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Three Weeks in Spain

Shannon

100+ Posts
Trip Description: Spring 2004. Shannon & Connie, daughter and mother, see six cities in Spain for tapas and touring.

Here we go...

My mother and I decided to go to Spain together in the Fall of 2002. We got lots of advice on where to go on the Slowtalk message board, and made a rough plan. Initially, we were going to go in late April and early May to partake in the San Isidro festival in Madrid and the Spring Feria in Sevilla. But, my work interfered with that plan, so in December 2003 we moved the whole trip up a month. One benefit of moving the trip up was we got to be in Southern Spain for Holy Week, which was an incredible experience.

We both fell in love with Spain. The six cities we visited, Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, and Barcelona, were very diverse, each with their own vibe and charms. The people of Spain are genuine, helpful, and generally laid-back. We never felt like we were treated any different for being a visitor rather than a Spaniard. Anti-Americanism? Pishaw.

I did the bulk of the planning (actually I did ALL the planning, mostly because I am a control-freak that way) with the use of the internet and a few guidebooks. I used the Open Road Spain Guide, DK Eyewitness Guides, and Rick Steves guide. (Rick Steves sent his for free, in exchange for "Chow! Venice," which was pretty nice.) We also had a copy of "Eating and Drinking in Spain" by Andy Herbach and Michael Dillon, a little glossary type book. The two books that I liked best, and read before I left, were "A Stranger in Spain" by H. V. Morton, and "Discovering Spain" by Penelope Casas. Both books gave me insight into Spain not found in my other guidebooks.

We got very lucky with all my internet apartment finds. I did not find ten apartments and then hem and haw about which one would be best - rather, I just booked the first ones I liked and stuck with them. All four apartments (in Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, and Barcelona) were in central areas and all worked out great. Our hotels, I believe, were listed in the Rick Steves book - definitely Las Conchas in Cordoba was. Both hotels were fine and well-priced.

Now on to my actual report. I fear that this may read like the travelogue of someone who does nothing all day, compared to some travel journals where people have the energy of six-year-olds on Red Bull and visit a thousand sights a day. I prefer, and I am happy my mother shares this with me, to not plan too much and to let the day take me. Or, to let the city take me, I should say. I am a lover of sitting in cafes drinking wine for hours more than a lover of the insides of churches. I like to fall in love and I was lucky enough to have several lovers on this trip (and I mean the cities of Spain!)
 

Shannon

100+ Posts
Magnificent Madrid

We flew Iberia. The flight over was pretty awful. We flew San Diego to Chicago and then boarded the Chicago-Madrid flight. We had a three-hour stop in Chicago, and ate a salad at the Wolfgang Puck Café in the airport – our server carded both of us! I am almost 40 and my mom just turned 60. So that was pretty hilarious. The Iberia flight to Madrid left at about 5:00 P.M. They did not serve any drinks for a long while, and dinner (which wasn’t too bad) was served about three hours into the flight. One bizarre thing was, no movies were shown until a couple of hours after the meal. Mom managed to sleep but I had the aisle seat and it was impossible. It seemed everyone was up all night. To get water, you had to go to the back of the plane and get it – the attendants never brought it up and down the aisles like they do on other airlines. As a result, people getting water were constantly traversing the aisles. It was very busy and I didn’t sleep at all.

We arrived at 8:00 A.M. and took a cab into Madrid, arriving at 9:30 A.M. We had a sweet cab driver that pointed out the sights along the way. The ride was inexpensive, less than 20 Euro. Madrid was very quiet; it was a cold Saturday morning. We dropped our luggage at the office of the apartment we were renting and were told our apartment would be ready at 1:00 P.M. Then we went out into freezing Madrid. I was not properly dressed for freezing rain, but it kept me awake! Looking back, I realize we were totally exhausted and out of it, but the body manages to keep going.

We walked into Plaza Mayor, totally deserted except for a couple of tour groups. We had a coffee and decided to go to the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace of Madrid. It is a big, fantastic, opulent structure, of which you get to see just a little. My favorite room had all these crazy oriental figures carved into the walls. There were a few tour groups and I got a great picture of a Chinese tour group all staring up at the ceiling (got it from the steps, looking down.) After I took it a guard yelled, NO FLASH! Ooops! Blame it on the jet lag.

