Arcos de la Frontera

Arcos is, like Ronda, another of those picturesque white-washed hill towns perched strategically on cliffs as a defense against the Catholic Reconquista that went on for 400 years, town by town slowly falling (the name is “… on the frontier”.)

We thought Arcos was a little disappointing.  It played a role in Moorish history by being hard to conquer, but it has a lot less to offer than Ronda in terms of natural beauty.  And it’s small.  We did stay in a Parador hotel; the Paradors are luxury accommodations in historical buildings – palaces, castles, convents, monasteries – that have been converted into hotels but maintained by the Spanish government. They are typically located in smaller medieval towns.  This one is relatively inexpensive.  The one in Grenada is a renovated convent within the Alhambra and is like $400 a night (we’ll pass).

These are from our hotel.

 HotelArco  ViewFromRoomHotelArco2
The small patio                                  View from the room                             Hallway to room
ViewFromTerrace ArcoFromHotel
Views of another church from the terrace, and an appreciation of why Arco was easy to defend.

ExorcistCircleThe picture of Ginger in front of the church – she is standing in an exorcist circle (red and white stones, 15th century).  Prior to baptism, the child was brought to the local exorcist for cleansing.


Pretty – and pretty narrow – medieval streets throughout town.  Actually, this is like most towns in the barrios of Andalucia.

Sunflowers DSC_0410

This part of Spain – Andalucia – appears to be very agricultural.    And prettily so.  The wheat fields go on forever across the undulating landscape, as do the olive trees.  The olive trees are amazing, going from horizon to horizon, often in neat rows. Olives are big business here; anytime you sit down for a beer or wine, out comes a dish of (green) olives.

Sevilla – Getting There

We continue to have difficulties with the newer technologies of the Garmin and iPhone.  Now I confess that Ginger is the operator of the Garmin and owner of the iPhone, but I doubt I would do any better.  Neither of us have had much time to play with them!  Our Garmin asks first for the street we want, and then searches for every street in Europe by that name.  We then scroll through thousands of hits for the one in the city that we want.  Strange.  It also tends to turn itself off somewhere in the middle of the drive; the little lady inside goes to sleep for some reason.  The last episode was a real disaster.  I bought an adapter for the car that pushes into the auxiliary power hole; then the Garmin taps into that with a USB connector.  So using it into Jerez, it kept telling us to turn right when we knew that was wrong (wrong input address?) so we ignored it and got to where we wanted.  Then on the way to Sevilla (same day) it was working great, until we got to the outskirts of Sevilla when it died from lack of power – while plugged into the car battery!  Not sure if  the problem is the car or the auxiliary power adapter or some combination (I bet the new adapter).  Anyway, just when we needed it the most, it was useless.  Ginger has an iPhone (Google Maps), but the previous day it went into a non-working “no service” mode.  And did I say we didn’t have a map of Sevilla?  Our Michelin map didn’t show a city blow up.  And did I say that our hotel was in the barrio of Sevilla with medieval tiny winding streets, all of them seemingly one-way the wrong way? I had written street-by-street instructions to the hotel on a small piece of paper (not trusting the Garmin completely yet), but it turns out the street names are not on many corners, the names change over short distances, and Ginger can’t always read my writing.  So getting on the major loop around Sevilla, (I’m the driver, Ginger is the navigator) Ginger says we’re looking for exit 813 (earlier we had seen a sign for 803) but after driving awhile we couldn’t find anything remotely close to 813.  When I stop to look at the notes, I notice that we’re NOT looking for exit 813, my handwriting says exit 8B; that misleading 803 number that we had seen was a road name, not exit number.  Well, then things really got bad when we hit the barrio.  One-way streets are everywhere.  And worse, they’re one-way for a reason!  We’re talking medieval here, designed for horses.  Skinny poorly fed horses at that.  Heck, in some spots two horses couldn’t pass.  Maybe if they inhaled hard.  My notes take me through horrendously tortuous and narrow streets (I’m sweating bullets; this is a rented car, and my mirrors are inches away from scratches, and there are right angle turns that look impossible); and then we’re nowhere known, and by mistake I drive over a plaza where there is no street (no one seems to care, his must happen a lot), and we’re totally lost but no worry, there are no options, only one-way streets.  Travel on.  Finally we come to an intersection – a busy one, 4 lanes! – and lo, we are back on the street we had started from, some roundabouts earlier.  And did I tell you that on the regular streets there are roundabouts with 4 lanes going into 3 lanes on the roundabout and then 2 lanes on the out-road with cars jockeying for position along with motor cycles buzzing in and out while we’re looking for street names?  Nothing is easy.  So back into the barrio we go; same problem, so I called the hotel (the operator doesn’t speak English well) and we are told to take this street and that (the last one we can’t find).  So we loop again, and call again, and after answering, our operator lifeline puts us on hold.  Well, I’m in a one-way street with a foot on each side of me between stone houses, and cars piling up behind me, so waiting is not a good option!  So I turn into a (wrong) street, blocking it but nobody behind me, and ask directions.  Bingo!  I’m a street away, and just need to make a left (actually, that’s squeeze a left) and I’m there.

