Spanish Castle Magic

LTSN is going on a temporary hiatus as I’m off with my Dad for a week’s tour of the major Moorish cities of Andalucia.  As an ‘independent traveller’ of many years standing, this is going to be pretty odd for me as we are going on an organised coach trip, but when travelling with an 86-year old, I think that it’s a case of ‘the fewer surprises, the better’.  

With no transport or accommodation issues to worry about, most of the imponderables in the scenario are duly removed – and I feel that this has to be a sensible arrangement for all concerned. Luckily, I’ve visited all of these cities and sites before, so whilst I may not get as long as I might like to stroll round the Generalife Gardens in Granada, it’s not as though I haven’t been there before – and indeed might well return at a later date.  After all, it’s the kind of place that will repay repeated visits.

Inside the Alhambra…..

For my Dad, most of this trip will be breaking new ground.  Amazingly, he’s never been to Spain before, though he was in Gibraltar quite regularly during the Second World War.  For a man who saw at least as much of the world  between 1941 and 1945 as I have in my 50-odd years, he (and my late Mother) could be incredibly blinkered about where they would or wouldn’t go on holiday.

I’ve blogged previously about the composer Frederick Delius and how I grew up in a house filled with (recorded or broadcast) classical music.  Another house favourite was Manuel de Falla’s lush romantic tone poem, ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain‘, first performed in Madrid in 1915 and subject to frequent airings throughout my childhood.  Although Falla was born in Cadiz, he had clearly visited the Moorish cities of Andalucia and absorbed something of their unique atmosphere.  In fact, following the First World War, Falla actually moved to Granada and spent 18 years living there before escaping Franco’s brave new fascist state in 1939 to live in Argentina.  He resisted numerous lucrative invitations to return to Spain and died in Argentina in 1946.  His remains were returned to Spain and interred in the cathedral in Cadiz.  So, a man of principle as well as a great composer….¡no pasaran!

Anyway, the lush soundscapes of ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain’ always went down well in our house and I, for one, determined that I would visit one day to see if the place was worthy of such a lush and evocative piece of music.  It was, and then some, but that’s not really the point; my folks were early adopters of European holidays and visited Belgium, Holland & Germany on more than one occasion even before I was born.  I distinctly recall hearing the saga of how my Dad’s Hillman Minx was loaded on to a plane at Lydd Airfield (near Ashford in Kent) and flown across the Channel to France – now that was adventurous stuff for the 1950’s!  All the more surprising, therefore, that they became so conservative in their holidaying habits as they got older. 

They became caravanners, which I suppose goes some way to explaining this conservatism; easier after all to hitch up the van and drive to Cornwall or Scotland than contemplate a gruelling three-day drive to Andalucia or Italy.  Mind you, they did take their ‘van’ abroad to Germany and Switzerland and northern France, but rarely ventured further south – and never with the caravan in tow.  However the caravan doesn’t explain why they never visited Ireland – a country they would have loved had they given it a chance.  The answer of course is that they chose to put on blinkers – and pretty xenophobic ones at that.  Ireland was full of mad bombers who hated the English and just wanted to kill us all.  Spain was full of English drunks throwing up all over the place.  Italy had beautiful art and buildings but was full of arse-pinching Lotharios who wanted to rip you off.  As for anything further afield – Morocco, Egypt, Greece – these places were right next door to the Seventh Circle of Hell.

To be fair to my Mum, she never dealt well with heat and would have struggled to cope in the summer temperatures encountered in Andalucia or Provence, but Germany – a favoured destination for many years – can also get pretty toasty in August and she seemed to survive that OK.  So, in the end,  I am reluctantly compelled to conclude that it was largely blind prejudice that kept my folks from exploring the wonders of the Alhambra and the Alcazar of Seville, not to mention many other cities and landmarks of Mediterranean Europe.

Anyway, when my Dad started to hint that he wouldn’t mind taking a holiday with me in tow, the best he could come up with was a fortnight in Scotland or Cornwall – places that carry a good deal of emotional freight for him; he and my Mum would have long caravanning holidays in both places once they both retired – at 61 in my Dad’s case.  Whilst I love my Dad to bits, I will confess that the prospect of a fortnight in either Scotland or Cornwall had very little appeal where Cornwall is concerned and none whatsoever where Scotland is concerned.

 

A fortnight of this?  Don’t think so….

