The Jewel of Córdoba

Mezquita Entrance

 

 

 

 

 

In the great city of Córdoba, Spain, there are many sites to enjoy. The Mezquita (Cathedral-Mosque) is named “The Jewel of Córdoba” and for good reason. Construction started in the 8th century over the Visigothic* Basilica and since then, there have been many renovations and expansions. In 1238,  after the Reconquista (Spain regained control), the Mezquita became a Christian Cathedral that merged with the old Islamic style columns and arches. Breathtaking to say the least, the columns seem to go on forever. The Islamic minarets have been changed to bell towers reflecting the Christian culture. The layering of Islamic and Christian architecture is a constant throughout the Andalusian region.

Islamic Arches

 

The last Islamic stronghold, Granada, home of the magnificent Alhambra, was finally reclaimed by the Spanish in 1492 and the Muslims were ousted. Their 700 year reign over Andalusia has left many remaining architectural wonders to be enjoyed by Spain’s growing tourist market. Incidentally, Spain just edged out the United States as the number two travel destination in the world. France remains the first.  If you plan to visit the Mezquita, it is open Mon-Sat 10:00-18:00/adults 10€. Budget tip — arrive Mon-Sat between 8:30-9:30 and you can enter for FREE! Not only do you save money, the place is less crowded!

The Alhambra

The Mezquita is located in the walled Jewish quarter of the historic district with its narrow cobblestoned streets laced with taverns, restaurants and hotels. If you plan to enjoy some breathtaking views over the Jewish quarter, you can go up to the old Laminar at the top of the bell tower (passes available every 30 minutes/ 2€). On your way to find the entrance of the Mezquita, much of the quarter is home to many residential areas with antient open foyers strewn with lush plants standing sentry to the wrought iron gateways. With an abundance of large potted plants and flowers, the residents open their foyers to the public for the “Festival of Patios” in May of every year. We’ve learned through several trips to the region to find the Jewish quarter for that authentic feel of  old world Spain.

Whether you find yourself in Seville, Córdoba or Granada, the Jewish quarter offers taverns, restaurants, performers, and architecture of an age gone by. Also the BnB’s are both plentiful and very affordable in the area. We found a lovely place at a very good price. It was only a 15 minute stroll from the flat to the majority of historic sites. We highly recommend this place – brand new, super clean, and a perfect hostess.

Patio

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/21024064.

 

Jewish Quarter

Although there are many places to get tapas and dinner, we found one to our liking close to our BnB which stays open during siesta. Morelis (at the corner of Antonio Maura and Marruecos) is a neighborhood bar with attached dining room. It draws its daily local crowd and offers a free tapa with a small caña of cerveza – 1. 20€. On our second visit to Moriles, we split a platter of fish bites, pork filets, salad and french fries for under 5€ and pretty much spoiled our dinner with the vast quantities of yummy eats. There are outside tables under a tent with flamed heaters for those cool evenings.

Moriles

As we continue to visit cities in the Andalusian region, Córdoba will be hard to beat and we only spent a couple days and explored one small neighborhood by foot. There is more work to do here and we expect to return soon. Seville is lovely but is truly a large city. Malaga, too, is a bustling metropolis with both gorgeous sites and big city ills. Granada is very high on our list of places to stay. Although the Alhambra draws many tourists, there is a Middle Eastern market strewn with tea rooms and hookah bars that we found enchanting.  We prefer the off season to avoid the droves of people. We will continue to return to the Andalusian region with it’s mild winters, warm people and affordable prices. As Arnold aptly said “I’ll be back!”

 

 

 

*The Visigoths were a nomadic tribe of the Eastern most region of the Germanic people. In the early 5th century, the Huns began to push them west. Alaric, a Visigoth warrior, had fought for the Roman Empire on its northern frontier. He was passed over for promotion in the Roman Legion and turned from friend to foe using what he learned about warfare to launch his own war of aggression. In 408, Alaric decides to strangle Rome by cutting off the supply lines due to the impenetrable walls of the city. In 410, Alaric finally attacks and sacks Rome. After sacking Rome, the Visigoths began to settle in Gaul, then eventually in Spain and Portugal maintaining a presence from the 5th to the 8th century. At this time, the Arabs moved up from Africa and held the area of southeastern Europe from the early 8th century through most of the 15th century until the Reconquista.

