No matter how many times you see the Mezquita in Córdoba it will always – ALWAYS – take your breath away. Obviously this little square pic doesn’t do it justice, but really no photo will ever do so. It’s been a few years since I’ve been inside (last time I think was with Craig & Susan?) and I loved it all over again.
A new experience for me was a morning visit to the Mahidat al-Zahra, which has only been open to the public since 2009. It is the site of a city built outside Córdoba around 950 BC for the Moorish king (Caliph), which only lasted about 80 years. The only down side to the visit was that we weren’t told until we arrived at the site by bus that the Salón of Abd-ar-Rahman III (ie The Main Attraction) was closed for repairs. Still, it was a nice walk around on a beautiful blue morning.
It was a fabulous birthday getaway and felt so much longer than just an overnight trip. We arrived in Ronda around 11.30 on Wednesday and took a scenic route to our hotel.
La Colegiata de Ronda (actually holiday apartments) was recommended by Mannie from Toma & Coe and it was perfect. The only “problem” was that we were barely there other than to sleep, so we didn’t get to take advantage of the rooftop terrace or the kitchen. But it was very spacious and comfortable and the owner, Gracia, was super helpful and friendly.
Of course there were tapas! We managed to fit in three delicious meals while we were there (plus one breakfast) but, according to my Fitbit, the amount we walked (much of it uphill) helped cancel out the extra calories. We enjoyed the trendy tapas at Tragatá, but traditional food won out. La Niña de Adela was as fabulous as I remembered it, though it has changed a bit since my previous visit in 2014. Our final lunch was next door at Mesón El Sacristán (run by Gracia’s brother Antonio) and it was wonderful.
Aside from visiting museums and walking up and down the gorge, our most unusual experience came about just by chance. Since I signed up for the Fitur Tourism Fair a couple of weeks ago I’ve been receiving emails from different tour operators, inviting me to visit them at their booth. So when another Fitur email popped up on my phone while we were on the bus I was about to ignore it … but the word Ronda caught my eye. It was from a place called Reserva Tauro just outside Ronda and, like the other emails, it suggested meeting up at Fitur. So I wrote back right away, saying I was actually on the bus to Ronda and plans were made for us to visit on Thursday morning.
Reserva Tauro is a breeding farm for fighting bulls and purebred Andalusian and Arabian horses located in the Sierra de las Nieves (a UNESCO site). It is run by Rafael Tejada, who is a bullfighter as well as a breeder. The visit was wonderful, quite exceeding my expectations. We were taken around the farm, sometimes on foot, sometimes on a little “tourist train”, and our guide kept us both entertained and informed. We got to see the young foals (so cute, all legs!), the mother cows and their young, and the bravo bulls. I even got to see Ibérico pigs close up. Later we were treated to a short riding performance, and Rafael showed us how to use the different fighting capes (which are much heavier than they look). Afterwards we were brought back to the testing ring and sat outside on the adjacent terrace, where we were given wine and snacks before being taken back to town. Honestly, if you are planning a trip to Ronda you MUST do this.
We also went to the bullring in town (Spain’s oldest), the Baños Árabes and the curious Museo Lara, which is about a dozen museums in one. And of course we made sure we were on the terrace of the Parador Hotel overlooking the gorge at sunset to enjoy a drink and the changing light. It was a perfect getaway. Next up… Córdoba!
I have been thinking about where to go for a big 60th BIRTHDAY TRIP, since I reckoned that making it to my 7th decade on January 7th was indeed something to celebrate. But my first choice (San Sebastián) fell though because my friend Gabriella is going to be away all month, and one of the main highlights of going to SS would be to hang out with G. And then I thought about Lisbon, but direct flights are difficult to find, so I may hold out on that one until I can go by car. Also, both places are iffy weather-wise in January, especially as I was planning to spend a week wherever I went, and a week in the rain anywhere would not be pleasant.
And so I have come up with a new plan, which is to celebrate my birthday all month long (!!!) with a different overnight getaway each week. Four destinations that immediately came to mind – Cádiz, Ronda, Córdoba, Granada – are all places I haven’t visited for a couple of years (or more) and so I thought this would be a nice way to “catch up”. Also, since I’ll be travelling by train or bus, I can pretty much book last minute, and avoid rainy days.
So… first stop Ronda! 🙂
On my last full day in Málaga Peter came down on an early train to spend my final 24 hours in town with me. After checking in at his comfy hostel just around the corner from my place, which was very convenient, we met Victor at the Atarazanas market for a quick beer and a snack before heading out for lunch.
