Category Archives: Spain

Alhambra — October 10, 2019

On October 10 we Americans (Barb & I and Bill & Colleen) took a day off from almond harvesting and drove up to Granada to see Alhambra.  Barb and I had been there twice before — the first time in 2006 on a side trip from Brunborg’s First Annual International Almond Harvest, and the second in 2011 ,  when a large number of friends of the Brunborgs were helping with the harvest and celebrating the birthdays of Tove and Barb — but both times we had only seen the outer grounds, since we had not been able to get tickets for the inner palaces.

From Wikipedia:

The Alhambra  is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada, Andalusia, Spain. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. After the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella (where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition), and the palaces were partially altered in the Renaissance style. In 1526 Charles I & V commissioned a new Renaissance palace better befitting the Holy Roman Emperor in the revolutionary Mannerist style influenced by humanist philosophy in direct juxtaposition with the Nasrid Andalusian architecture, but it was ultimately never completed due to Morisco rebellions in Granada.

Alhambra’s last flowering of Islamic palaces was built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain during the decline of the Nasrid dynasty, who were increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile. After being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who had conducted retaliatory destruction of the site. The rediscoverers were first British intellectuals and then other north European Romantic travelers. It is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions, exhibiting the country’s most significant and well-known Islamic architecture, together with 16th-century and later Christian building and garden interventions. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the inspiration for many songs and stories.

Adventures in Spain — Time with Brunborgs; October 7-13, 2019

On October 6, we (Shipleys and Bill & Colleen) drove our rented auto down from Madrid to southern Spain.   We were in the neighborhood to visit Norwegian friends Lars Helge & Tove Brunborg and to help them with their almond harvest. Also joining in the harvest, and the attendant merry making, were Rasmus and Kari. They bunked at Casa Emilie, villa of Lars Helge & Tove.  We stayed in the villa of generous Norwegian friends Bjørgulf & Berit Haukelid in the nearby little Spanish village of Itrabo.

We began the picking on the morning of the day 7th.  For a few of the smaller trees, the almonds could just be plucked from the branches, but for most, the almonds were persuaded to release by beating the branches with long sticks. A large net lain underneath the tree collected the proceeds which could then be coaxed into large plastic tubs.  The byproducts of the process include leaves and bits of twigs as well as outer husks, so the tubs are taken up for sorting on a table outside of the villa.

We spent the morning of the 8th picking more almonds, and then all went for a short walk in the neighborhood.  That evening, the Americans made dinner.

On the 9th we all went to Almuñécar.


Almuñécar is a municipality in the Spanish Autonomous Region of Andalusia on the Costa Tropical between Nerja (Málaga) and Motril. It has a subtropical climate. Since 1975, the town has become one of the most important tourist towns in Granada province and on the Costa Tropical.

The Phoenicians first established a colony in Almuñécar in about 800 BC and this developed for six hundred years into an important port and town with a large fish salting and curing industry that was a major supplier of Greece and Rome.

The Romans came to southern Spain at the time of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage in 218 BC as part of their campaign to subdue the Phoenician settlements along the coast. During 700 years of Roman colonial rule the town and its industry prospered, and in 49 BC the municipality (one of 20 cities in Spain honoured at that time) was given the title Firmium Julium Sexi in recognition of the town’s loyalty to Rome.

With the decline of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Germanic peoples, including the Visigoths, crossed the Pyrenees mountain range into the Iberian peninsula. By 456 the Visigoths emerged as the dominant power, and expanded their territory onto the southwestern Mediterranean coast. However, Hispania remained relatively Romanized under their rule. The Visigoths adopted Roman culture and language, and maintained many of the old Roman institutions, although much of the economic structure collapsed, and at Almuñécar the fish curing industry declined rapidly. The Catholic bishops were the rivals of Visigothic power and culture until the end of the 6th and beginning of the 7th century—the period of transition from Arianism to Catholicism in the Visigothic kingdom.

The first Muslim invasion of southern Spain came in 711 AD at or near Gibraltar. At Almuñécar, the town remembers 15 August 755 when Umayyad Abd ar-Rahman I of Damascus, the founder of the Emirate of Cordoba, arrived from North Africa to establish his Moorish kingdom. The Moors introduced the growing of sugar cane and sustained the fishing industry; many of the streets and buildings of the old town were developed by the Moors. The castle remained the stronghold of the city and the seat of government and its walls were strengthened. Extensive dungeons were built for those out of favour with local rulers, but also baths for the use of the social elite.

The cross on Peñon del Santo, the rock at the old harbour entrance, marks the defeat of the Arabs, their surrender at Almuñécar, and the beginning of Christian rule in 1489.