2017 Travel Challenge MET!

It has been a long time coming, but I have finally finished logging all of our expenses from our trip to Spain last January! It is quite an undertaking to track every single dollar you spend for 55 days!! You know, we don’t make a lot of money. And you know I am a travel addict! I think it is fair to say that I have pulled Mitch into my addiction. He’s not complaining either! We find ourselves wanting to travel for longer and longer periods of time. Two weeks a year just won’t cut it anymore. So with our limited funds, we have had to become rather creative to feed our addiction!

For several years, we have been avid followers of Nomadic Matt. Matt Kepnes is a prolific traveler and blogger! He has been on the road since 2006 and visited over 80 countries. In 2013, he wrote “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day”. Not only has this book become a NY Times best seller, it was also my inspiration! I was already aware of many of the travel hacks he shares, but I did pick up plenty of useful information. My competitive nature drove me to go one step farther – do it for less than $40 a day! Matt figures $50-60/day in Western Europe and about $35/day in Eastern Europe.

Our combined expenses for our trip were $3737.11. Do the math and you will see that we managed to explore Spain, Italy, Croatia and Montenegro for an average of $33.97/person per day each for 55 days!!

I know it still sounds like a ton of money. But, consider this! According to Value Penguin, the average cost of a 4 night domestic trip in the US in 2013 was $581 or $144/day. The average cost for a 12 night international trip (also in 2013) was $3251 or $271/day. Adjust these prices slightly to account for inflation.

A low-end 4 night Disney vacation in 2017 averages $3564 for a family of four (2 adults and 2 children under the age of 10)! This price includes airfare and accommodation at an off-site hotel. The average price for the same trip with on-site accommodation is $6,360! Staggering! One day admission to Disney is $124!

It costs how much Mickey?

Hell, if I take into account my mortgage payment, transportation costs, etc. for staying home, I am not sure it would be less than $34/day……hmmm….more numbers to crunch. My brain is getting tired!

These figures include three roundtrip airline tickets – transatlantic flights from NYC to Malaga, Spain; then roundtrip from Malaga to Milan, Italy; and finally roundtrip from Milan to Podgorica, Montenegro.

Also included are ground transportation costs – buses, trains, rental cars in two countries, gas and tolls. We had a rental car in Spain for 39 days! We had a rental car for our one week journey through Montenegro, Croatia and a wee bit of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We did have some help on the car rental prices as we did some ride-sharing with friends and family who came to visit!

How did we manage so cheaply? Well, house sitting saved us a bundle! We flew Norwegian Air from NYC to Malaga. If you don’t know of it, Norwegian is a budget airline. Our ticket price did not include seat selection, checked bags or meals. But we still ended up sitting together. We never check bags anyway. And we packed a few snacks! Our original ticket price was under $400….then we used credit card points to lower the cost – Mitch’s ticket cost $111 and mine was $60!! Earlier in the year, we each took out a travel reward credit card from Bank of America. We were given a bonus of 20,000 points if we charged $1000 in the first three months! So we started putting all kinds of purchases on there that we would normally use our debit card or cash to pay for — gas, groceries, some bills. Then we put the cash aside to make the credit card bill! 20,000 points = $200 each! We also earned 1.5 points for each dollar charged. So that initial $1,000 netted us an additional 1,500 points. Travel hacking!!  Gotta love it!

Cave AirBnB in Granada, Spain

When house sitting is not an option, we almost exclusively use AirBnb to rent entire apartments! We try to never spend more than $40/night and we have had some amazing places! Having an apartment means we can cook in which saves money on food costs. We do eat out a few times a month; but even at home, we prefer to cook. With so many amazing markets at our disposable when traveling, it is a real pleasure to cook! Those times when we don’t have a kitchen to use, I always wander through the markets wishing I could buy up some of the gorgeous vegetables and go at it! Eating out in Spain is cheaper than in the US! A really good glass of wine costs 2€. A small draft beer is 1-1,50€. Often you will get a free tapa (small snack) with each drink order!