The Hostel Vidamia even came with a resident cat, though Peter told me later that she didn’t sleep with the guests. We had a couple of very nice meals over the weekend (and one decidedly NOT nice one, which also came with a side of chef diva drama) but I’ll talk more about those over on Azahar Tapas.
I had been looking forward all week to visiting the newly opened Museo de Málaga and we finally went after lunch on Saturday… but after a couple of hours visiting just the archaeological exhibit on the second floor my brain was full and my feet were tired. There was no way we would have enjoyed or appreciated the art exhibit after that. Recommend doing this visit in two parts if you can.
The weather wasn’t being very cooperative over the weekend, so we didn’t get around as much as we would have liked. I was already gearing down and ready to go home by this point, so I didn’t mind so much, but I did feel badly for Peter that he didn’t get to go up on the big wheel. Next time.
WARNING: full-on rant ahead.
You may recall that I booked a small AirBnB apartment in Santiago de Compostela back in June (my trip there was to be the last week of August). The place looked basic but cheerful enough, and was a decent price, so what the heck. I wasn’t planning to be in the apartment a lot, but while there I need to work. So just before arriving (after having spent most of August without WiFi) I got in touch with the owner, Elena, to ensure there would be good WiFi so I could work. She assured me it was a strong signal, and in fact, this turned out to be true. But as for the rest…
One thing led to another after I arrived until I was unceremoniously ousted from my rental apartment… but I am getting ahead of myself.
Let’s go back to my arrival. My friends Anna and Jorge had picked me up at the airport and my first glance at the place to quickly drop off bags after picking up keys at the bar next door – Elena is basically an absentee landlady – we immediately went out for lunch. When I finally got back to the apartment to unpack and make myself at home I was dismayed by the fact that I could only open the windows for fresh air if I also left the blinds up. As I was at street-level, this not only provided me with a charming full-frontal view of the garbage bins, but it meant that anybody walking by could look straight into the apartment. So I had to keep the blinds down with the windows only slightly cracked open.
Thus, my first request was to ask Elena if she could bring over an electric fan so at least there would be a bit of air movment – I said that I knew and understood that places in Santiago didn’t tend to have air-con, but some ventilation would be welcome. I was told that she wasn’t in town, and by the time she’d be in town again the temperatures would have returned to normal (they didn’t, and this also didn’t address the no-ventilation issue).
That night I got into bed (there were two single beds in the apartment) and that’s really when the whole apartment from hell nightmare began. Aside from having soft spongy mattresses, the cheap metal bed frames SQUEAKED like crazy with every movement. I couldn’t sleep at all unless I lay perfectly still … getting the picture?
Next day I contacted Elena again about the spongy mattresses and the squeaky bed frame and I was told she had actually changed mattresses to make them softer after a tenant had claimed they were too hard (yeah, right…), at the same time saying she couldn’t take everyone’s mattress preferences into consideration, and then she suggested that perhaps the frames were squeaking from “old age”.
Really? A day later she told me she’d recently had to replace the frames after someone else had complained about one falling down on her. So clearly, these were not old frames, just cheapy shitty ones. And ANYHOW… if you are renting out an apartment for people to sleep in, don’t you think you should splash out a bit to make sure at least the beds are comfortable? In any case, as Elena was still out of town she said there was nothing she could do about this during my stay.
But let’s go back to my first morning (after next to no sleep). I got into the shower, was pleased there was decent water pressure and then… GAAAAHHH… got totally grossed out when I reached for my shower gel (which I’d put on the shelf thingy in the shower) and found gluey-wet cakes of OTHER PEOPLE’S LEFTOVER SOAP on the shelf. Seriously. Half-melted cakes of other people’s USED soap.
This led me to check out the rest of the apartment a bit more carefully. I discovered that the kitchen cupboards were not clean – they had bread crumbs, spilled sugar, various stains. And the kettle on the counter top was totally covered in grease spatters. Which of course made me wonder if the apartment had actually been cleaned since the last tenants… but hey, it gets “even better”.
I got back in touch with Elena to mention all of these issues, and her response was that I go and stay somewhere else. Really? I’d booked this place in June. It was now the last week in August – peak tourist season in Santiago. Was I really about to find anywhere else in town that didn’t cost three times as much? So I decided to bite the bullet and just stay on.
I had arrived on a Sunday. And I had put up with all the other crap until I woke up in the middle of the night (Wednesday-Thursday) to find a puddle of water oozing out of the base of the toilet. So of course on Thursday morning I got in touch with Elena, who was now back in Santiago, to tell her about this problem. She ACTUALLY ASKED ME if I would be there to let the plumber in during the day. Seriously?? I was paying a fee as a guest at this place – why the fucking fuck would I have to suddenly be responsible for letting in the fucking plumber??? (excuse the LANGUAGE, you can tell how much this absurd situation was going from bad to worse).