After, we had our very first tapa, at a tapas bar across the street at Bailen 19. This is awful but I can’t remember what it was. I know we had some olives and the server was Asian. I was starting to feel very tired at this point. We went and bought coffee, wine, milk, water, 1/3 kilo of manchego, and crackers for the apartment, (ALL for under 10 Euro – dang I love Spain) and then went back to the apartment but it was not ready and would not be ready till 2:00. So we walked more, around Puerta del Sol, where the Saturday shoppers were out.

We stopped and had a really bad glass of wine, it came with a little plate of paella, and a crazy old lady tried to talk to us. I was too tired to try to communicate… bummer. Finally the apartment was ready and we could check in.

The Madrid apartment was lacking in charm but it made up for that in space – we each had our own bedroom! We unpacked and slept for a couple of hours. After waking and showering, we were both still a bit tired, but headed out for some tapas.

Off Plaza Mayor, there is a street called Cava San Miguel, where there are a number of tapas bars in caves stretching underneath the Plaza. We went into one called Meson Rincon de la Cava (at #17) and immediately made a tapa mistake – we ordered fried seafood and it was a huge portion! You have to order a tapa size, or a media ration (half ration, medium) or a ration (big.) The portion we got, with eight shrimps and lots of calamari and fish, filled us up. We had some wine too and listened to the entertainment (a keyboardist a la 2nd rate Vegas Casino.) The bill was a little more than we expected, 31 Euro, which included 2 little glasses of wine each and bread. A week later we would eat the same thing again and the check was a bit less. We think they transposed 21 and 12. Whatever, we would have paid anything for that fried fish plate.

After we ate, we walked up to Cava Baja. WOW. I am totally in love with Madrid all of a sudden. The whole street is lined with cool places to eat and drink. We went to a wine bar called Taverna Tempranillo (#38), and had a couple of glasses standing at the bar. The whole place was filled with interesting, laid-back people. It was a scene, but a scene that anyone could be comfortable in.

Next, we went to an Italian style café. Mom wanted coffee and I wanted wine. Mom said, I don’t think they have wine here. I said, Mom, this is Europe there is wine everywhere. Sure enough, they had wine but I should have had a grappa. There was also a Tom Cruise look-alike that worked there or owned the place and stood there by the bar with his arms crossed looking out the window. Every time we passed that café we looked for him but we never saw him again. Outside, the wet street was colored by the reflection of neon lights. It was very bohemian and I was falling in love with Madrid.

We had a short, freezing walk back to the apartment, where we watched a TV show. A married couple was talking/arguing, the wife was wearing a short black vinyl dress and was holding a whip, and the husband had a soccer ball under his shirt. She started whipping the whip, and he took the ball out and started kicking it around. There was a sexy guy wearing a loincloth hiding in an armoire, and the husband was going to kick the ball in that direction, there-by discovering his wife’s stud. There were a few close calls and then the sexy guy was finally discovered. Much shouting ensued, and then in came the Mama of the wife, and it was total mayhem. After a bit the married couple left and Mama was chasing the sexy guy and screaming, “Por Favor! Por Favor!” I slept very well that night.

The next day, we did not rise until 10:00. Thus began our habit of never getting out of the house until noon. Thankfully my mother shares this habit with me. I am not an early riser on vacation and I hate to be rushed. The very first morning and for many mornings after, we would rise whenever, make some coffee, sit around, read some guidebook stuff, maybe watch a little weird Spanish TV, have another coffee. The coolest thing being, once we actually got out we could immediately stop for a glass of wine and a tapa. Now this is Slow Travel.

Anyhow, on this 2nd day in Madrid we headed out around noon for the Prado. It was snowing before we left, but on the walk to the Prado it was merely cold and gray. We had a great walk, our first daytime walk through Madrid, on a Sunday with not many people around because of the weather. I loved the streets and the buildings and the feeling of the city. We stopped in a taverna to have a glass of wine and a tapa but they were not serving food yet. So we just had the wine and checked things out. It is possible that they were not even open as the servers were all having their pre-shift cigarettes and beer (you gotta love Europe.) If they were not open, then they were awfully gracious about us hanging out. Right at 1:00 we asked for a tapa menu. We ordered two pieces of country bread, both toasted in an open fireplace in front of us, one spread with garlic and oil and one spread with tomato. I think it was the best breakfast I have ever had. I feel guilty for not notating the name of this place, but I think it may be on San Augustin between Calle de Cervantes and Calle Lope de Vega. After that toast and the wine, we were primed for the Prado.

On to the famous Prado Museum. I didn’t find it too crowded, but Mom thought it was really crowded. We saw most of it, I loved the Riberas, the colors seemed to be screaming at me, but maybe that is because I saw them first. After a couple of hours, basta.