Cornwall is a place to take your kids; the further down the peninsula you go, the closer the beaches on both coasts.  I remember when we used to take the Princess down there – we regularly stayed in Stithians, a typically ramshackle Cornish village on the high ground between Falmouth (to the south) and St Ives (to the north).  After breakfast each morning, I would go outside and check where the weather was coming from.  If it looked cloudier to the north, we would head for the south coast, clouds to the south and we would head north.  It wasn’t infallible, but pretty nearly so and we were able to take advantage of Cornwall’s spectacular micro-climates.  One afternoon, I spent  a couple of hours messing about in the surf at Porthcurno beach with the Princess; the sun beat down – it was glorious.  All dried off, we jumped in the car and headed up the hill out of Porthcurno village to the point where the road joins with the main Land’s End- Penzance route.  As we neared the junction, the sky ahead was battleship grey and by the time we turned on to the main Penzance road, a mean drizzle was blowing in from the northwest.  Two miles behind us, the sun still blazed down on Porthcurno beach.

Personally, I wasn’t convinced that a fortnight of fish and chip cafes and picturesque harbours was viable for us, but at least that was a better bet than Scotland, where my Dad spent a disastrous 3 weeks last autumn.  It had initially seemed like such a good idea.  He was going to base himself in Oban for about 10 days, buy a CalMac pass so that he could hop on and off all the Hebridean ferries, then travel slowly across to the northeast coast via Glencoe and Loch Ness to see his sister who lives just outside Elgin.  A lot of driving for a man just turning 86, but he felt confident enough to do it and I figured it was better for him than to be stuck at home all summer.

Anyway, things did not go well: in chronological order, he had terrible weather for most of his Oban stay, had his car clipped by an over-enthusiastic 4 x4 driver, developed a horrible chest infection and rounded it off by having a major (and probably terminal) falling-out with his sister.  Two weeks revisiting his misery north of the border had very little appeal, on top of which, whilst Scotland (especially the northwest) is stunningly beautiful, you must have good weather,  because if you don’t there’s really not a lot else to do away from the major towns and cities.  On top of that, I have been slowly fashioning some blinkers of my own when it comes to visiting Scotland.  I had a lot of childhood holidays up there and loved it despite the weather.  The people were always great, too, but post-‘Braveheart‘, I have noticed a distinct ‘hardening’ of Scottish attitudes where the English are concerned and though one of my dearest friends is now semi-resident up there, my enthusiasm for visiting the place has slowly ebbed away to almost zero.  Ah well; it’s a big world, as Joe Jackson observed and in my life, I’ve spent enough time in Scotland.  Certainly, the idea of a fortnight up there with Dad was a non-starter.

Definitely don’t want any Caledonian murk….

And so to the internet….I did some research and found out fairly quickly that there could well be some coach tours out there that would fit the bill – especially the Andalucian round trip that we are about to embark upon.  Not a hint of ‘Y viva Espana’ but instead a week-long tour around the principal cities and sights of Al-Andalus: Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla.  There’s even a short stop in Gibraltar on the final day, which will allow my Dad to re-visit another of his wartime haunts. 

Gibraltar’s docks in their Imperial heyday

5 years or so ago, he and I did a month’s trip to Sri Lanka, where we revisited a lot of places where he had been stationed out there and even visited the Commonwealth Cemetery near Trincomalee where Bill Allen, his best Fleet Air Arm mate was buried.  One of his comments about Sri Lanka was how in some ways, very little had changed since his time there in the War, but I suspect that he will not be able to say the same about Gibraltar.  Of course, the unique topography of the Rock means that some things cannot change, but I think he will find that the ‘business end’ of the port has been totally transformed, with the old Naval Dockyards demolished and re-imagined as marinas and blocks of luxury apartments.  At least the hostility of the Gibraltarians towards their Spanish neighbours appears undiminished and the Barbary Apes still perch atop the rock picking up the scent of Africa on the sea breeze plus anything the tourists choose to throw their way.

Gibraltar’s harbour today…..

I’m looking forward to the trip on the whole, though travelling with an 80-something isn’t always a barrel of laughs.  Still, I will go well-equipped with a selection of books and a fully-charged iPod.  The only issue now is the weather – apparently it was 99 Fahrenheit in Malaga yesterday. Now that is going to be a bit challenging….

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