Car  HotelStreet

Above are two pictures of the road to the hotel.  Don’t think this is the worst of the streets!  Many are this small at some point.   The pictures show the road and a sidewalk on each side.  Both the roads and the sidewalks vary in width – small and smaller.  On the smaller ones like this, when a car comes (which they do often), one has to duck into a shop’s doorway.

Learning: do not book a hotel in the barrio.

We parked our car in a separate tiny tiny garage under a house, holding about 5 cars.  After going down a ramp and turning 90 degrees right, one could only back into the allotted space.  Getting out, however, seemed much harder.  Did I tell you the cement ramp was like 60 degrees up?  Seriously.  Attached to the wall on one side and totally open on the other.  So one had to negotiate that 90 degree left turn, turning hard so as to not hit the right rear view mirror on the wall, goose the engine like crazy to get up the ramp (standard shift, clutch), while sweating bullets that the left rear tire would not fall off the ramp edge as you made the turn.  That would be bad.  Then up the ramp one could not make the turn into the one-way street, so you had to go the wrong way to a nearby y-intersection and see-saw back and forth until the car could turn around, again risking mirrors against walls.  Tough!

Learning:  Public transportation is looking better and better!

Ronda – our first stop

Below are some pictures from our first stop in Ronda, Spain.  Interesting place, and we lucked into a festival.

View from our hotel:  It’s quite a beautiful place, with a commanding view of the gorgeous Tuscan-like countryside, visible from almost everywhere in the hotel – like our balcony.



Local market – she’s cooking different kinds of sausages for you, served with a plate of potato chips.  Say what?  Also a shot of the bread guy.

DSC_0073 Market

At restFood2aurants: local fried squid, and paella.     Food1

Below are some views of Ronda.  It was quite a fortress (you can see there would be some difficulties in access), and it’s very clear why it took awhile to fall to the Reconquista.  It’s a beautiful city of white-washed homes and narrow streets, with frequent overviews of the idyllic villas and farms.

Rhoda4 Rhoda3 Rhoda1 Bridge

The views of the surrounding area are spectacular:

Rhoda6 Rhoda5 Rhoda2  City1

The city itself is quite attractive, as shown below.

DSC_0084 RhondaCity

We managed to luck into a local festival with the surrounding small towns:

RondaFest1 DSC_0250

RondaFest2 RondaFest4 RondaFest5 RondaFest6 RondaFest3

Parade Parade4

There are ancient (1100’s) ruins of Moorish baths (similar to Roman baths a thousand years earlier) just outside the old city wall; based on the Koran, one would bathe before entering the city.  There’s a changing room and latrine outside, then a cold room, warm room and hot room.  The temperature was based on distance from the boiler, the heat coming from ducts under the flooring.  You had to wear wooden shoes to keep the feeties from getting too hot.  Water was thrown on the floor to get steam.  Below is the changing room (minus the barrel-vault ceiling) and the large  warm room.

Bath  DSC_0035

Below is a Moorish palace (Mondragon) that was built in the 1300’s (and restored in the 1500’s – the rock patio floor says 1509).