Emerging, it was raining very hard, so we went into a bar across the street (as if we would not have if it wasn’t raining.) We had a glass of wine and an OK tapa of shrimp in puff pastry and watched the rain fall. Eventually we realized the rain was not going to stop and made a plan to walk to Plaza Santa Ana to the next wine and tapa stop.

We walked down Calle Huertas, a really cool pedestrian street lined with bars, quiet during the day but I imagine at night it must be one long party. At the Plaza Santa Ana, we were really wishing it was warm or at least dry, so we could sit outside. But there would be no sitting outside while we were in Madrid. Went into a wine bar, Vinoteca Barbechera, very cool and hip with lots of different wines by the glass. The tapa menu was very creative and we had a tapa of goat cheese on toast with sweet and sour caramelized onions.

After, we went back to the apartment for a little relaxation before dinner. We watched a TV show called “Hecho Pareja” or something like that – a show that we got to see again the next day, and searched fruitlessly for, the rest of the trip. This show was a Dating Game, but the contestants were people that would have a hard time finding a date in real life, unlike our Dating Game, which has frat boys and Barbie as contestants. This first evening, the contestants were in their sixties, maybe even seventies. There were three grandpas vying for one grandma. There were questions about sex (Mom translated what she could, but even without translation, one just knows) and also, blindfolded face slapping. Sadly the show ended, but then it was time for dinner.

We had made a reservation at the famous Restaurant Botin the day before, but when we arrived, the time had changed and it was now 9:00 P.M. instead of 8:00 P.M. (Please don’t kill us for eating so early. The cold and rain made us do it.) Anyhow, they would not seat us but were very nice about the screw up and told us to come back the next night. The host told us to come at 8:00. Feeling Spanish, and embarrassed, I said, can we come at 9:00? 8:30, He said. So we wandered down to the Cava Baja, also known as Shannon’s dream street, for dinner.

We had a crappy meal at Taberna de los Lucio (#30). It was very busy so we thought it must be good and we went in. Later we found out it is known for egg dishes, but we did not know at the time (even though there was an egg on the sign, doy) so we ordered a salad to split and then some pork medallions with some apple stuff on top. The salad was drenched in a sweet dressing – it was gross. The pork came out raw. Thankfully the waiter, seeing we were still trying to eat our salad, took it back to warm it up, and it cooked more. The meal was barely palatable but we did have one of the tastiest wines of our trip – a 1999 Vina Alberti Rioja. The waiter was new and a bit scattered and we were seated at a table right by the kitchen window (the only alternative, in the middle of the dining room, would have been even worse.) For all this, it was a very reasonable 38 Euro.

After, we went back to Taverna Tempranillo, stood at the bar, watched the people and then hustled home in the cold. There, to our delight, we discovered the Miss Espana contest was on TV. We watched everything after the six final finalists were chosen. There was a bizarre way of scoring, which is covered in my blog so I won’t go over it too much here. This kept our attention for hours longer than we would have liked as bed was calling. Miss Jaen finally won and was fitted with a crown about a foot tall and made of silver tubes. It was too heavy and too big and she had to hold it on her head.

The next morning, it was pouring again. We went out early (well, early for us, like noon) and bought some supplies for the apartment. By the time we finished and got back it was 1:30 and we were starving. We went into a tavern on Cava San Miguel and had a great tortilla (the Spanish potato and egg frittata.) While we were there a large group of Italians came in and filled the tiny dining room up – we moved into the bar for them. It was nice to speak a bit of bad Italian and one man came to me after and told me I was not only pretty, but also accommodating and nice. Or something like that. Listening to them made me homesick for Italy. How come English never makes me homesick?

After, because of the rain, we decided to ride the Open Bus around. It’s the tour bus that makes lots of stops and you can hop on and off. Once on the bus we spotted a Renfe train office and decided to go there and pick up our tickets to Sevilla. We got off the bus at the Prado and walked back to where we (I) thought the Renfe office was, but we could not find it. I went into a travel agency and asked, IN ITALIAN “do you speak English?” What a dork. She finally figured me out and told me where the Renfe office was. We found it, had to wait for awhile, and eventually got our tickets for Madrid to Sevilla (which we had pre-booked over the internet) and also our tickets from Sevilla to Cordoba, from a humorless ticket guy. Then we walked down to the Prado to catch the bus again.