Market in Malaga

 

So many types of olives!

Later in 2017, we spent a week in Guanajuato, Mexico! Eventually I will compile those figures as well! We are now back in Spain for two months and then off to Morocco! Again, I am tracking the pennies!

So, for now, keep on traveling and we will all keep on dreaming about traveling! It can be done on a budget!!! More tips to follow in upcoming posts! XOXOXO!

 

One Bus Two Trains Due

After two hours at the coffee shop in Bergamo, a rough draft of the “One Bus” sojourn is complete. We pack up and head to the train station. We find, if we hurry, we can hop on the train that leaves in ten minutes. Cheryl kicks into critical mode and we start to decipher the train schedule. I’ve got “Google Translator” pulled up on my phone and I support with translation. We finally approach the ticket window and eureka, the clerk speaks English validating our computations. We make the 2:15 and exhale.

I just realized I hadn’t mentioned the purpose of this multi-legged trip is to get to Montenegro and Croatia across the Adriatic for some sightseeing. These have been on Cheryl’s wish list and the opportunity to “make it happen” has presented itself. The next stop is in Treviglio where we have to change trains. The ticket we bought covers both legs (thank God) and we show the ticket to a uniformed agent who points out we must validate the ticket via a machine
mounted on the wall. Still it’s a little foggy which train to get on, but we finally see it come up on the departure screen. Second train boarded, we head to Gallarate where we must find our B&B that Cheryl rented online.

The host of the B&B had mentioned a restaurant, “Il Barbaresco“, when Cheryl booked the room, that serves free hors d’oeuvres with the purchase of a drink, so we head there with backpacks in tow. The birra list is massive and difficult to decipher, so I order a German Hefeweizen for 5€ and am relatively happy. Cheryl orders wine for 4€ and heads up to get some food. “Appetizers?” she asks, pointing at the collection of morsels. “Yes,” replies the waiter hearing English. She digs in and I follow after she relieves me from watching our stuff. Olives, mushrooms, pasta, assorted nuts are a few of the apps that fill my plate but only for a moment.

Somewhat nourished, we pack up and head on via GPS to locate our room. The  directions are probably good, but there are so many roundabouts and so few street signs that we get tripped up. We stop in a gas station to get clarification. One of two attendants speaks English. Cheryl has her handy phrase book out but doesn’t need it. “Pink church?” we ask. “Yes, dis way,” as he points to the left, “den little more and dis way,” he points to the right. “Grazie,” Cheryl smiles. “Prego,” he proudly exclaims having spoken his little used English. About a half mile later, we find our room and hit the buzzer. The gate opens and we venture in. Another door magically opens and we head up the stairs to meet Joanna, a Polish transplant, who married an Italian, Alessandro, while he was there as a student. Joanna is interested in our travels and we engage in conversation while petting her lovable Golden Retriever, Denya, who immediately rolls on her back and kicks her hind leg up. “How bout a scratch?” Cheryl and I both speak dog and I realize it’s universal sign language. After a good half hour of chit-chat, we point out we are hungry and head down to a pizza joint we passed earlier. As we look through the menu, again it’s difficult to decipher. We change our minds several times and then just order one for fear of holding up the flow. Pizza in box, we bring it back and Joanna produces a bottle of wine.  Cheryl unveils our prize which has no cheese. Just crust and sauce. We all laugh realizing we ordered the wrong one.“Cheers,” as the glasses tink and we drink to travel.

We have an early flight to Podgorica, Montenegro in the morning and Alessandro has agreed to give us a lift to the airport. We decide to head off to bed, so we are fresh for another demanding day.

2017 Travel Challenge

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Budget travel is our passion! A passion born of necessity! Our travel addiction coupled with our limited incomes creates this need. As many of you know, we try to escape the winters in Pennsylvania. This is our third annual escape! With each subsequent year, we have extended our time away from the US. We continually sharpen our travel hacking skills.

Home – January 2016

This winter we are traveling for almost eight weeks.  The challenge —  live on $40 a day/person! That will include all transportation costs (airfare and rental car), lodging, food and entertainment!  A tall order to be sure!

