Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Bear & Castle(s)

I suppose that "The Bear & Castle(s)" sounds a little bit like a British pub but in reality it describes a Sunday drive through the Spanish countryside with my bipedal attendants and a few bear chums. I still can't get used to the idea of being able to jump in a car and spend the afternoon castle-crawling. Most bears prefer to spend long, lazy AndalucĂ­an Sundays lounging by the pool, playing shuffleboard, and drinking Russian Bears (click here for recipe) and Polar Bears (click here). Both are excellent cocktails!

Our first castle is (sort of) found in the nearby town of Castellar de la Frontera. Castellar is a little odd because it's really two, two, two towns in one and you have to go through the first to get to the second. A little over 30 years ago, inhabitants of the hill top town (where the castle is) were moved down river to a "new town" by the Spanish government. The relocation didn't go very well and soon some of the original inhabitants started moving back to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, they found that many of their homes - which now have historical value - were bought up by affluent Germans-cum-hippies.

The two groups don't get along terribly well. I thought that, as a
freelance Good Will Ambassador, I might be able to open a meaningful dialogue between these two groups and bring some harmony into this hilltop village. Unfortunately, the Spaniards seemed more keen on eking out a living and the Germans of turning the castle into a parador hotel. And run medieval flea markets.

I can understand why the government wanted to resettle the Castellarians (I just made that word up): the drive up up up and down down down the hill was a little nerve-wracking. The road - barely (bearly!) one lane wide - twisted and turned around hairpin turns and up blind crests and I must confess that, at one point, I thought that one of my bipedal attendants had messed her pants. The fact that you also have to avoid VW campers and trailers (I did say they were German) parked along one side of the road and certain death on the other didn't help too much.

On the summit of the hill looms the
13th century Moorish castle within whose walls is nestled the original village. This tiny village - redolent of jasmine and orange blossom - is a living labyrinth of winding lanes and whitewashed houses decorated with flowers and ceramics. There's also a lot of dog poop. They don't mention it in the guide books but I think visitors should know about these things. I believe that my bipedal attendants sent ahead a press release announcing my visit because one resident kindly left out 3 bear-size chairs for us (see above right). That's me (left), Manny (centre) and Blund (right). Their presence helped keep many autograph hounds away that day.

You can't actually go into the castle proper which was a bit of a disappointment but you can peek through the windows and look at the hotel fixtures gathering dust.

Our secon
d castle that afternoon was about 20 minutes away in Jimena de la Frontera - another traditional hill village with rows of whitewashed houses lining very steep and narrow, cobbled streets. You approach the 13th century castle (yes, another one!) through the actual town and although the drive up is a bit tricky, it wasn't so bad that it made you wonder if your will was up to date. (Mine is - all my money is going to help rescue moon bears in China. I hope that my bipedal attendants aren't counting on a big windfall.) At least there weren't any near misses in anyone's underpants this time.

The castle, which was built on an earlier Roman site (there is a Roman inscription at the entrance dated to 151 C.E.), is approached through the Islamic horseshoe-triple gateway (below). You can explore as much as you like within the castle grounds and visit the towering castle keep and the ruins of vaulted underground water cisterns. The views from the battlements are breathtaking and you can see
olive, oak and chestnut trees - bears are always on the look out for nuts - in the valleys below and on a clear day you can see Gibraltar and the Moroccan coastline.

The town itself is very picturesque and pretty quiet - and is becoming more and more a feeder town for Gibraltarians - but on Easter Sunday there is a feria and an encierro (bull run). Fortunately there were no enraged bulls racing along its serpentine streets looking for drunk knobs to spear with their horns on the day we were there. But if there had been any, I would have cheered the bulls on!


Anonymous said...

Hello again Gray Bear
You lead a very interesting life.
Are you an American bear? How old are you?
Where is your next trip going to be and When?

Grey Bear said...

Hi Anonymous,
I am a Canadian Grey Bear and I will be 10 years old in December. I count Christmas as my birthday since that's the date I met my bipedal attendants.

I will be making a few day trips over the next week or so and then a bigger trip to Granada. I'm not certain when my next trip abroad will be - maybe in September if I decide to leave Spain. If I stay in Spain it will probably be at Christmas.

I think for a bear that I do lead an interesting life. Thanks for asking!