We sat there on the idling bus for some time while the driver girl and the ticket girl smoked and talked. Finally we drove off and saw some great fountains and started up the Gran Via. Again, we wished the weather was better so we could walk or ride on top of the bus – down below was not cutting it. When we got to the Plaza de Espana, we stopped for what seemed like an eternity – a couple more employees got on, there was more smoking and talking. It was freezing on the bus, there was no heat, and it was really uncomfortable. Plus, we weren’t going anywhere. So, once the bus got moving, we got off the thing at Puerta del Sol and went back to our apartment to rest before dinner.

Before we went to dinner, we were lucky enough to take in another showing of “Hecho Pareja.” Today the prize was a Greek woman named Petra and the contestants were a very straight, decent looking guy in a suit, a sort of blue-collar looking Erik Estrada type, and a balding, chubby guy called Jesus. Petra was a bit frightening looking. The men had to do a sort of strip-dance, taking off their shirts only (thank golly,) and do some push ups, and had to have Petra touch their heads, blindfolded. Jesus was the best at the sexy dance, but the straight guy kicked everyone’s ass at the push-ups. Poor Jesus, when Petra was going to touch his bald area, kept hunching over farther and farther so she wouldn’t feel it. Then all the guys got to slap her face (still blindfolded, of course.) In the end, even though the looks on her face would not have indicated it, Petra picked Jesus! A more bizarre couple, I have never seen. On this show they even have a mock marriage ceremony with a cake. We were cracking up.

Then we moved on to the Restaurant Botin. This is a famous restaurant, Hemingway ate here, etc. etc. We were seated on the first floor (one above ground) in a pretty tiled room with lots of other tourists. We had a tasty salad, some roasted pig, and the house cake. The salad and the cake were good, but the pig was a little, well, piggy. I like my pig almost melted like in Carnitas – this was pig with thick skin.

The service was good and a woman came around and took pictures. We didn’t want to buy ours, but the table next to us, a very fun foursome of Mexicans and Maltans, wanted me to pitch in for theirs because my head was in their picture. I did it on purpose, too, I told Mom check this out, I’m going to stick my head into their picture. So there I am in their memories of Botin, forever. They were having a great time and didn’t care that I crashed their party. Botin was good but just good, and it was pretty touristy. It didn’t rock my world.

I think by this point me and Mom were tapas lovers and everything was being compared to tapas and was never as good as tapas. That sounds awfully unadventurous but when you go to Spain and eat some garlic shrimps or a piece of crusty bread grilled and topped with tomato with you will see what I am talking about.

The next morning, we slept till 11:00 and it was another cloudy, rainy day. We went off to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, planning to stop and eat tapas on the way. First we stopped at the Bar Alhambra, at 9 Victoria. What a cool place! Groovy Moorish interior, cute, young bartender, a small plate of Chorizo with our vino. Then we walked across the street to El Abuelo, Victoria 12, for their famous shrimps. The interior or feel of the place was not nearly as cool as Alhambra, but the garlic shrimps were fantastic. I could have eaten a pound of them. Then we walked to the museum.

Wow – what an incredible museum. I was totally impressed. Since the collection was once private, there are paintings from the Pre-Renaissance on up to modern times. The layout is easy to navigate and we were blessed with no crowds. It was one of the best museum visits I have ever had.

This would be our last night in Madrid, so we decided to… go and eat some tapas! Good choice! First we went to a wine bar called Cien Vinos, at Nuncio 17, near the Cava Baja. This bar has been written up in many magazines and is very popular with locals and tourists, but we went so early there was only one other table. My, my, was it good. I had a glass of Cava and mom a glass of red, and we ate a “torta txangurro” which was some sort of Basque crab cake and another tapa of smoked salmon on a boiled potato with prawn béchamel sauce. It was one of the best dishes of our trip. The total bill for all this was 12 Euro.

Our next stop was Taverna Tempranillo again, because we really wanted to eat something there for once. We got there and managed to snag the cool, elevated table in the front window. Sadly, we had forgotten our “Eating and Drinking in Spain” book., so the menu was a total mystery to us. We ordered “tosta de trigueros” not knowing what it was, but figuring that it must contain toast. We were delighted when it was egg and asparagus on toast. It was great and we had a couple of glasses of wine and our toast and then we were full. The problem with me and my mom is, after a couple of stops for tapas we were full. But then of course we would go back to the apartment and eat Manchego cheese and cookies and stuff.

