Friday, February 17, 2012


After a long morning of bus travel, our host, Paul, met us in Ubeda to drive the remaining distance to our next destination. Cazorla greeted us with a clear day that offered enchanting views of mountains and endless olive orchards, and we were immediately excited at the prospect of exploring our incredible new surroundings. Moments later, we arrived at Paul's house to discover that we would be living in a luxurious, castle-view room right at doorstep of the town's historic center, and the gateway to the mountains. Paul assured us that if the weather held up it would not be long before we were spending the majority of our days hiking, and a few days later he made good on his promise, as we made a day long trek up steep ravines and across broad plateaus, which afforded us sightings of exotic (for us) wildlife at seemingly every turn. On our very first hike we saw the most well known inhabitant of Cazorla's mountains, the ibex, and moments later with a view of Cinco Esquinas (the older of Cazorla's two castles) it became very clear that we were in an extremely unique place.

Hiking would turn out to be a consistent venture on clear days, and in the three weeks at Paul's we managed to go on some of the most memorable hikes of our lives, which included amazing forays along pristine mountain streams, tempting caves, and even the mighty Guadalquivir. We also managed to see every species of large mammal in the park, including Roe deer, Red deer, Fallow deer, European mouflon, Spanish ibex, and most importantly for Roy, wild boar!

When we weren't hiking, we were doing our best to turn Paul's home into the ideal guesthouse, as he intended to begin renting half of the property out once the spring season came around (bringing with it a flood of tourists). Our tasks were varied, ranging from interior design to finishing work on light fixtures, wall hangings, and curtains. Roy took on the task of turning an old built-in wall cabinet into a display alcove, while Catherine began painting from some of the photographs Paul had taken in his extensive travels around the globe. We also decided to do a series of paintings of the local wildlife to cover some more wall space with a bit of relevant information for future guests. Our evenings were often spent cooking delicious meals or drinking beers and eating delicious tapas at the local meson.

Our three week stay at Paul's seemed to go by at lighting-speed, but we still managed to form a strong friendship with Paul, as well as our fellow workawayers in Lauris and Natasha (who came a week before our departure), and a great respect for his generosity and hospitality in hosting us. As we rushed to board the train departing from Ubeda, we waved quick farewells to him and the girls, hurriedly shouting out intentions to see each other again in the not too distant future.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Madrid, Part 2

It was a full day of driving to get from Granada to Madrid, and well after nightfall when we arrived at our hotel near the Barajas airport terminal. As it was our last night with Judy before her flight back to California, there was melancholy for all of us, but we tried our best to keep the mood cheerful and enjoy each other's company. We decided to stay in and have a hotel-room feast, and went to bed late.

In the morning, we drove the short jaunt to the airport and returned the rental car together before seeing Judy away at the security checkpoint. It was a difficult goodbye for all of us, but made easier by the wonderful week we'd spent together. Once she'd disappeared behind the gate, we boarded the metro and made our way into downtown Madrid, where we would check into our hostel and re-group before planning our final days in the city.

The next day, we met up with Roy's aunt Bethany, as she had expressed interest in showing us around a slaughterhouse-turned-community arts center called El Matadero. We were both amazed by the size of the complex, which featured a number of studios and galleries in addition to event space, a cinema, a playhouse, a cafe, and a public media center. It was an an inspiring example of a successful, large-scale art project, and left us all enlivened and hopeful.

We would meet up with Bethany once more, on our last day in Madrid. After wandering around together, the three of us decided to go see The Artist after hearing a lot of buzz about the new film. It was a great way to cap-off our Madrid experience, and we would go to sleep that night excited by the week we'd spent exploring Spain's magnificent cities, but also at the prospect of another workaway opportunity in the mountains to the south.


