A photography destination in Spain

A photography destination isn’t always a sure thing. Just because there’s a famous historic site, it doesn’t necessarily mean conditions will be right or that you’ll be inspired to take great photos. We’re optimists, and, in anticipation of great photo opportunities, we always have our camera with us when we head out the door.

We arrived on the afternoon train in Córdoba, Spain and couldn’t wait to take a stroll -cameras in hand. Almost as soon as we started, it was clear that the old, historic area would be the perfect subject for as many photos as we had imagination and time to take.

Fortunately for us, we had taken off in the late afternoon (approaching the hour of perfect low light), and, best of all, in one of the most scenic places we’ve been. We strolled into the old Jewish Quarter, called the Juderia, when we started taking photos.

Some local residents relaxed in the square. The lemon trees had dropped some of their fruit in the fountain bowl, and the low gurgling action of the water kept the fruit slowly circling round and round the bowl. The pigeons scoured the pebbled plaza.

We thought the photo reflected the tranquility of the scene and showcased the simple design elements: the lemon trees, the checkerboard plaza, the simple pool and fountain).

We looked up at the old window – a perfect Gothic frame.

A glimpse told the story of contemporary Córdoba: an old lane but modern day transport and newly renovated buildings.

We headed further into the old historic area near the city wall. The Romans built the wall to surround the city in 206 BCE. A series of pools dropped in elevation, an elegant solution to move water through the city.

The perfect opportunity came to take a photo. Pedestrians were nowhere to be seen. Only one person remained, and he was so intent on his mobile device that he never saw us take his photo. Having a person in the photo gave a helpful sense of perspective.

The light was getting low, but we didn’t want to stop seeing Córdoba or end our photo outing.

In a few minutes, we arrived at the centrally located Puerta del Puente, translated “Gate of the Bridge”. In the low light and with the bricks almost gleaming with the sun’s last rays, it looked majestic.

The Gate’s construction started in the 1570’s but took 350 years to complete. Still, there’s always more restoration work to do, and the most recent was completed in 2005.

The Gate linked the nearby Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba with the Calahorra Tower on the far shore with a bridge spanning the Guadalquivir River.

We decided to save crossing the bridge for another day and on this night to walk by the most important monument in the city, the Mosque-Cathedral.

Our friend, Jo, snapped a photo of one of the many brilliant doors, and we snapped her.

The loss of daylight ended our outing. We wondered later if Córdoba,’s extensive historic sites were the only places to take interesting photos. The first days of exploration we snapped hundreds of photos each day of those amazing sites. Finally on the last day, we explored the overgrown grounds between the formal gardens of the Alcazar and the river. We were on the lookout – again with cameras in hand – to see what was there.

And what did we find? This grasshopper was just one of many signs there is more to photograph in Córdoba than its historic sites.

For anyone interested in history, architecture, and beautiful small towns, Cordoba was well worth visiting. It also offered an opportunity for taking some fine photos.


October 2017


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ALTERED: our strategy for a day in Seville

It’s best to know when to toss aside your day’s travel plan, and, when you do, to give in gracefully to defeat and reshape the day so that it becomes memorable. Who knows? As time passes, we might not even remember that the brilliant day on our journey wasn’t even our original plan.

Case in point: our second day in Seville. The plan was to take the train from Jerez to Seville and to arrive at the Cathedral in mid-morning. Two hours should be enough for viewing the church. We’d dine well at a place nearby which had great ratings. Late afternoon we’d stroll over to the Plaza de Espana before taking a train back to Jerez.

What a vibrant city! We should have planned more days in Seville.

We love to watch birds and couldn’t believe that our first sighting ever of the rose-ringed parakeet was in urban Seville.

We caught our intended train but as the train approached the station in Seville, our English-born friend turned to us and said she needed a cup of tea. “Tea? You just had a cup at breakfast!” As Beth doesn’t drink any caffeinated drinks, it was hard to understand why we would have to delay our touring for a cup of tea. Beth looked at her watch. Clearly, the tea would set us back, but maybe not by too much.

We stood in line at the Cathedral which gave us a chance to look around as we waited. Another slight delay, but we’d scheduled in this one.