Back at the apartment, we watched a truly bizarre reality-sort-of TV show. It was called El Castillo de las Mentes, and seemed to pit TV fortune tellers against each other with a panel of holy looking guys officiating or judging. There was also a woman with a fuchsia pink feathered hat up there with the priest guys. The show went on for a long time and there was a lot of arguing and shouting and crying by some truly bizarre people. I even found a website! (Click on "El Castillo" in Web Resources.) All the fortune tellers have thumbnail photos and bios. How I wish this site was in English. A great send off, we were leaving for Toledo in the morning.

A bit about our Madrid apartment, first. It was a nice, big apartment, very basic and more function over form. I’ve done a bit of reading and it appears that most Madrid accommodations are basic, but nice. For the price and the location our apartment was a great deal, the staff were friendly, and the location was in the uber-heart of Madrid. We stayed in apartment #51.

I am a bit bummed that there were many things I wanted to do in Madrid, but the weather made it impossible. The El Rastro Flea Market, the Parque del Buen Retiro, sitting outside at cafes, a day-trip to Segovia … I will just have to go back!
 

Shannon

100+ Posts
Tangled Toledo

Getting to Toledo was easy. Took a cab to the Mendez Alfaro station, and bought a bus ticket. Got on the bus, and then before we knew it we were in Toledo and took a cab to our hotel, the Hotel Las Conchas.

This is a new, gleaming hotel, very comfortable, and very reasonable. We spent the afternoon walking around and getting very lost. I think we were in a Madrid frame of mind, and Toledo was a tiny town compared to Madrid. It took some getting use to. We had a great lunch of some kind of pork stew served over French Fries and salad, served up by a kindly, happy young waiter.

Rain clouds fought with sun but eventually the rain won. We walked and walked, and made our way over to an area where there was a wine bar written up in the Rick Steves book. It wasn’t open yet, so we went up an escalator to the top of the city! That was pretty wild, there is an escalator going to the top. Then we took the escalator down again, to see if the wine bar was open yet. You can see where our priorities lie.

The owner of the wine bar was just getting ready to open; he was getting wine out of his car. His name was Miguel Angel Flores, and everyone who visits Toledo should pay him a visit. We were the first people there (duh) and we talked a long time, he told us how everything in Spain was a “curiosity” and how no one in Toledo liked wine and how he only had two or three customers a night, how he went around Spain finding wines and checking on grapes for us, his customers, how women could not understand him and how he had no friends, curiosity after curiosity. We had planned to go have dinner after, but he kept putting out little nibbles – chorizo, cheese, olives, pate… more people came in (curiosity) and we ended up having three fairly large glasses of wine each, and even with all the little plates of food the bill was only 11 Euro! We were shocked. I mean, SIX glasses of wine and lots of snacks? Plus he bought us a glass of Cava when we were leaving. The wine bar is called de Amboades, and is located at Alfonso VI 5, near the Bisagra Gate. One of the most important sights in Toledo, in my opinion, is this wine bar. It gives you a look at Toledo that not many people experience - Miguel Angel Flores. I bought a bottle of wine from him, a Montalvo Wilmot Roble 2002 Tempranillo. It was the tastiest wine… I would end up guzzling half of it after our train scare (see the future.)

The next day, we woke up to more rain. Extreme rain. This would be the day where we would start to get burnt out on the rain. Before we left the room we ordered breakfast to be brought up. It was 6 Euro per person and ever so worth it (it is 5 Euro to eat downstairs.) Our tray was heaped with pastries, bread, ham, cheese, juice, and large, delicious cups of café con leche. We went out into the rain and first visited the cathedral. It was raining when we went in, but when we emerged, it was really coming down.

We walked around trying to find the El Greco museum but it was so miserable out we ducked into a place for a sit down lunch. We ate in a place recommended by Rick Steves – he recommended it for tapas, we opted for a full meal. It was fine but as my mom says, “nothing to write home about.” They did have a great green salad that we snarfed down as we were in major need of something green.

After lunch, it was still pouring. We walked/ran to the church where El Greco’s Count Orgaz painting is. It was packed – PACKED – with French school groups. In fact it seemed the whole city was packed with French school groups. We shoved our way to the front and looked at the painting, then shoved our way out. Thankfully, at this moment, the rain stopped.

We stopped in a café for a drink across from the Vittorio Macho sculpture museum (nice people in there) and then went over to the museum. After being packed like sardines in the Count Orgaz church, we were happy to find we had the entire sculpture museum to ourselves. First the museum guy directed us into an empty theater, where we watched a thirty-minute movie about Toledo. Then we wandered around looking at the sculptures and the beautiful views from the terrace of the museum, which used to be Macho’s home. After this we couldn’t fathom the thought of more French school kids and also, we needed to dry out. (From the rain.)

