Some of you already know that my wife Madelyn passed away this past September due to complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor. My daughter and I have been dealing with her loss one day at a time, one holiday at a time. We got through Thanksgiving by traveling to NYC to spend it with family but we were then looking at Christmas – and that was her favorite holiday. Being home without her wasn’t an option so it was a matter of where to go and how to best spend a holiday that was going to be our toughest test.
I decided on a trip to Spain, a multi-city trip that would end in Galicia, where my mother was born and where we have a pretty large family. The plan was to start in Madrid, spend the night there, rent a car, then head down to Córdoba, further down to Gibraltar (where I have two cousins), up to Cádiz, then Jerez de la Frontera, then further north to Seville. From Seville, we would post a few photographs on Facebook stating that we were heading back home (to fool our family in Galicia), then drive up to Salamanca then futher northwest to Galicia where we would surprise our family on Christmas Eve.
Took a lot of planning, reading hotel reviews, estimating travel time and costs (our original plan was to train it from city to city but I came to realize that driving was more economical, took less time and seemed like more fun) and making sure we hit the major attractions in each city. After a few weeks of giving myself a headache, car was reserved, hotels were booked and our itinerary was set.
I also wanted to upgrade my camera quality for this trip so I rented the new Fujifilm X-T3 and a few good lenses (the good folks at Fujifilm made me an offer I couldn’t refuse). Nothing against my faithful Lumix GH4, which has produced so many wonderful photographs for me the past few years but with all I had read about the X-T3 (which hit the market back in September of 2018), I really wanted to test it out. And let me tell you, this is a truly wonderful camera – for photography and video. I hate to say it but the autofocus and low-light capabilities blow the GH4 out of the water (not to mention the video specs also exceed the GH4). The images speak for themselves (right?).
So the first stop from Miami was Madrid. We had already spent a few days there back in the spring of 2017 (check out the photographs HERE) when we took a family trip to the Extremadura region of Spain (photographs HERE). It would be our last trip overseas with Madelyn but it was one we’ll never forget. So, we’re back in Madrid and we spent our one night at the Mayerling Hotel, a nice enough place to lay your head for a night. I made reservations (a must) a good month in advance to spend our first evening at one of the cultural focal points of the Madrid flamenco scene from its inception in 1985, Casa Patas. My first real test with the Fujifilm X-T3. Low light and bodies in motion. Autofocus on the X-T3 in dim lighting was way ahead of what my GH4 is capable of. I mean, with the X-T3’s 26.1MP APS-C sensor vs the GH4’s 16MP M43 sensor, this was no contest…
Check out the complete Casa Patas IMAGE GALLERY HERE
Our first stop the next day was Plaza Mayor, which was built during Philip III’s reign (1598–1621) and is the central plaza of Madrid.
Inside the Plaza you’ll find the equestrian statue of Philip III by Flemish sculptor Jean Boulogne which dates to 1616 (you know you’re in Europe when you walk into a plaza and see a giant statue of some king on a horse). Philip III was called “the Pious” and it was said that he was so virtuous as hardly to have committed a venial sin. Ultimately, he was regarded as a remote king under whose rule Spain stagnated.
To the left of King Philip’s statue is the Casa de la Panadería (Bakery House), which was completed in 1619 by Spanish architect Juan Gómez de Mora.
Being that it was December and Christmas was around the corner, Plaza Mayor was filled with several Christmas shops (Mercado de Navidad). It was a tough morning sky for shooting in the Plaza but when you’re on vacation (compared to “on assignment”), you get the shots you can, when you can, then move on.
Just outside Plaza Mayor, you’ll find the Fuente de Orfeo (Fountain of Orpheus) at the Plaza de la Provincia (square). It was made in 1618 by Juan de Chapital y Alduayn and Martín de Azpillaga, dismantled in 1869 and rebuilt in 1998.
So now it was time to move on to our next destination, the city of Córdoba. Had made reservations a good month in advance via Europcar (the second time I used them in Spain, nothing but a smooth experience) and picked up my car (a Mercedes Benz, automatic!) at the Madrid Airport and started the almost four hour drive south to Córdoba. Here’s the thing, though – Córdoba really deserves its own post. Why? Well, because Córdoba is the first city in the world to have four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. That’s more than Rome and Paris. Nuff said?
Ok, then. So after our stay in Córdoba (more on that in a future post), we began our 3+ hour drive south through Andalucía, an autonomous community in southern Spain, to Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory bordered to the north by Spain and located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula (it’s also where my cousin and her husband live). The landscape is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar at the foot of which is a densely populated town area, home to over 30,000 people, primarily Gibraltarians.
The territory of Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht (a series of peace treaties signed by the belligerents in the War of the Spanish Succession) in 1713. The Gibraltar–Spain border, which runs east-west for a total of 1.2 kilometres, is the international boundary between the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar and the Kingdom of Spain. To go through, you need to show your passport.
The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow opening between the continent of Africa and Europe. It is located between Spain and Morocco and connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. The mountains on either side of the strait are called the Pillars of Hercules because according to Greek mythology, it was created by Hercules in order to complete his tenth of twelve labors (acts of atonement for slaying his son, daughter, and wife Megara after being driven mad by Hera, Queen of the Gods). The first nine labors of Hercules were based inside the Mediterranean rim, however, the tenth labor took him beyond the outer limits of the known world to a territory no Greek had ever seen.