The Seville Cathedral is both the largest cathedral and the 3rd largest church in the world. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How old is the Cathedral? The Cathedral actually started as a grand mosque, with construction beginning in 1172. Within a century, the mosque underwent its own conversion to become a Christian Cathedral under King Ferdinand III.

Seville’s wealth grew and so did the Cathedral. “According to local oral tradition, the members of the cathedral chapter said:  ‘Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will think we are mad.’ “ The Cathedral continued to be expanded and enhanced until its completion in 1511.

We spotted a crowd in the distance and guessed this must be the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

We were surprised how impressive the tomb was. The pallbearers seemed to be eerily life-like and one appeared to be looking down at those who gathered around.

As in many other important churches, the artistic materials, details, and workmanship were outstanding.

It was almost painful to watch people walk across the marble floor, a beautiful work of art.

When did we realize that even though we hadn’t finished touring the Cathedral, we’d taken so much time that our chosen restaurant would soon end serving lunch? We had no choice but to head straight for the restaurant, where we discovered many people ahead of us in line.   The disappointing decision was made to go somewhere else for lunch.

After settling ourselves in at another restaurant a few doors away, we checked the time. Beth had forgotten to bring her camera on the day’s outing, and so Joe used his iPhone for photography. When Beth takes photos it usually adds extra time to any outing. Without her camera, we assumed we would spend less time rather than more in the Cathedral. We had sorely underestimated just how much there was to see and how interested we were in everything around us. Then, too, we realized just how tired we were from the touring.

Looking back, we were sorry the day hadn’t gone as originally planned, but clearly that plan had a few major flaws. The Cathedral merited the extra time that we gave it.

The plan forward was clear. After lunch, we took a taxi directly to the train station and headed for a little café for our friend to get a cup of tea before we caught our train to Jerez.


October 2017

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It’s all about the details: the Seville Alcázar

Details. The Alcázar of Seville is a great work of architecture, and we think we know why: details.

Everywhere we stood in the Alcázar gave us a magnificent view of the many artistic and architectural details. No matter how long we looked, it was too much to take in, so we snapped a great many photos in the hopes of spending more time later studying the rich details.

Our favorite space was the Courtyard of the Maidens, constructed between 1540 and 1572. The Courtyard was designed in an Italian Renaissance style with semi-circular arches and marble columns. The decoration was Plateresque plaster work (extremely decorated façades, that brought to the mind the decorative motifs of the intricately detailed work of silversmiths, the “Plateros”)

Tiles were a primary decoration in the Alcázar. The tiles repeated their patterns across walls so vast that sometimes we missed seeing their complex design.

We have no idea how many different tile designs were used throughout the Alcázar, but it was beyond our counting.

The architecture and decoration style of Seville’s Alcázar is Mudéjar – a fusion of Muslim and Christian styles in Portugal and Spain. The style lasted from the 12th to the 17th Centuries employing brick as a main building material. “The dominant geometrical character, distinctly Islamic, emerged conspicuously in the crafts: elaborate tilework, brickwork, wood carving, plasterwork, and ornamental metals. To enliven the surfaces of wall and floor, Mudéjar style developed complicated tiling patterns.”

The colors and patterns of the wooden doors gave the impression of a tapestry or carpet.

The same effect was repeated on many of the ceilings.

After seeing the elegant designs on the ceilings in the Alcázar, particularly in the sleeping quarters, we wondered why so many contemporary buildings leave ceilings in solid expanses of white?

Each part of the Alcázar’s decorations was beautiful all by itself. When we looked at each room, the transition between rooms, and the whole building, the saying is apt: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” For us, that is the definition of great architecture.



October 2017


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What happened in the formal garden

Our three-week stay in Jerez de la Frontera was relaxed and always interesting. Why would we want to leave, even for a day? One of the most important sites in Spain was a day trip away: the Alcázar in Seville. The Alcázar is the oldest royal palace still being used by a royal family in Europe and has the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We decided to devote a full day to seeing the Alcázar – and what we might discover.

We started in the garden with our friends, Jo and Pam, and took the usual photo in the most perfect of settings. Love that bench!

We wandered through the garden and enjoyed seeing the plantings, the maze, the birds, but discovered it was the people watching that we became most interested in.