And so… while I was out and about in Santiago that day, Elena and the “plumber” came and decided there was absolutely no problem. Except that when I got home there was still a puddle of TOILET WATER oozing out of the base of the toilet (gross!). I took this photo and sent it to Elena. She then informed me that if I wanted the plumber to return then I would have to wait for him myself.
Now let’s back up a minute. I was on holiday. I had paid in advance, in good faith, for a basic holiday apartment near the centre of town. WHY was it suddenly MY responsibility to wait for the plumber??
But okay, I did. I waited. The plumber showed up. And the plumber was quite possibly the stupidest individual I’d ever had the misfortune to encounter in my life – even worse, he was an idiot with a chip on his shoulder. He started off (of course) by saying there was nothing wrong. Then I pointed to the puddle of water next to the toilet and suggested he have a look at the sealing ring under the toilet. Well, he then got a bit hysterical at this point, informing me (in so many unpleasant words) that I wasn’t in fact a plumber and that he would deal with this in his own way.
Eventually he did remove the toilet base, and the rubber ring, but then he left the ring to one side, replaced the toilet to its place (without the screws!) and said we could “wait and see” for a couple of days if the problem continued. WTF? When I suggested that this was really not actually a solution and that I was a paying guest, his reply was to inform me that “This isn’t a 5-star hotel!”. Then the so-called plumber grabbed the mop, started shoving it violently into the toilet (why? no idea) and then he triumphantly said to me “YOU SEE, IT’S NOT BLOCKED” at which point he removed the mop from the toilet and proceeded to slosh toilet water all over the bathroom floor. I was so disgusted at the point I just wanted this moron to leave, and so I told him there was nothing more to be done. And he left.
Then I took all the towels in the apartment and, using a disinfectant product I found in the kitchen, managed to clean the bathroom floor to a reasonable extent. And then I went out… needed a stiff drink at that point, and also something to eat.
It was while I was out that evening when I received “notice” from Elena (around 9 pm) that she was terminating our Air BnB contract, and would refund the last two nights, but I would have to be OUT the next morning. Srsly?
As luck would have it I came across a lovely family run hotel in the centre of town and I gave them a call. Bear in mind, this was at 10.30 pm and I still had no idea where I’d be staying the next day. Well, they couldn’t have been more welcoming, and I was ensured that I’d be given one of their best rooms.
Meanwhile the Air BnB helpline had been in touch with me, and were actually very helpful. They helped me get an extra day’s refund from Dread Elena (since my last day at her place had basically been HELL) and they also offered me a good-will compensation, which helped pay for the extra expense of getting a last minute hotel in Santiago in peak season. I was happy with that solution and was willing to let things go at that. As things had been settled “out of court” so to speak, I decided to take the high ground and not even leave a negative review on the site and just put the whole holiday from hell experience behind me.
But apparently Elena is a vindictive piece of work and preferred to take the low road. She actually posted this “review” on my AirBnB profile, accusing me of planning all this in advance. WTAF? Here it is, basically lies from start to finish…
With Shawn I have been the victim of a devised in advance plan. From the outset , she requested e-mail communication outside the normal channel of the web, something that surprised me. From the first day she arrived, she complained of a lot of pushy and arrogant way, so my answer was possible to cancel your reservation and seek alternative accommodation, but refused with various excuses. Several days later, she complained of a breakdown of water in the bathroom where there was none, she was sending photos bath full of water to the website, when I went with a plumber and we found nothing broken, she wasn’t in the apartment, she kept insisting and it was the plumber again when she was in the apartment, she forced to plumber to lift and to position the toilet three times, something surreal. The plumber left angry and perplexed with this woman, and he didn’t see any breakdown. I have asked the site to cancel the reservation immediately, because everything has been puzzling and regrettable. I was surprised that Shawn did not have any evaluation on the website when she told me she used much web Airbnb for travel.
Well, of course no future possible host would ever allow me to stay in their apartment after reading this bullshit, so I got back in touch with AirBnB, who had previously been so helpful, and they very unhelpfully said that this (slanderous) review didn’t break any of their rules and that my only recourse would be to reply publicly to this piece of crap and defend myself. In fact, I did have another recourse, which was to delete my AirBnB account.
And AirBnB seemingly doesn’t give a shit.