Following the restoration of Christian rule, new architectural statements were made – for example the construction of a new church was started in 1557 and completed to the latest design in 1600, the first Baroque-style church in the province of Granada. The old town was also Christianised (or perhaps paganised – by the Goddess of fertility herself), as in the building of the water fountain on the Calle Real (Royal Street), dated to 1559 and with the royal cypher above, but at that time using the existing Roman water supply from Las Angosturas first installed 1500 years earlier.  [Source: Wikipedia]


We explored the crowded old-town shopping area, stopped at the busy indoor market, and then retired to the beach for lunch at one of the seaside restaurants.  As I walked the beach after lunch, a merchant, recognizing me as a tourist but unaware of my Caribbean experiences, benevolently insisted that I take pictures of his several banana trees.

On October 10th the Americans broke away and drove up to Granada to visit Alhambra. (Blog coming)

On the 11th, having returned to Itrabo, we all drove up into the spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountains and visited two picturesque villages. In the first, Pampaniera, we paused for some shopping and coffee. In the second, Capileira, more shopping and a delicious lunch.

On Oct. 12 we all walked up the hill that Lars Helge & Tove live on. Their villa is on the west side of a ridge, and the road runs up the east side, climbing much much higher. At the top, we found paragliders!

On the morning of October 13 we showed Bill & Colleen the marvelous almond sheller that Lars Helge had commissioned by a group of design students.  After that demo we jumped into our respective autos and took a narrow twisting road high up to see “the ghost village” in the Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park: the lost village of El Achebuchal.

In 1948 some two hundred villagers were ordered to leave El Achebuchal.  Authorities suspected the villagers of supporting rebels hiding in the mountains, by providing them with food and shelter.  Effectively the villagers were victims, caught between a rock and a hard place; hassled by both the authorites and the rebels during the remenants of the civil war.   Once vacated, the village became empty, derelict and was lost in time.

Fifty years later one man returned to re-build the village where his parents once lived.  His family restaurant, the tavern in the village,  is an authentic Spanish tavern, serving seasonally available specialities of delicious plates of game in rustic sauces.  Inside the restaurant there is an interesting collection of black and white photos providing a fascinating insight into campo life, and a life when El Achebuchal was a bustling hamlet.

On the morning of the 14th we took our leave of our Norwegian friends, and drove back up to Madrid.  The visit with Lars Helge & Tove and with Rasmus & Kari had been, as usual when we spend time with them, thoroughly enjoyable.  Tuesday the 15th we caught a flight to Rome, and from there, another flight to Florence.  See a later post for coverage of our Florence stay.

Adventures in Spain–Madrid; October 2-5, 2019


We, Barb and I and our friends Bill and Colleen, have been on an incredible adventure.

On October 1, 2019, we flew out of Phoenix AZ , with a stop in Frankfurt. After nearly 24 hrs in transit and into a time zone differing from Phoenix by 9 hrs, we arrived in Madrid.

 On the 2nd we toured the beautiful Park of Madrid and visited the Prado Museum, officially known as Museo Nacional del Prado, the main Spanish national art museum.

We spent Thursday the 3rd getting the “big picture” in Madrid by walking around and riding in the top of a double-decker tour bus.

We visited the Royal Palace on the 4th.

 On the 5th we visited the Museum Cerralbo, which houses the art and historical object collections of Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, 17th Marquis of Cerralbo, who died in 1922. The museum, which is housed in the former residence of its founder, opened in 1944. The building was built in the 19th century, according to Italian taste, and it was luxuriously decorated with baroque furniture, wall paintings and expensive chandeliers. It retains to a large extent its original aesthetics and features an interesting collection of paintings, furniture, archaeology, ancient weapons and armor. [Wikipedia]

We also visited the massive Museum of the Americas (Museo de América), a national museum that holds artistic, archaeological and ethnographic collections from the whole Americas, ranging from the Paleolithic period to the present day.

As an institution, the museum was founded in 1941. The permanent exhibit is divided into five major thematical areas:

  • An awareness of the Americas
  • The reality of the Americas
  • Society
  • Religion
  • Communication

And finally we rode an elevator to the top of the nearby tower Faro de Moncloa, which afforded a fantastic view of Madrid.

On October 6 we took a rented auto from Madrid to Itrabo, in the southern part of Spain.  For that story, tune in to the next post.

Hills & Valleys — Casa Emilie & her surroundings, October 1-18, 2014

When we were not in a village on the immediate coast or up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, we were in the vicinity of Lars Helge’s & Tove’s villa, La Casa Emilie.  Faithful readers already know that we helped with their almond harvest; this post is to cover some of the many other things we did.