In one of the small garden buildings, we caught a glimpse of a couple who had been posing in their wedding finery.

We delayed exploring the main buildings at the Alcázar when we noticed a staircase leading up to a raised walkway.

The views out over the garden were splendid.

Looking down from above, we admired the sculpted bushes and plantings. It was a delight watching the children play as they (kind of) kept up with their parents. But who was that with a long white jacket on the path by the fountain?

A dark-haired woman came into view carrying a canvas in one hand and a coffee in the other. Where was she going?

The dark-haired woman headed straight back to stand by the blond woman in the long white jacket. We couldn’t see the canvas, now displayed on the easel. “Just move over,” we muttered under our breaths.

And just then, as if she had heard us, the dark-haired woman did move and we saw a canvas with tall palm trees and a turquoise blue sky. The mystery had been solved.

It was an interesting morning: viewing the formal gardens of the Alcázar and trying to understand its grand design, while at the same time, observing other visitors and trying to understand their interaction with the garden.

Next up: stepping inside the Alcázar of Seville…..to be continued….


October 2017

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Postcards from Cádiz

Our knowledge of history has huge gaps. We’d heard of Cádiz, Spain but couldn’t bring to mind anything we’d ever learned. When we studied the map of Jerez de la Frontera, where we were staying, we noted Cádiz was only 22 km (14 miles) south, right on the coast. Why not go for a day’s visit? Have a look at our very own homemade postcards from the day:

Our son, Joshua, walked with Joe down one of the many narrow lanes in Cádiz. How old is Cádiz? “Cádiz is thought by some to be the oldest city in Europe, founded in 1100 BC by the Phoenicians who called it Gadir and traded Baltic amber and British tin, as well as Spanish silver.”


Walking through Cádiz is walking through time. Statues, monuments, a Roman amphitheater, several castles….


The Parque Genovés follows the coast with covered pergolas and shade trees interspersed with towering palms providing a shaded walk in the heat of the day.


We kept hearing birds in the trees and spotted the huge nests first, then monk parakeets.


What a grand walkway lined with creatively pruned trees and a few palms for accent.


In exploring Castillo de Santa Catalina, we looked through the slits in the fort’s wall and took photos of the nearby beach at low tide.


Cádiz’s skyline came into view as we walked back to the train station.


We’ll sign off on our postcards, “Wish you were here!, simpletravelourway


October 2017

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The real thing: flamenco in Jerez

Flamenco is a great example of all that we don’t know about other places and their cultures.

When we first started to read about Jerez de la Frontera, we discovered that Jerez is famous for three things: sherry, horses, and flamenco. The crazy part of this is that we had no interest in any of the three. Or so we thought.

Our houseguests, son Josh and Tanya, suggested we all go to see flamenco one night. After a little research about where to go, we settled on the historic Tabanco El Pasaje.

The performance started at 10pm, and we got a reservation for one of only a handful of tables. It was suggested we arrive at 9:30pm to order our drinks and food (a required minimum for the table was 25 euros). Since there was no payment for the performance, we thought that was quite reasonable. All we knew was that there would be a singer, guitarist, and a dancer. Apparently many venues will have one or two performers but not all three.

None of us knew anything about flamenco but were very excited as we took our seats just a few feet from the makeshift “stage”, a raised platform that seemed impossibly small.

Here was our introduction to flamenco.

We enjoyed all four components of flamenco: song, tap dance style of footwork, handclapping, and the guitar.

That night at Tabanco El Pasaje, local dancers and a student were invited to come up to the stage to perform.

The evening had been great fun, and we knew we’d go back for another performance. Meanwhile we wanted to know a little more about what we’d seen. Flamenco probably originated with gypsies who migrated to the area from India in 1425. “Its original form was only voice, a primitive cry or chant accompanied only by the rhythm which would be beaten out on the floor by a wooden staff or cane.”

The area of Spain where flamenco flourished and where the songs originated is called the “Golden Triangle”. The triangle stretches from Cádiz to Jerez de la Frontera to Triana in Seville.

Up until the 19th Century, flamenco was performed in homes or for small gatherings. In the 20th Century, clubs began to form and competitions started to take place.