Santiago de Compostela is very photogenic, as you can see. You can either click on the collage above to see a bigger version of it, or see the single images below. So many nice memories…
Lugo was our destination on my final full day in Galicia, a day trip suggested by Anna and Jorge @thekilomeaters after vetoing my request to go down to Rías Baixas country (home of albariño wines). I was told that this was the worst time of year to visit that area as it is virtually swamped with tourists and I would not get a genuine experience of the place. And well, when given expert advice it is always wise to take it, so off we went to Lugo.
Probably the most distinctive thing about this provincial capital is that the old centre is surrounded by over two kilometres of Roman wall. You can also walk along the top of this wall (which we did) getting some excellent views of the city. Later we walked to the Plaza Mayor and visited the Cathedral. Then it was suddenly Beer O’clock and off we went to quench our thirst and try some complimentary tapas.
complimentary tapas in Lugo
We started off at a very traditional bar Las Cinco Vigas where not only could we choose a complimentary tapa, they also kept passing around a tray of pinchos… you could effectively fill up on these but we had to move on. Next stop was Mesón de Antonio, a classic restaurant. I’m not sure what is normally given out here with your drinks as, thanks to being with Anna & Jorge, we were given the VIP treatment and an array of tasty dishes arrived at our table for us to sample, along with a complimentary bottle of godello wine.
Mesón de Alberto
We made a couple more tapa stops after this, and along the way met local resident León the cat, who was out for a walk with his flatmate. She had the huge beast out on a harness and leash, which had got tangled up in his front legs, so we stopped to help her de-tangle the gentle giant.
León and flatmate
It was a lovely day out, soaking up sun and culture and sampling some delicious food and wine. And plans were made for a return Galicia Getaway next May, optimum time for a visit to Rías Baixas. Can’t wait!
I fell in love – nay, became slightly obsessed – with the Galician “galerías”, beautiful window-encased balconies at the front of houses, meant to trap the sun (and heat) during winter months. And as luck would have it, I ended up having my very own galería for my last two nights in Santiago.
I had booked an AirBnB apartment for my stay back in June, which I knew was small, but as I wasn’t planning to actually be in the apartment a lot, I thought it would be fine as long as it had good WIFI. Which it did. But after moving in I discovered there were a few problems with the place, the worst of which were that it was not very clean (ick) and that the cheap single bed frame SQUEAKED with every movement, all night long. But hey, it was high season, and there was no way I’d find a last minute option that wouldn’t be double the price, so I decided to stay put and make the best of it.
Then one night I discovered a pool of water around the base of the toilet… wtf? It was leaking every time I flushed it (ewww). A message to the owner had her and the plumber around the next afternoon while I was out… after which they insisted there was nothing wrong, that I must have left the shower door open. WTF?? A second message to the owner had the plumber come back in the evening – and for some reason I was told I had to be there to let him in (really? I was a paying guest on holiday) but I did so and ended up having to deal with a crazy idiot who clearly knew nothing about plumbing and seemed to think it was okay to yell at me. I shall spare you the ugly details about this encounter, but suffice it to say shortly after he left the apartment owner got in touch saying she wanted to cancel out contract. Which meant I would either be out in the street the next day, or else paying through the nose for a hotel for the rest of my stay.
So I went out for a walk. Happily I was in good spirits from having enjoyed one of the best meals of my entire Galician Getaway that afternoon (more on that later) and while I was in one of the bars I’d gone to with Anna and Jorge on our Complimentary Tapas Tour I started seriously looking at my options. Eventually I found a small family run hotel that seemed to have a room free. First I checked with A & J who recommended it for what it was – hey, with a one-star hotel I wasn’t expecting the Ritz, just wanted to know if I should book. But instead of booking online I gave them a call and talked to a lovely woman who sounded like somebody’s grandmother. She informed me that there was a single room available and when I asked her if I could please have a double bed there was a pause, and then she said they could give me a nice double room for one person on the second floor, with windows overlooking the street. Well, I was in! Especially as it was 10.30 pm and I had to be out of my dread AirBnB by 11 am the following morning. So I booked the room, informed Anna & Jorge of my plans, and went home to pack.
Yes, the hotel was double what I was paying for the AirBnB, and the room was a bit “cosy”, but it had great WiFi, a nice firm comfy double bed and … MY OWN GALERÍA!!! Also, some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet running the place. From the receptionists to the cleaning woman, I felt so welcome and cannot say there were any complaints at all. I also have to say that AirBnB also came through and offered me compensation for my hellish experience, which pretty much covered the extra cost of the hotel, so I was happy. All’s well that ends well. Especially because I got to spend my final two nights in Santiago de Compostela in one of the best areas of town (in my opinion) AND WITH MY OWN GALERÍA. Happy.
Hotel Fonte de San Roque
Santiago de Compostela