IBecause of a holiday we had a 5-day weekend a few weeks ago. Sadly, because we had only just gotten internet we couldn’t book bus tickets or hotels (they were already all booked up!). So we stayed at home and took it easy. As a redemption trip for the 5 day weekend that wasn’t, we recently took a trip to Almeria.
Almeria is in a different province from where we live and on the coast. It’s actually just across the Mediterranean from both Algeria and Morocco so it’s fairly far away from home. Google maps says its 2:30 minutes by car. We don’t have a car and Spain hardly has train routes compared to Germany. So we were stuck with the bus that ended up taking 5 hours.
That’s because the wonderful buses here have a top speed of potato (potatoes don’t move and that’s the joke). Also no one cares about anything (if you haven’t got that idea from my blogs about my school I don’t know how else we can convey how little everyone cares about anything). So when the driver took a 15 minute break to pee and have snacks we actually took a 35 minute break. We left just after work on Friday and arrived just before 11 at night. Stop tempting us to get/rent a car, Spain.
We had a pretty rocking hotel in the center of town for cheaper than some hostels were quoting us. If anyone is ever in Almeria we recommend it (Hotel Torreluz Senior).
On Saturday we went shopping. Jaen (the nearest big city to us) really doesn’t have shopping unless you have drum roll a car. So you Almeria provided us with the clothes we desperately needed. Turns out I only brought 5 short sleeve shirts. The rest of my luggage was pants and sweaters. Given that this is the forecast almost every day:
I need more short sleeve shirts. I can’t keep wearing the same shirts every day and don’t want heatstroke. So we shopped til we dropped. Er, at least until siesta hit and everyone closed up. When siesta started we went to get some tapas. We have been generally avoiding tapas at home and I’m not sure why. Tapas are always free. Always (at least in our region). You order a beer, wine, or even a coke and they’ll ask you what you want. Not only are they free but you can choose what you want. Every time you order you get a new choice. So you can just sit and drink and eat for hours. That’s kinda the point, actually. So we embraced this a lot more on the vacation (because we couldn’t run home to our apartment and cook for ourselves).
The tapas aren’t crap, either. They’re not a cracker with some spread. Here we have curried chicken in a bowl. I have teriyaki chicken with fried rice and a bread stick. Again, can’t stress this enough: this was free with the drink.
This was such a posh restaurant (Lila’s Cafe, you should go) that we weren’t even sure if it was free. So we only had two rounds and two orders of tapas before we asked for the check. It was only $10.
Full of tapas and contented by the low alcohol content of a tinto de verano (we didn’t get drunk for lunch, guys.) we decided now was the time for a hike. Heat of the day, no water, let’s go!
Given Spain’s history (you read that post about the Moors vs Christians in Martos, right? Or more recently Chris’s fantastic history of The Reconquista). You can guess being that close to Africa made Almeria a contested area in the battle of who own’s this land. Almeria actually comes from an Arabic word Al-Mari’yah. Since it was a contested area that means it was a hot-spot for crusades and castles. And boy oh boy is there a cool castle there. It’s called the Alcazaba (alcazaba actually means “walled fortification” or al-qasbah in Arabic, the same qasbah The Clash wanted to rock). We had been told the Alcazaba was closed for siesta so we went to a nearby overlook.
The castle is on the left and the overlook (and more castle and a religious icon) are on the right. There is a huge wall going across the valley between the two ridges.
We saw a lot more wall that would’ve gone around the city.
I couldn’t get over how cool the top of the wall looked with the spiked
battlements. I’ve actually just been informed these are called “Merlons” which is “the solid part of a crenellated parapet between two embrasures.” An easier thing to say would be “those spiky bits at the top.” I like these spiky bits at the top.
From the top we could actually walk around parts of the castle that were outside of the protected pay-to-enter bits. And all of this was….just sitting there, free to be discovered by anyone willing to walk up the hill. Notice in the above picture that there are apartments about a stones throw away from the castle walls. Just think about that, this could be your back yard.
From our side of the castle we could see the whole wall and the “real” castle across the valley. Don’t forget all the awesome merlons.
The view of the city and ocean were great, too. The landmass in the distance is not Africa (it’s not that close). But if you squint really hard and just straight up imagine you’re seeing it, you’d be looking straight at Algeria (Morocco would be to the right of this picture).
After being in the heat of the day on a humid coastal area (in the 80s) we were thirsty. The castle was open so we just went straight there. They don’t have water but sad little spigots you can use to splash hot hose water into your mouth if you’re desperate. As an American I’ll never get over the lack of accessible water fountains.
At the entrance the man asked if we were students. We said yes (technically we are with our visa) and asked where we from. We barely finished answering when he said “free.” Not a full sentence or anything just, free. So people not caring about anything can be beneficial sometimes.
So, free Alcazaba. So many wonderful things to see and learn. A history that goes back to 955 and sees many changes of hands. The Catholics captured it in 1147. Then it went back to Moorish hands in 1157. Then in 1489 it’s back to the Catholics. An earthquake probably destroyed a lot of it in here somewhere (I can’t get a straight answer). But now it’s here. It’s the 2nd largest Muslim fortress in Andalucia.
Besides all that tedious history loads and loads of movies have been filmed here. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had Indiana walking around the castle. (Lots of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed in the Almeria area including the part with his dad flapping the umbrella at the birds, and the part with Indiana getting drug around by tanks).