The villa is situated high on the backbone of a sloping ridge that separates the little village of Itrabo, down in the valley to the east, from the little villages of Jete and Otivar, deep down in the valley to the west.  The patio of the villa overlooks the spectacular view of the valley to the west and the looming hill/mountain ridge beyond.  On most days, when the wind is minimal, the quiet is eerie and absolute; “normal” noises do not reach the villa from the extremely distant valley or western ridge.  To be on the patio on such a day is to be in awe of the wonder of the sights and silence.

High as the villa is, it is only a fraction of the way up the ridge that slopes up to the south, a fact that becomes abundantly clear when one goes for a morning walk, as we sometimes did.  The peak is the southernmost before the Med, and so the vista over the coastal villages and the sea is well worth the effort.  At the very top is a jump off point for paragliders.

Almost all of the slopes of the hills in this region of Spain have been over the centuries sculpted with rows and rows of narrow terraces, upon which are grape vines and olive trees and, yes, almond trees.  This part of Spain is relatively dry, and so each plot of land has its own concrete water tank to support the agriculture and/or the associated dwellings.  The Brunborgs own two shares in the cooperative that supplies the water to the tanks of their region.  Their tank supplies all of the water they use to irrigate their grapes and almonds, as well as fill their swimming pool and meet their drinking, cooking, washing and flushing needs.  A water steward can often be seen traversing the dusty roads on his motorcycle in order to close and open valves that divert water to the appropriate tanks.  One of the delivery pipes buried under the road just down from La Casa Emilie has apparently sprung a leak, and the owner of the pipe has apparently refused to effect a repair, so when that pipe is transporting water to some tank or another, water bubbles up in the middle of the road and collects in a troublesome pool at a low point of the road.  Lars Helge & Rasmus seized the opportunity to do some playing in water and took shovels and hoes to the problem, digging a drainage ditch in which they buried a section of drainage pipe.  The lowering of the pool was only one aspect of the satisfied smiles on their faces.

The bottoms of the fertile valleys are crowded with trees and bushes that grow a wide variety of fruits, including Papaya, Persimmon, Quince, Oranges, Lemons, Avocado, and, most abundantly (and strangest to a boy from South Dakota), Custard Apples, known here as Chirimoya.  Some of these many fruits are grown in sprawling low “green houses” whose roofs are plastic sheets and whose sides are sometimes plastic and sometimes netting.

We patronized a number of local restaurants during our stay, two “new” ones and a reprise of our wonderful celebration at El Capricho Restaurant of Barb’s & Tove’s 60th birthdays in 2011.

We had an “interesting” drive on “interesting” roads one day when Lars Helge needed to check out one of his listed properties.  Fun to get off the main roads and see some of the backcountry.

As can be perceived by our series of posts on the subject, we had a grand time in Spain.  We look forward to seeing our Norwegian friends again when they come see us on Tusen Takk II.

Fun on the Southern Coast — Spain, October 4-18, 2014

During our stay with the Brunborgs we had a number of visits to some of the nearby coastal villages on the Mediterranean. We did most of our grocery shopping in Salobreña, where we also had at least three lunches. In one, our waiter spoke virtually no English. Quickly realizing the communication problem, he beckoned us to follow him through a couple of dining rooms to a display area of fish and shellfish on ice. There, without knowing the names or the flavors, we each picked out the fish we wanted prepared. After we had eaten our appetizers, the waiter came back and repeatedly asked some question in Spanish, using exactly the same words each time but increasing the volume on each iteration. Finally a customer in an adjoining table perceived the situation and came over and asked if we spoke English. When we indicated in the affirmative, he rendered the translation: were we ready for the next serving? We were.

We visited the resort town of Herradura, where Lars Helge familiarized himself with a luxurious (and expensive) home that he hopes to help sell to Norwegians. At his request I took a number of pictures to be used to supplement the illustrations of the dwelling on the web site for the Realty Company.

We also visited Almuñecar, with its maze of narrow streets and alleys, a number of times. We had several lunches there, and patronized the huge indoor market that featured many stands with an infinite variety of fruits and vegetables. A separate area contained many separate seafood stands with fish and shellfish of every possible description. Adjacent to the large market was a huge covered open-air area that hosted medicinal and flavoring spices and herbs. All in all, the market was a marvelous place filled with interesting sights and smells and boundless opportunities for people-watching.

If I may say so, the associated beaches of these villages are not nearly so appealing as many in the Caribbean. The sand is dark and coarse and filled with stones and pebbles. The water is cold. There were few people on the beach. Ourselves? We didn’t swim, but contented ourselves to brief tests a la toe-dips.