After a delicious farewell lunch in Sevilla, the three of us piled into the rental car and set off for Granada. We arrived at our hotel just before nightfall, and decided to take a nap before wandering into the Albaicín to find some dinner. It was almost eleven before we made it to El Mirador de San Nicolas, at the very top of the old Moorish quarter, where we expected to get dinner at the highly-recommended Bar Kiki. Unfortunately, nearly every restaurant was closed, so we began the long walk back to the hotel, and decided to set our sights on waking early to explore.

The following morning, after a hearty hotel breakfast, we walked to the Alhambra - the classic Moorish palace and fortress, and perhaps Spain's most famous site. We spent nearly the whole day exploring the grounds, walking awe-struck from structure to structure with picturesque gardens and courtyards in between. It was a place that could not be comprehended, even remotely, through a photograph - its far-off grandeur only exceeded by its close-quarters intricacy.

Once we'd had enough of the Alhambra, we made our way to the historic center of Granada to walk around, but called it a night before too long and decided to get some sleep before the long day of travel back to Madrid which would greet us in the morning.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


An hour after nightfall, we arrived in downtown Sevilla, and began navigating to our hotel located in the labyrinthine old neighborhood of Santa Cruz. Little did we know that, in some places, the streets were only inches wider than the car, and hairpin turns were around every corner. After an hour of the most stressful driving experience of our lives, Judy managed to park the car like a pro, and we made our way to the hotel a few blocks away.
A bit shaken, we decided that we simply could not end our first night in Seville on such a silly note, so we began researching places to see the city's famed flamenco in action. Our search inevitably led us to Triana, the gypsy district, and the tiny bar called Casa Anselma, where we were told flamenco occurred genuinely and spontaneously. Immediately after arriving, we found it to be true, as a small band played flamenco classics in the corner while the packed bar sang along, and whoever felt the urge would set down their drink and saunter up to the front to dance in a space scarcely larger than a phonebooth. Anselma sashayed around, swinging her embroidered shawl, jovially taunting and teasing her guests - her deep and raspy voice overpowering the bar-chatter. Moments later, the entire bar went dark and Anselma herself led all in a sung prayer to the virgin - a small icon on the mantle which was lit by electronic candles. Afterwards, many of the patrons filed out of the bar, which allowed us to squeeze our way to the front and take a seat next to the band. For the next few hours we sat transfixed by the energy, and time seemed to dissolve away without our knowing. By the time we left, it was well past three in the morning, and it was only then that we realized how exhausted we were from the day's travels.
The next morning, we decided to wander through Seville without any real destination in mind, and soon found ourselves enchanted by the unique nature of the city - from it's ornate gardens and parks, to its magnificent architecture. We took in such sights as the famed Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (the largest Gothic structure in the world), and the Alcázar, enjoyed the scent of roasting chestnuts, and even stumbled upon a flea market in a small courtyard.

We also explored Seville's bustling downtown area, where modern department stores and clothing chains are intermingled with classic storefronts selling handmade clothing and antiques. We even had a food fight with some cheeky girls in a cafe, before exchanging notes (which we wrote in Spanish, and they wrote in English) as impromptu language practice.

That night we decided to witness the other end of the flamenco spectrum, and purchased tickets to a performance at La Casa de la Memoria - the venue widely considered to show the best flamenco in Seville. Shortly after six, we filed through the front door and into a beautiful 18th century courtyard, dimly lit, and overgrown with ivy. There were only about seventy seats in two rows around the perimeter of the courtyard, with a ten-foot square stage in center of the room. Once everyone was seated, a singer and a guitarist entered the room, sat down behind the stage, and began to play. After a few songs, a female dancer entered the room and took to the stage. For the next hour, our eyes did not move from the stage as she danced, later accompanied by an equally skilled male dancer. Together, they cultivated an atmosphere unlike anything we'd ever felt before, each working in perfect unison with the others.

Shortly after the show, we walked to a nearby restaurant, Vineria San Telmo. Each of us ordered three tapas, shared a bottle of wine (all for less than fifty euros), and concluded before it was even over that it was the best meal of our lives. So good in fact, that we extended our stay in Seville until the afternoon of the next day, just so we could go back for lunch.