When we traveled to Cadiz we walked by a series of art panels celebrating the different forms of flamenco music. Soleá originated in Cadiz or Seville and is one of the earliest styles of flamenco, usually conveying pain and despair.

Flamenco’s influence was evident throughout the town. We saw people singing together at cafes or playing guitars when we were out on our walks. Many shops sell the amazing outfits the dancers wear – and the shoes.

Our daily walk in Jerez de la Frontera took us into a neighborhood with historic placards about flamenco. Then we saw the statue of Francisca Méndez Garrido (1934-2004), a member of one of the great flamenco families and one of the best flamenco singers from Jerez.

What better way to get a glimpse into the culture of Jerez than to experience flamenco? We suppose we could have expanded that to learning more about the horses and sherry that have made Jerez famous, but we’ll save that for another visit.


October 2017



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A traveler’s choice: stepping off the tourist path

Where would you go to in Spain if you had a month? We decided to head for Jerez de la Frontera for 3 weeks and spend the last week in Cordoba and Madrid. (We imagine you are shaking your head in wonderment and asking, “Why would you do that?!”)

We wanted a lovely, small city with an authentic touch – a place where we could live in a neighborhood, surrounded by Spanish people and not so many tourists. A little research about where to go off the beaten path gave us some good options. But how would we decide between them? One easy way for us was to find a location with affordable and appealing lodgings. We scanned AirBnB’s site and discovered a very nice apartment with kitchen and a washing machine – and so it was easily decided: we would go to Jerez de la Frontera.

Jerez had charming cafes, like La Parra Vieja. Most restaurants in town served traditional tapas and locally-produced sherry.

We were surprised with a more formal and traditional demeanor than we had anticipated.

We felt the influence of Muslim art and architecture as we walked through the very narrow lanes. The Arabs invaded the area in the year 711 and were not defeated by the Christians until 1264. Five hundred-fifty years is a long time to make an imprint on a city. We strolled through the town along Calle Francos, the main commercial street during the Arabs’ reign. We followed the route on our map where the old city wall had been and were happy to see remnants here and there, including one of the original gates to the city. The 11th century Alcazar remains, originally built as a fortress by the Arabs.

The most prominent buildings in Jerez de la Frontera in the years after the Christians gained control were churches. We were taken aback with just how many churches there were and how many were great edifices – all very different in style and decoration.   ,

Many days we passed the Cathedral on our walks and admired the buttresses. Photographing the exterior changed with the position of the sun so we ended up making many visits and a taking a lot of images.

We always looked for urban art in Portugal but, now in Spain, we frequently saw religious artwork instead – usually in ceramic tile – outside churches or in the plazas.

Occasionally we visit a place for a short time as tourists, we try to stay close to the sites we plan to visit and concentrate all of our energies on sightseeing. Life as a traveler for a longer stay (our preferred style) takes on a slightly more familiar approach. While in Jerez for 3 weeks, we lived in an AirBnB apartment in a building of local people. By day we shopped in the central Mercado with the usual array of fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, olives, and the best fresh fish market we’d ever seen. At night we occasionally ate in one of the many tapas restaurants in Jerez. Always a temptation was a stop for a gelato – how about rich chocolate-orange or maybe fig?   On our daily walks we saw very few tourists but occasionally spotted a few in restaurants.

One evening we strolled in a plaza at the Alcazar facing one of the large buildings of the sherry manufacturer, Gonzalez Byass, known for their brand, Tio Pepe. We heard music from a distance and soon, a religious procession came into view.

People of all ages took part in the procession and that included the band members. Contrary to what you might think, the youngest band members played well and with maturity beyond their years.

Our Jerez AirBnB had two bedrooms, and it would have been a shame to let that 2nd bedroom go unused, so we invited some special guests to join us.

Our first guests were our son, Josh, and Tanya – who brought their folding bikes with them from Portland, Oregon.   They spent several days cycling the coast to swim at some of the best beaches in Spain.

Our decision to stay for three weeks “off the beaten path” came down to a decision to enjoy and explore a less well-known area. Jerez de la Frontera had history, culture, good food, and was well located for further explorations in the surrounding area. It was the more authentic experience we had been seeking.

One important aspect of the culture, which we only discovered after we got there, was flamenco. Next up, our discovery….to be continued….


October 2017

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