We are on Day 21! With airfare factored in, we have spent a daily average of $16.16 each! Two factors that have helped keep our costs so low so far are housesitting and cheap airline tickets! You all know my “hobby” is searching for hot deals with the airlines! Last year, we started playing the credit card points game.  We each signed up for a Bank of America Travel Rewards card that awarded 20,000 frequent flyer miles after we spent $2,000 in the first 3 months. No problem! We charge our gas, groceries, some household bills and anything else we need. We carefully put aside the cash as we charge and then pay off the balance when the bill arrives. We also earned an additional 1.5 points for each dollar charged. I found tickets on Norwegian Air for $363.80 round trip from NYC to Malaga, Spain.  Then we cashed in the points!

Final price for our international flights:

  •  Mitch $111.39
  • Cheryl $60.83

When we landed in Malaga, we had a free room for two nights courtesy of some old points I had earned on my Citibank card.  That card is now retired! Those two nights were at the Hotel Zen in Torremolinos, Spain. It is a short distance from the airport and they offer a complimentary shuttle. There is a nice little restaurant/bar on site. What a welcome sight after our transatlantic flight. A pizza with a few beers and we were ready to tuck in to our room for some seriously needed zzzzz’s.

We paid $33 for our third night’s lodging at the Hostal Sol y Miel in Benalmadena. Clean and located in a more Spanish neighborhood as opposed to the beach which is very touristy. Since then we have been house sitting. Needless to say, this saves a lot of $$! Free lodging in exchange for caring for the dogs and watering the plants!

I will post occasional updates on the budget. At the end of the trip, I will let you know how it all turns out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

The Hashers

If you are looking for some budget entertainment and a good workout while you are traveling, find a local chapter of the Hash Hound Harriers. They are an international group with chapters all over the world. www.gthhh.com or www.gotothehash.net

Cheryl learned from our house sit host, Mary, that there is a Hasher group that meets bi-weekly in this area of Spain. Mary informed us we were welcome to join in and hash along. As an added bonus, it would give her younger dog Carlo a good workout.
The Axarquia Hashers, a group of expats who meet every other Sunday, do a hike that kinda turns into a scavenger hunt. There’s a 4€ buy in (hash cash) that includes soda, water, snacks and beer.

Flour blob

The trail is marked with flour clues (blobs) to insure you’re on the right path. Occasionally the trail splits and the flour shows a y with an arrow for each way. If you go the wrong way, another clue called a check back (CB) appears informing you’ve gone the wrong way and must return to the y and eliminate the wrong arrow for the following crowd. Now you can continue on the right path. When you see a blob, you yell “ON ON” to assure your fellow hashers that they’re on the right path.

There was a meet and greet at a parking area above the village of Canillas. The group was 20 strong. Water and soda were available as we got acquainted. Everybody had a “hash handle” and we were required to call them by their handle while the hash was on. Names like: Up The Creek, Pocket Rocket, Second Guess, Routemaster, Bunion, Zulu, and Plummet are a few Cheryl and I recall. One of the ladies (I don’t recall her handle) distributed homemade lemon marmalade to the group and we were more than happy to receive a jar.

Alright! The hash is on. “ON ON” exclaimed the grand master and the participants scurried to the beginning three options.
Shortly thereafter, we heard “CHECK BACK” from one of the paths and then another signifying the left path up the hill was the correct course. Things settled down to a good hike up a narrow dirt road with an occasional “ON ON” heard in the distance to ease our questions. Cheryl hooked up with GiGi and Pocket Rocket and exchanged conversation on topics of Brexit, Spain as a home, and the new President Trump. How embarrassing!

Carlo

Four dogs joined in on the hash. One was our Carlo. What a time he had! Our daily walks involve a leash, but the hash was untethered and Carlo was able to do dog things with his buddies and check back after half-hour romps to God knows where! I didn’t ask!