For his tenth labor, Hercules went all the way to the Spanish Peninsula, where he had to bring back the cattle of King Geryon, a three-headed monster. Destroying the Geryon to capture his cattle was half the challenge. The other half was getting there. To reach King Geryon’s cattle, Hercules had to venture beyond the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean, but one massive obstacle stood in his way: the mountain range that joined the continent of Africa and Europe and which sealed off the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. So he split the mountain into two with one blow from his sword, passed through the narrow strait, found Geryon’s cattle and brought it back. Today, half the world’s seaborne trade passes through the strait.
The Rock of Gibraltar, also known as The Rock, is a 1,398 foot high monolithic limestone promontory located near the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Most of the Rock’s upper area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to around 300 Barbary macaques.
Originally from the Atlas mountains and the Rif mountains of Morocco, the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent. Currently, some 300 animals in five troops occupy the Upper Rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve.
St. Michael’s Cave or Old St. Michael’s Cave is the name given to a network of limestone caves located within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve in Gibraltar, at a height of over 300 metres (980 ft) above sea level. It is the most visited of the more than 150 caves found inside the Rock of Gibraltar, receiving almost 1,000,000 visitors a year. Again, the Fujifilm X-T3 really shined in this barely lit cave. In this lighting, I’m not sure I would have had much of an image at all with my Lumix GH4.
Our next stop was to Gibraltar Crystal, a hand made boutique crystal manufacturer who craft their products on site in view of the public…
Next stop was a 90 minute drive NW to Cádiz, a city and port in southwestern Spain and is regarded by many as the oldest continuously inhabited city in Western Europe, with archaeological remains dating to 3100 years(!). Our first stop on what was a fiercely sunny day was the Catedral de Cádiz (Cádiz Cathedral), which was built between 1722 and 1838, 116 years to complete(!) Construction began in the Baroque style and was completed in the neoclassical style.
Since 2003, the Torre de Poniente tower has become a new tourist attraction in the city. The bell tower, whose construction began in Cadiz’s golden age in the 18th century, can be reached via the ramp. The top of the tower affords outstanding views over the city below.
Iglesia de Santa Cruz or Old Cathedral is the oldest church in the city and tradition has it that it was built on the site of an old Muslim mosque.
Costa de la Luz (Coast of the Light)
Completed in 1929, the Monumento a la Constitución de 1812 (Monument to the Constitution of 1812) commemorates the Constitution of 1812 which was the first Constitution of Spain and one of the earliest constitutions in world history.
The following day, our cousins took us to another city in Spain’s Andalucía region, Jerez de la Frontera, about a 90 minute drive NW of Gibraltar. Jerez holds worldwide acclaim for its sherry and brandy production. The word Jerez is derived from Arabic and has now become synonymous with the English word ‘sherry’. The city is equally famous for its fine horses as well as Flamenco music and dance. We first stopped at the Alcázar de Jerez, a building that consists of 11th-century Moorish walls that enclose a mosque converted into a stunning chapel.
We stopped in for some sherry at the oldest flamenco bar in Jerez, Tabanco El Pasaje, where we caught a spirited group of Christmas carolers entertaining a packed house…
We then stopped for dinner at Tendido 6 where, guess what? There were more Christmas carolers. And you wanna talk about dim lighting? I wouldn’t even have pulled out my Lumix GH4. The Fujifilm X-T3 produced some rather nice images, especially with the 16mm 1.4 and 56mm 1.2 lenses.
As we were leaving Jerez, we made one last stop for some fresh meat (they love their meat in Spain, especially “jamón”) at Montesierra, a specialty meat shop specializing in Jabugo ham shoulders. “Jamón de Jabugo” is ham that has been produced and prepared in Jabugo (Huelva, Spain). These Hams and Shoulders are characterized by an unmatched flavour and aroma that is obtained thanks to a totally unique climatic conditions found in the region of the Sierra de Huelva.
Alright kids, that will be all for this post. Next post will feature some truly remarkable images from our time spent in the lovely city of Córdoba. After that, we still have Seville, Salamanca, and Santiago de Compostela so feel free to scroll down and subscribe using the form below to not miss an upcoming post. You won’t be sorry. Promise.Special thanks to the folks at Fujifilm for the great rental price on the Fujifilm X-T3. This is a wonderful camera for traveling. Light, comfortable to hold, great in low light and a snappy autofocus. Besides the camera, I had the 16-55 f/2.8, 56mm f/1.2, 16mm f/1.4, and 50-140mm f/2.8 lenses. Also grateful for my Lowepro SlingShot 102 Camera Bag which has been my faithful companion for the past 7+ years, and the Joby GorillaPod 3K Flexible Mini-Tripod. I also gotta tip my hat to my KEEN® shoes (I have the Finlay Oxfords). I mean, walking on cobblestone streets all day is tough on your feet. I had brought along a pair of Skechers Memory Foam Shoes as well as my adidas Cloudfoam sneakers. Neither of them even came close to my KEEN® shoes as far as comfort. If you plan to walk around Europe’s rough cobblestone streets, these rugged shoes won’t let you down. Nuff said.
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