French didn’t spend much time in Spain? Or that they thought the Spanish castles were fancy decoys, left empty to mislead invaders?


The “Cathedral” in Cordoba was amazing.  It was called by the guides ‘the greatest physical expression of homesickness in the world’.  If they were homesick, these Moors certainly were inspired to build an extraordinary building.

The mosque is surrounded on all sides by a high wall with a few large golden doors with ornamentation above them.   Praying moors would have then passed through the main doors into a very large cobblestone courtyard with several fountains where one would wash oneself (including feet) before moving inside the mosque to pray.   From reading the guidebook I knew that after the Moors were defeated, the locals had ‘converted’ the mosque into a Catholic cathedral.  I was a bit leery of paying 8 Euros to walk around inside a standard cathedral with a few preserved mosque-elements on the walls.

Inside the 'Cathedral'

Boy would it have been a mistake to miss this place!  When we did agree to go inside, we walked in to find that the mosque had been beautifully preserved and then resurrected to most of its former glory.  This was due mostly to its very impressive size.  While the mosque lacked the vaulted and enormously high ceilings we’ve become familiar with in the Catholic cathedrals we’ve visited, it was low and very very wide.  This fact made it very uncathedral-like and presumably caused some of the difficulty to the efforts to convert the mosque into a cathedral.

The inside was nice and cool and consisted of pillars in every direction with pink striped Moorish arches as far as you could see in the two directions from the corner.  The very edges of the mosque, the last row of pillars, had been turned into the normal caged Saint areas for people to come and pray to individual saints in this ‘cathedral’.  At first I thought that the Catholics had given up after that.  We walked counter-clockwise and found ourselves at the far wall, the West wall presumably, where there was a heavily ornamented area with excerpts from the Koran in gold script written all over the walls.

The actual cathedral

It wasn’t until we had walked all the way around the mosque that we discovered a very elegant little cathedral stuffed in the center of the huge mosque layout.  It was pretty funny to nearly have missed it altogether in the large sprawling mosque.  The woodwork there was astonishing.

You can see some of the mosque pictures in the images that Christina has posted from Cordoba HERE.

When we walked inside and looked around, I was completely unaware that the center had been converted into a cathedral because as large as it was, it was a very small part of the whole.  Imagine that, a place where you can lose a cathedral!!!

Competition update

Beth’s in the lead on our HOW FAR? contest! With the closest guess of 3000 miles. As we’re on our way to Barcelona, we should be eating up some miles and it won’t take us long to cross that guess out.

Best of luck to the everyone with guesses still in the running!

The Semana Santa Videos (finally)

Well I’ve finally sat down and spent some time figuring out how to embed YouTube videos into some posts.  Here are three of the promised videos from the amazing Semana Santa celebrations (Easter) in Seville, Spain.

The first video shows a complete float passage; incense burners, the float, the altar boys, the band, and some of the scary looking brotherhood in their robes and cone hats.  Keep in mind this is a complete float passage, but the entire procession is often thousands of people large from each fraternal organization that can take over an hour to walk past (slowly slowly) and whose processional march lasts between six and ten hours.  Some of the brothers walk barefoot and carrying crosses in penitence (not shown here).  As the float passes you will hear the band a bit better as they play the very cool mournful music towards the second half of the video.

The second short video shows a daytime float halting and changing over their bearers.  You will see the fresh guys standing there ready in their head towel protections as the skirt lifts up and hot and tired looking bearers stumble out from under the float, some in their undershirts.   When all the bearers are out, the new guys climb underneath to take their spots.

The third very short video is just ‘The Hoist’ and shows how violently the float shakes when 30 odd guys stand up suddenly underneath.  The candle holders jump and sway and if you look towards the top of the video you can see how badly the Virgin Mary wobbles by seeing just how much her cape swishes about (you can’t quite see her though).

You can see some nice stills of what the processions look like during daylight and at night at our galleries.

Contest update

BETH is now in the lead in the HOW FAR? contest for number of miles! Her guess was 3000 and our current standing is 2907!!!

Is your guess looking good?

Hot Blood


Being exposed to some of the British sensibilities while young, and growing up in a pretty staid suburban town in New Jersey, I find that I have certain built-in hurdles to expressing myself or “letting go”.  To me, this feeling is most evident on a dance floor, where I usually require a healthy dose of social lubricant in order to tamp down my natural aversion to doing something as patently ridiculous as shaking my booty on a dance floor.

One of the pleasures of traveling and soaking up some very foreign (to me) cultures is the ability of many peoples to not only wear their emotions on their sleeves, but to actively wave said sleeves very vigorously around at every opportunity, public or private.  I dated  a very nice Israeli girl for a while, and remember a particular incident involving another group of Israelis that I was reasonably sure was going to end in some sort of bloodshed.  As arms flew, the volume rose and my adrenaline levels soared, she turned to me and explains that they have been discussing where to eat lunch.  I could have sworn from the tone and facial expressions that at some of the conversation had involved questions to ones heritage and at least one death threat.  Who knows, maybe one day I’ll speak some Hebrew and find out that is the way the Israelis settle questions of where to take their meals.

To take this emotional turmoil one step further is ones self expression on a dance floor.  I’ve had run-ins with Brazilian Samba, Mexican Meringue, Guatemalan Salsa, but Flamenco has topped them all.  While in Seville I saw my first live Flamenco performance, and don’t mind telling you I was intimidated.

Christina has shown me a great clip that we enjoyed from a movie that I wouldn’t enjoy.  For the neophyte, it is a fun introduction to some of the anger, sadness, frustration and passion that we would then see in person watching the dancer. Fast forward the video to 2.30 minutes to enjoy the meat of it.  “MY SPACE!!!!!!”

So we were excited to be sitting with our bottle of Rioja in this bar as the Flamenco group strode onstage.

Building the Passion

Before she danced, she told the people in the bar that they all had to stop smoking, stop talking, and that while they could take photos if she caught them taking movies she would drop kick them across the table.  My Spanish is a little fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure I caught the gist of it.  Then she sat back down next to the couple of musicians and a Flamenco singer and quite visibly worked herself into some sort of a fury.

After the first song (without dancing or drop-kicking) it seemed to me that the audience clapped with a certain tone of relief, especially after she smiled briefly, presumably to let us know that we weren’t screwing up too badly as an audience.

Once she did decide to get up and dance, both the audience and the musicians were rapt.  As she danced she called out to the musicians ‘watch me’ or ‘look out’ as she changed tempos.  There was a lot of whirling staccato rhythms which ended abruptly in silence and outbursts of applause.  Judging by the laser-like focus of the musicians, they bear some scars somewhere from when they missed such a halt. Between songs I actually hoped she would take a break, but she hammered on, even faster than before.

It was quite an amazing performance, of dancing, emotional outburst, audience control, and pure physical prowess.

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