The whole affair took upwards of two hours
with a serious hill climb in loose stone that I
thought would never end! But it did and soon a Land Rover appeared with coolers of
soda and beer. Cheryl and I took the latter. We then rendezvoused back at the parking area. Once again, we formed a circle with the Grand Master in the middle to dole out penalties for “transgressions.” The penalty was one down-down (chugging a cup of beer) while the group sang their club song. If you didn’t chug the beer, they would pour it on your head! Cheryl and I were first in the circle as we were hash virgins. Plummet and another were chastised for wearing shorts as this was a rugged hash and it was pointed out on the web site to wear trousers. Their bleeding shins were noted as they were handed their cups. Several more transgressors were called in to the circle for their punishment.

After the festivities, we loaded up and headed for the Mirador
Restaurant in nearby Canillas. We ordered 2€ glasses of wine… twice… before we ordered our meals. After a serious two hour hike, that was more than ample to grease the conversation. For 10€, I had Pollo Indonesia with three sides which was awesome. Cheryl had the equally enjoyable salmon for the same price.

I knew it all had to end eventually and following the meal, promises were made and hasta prontos were shared by all. Cheryl and I packed up Carlo and headed back to Comares and our house sit. We fed the dogs and loaded back in the car to make a birthday party at the nearby Table Rock Restaurant in Los Torrenos. But, that’s another story.

Laundry Day in Southern Spain

It sounds simple enough! We’ve only been traveling for about three days, but when you only carry a backpack for a six week trip, it doesn’t take long before the idea of fresh clean clothes is quite attractive for several reasons! Especially when the outfit you are wearing is the same one you put on and have worn for the past two days since you left home! (OK, Mitch, I get the hint! Stop holding your nose!)

I find myself with a washer readily available at our housesit, so let’s get this done! Instructions left by the homeowners – three small scoops of detergent and one small scoop of “anti-cal” to combat the hard water. Got it! I gather up an armload of dirties and head out the kitchen door to go down to the gym/laundry room to get this chore going.

About halfway down the steep staircase of 18 narrow steps, I feel my feet go out from under me as my middle back hits the hard concrete…tripped up on some dangling dirties! Coupled with some prolonged moaning and bellowing, I do a quick mental inventory of my conditon. OK. Just some scrapes – no breaks! Onward to laundry!

I load the clothes and detergent and then I see this!!!IMG_1239

What??? I need a home ec class for this! Youtube and Google Translate to the rescue! Some of the settings are pretty obvious, others not so much.

Algodon – cotton.

Algodao – cotton in Portuguese!! What – it’s in two languages??

Sineteticos – synthetics.

Delicado/Seda – delicate/silk.

Lana/La – wool (never did figure what La is or how to get that little ~ above the a on my keyboard.)

Antialergias – Hypoallergenic (I’m guessing).

Sport – duh.

Plumas/Penas – feathers (What? No, more Portuguese).

Camisas/Blusas – shirts/blouses.

Ropa oscura/Ropa escura – dark clothes.

Rapido – quick!

Ignoring most of the other buttons, I choose Algondon. (By the way, “Prelav” is like a pre-wash or extended wash, I think.) Then I see the numbers illuminate!! Are you kidding, 2 hours and 45 minutes to do a load of laundry? Guess I will skip my hiking plans for today!IMG_1238

Turns out that these front-loading European washing machines don’t have agitators, so they are gentler on your clothes. But the wash cycle takes forever. And the water temperatures?? US average for a load in hot water is 120°F. Well, here it is 60°C which is 140°F and if you want to get those babies really clean you can up to 90°C (194°F)!!! Dang! Now that’s some clean clothes! I feel dirty again! I never did figure out the other controls – but I realize the little clock symbol is a timer. I guess it would be convenient to load them the night before and have it start while you are still sleeping. Especially if it is going to take almost 3 hours to get the load done! We learned later from the homeowners that many of the locals do their wash at night since electricity rates are lower during off peak times.

So, the washing is done. How about the drying? It is a very common practice here to hang your clothes out to dry. Fortunately, I do that at home too. Saves on the electric bill, makes your clothes smell fresher and bleaches those whites in the sun! But, it has been since I was a child that I saw an umbrella or rotating clothesline!  It is a battle of woman and the wind!  Those sheets were wrapping themselves around me like a mummy!

20160209_131813

Gotta say, once you figure it out and make some adjustments to your schedule, I like it this way! And my clothes have never seemed so clean! Now watch out – I am going hiking!