Exploring Spanish villages — Sierra Nevada foothills, October 15, 2014

On October 15 we all (Lars Helge & Rasmus & Kari & Barb & I) crowded into Lars Helge’s car and drove up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Our goal was to visit the three villages of Pampaneira, Bubión and Capilera.  We made two additional stops along the way.  We noticed an intriguing sign/display for the village of Soportújar.  A white wall bore a large model of the village and also displayed a black silhouette of a witch.  We could not resist diverting to the village to seek an explanation.  At the village, we found a handsome patio that featured a stunning view of the valley below.  On the patio was a fountain in the form of a statue of a boiling pot being stirred by two witches.  Just outside the village was a decorative entrance to a cave that apparently was named “The Eye of the Witch”.  Signs apparently averred that the cave has long been thought to have mysterious powers.  A quick poll revealed that none of us felt any magical vibrations, and so we continued on our way.  Back on the road to the three villages, we soon passed a small cavern.  At the entrance there was a very small hut whose function was unclear.  The inside was clear but featured walls that appeared to have seams of coal.

We passed through Pampaneira and then Bubión and stopped at Capilera, where we ordered “caffè Americano”, which comes in small cups and contains about a week’s supply of caffeine.  The setting was nostalgic, since we had been there with a large number of Norwegian celebrants in the “First International Almond Festival” in October, 2006.

We then reversed our direction and returned to Pampaneira, population 355 and 3480 feet above sea level, where we did some exploring of the village and its many interesting shops, including leather goods and wool rugs and ceramics and fashionable clothing and cheeses and hams.  An interesting factoid not immediately apparent is that the chimneys in the three villages are unique.  Whereas the chimneys in most villages have horizontal cross-sections that are polygonal, most of those here are circular or elliptical.  Fascinating, no?

After a yummy lunch we retraced our steps back to home territory, dropping off in Itrabo Kari and Rasmus, who had invited us over to their rented villa for dinner, and then continuing on to Casa Emilie.

When we joined them later for dinner, we found a multi-level restored home that featured thick plastered walls and lots of charming little rooms and a lovely patio on the roof..  The dinner of fish and pasta was delicious and was accented by some really good wines.

Harvesting Almonds — Spain, October 1-18, 2014

Lars Helge & Tove have a villa up on a ridge that separates the little village of Itrabo from the little village of Jete.  On their property they have some 70 almond trees; trees which made it possible to legally build their villa “Casa Emilie”, since housing is permitted on rural land in this part of Spain only if it is associated with some kind of farm.

The almonds were especially bountiful this year, and so we began our harvest by picking some of the nuts on some of the loaded lower branches.  The alternative method of harvest is to spread a large plastic sheet under a tree and then beat the branches with long sticks to dislodge the nuts and cause them to fall onto the plastic sheet, from which the nuts can then be “poured” into large collection baskets.  When an almond is still “green”, the nut is encased in an outer leathery husk.  As the nut matures, the outer husk dries up and cracks open and falls off the nut, leaving the hard almond shell with which the reader is no doubt familiar.  If one attempts to harvest too soon, many of the nuts will still wear their leathery husks.  If one waits too long in an effort to have all of the husks shed from the nuts, many of “naked” nuts will have fallen to the ground.  So the ideal time to harvest is when almost all of the almonds either are “naked” or are wearing dried husks that can be easily removed but few nuts have fallen to the ground. The advantage of the picking method is that the collected nuts are free from debris and the slightly adhering husks can be easily removed while picking.  The advantages of the “beating with a stick” method is that it is faster and that it dislodges the nuts that are too high to be reached by hand.  The disadvantage of the stick method is that it collects on the plastic sheet not only clean nuts and nuts with easily removed husks but also immature nuts with irremovable husks and also leaves and twigs and old husks.  So the stick method requires a separate step that we performed by dumping the baskets onto a table and then manually sorting the nuts from the debris.  After a day or two of easing into the harvest by picking by hand, we switched to the stick method.

As faithful readers already know, in the middle of the harvest we took a break and took Tove to the Malaga airport and then continued on to Gibraltar.   When we returned, we continued the harvest until about 55 trees had been stripped.  Then we took another break and waited for Norwegian friends Rasmus and Kari to arrive and help us with the last 15 trees.  When the harvest was complete, we had about 341 kg. of almonds, almost all of which were taken to an almond broker and sold.  A few were retained for shelling in the machine that Lars Helge had commissioned several years ago from a technical school in Kristiansand that was looking for a project.  The machine is supposed to crack the shells without breaking the inner nuts.  The “problem” is that not all the almonds have the same dimension, and so some smaller nuts pass between the shell-cracking rollers without being shelled, and some larger nuts fall out with not only their shells broken but also their nuts crushed.   (I wish I could think of another way of saying that which didn’t cause half of our readers to wince.)

This was our third almond harvest.   We enjoy the process.  We enjoy the setting.  We enjoy working with friends.

Stay tuned for the next post when we discuss what we did when we were not harvesting almonds or visiting Gibraltar.