Okay, you sharped-eyed readers – you know those are not olive trees. They are just a sample of the hectares and hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres, in case you were wondering) of grape vines we drove past as we made our way from Valencia to Fuente de Piedra, a small town that put us equidistant from a number of things we wanted to see on this next leg of our travels.

It was between a 5-6 hour trek and well before we got to Fuente de Piedra we were treated to a new agricultural landscape – olives; and as plentiful as those vineyards were, these olive groves clearly outnumbered them. Seeing the vast groves go us to thinking: what do olive processing plants do with all of those pits? We have since learned that the pits, once just considered useless waste, are now being experimented with as a filtering medium for decontaminating sewage and in water treatment plants (they remove heavy metals) ; as a fuel source (similar to ethanol); and as food (roasted and eaten as is or incorporated into energy bars). And that, folks, is why we travel: to entertain unthought of questions and to seek answers; to make connections between what we already know and what we learn; and, of course to eat.

Fuente de Piera, “the stone spring”, was popularized because of its reputation for having healing waters. This fountain, in the main town square is a tribute to the original spring.

Our rental was on the “street of oranges”. We were within an easy walk to the business district, but then so is most everyone as the town itself is small, only about 2000 people. Based on our observation of real estate and the commercial entities, this area has clearly seen better times. That said, we were glad to have chosen this locale as it gave us an opportunity to see a different facet of Spain and appreciate what is going on there economically.

Not just our street, but throughout the town there were orange trees. The trees blossom in the spring and you could smell the lovely fragrance pretty much everywhere we went.. The trees have oranges on them all year unless they are picked. The oranges are very bitter and are used primarily for marmalades, extracts or medicinal purposes.

One of our first road trips/outings was to Seville – just over an hour away. We parked the car outside the city walls and walked across a stone bridge to get into the bustling historic center (right side of the photo).

Easter week, or Semana Santa, is a riot of crowds and festivities. The Seville Cathedral is the epicenter of activities. Originally the site of a Moorish mosque, when the Romans took the city they fashioned a the Gothic-style basilica. The massive structure took over a century to build and claims to be the largest church in the world, though there are those who would debate that.

The bell tower on the cathedral and the outdoor dining options that allowed for some interesting people watching. We took advantage.

Our main sightseeing goal for Seville was to tour the Royal Alcázar Palace and Gardens. The palace was built in the seventh century and it still occasionally hosts the royal family when they visit Seville. While the original structure dates back to the Middle Ages (building seen on right), the current palace complex displays a range of architectural and cultural styles, ranging from Gothic to Baroque. This mashup of architectural elements is known as mudéjar — a Muslim and Christian artistic fusion unique to Andalusia.

The inner courtyard and one of the gardens, filled with orange trees.

Domed ceiling within the newer addition. The blue areas are doorways that open off of the upper arcade. There are small balconies that look out and over the central hallway below.

An example of the beautiful carving, hand painting, and tile work.

In the older sections there are walls and walls of tile work. I was impressed with how they angled the tiles going up the stairway to match the staircase.

Bob does his part keeping things in place.

Our second outing was a bit closer to home: some bird watching at the lagoon just outside of Fuente de Piedra.

The salt water marsh is home to the largest colony of flamingoes in Europe. It seems that the flamingoes are drawn to the salt – just as humans were. As early as the 1st Century, the Romans were collecting salt from the water bed, which dried up during the hot summer.

After time amongst the flamingoes we took a meandering drive back to our flat so we could admire the abundance of blooming spring flowers and take a closer look at the olive orchards. As you may know, all olives are green – until they go through the ripening stages from pink/red to purple to black. Olives that go into virgin olive oil must be harvested directly from the tree, not come from the ground. The growers put nets under the trees and attach a mechanical “shaker” to get the olives to fall into the net.

(You knew there was going to be a food picture, didn’t you?!?) On our way through town we stopped for a late afternoon treat at the local bakery. This delightful bite is what I am calling a Spanish twinkie: sponge cake with a cream filling that was just slightly sweet. The upscale twist is that the outside is caramelized and sprinkled with nuts and has a creme brûlée flavor. Though I have never been a fan of the Hostess concoction, this was a perfect adult indulgence.

After trying to get laundry done amidst a couple of days of intermittent rain (a washing machine but no dryer – everything had to go on the drying rack outdoors) we decided to head for the hills and the pueblos blancas, the “white towns” of Andalusia. Many of these communities were established by the Moors and still have an old-world charm. The white walls are an influence of the Berber architecture of North Africa, the Moors native land. First on our list was Arcos de la Frontera, the largest of the hill towns.

The plan was to park our car in the modern section of the city and take a bus up to the top of the mountain. We lucked into a parking space, found the bus station, and were waiting (and waiting) for our bus to arrive when a kind gentleman who was a driver for another line told us that the old quarter was so crowded that the buses were having a hard time getting down into city. Well, you can imagine our response to that…and back we went to our car to head for the next town on our list – hopefully one with less congestion.

Along our route we stopped to admire Benamahoma, a compact village of about 500 people. It is surrounded by old pine forests, and the steep winding road with its many switchbacks was a thrill in itself.

What came to be our favorite stop, Grazalema, is a high mountain village in a natural park. This photo was taken from where we parked our car. We climbed the edge of the hill to get to the central square, just behind the tall white building on the right of the photo.

The white washed buildings and manicured trees that surround the square.

The medieval-aged water fountain just off to the side of the square.

A tribute to local traditions; this area of Spain is know for its bullfighting.

On our drive between the villages of Grazalema and Rhonda we passed through Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park with its limestone mountains and a cork forest. Cork is taken from a tree every nine years. Contrary to what I had always thought, the stripping of the cork bark does not harm the tree. The lower portions of many of these trees (which are in the oak family) have just been stripped of their cork bark. The year is carved on the tree so that adequate time is allowed between harvests.

Mainly of Roman origins, Rhonda assumes a defensive perch on the edge of a deep gorge.
There are three bridges that span the canyon.

Navigating the maze of narrow pedestrian streets is is a fun way to spend some time in the late afternoon.

Upon leaving the city we pass the bull ring with its statue of the toreador swirling his cape.

Our next stop: 3 days in Tangier, Morocco. If I can sort through my photos fast enough I just might get another blog post out in the next week. On the other hand, we are now in Seixal, Portugal (across the river from Lisbon) and our list of things to do is long and tempting. An abundance of blessings, for sure.