Friday, June 18, 2010

Europe Trip - 2010

June 8-9 - LA to Amsterdam

The flight from LA to Amsterdam was flawless. No turbulence and excellent service. KLM appears to be at odds with the typical U.S. airlines and actually gives you free wine, beer and even cognac after a very tasty dinner (also included in the price of the airfare). What a concept! Breakfast came before we landed and, even for me, was too much to eat. KLM definitely is getting my business whenever they fly to where I want to go.

Thankfully, our friends, Maria and Maarten were at Schiphol to whisk us away from the airport mayhem when we arrived. Shortly after our arrival we were sitting in their living room discussing things we had seemingly left hanging when we last met.

Later that evening, we drove into Amsterdam for “rystavel”, the traditional Indonesian dinner. As usual, it was very tasty and way too much food.

June 12 - Malaga, Spain

A couple of days later we were sitting in the Obispo Plaza in Malaga, in the shadows of the Obispo Cathedral at the Cheers Bar when the announcer on the big flat screen came on to say that the next soccer game was the U.S. v.s. Great Britain - this was at the world football cup in South Africa.

Malaga is one of the original old cities of the world. It’s been around since the Roman empire. It has had visits by the Visigoths and Moors before the Catholics were able to recapture the city in the 15th century. And here we are staying at a small guesthouse (Villa Alicia) in the hills of Malaga, just outside the old part of town. It’s a short walk from the Alicia’s up to Malaga’s history - the Gibralfaro fortress.

One of the places we visited was the Pablo Picasso Museum. Although Picasso was born in Malaga, he left here when he was 19 and never returned. In spite of this, Malaga still pays homage to him in a serious way.

Although the museum has much of his typical works, there are lots of other, more unusual drawings and paintings of horses, rape scenes, bestiality, lots of curly pubic hair, minotaur sex scenes etc… I didn’t realize what a wild and crazy guy Pablo really was. Things of interest - 1) some of his drawings looked like they would take ten minutes to draw and had a long and curious title while other very detailed etchings that certainly would have taken many hours, if not days, to draw were listed as “untitled”. 2) There was little hiding the fact that he appreciated women with big boobs. And he didn‘t shy away from drawing detailed vaginas with lots of curly pubic hair.

He loved horses, bulls and bull fights. One of the simple drawings that he made was of two horses standing next to each other. It was all drawn with one line, never taking the pen off the paper. Quite remarkable. The museum also has quotes by Picasso. One of them was in regard to doves, in which he noted that he had watched doves peck another dove to death. He concluded, “So much for doves having anything to do with peace“.

June 14 - Day trip to Granada

Today we picked up our spiffy Mini Cooper and hit the road to Granada. It took us a little over an hour to get there on a very nice and smooth freeway that went through hilly country roads.

We drove straight to the Alhambra, a walled city complex (referred to as the Medina) consisting of a fortress started in the 9th century by the Moors, a summer palace, a type of amphi-theater and a number of beautiful gardens. Much of the Alhambra (meaning red fort) evolved over centuries.

It was ruled by the Muslims until 1492 (of interest to those following the journeys of Columbus), when the Catholic Kings conquered Granada. During their rule, it was transformed into the royal palace. Centuries later, Napoleon conquered the area and ended up nearly destroying the entire complex in the war of 1812. By the 19th century the Alhambra was pretty much abandoned. As you can tell, the Alhambra has had a long history.

There was a dark side to the fortress too - the dungeon. It was cavernous and massive. We only got a glimpse of it from atop and found out it was only used as such when wars were going on. Otherwise, it was used as a storage area. It didn’t look like a place one would want to be as a guest.

After the splendid tour, we went into the city of Granada to walk around and see the main cathedral and some of the small bazaar alley ways that reminded us a lot of when we lived in Iran.

After having dinner at one of the restaurants around one of the city’s squares, we headed home to Malaga. We both thought that Granada would be a good place to spend more time.

June 15-16 - Ronda

After breakfast, we ventured back on the road, this time towards Ronda. We went by way of Marbella, one of the premier cities on the Mediterranean that cater to the rich and famous. So we only stopped for gas. From Marbella we turned north and began a drive on a long and windy road into the mountains. Dramatic views.

In Ronda we had reserved a room at the Hotel Dom Miguel, a smaller hotel adjacent to the “new” bridge and supposedly right on the gorge. We had asked for a room with a gorge view. Then we opened the door and looked out of our window, we could see that our room clung to the edges of the gorge and had a spectacular view all the way down the gorge (over 150 m). It looked somewhat like an aviary with sparrows, doves, pigeons and swallows all flying throughout the immense void from the river bottom to the very top lined with aging castles and white-washed homes.

One thing we are having difficulty to is adjusting to the Spanish eating schedule. At the hotels, typically breakfast is served between 9am and 11am. Dinner is typically served starting at about 8:30pm, though if you show up then, you’ll be eating alone. Spaniards won’t show up for at least another hour.

In Ronda we made an appointment to go to our first Spanish winery (a bodega) for a bit of wine tasting. We drove about five kilometers out of town towards Seville, parked the car at a hotel and were then picked up by a minivan that took us to the Joaquin Fernandez Bodega. They had a spectacular view of the valley and of Ronda - at the top of the hills.

The winery grows all their own grapes for their wines. They grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Grenache. Their wines are an interesting blend of each of these varietals. They make a nearly white wine from Merlot grapes, and also make several blends using all of the varietals in various proportions and blends. All were very good wines and not too pricy (between 10-15 Euros). For our first introduction to a bodega, it was a success.