Spain – A Land of Surprises

In the April issue of Attraction, I wrote about Madeira and the Canary Islands, such succulent, yet arid, and beautiful places in the Atlantic. Before visiting them, I had boarded the Prisendam in Rome’s Port Civitavecchia. From there we went to Alicante, Malaga (Granada), and Cadiz (Seville), Spain. This was my first opportunity to see Spain. Someday I hope to visit Barcelona and other Spanish treasures. My travels on this trip were in October, one of my favorite times to travel, though Rome had been altogether too hot.

Alicante has a long history as it demarcated the border between the Arabs and the Christians 800 to 900 years ago. When I signed up for the tour, I was told it was suitable only for the physically fit, meaning we would do a lot of stairs and walking. Didn’t bother me!

Driving northwest, we traversed an industrial, then very dry area before heading up into the mountains lined with olive groves and eventually vineyards. In the old city we walked up narrow streets to the Santa Bárbara Castle originally built in the 7th century by the Arabs, later inhabited by Christians in the 12th century. Fifty-six (but who is counting?) steep steps led us to the top of a tower where we could view the old and new city. Alicante is known for its expansive public beaches, sailing, and wonderful restaurants. It is also noted for making shoes and plastics, especially for toys. The Basilica of Santa Maria dates back to the 1500s and has magnificent carvings, paintings, and gold from when Spain ruled much of the New World.

Santa Bárbara Castle offers a wonderful view of the old and new city of Alicante.

On to Novella where we saw a church similar to the Gaudí church in Barcelona. Lunch consisted of tapas, almonds in dates wrapped with bacon, tuna on toast, and crisp white wine. Once again, we climbed many steps to the top of a tower and saw one of the high-speed trains flash by.

In Málaga we visited the famous Mercado Central de Atarazanas, designed by Gustave Eiffel’s (Eiffel Tower, Paris) son. The market dates back to the 14th century and was originally occupied by a boatyard. Construction of the market was approved in 1870. The Guadalmedina River runs through Málaga, and is located just outside the ancient city walls, which date from Roman times.

We then headed to Córdoba, winding through valleys and mountains lined with numerous citrus, fig and olive trees, and avocado. Vineyards here use egg whites to filter the wine, a method developed by the nuns, and oak trees are grown to nourish the black pigs, pink pigs (Jambon Serrano), venison, and bulls. Capers, lentils and chickpeas are also grown in this land of Don Quixote. One of my favorite sights was a huge billboard with a bull advertising Osborne Sherry.

Córdoba dates back to ancient times. The foundation as a city is placed between 169-152 BC when Claudius Marcellus installed a Roman colony. The city flourished on the Guadalquivir River as a trading center and produced famous poets and philosophers, among them Seneca and Lucan. The Moors invaded in 711, but an agreement stipulated the life and religious beliefs of the inhabitants were to be respected. During this time, the Moors, Christians and Jews lived side by side, though over a period of time different groups would run the region. Today there are still three sectors of the city – Jewish, Christian and Moor. I loved the charming narrow streets with colorful flowerpots hanging everywhere. Our guide took us through the Jewish quarter, then Christian and on to one of Spain’s most historic monuments and tourist attractions, the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. One of the largest structures in the city, the splendid mosque cathedral combines elements of both religions. Inside the mosque are Moorish arches, the maxura (once reserved for the Caliph), lamps with perfumed oil, domes of all sizes and shapes, and magnificent tiles. Juxtaposed among all this are elaborate silver altars, lamps, pulpits, gilt wooden carvings, choirs, and even tombs. I have been in ornate churches around the world but nothing so stunning as the blend of East and West. I just wish we could have spent more time in this unique and fascinating city.

Visiting Cádiz, we learned that the city was destroyed by the English in the 16th century and then rebuilt. A city wall and the surrounding areas reside on reclaimed land. The port is a large maintenance area with a new bridge and is home to some of the U.S. Atlantic fleet and aircraft businesses such as Airbus. The University of Cádiz, founded in 1722, provided surgeons for the Spanish Navy. The Bay of Cádiz is a nature preserve. As we drove through the fertile land, we saw where pine nuts, olives, cotton, grains and rice are grown.

A private toll road leads to Seville, the third largest city in Spain. The port depends on the tide as it is six hours to the sea. Historic villas are protected, and the Spanish Square leads to the cathedral. Alcázar is a monument to the Moorish occupation of Spain which is surrounded by glorious gardens. The Alcázar is the official residence of the King of Spain when he is in Seville. Like Córdoba, Seville has a Jewish quarter. Our lunch on this day was at La Basilica where the buffet included chicken, paella, pasta, excellent cheeses and ham. No room left for dessert!

Our tour also included the newer part of Seville, the Torre del Oro (built in the 13th century), La Giralda (Seville Cathedral’s bell tower), and Plaza España, located in María Luisa Park. We did not have time for the Palace “De Las Dueñas,” which was the home of the Duchess of Alba until her death in 2014 and was a meeting place for Europe’s royal families. Seville is also known for the Flamenco Dance Museum.

We spent part of an extra day in Cádiz as a hole was found on the ship. I got to buy three dresses, saw the fortress Castle of San Sebastián, and places I had not visited the day before. For dessert that night on the ship I splurged on a hazelnut chocolate roll. Oh, the best. Then we traveled on to Gibraltar, a British territory, and Casablanca, Morocco.

The grounds at the Castle of San Sebastián in Cádiz were beautiful.

Traveling by ship has many plusses such as not packing and unpacking every day. However, I would have loved to visit more of the cities on our trip. Andalusia, Cape Trafalgar (Battle of Trafalgar, 1805), and Granada come to mind, but I am thankful for taking this trip on the lovely Prisendam, at that time the smallest ship in the Holland America fleet, which was sadly retired the July after my voyage. I just hope COVID-19 will soon be gone, and I can travel once again.

Katie Barney is the author of six cookbooks, including The Enchanting World of Food. or 420-820-9915.


Serves 4

¼ cup olive oil

1 lb. cod, cut into chunks

4 baby squid, cut into rings and tentacles

1 dozen mussels, or more

1 dozen large shrimp, cooked and deveined

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 red pepper, seeded and sliced

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

1 cup arborio rice

1 ½ cups chicken stock

½ cup white wine

1 pinch saffron threads, soaked in a little hot water

½ cup fresh peas

Salt and pepper

Fresh chopped parsley

Lemon wedges

Heat half the oil in a paella pan or skillet and add the cod and squid. Fry for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Heat remaining oil in pan and add the onion, garlic and pepper. Stir until onions have softened about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, add rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock, wine, saffron and water, and peas. Stir in seafood with juices. Cook 30 minutes or until stock has been absorbed, and rice is tender. Serve with parsley and lemon wedges. This is good with crusty bread and a salad.

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