Here is but an incomplete list of all the movies filmed at the Alcazaba.
It’s hard to see but the best ones are Cleopatra (1963), Rat Patrol (1966 TV), Patton (1970), Get Mean (1975), The Story of David, Conan the Barbarian (1982), Queen of Swords, James Bond Never Say Never Again (1983), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Gospel of John (2014), Game of Thrones Season 6 (2016) and Risen (2016). Besides filming at the Alcazaba, Almeria itself has been the site of 432 movies and TV shows according to Wikipedia – aka countless Spaghetti westerns.
John Lennon was in Almeria to film Ringo Starr’s spaghetti western “Blindman.” Lennon actually wrote Strawberry Fields Forever and found his penchant for rounded glasses while in Almeria. So enough about how awesome the area is. Onto the castle.
We were greeted by these gorgeous Arabic style keyhole arched gates.
The whole first layer used to be a huge city. It’s all water features and gardens now but this would’ve all been a gated city for Muslims back in either 955-1147 or 1157 or something?
There were water features everywhere. Above, you can see a small trench of water coming down by the stairs, and the larger pool to the left. They all flowed into an even larger pool which had fish swimming in it. These would’ve actually existed back in the day to get water to people. Now they’re just a tripping/drowning hazard and I guarantee these would be blocked off in the US. Look at those merlons, looking great.
Here’s a view back to the other side of the valley where we had just been hiking.
Like all good castles it had 30 layers with mystery stairs up and down or sudden changes in elevation based on when someone decided to add more/renovate. So it was easy to get turned around or miss something.
We headed back to a reconstruction of what a Muslim home would’ve looked like (middle left of the picture where the person in the white shirt is standing). It had artifacts from the times including kid’s toys and cookware. Most impressive was the courtyard in the center of the house. Instead of a ceiling it had a bolt of fabric draped over it, which kept it shady and breezy, even in the heat of the day it was very pleasant in there.
In the far back is an addition the Christians added when they conquered the castle. They eventually added gun ports for cannon, and tons of crosses carved into the stones.
A lot of the living areas had been constructed, re-constructed, and re-re-constructed based on whoever’s religion was dominating the castle. So it’s an archaeological area now where you can just find a party bag of Christian/Muslim things stacked on each other like a religious lasagna.
This courtyard area is where most of the movies are filmed.
There was a temporary exhibit here showing where many movie scenes had been filmed so we went back out to find the Game of Thrones bit. It’s Season 6 so don’t google it (Mom. Don’t google it) as someone straight up dies here but it looks like this in the movie:
And looks like this in reality:
They took some pretty serious liberties when they edited this scene, but the basic feel remains.
Pretty good. We ended the castle with one more view of the city and, of course, the merlons.
The next day we went to the history museum of Almeria. It started at the actual beginning when people were figuring out how to bang a couple rocks together for effect. The next group had these amazing mass burial chambers. They would make a dome of rocks and earth, then carve the middle out of a large rock to make a round door. They would place bodies in there with their possessions, and then seal it off. They looked wicked spooky.
Eventually the Romans showed up and wrecked everything with their engineering, art, and hedonism. The Muslims took over for a while and then the Christians (and then the Muslims/Christians/Muslims/Christians) and now we’re here.
The world is so big and people have been doing crazy crap for so long. It’s amazing to take just a snapshot of a little region and chronicle the whole history. We were in the museum for probably 4 hours and that was just this area’s history. After a comprehensive area of this tiny little part of this world we needed some tapas. So we went to another posh bar and got free food with our drinks.
Pictured here are patatas bravas swimming in sauce (Chris’s). Fried potatos in a spicy ketchuppy sauce and mayo. I had “Russian salad” a type of potato/tuna salad combo that’s not too bad. When people wonder what we’re eating – we’re not sipping margaritas and eating taquitos. We’re drinking wine and eating Russian salad. Our second round we had an empanada filled with blood pudding and apples and a mini bread bowl filled with fondue.
And not to keep talking about food, but we found an amazing Italian restaurant for dinner called “Maro & Broders”, and it was better Italian food than we ever found back in Italy. Probably because they had no illusion about what good Italian food is supposed to be, your choice of noodles, with your choice of sauce, and some cheese stuffed in a to-go box.
That was mostly it. The last day was mostly us traveling back home.
We only had two choices for buses. A 9:00 am bus, and a 5:30 pm bus. We thought we might like a few more hours to enjoy our time in Almeria, so we took the 5:30. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake. We checked out of the hotel at noon, and had nowhere to spend the five and a half hours. If you think that doesn’t sound difficult, then you are forgetting about siesta. Between 2 and 5 most everything is closed. So we spent that time bumming around any cafe or bar that happened to be open, doing the whole drink and tapa routine, which is fun, but feels forced after a while. To make a long miserable story short, the trip home consisted of us waiting around for five and a half hours, taking a three and a half hour bus ride to Jaen (It was the express bus this time), and then waiting 30 minutes more to take a 45 minute bus home. Why didn’t we do something else in Almeria to kill time? Remember, so much is closed for siesta!
We had fun, and Almeria is a great place, but I don’t know if we will ever take that long of a journey via bus again. Next time we feel like going somewhere, it will be much closer to home.