October 6 2014
As we headed in a northerly direction away from Cordoba the farming became less and less mixed, with olives, olives and more olives. Really it is interesting to see agriculture that is devoted to one, and one only, crop. Olive trees are short and stocky, and quite pretty with sage green leaves that show silver underneath when they move. The soil is so dry at this time of year, and they seem to keep the area around the trees completely clear of vegetation. Rather different from northern Jordan where we picnicked among the poppies growing under the trees. So a very monochromatic colour scheme.
Baeza is a small place, about 12,000 I think, and we arrived on a Sunday so a great opportunity to see ordinary people outside of a touristy environment. The buildings are mainly 16th century, with the usual eglisia (church), city wall, towers etc, but the real action was on the streets. This is a culture that lives in small flats and thus spends time outside on the streets visiting, and constantly drinking and eating tapas in small sidewalk cafes. Everyone seems to have a dog, and is quite funny to us that these dogs never get onto grass, they spend their lives on pavement, or at least cobblestones, but healthier, more well cared for animals you’ll never see. One odd thing is they are terribly feisty with each other for dogs that are on the street all the time — as far as we could see all the males are unneutered so that may account for it. Fortunately they are nearly all small.
I have described the fashion sense of the elderly senoras already, well I wouldn’t like to leave the impression that the old boys are behind in any way. Pressed dress pants, dress shirts, ties, sports jackets, and polished leather shoes are the order of the day when appearing on the street. Younger people are equally well dressed though a bit trendier — brightly coloured trousers are very popular with even middle aged men, pink, turquoise, red — I mean coloured!
We walked down to the main plaza for lunch and found it bursting at the seams with families having their mid day meal — basically a 3 or 4 course dinner to us. Such well dressed children and the baby gear is amazing. I have been pricing these children’s clothes and I am not exaggerating when I say that the well dressed baby here can be wearing $100 worth of clothes. And this is an olive growing area, which we had expected to be much lower income according to the reading Doug has been doing, no evidence of it in the dress and cafe culture we observe. The towns seem prosperous with shops selling expensive clothing and appliances, and are very tidy and well maintained.
The next day we drove over to Ubeda a nearby town with some lovely Renaissance buildings, again enjoyed wandering through the usual old city sights, with a stop for lunch where we did get the “comida” or daily 3 course set meal with included wine — and what a fantastic meal it was — I had rabbit again and Doug the most beautifully prepared sole. We have not had a badly cooked piece of fish or meat here — since we come from a seafood loving area and have had more than we would like of overcooked fish in our restaurants, we are impressed how every insignificant seeming restaurant can prepare fish so perfectly, and the meat is tender and done to perfection. The pounds just keep accumulating..
Our last day we decided to head over towards a nearby national park and visited a small hill town called Cazorla. What a wild ride through the streets which were not only narrow with right angle corners as usual, but threw in the added challenge of steep grades! Doug lost his cool once or twice, but Marlene kept us right and we enjoyed their old fort which had some interesting remnants of ancient castle life in it.
On the way back we decided to visit an Olive Museum south of Baeza, since we have been fascinated and puzzled by the cultivation of olives and the preparation of olive oil which this country lives on for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I programmed the name of the town into Marlene as we started back, thinking that we would bypass Ubeda and Baeza on a different highway we could see on our map. Well Marlene was feeling frisky and decided to go on a cross country ramble — we set off on a road that at first looked like a secondary highway, then became a one lane paved road, then a semi surfaced road — well visions of that poor girl who followed her GPS into a snow drift in Nova Scotia and nearly perished before being found danced in my head, but the terrain was really neat as we wound among thick groves of olives and alongside the most brilliant turquoise lake, long and narrow, which followed us for kilometres. Try as I might I could not see any possible route we might be on on the map, couldn’t even find the lake at that point, but we just kept going, through at least 3 tiny but as usual maze-like small towns, but Marlene kept valiantly on, even where u-turns were needed to get us going the correct way on one way streets, it got funnier and funnier as we realized the trip was taking well over an hour when we had expected to arrive in about 20 minutes — Finally we crossed some highways we recognized, but Marlene didn’t want us on them, then lo and behold we shot out of a side road and there we were at the turn off to the Olive Museum. After all that it was well worth the journey and answered a lot of our questions since it supplied a partial English translation for the step by step process exhibited. Even a grove of all the different species of olive trees.
After another comfortable night in our eccentric hotel — imagine a very trendy minimalist hotel inserted inside a 16th century stone building — our cheapest so far and the first decent breakfast in a while, we set out for Granada with the navigator (me) on tenterhooks about negotiating such a huge city and finding our hotel in the usual tiny lane. A piece of cake for Marlene as it turned out and she took us right through the sign that said “Prohibited entry except for taxis and residents” (but we later found out registered hotel guests are allowed too) with a camera to record infractions — the worst part was that we missed our lane the first time round and actually had to go through the camera twice — and into the tiny lane, up to the nondescript door of the Hostal Lima. This bizarre and very pleasant place will get described in the next installment.