After a short while, we hopped into a cab and went over to the Parador. Paradors are hotels in old convents and castles that are run by the Spanish government. A friend had told us that we must have a drink on the terrace of the Toledo Parador, which has a stunning a view of the city. Sadly the weather did not cooperate. We had our drink inside the bar, and the view was indeed magnificent. I can imagine being very happy on the terrace of the Parador on a warm day and never wanting to venture back to the French schoolchildren zone.

When we returned to the hotel, it was dinner time. Mom said, I want pizza. Then we both wanted pizza, and so badly that there was no way we could eat anything else. We really wanted the pizza to be delivered to our room so we could sit on the bed drinking wine, eating pizza, and watching TV. We got the phone number for Telepizza, a delivery place, and called them but they told us there would be a 1-½ hour wait. So we decided to just go out and find a pizza restaurant instead. There was one listed in my Rick Steves book, but it wasn’t where it said it was, in fact there was no such street, at least in the area on his map. I pray this does not happen to people who read me & Ruth’s book and hope that people are not cursing me looking for non-existent streets.

Anyway, we walked for an hour looking for a pizza place and were getting sort of tired and were just about to give up and get a tapa when, suddenly, there was Telepizza! So we ordered a pizza-to-go and waited and by the time we got the pizza back to the hotel it was 1-½ hours anyway. We ate the whole pizza at a rapid speed, it was excellent, and I’ve never seen my mother drink wine that fast.

Toledo was our least favorite Spanish city. The weather, the crowds, and not enough time to make the adjustment from Madrid-pace to Toledo-pace all contributed to this. We weren't too sad to leave. Someday, I will go back and sit on the terrace at the Parador and this is when I will fall in love with Toledo.

The day we left Toledo, headed for Sevilla, would be one of the strangest days of our lives.
 

Shannon

100+ Posts
A Crazy Couple of Days

In the morning we had another delicious breakfast delivered to our room and then checked out and got a cab down to the bus station. We got there at 10:00 and had to wait until 11:00 for the next direct bus to Madrid, where we were catching the 1:00 AVE train to Sevilla.

We were excited … going to a warm place, and also to a fiesta. As we sat in the station I noticed there was a shopping bag with something in it a few seats down. There were no humans to go with the bag. I started to freak out a little. What if there was a bomb in there? I get a little wacky at times. Then I figured, well if there is a bomb in there then clearly our time is up. I was happy to leave and go out to the bus.

We made it back into Madrid and to Atocha train station in a little over an hour. Atocha station is beautiful – I would have liked to cruise around a bit, but we immediately went through security and into the boarding area. We sat and had a glass of wine and then noticed that there was a huge line of people waiting to get on the train, so we figured we’d better leave our glasses half full and get on the train. We got on, and got all settled and then a young guy came by and told us I was in his seat. We’d sat in the wrong compartment! Me, Miss Euro Train Travel! It was hella embarrassing. We moved down to our compartment and then it was time to go.

But we did not go. The train sat there. After about 15 minutes a guy came on the intercom and said that due to security reasons there was a delay. They put on the Kenneth Branaugh film “Much Ado about Nothing,” dubbed in Spanish, of course. We waited and waited. We ate the sandwiches we made from our breakfast, drank some wine. Once and a while the intercom would relay the same message. The movie ended and I will never be able to watch that film again.

Now it’s getting to be three hours and people’s cell phones are ringing. The guy next to us tells us there was a bomb, in Toledo. Nobody took this information with any distress, people milled around and lots of people went to the bar-car. What we did not know, at this time, was that the bomb was on our track! We would not find this out until much later. Many people started leaving the train. There were four other Americans in our compartment and strangely, they were all mother/daughters traveling together too. There was an older woman with her early 50’sish daughter, and another woman with a daughter of around 12. I felt very bad for these last two because they had just arrived from Chicago that morning. Can you imagine being all exhausted from that night flight and being in this situation? To make matters worse it was their very first time to Europe. There were other daughters studying in Sevilla and this is why they were all going there.

We asked a couple of train attendants what we should do – one told us to wait as the train had to go sometime, another said get off now and try to find some other way. We were about to get off, finally, because everyone else was. As we were about to leave, a few Spanish women were getting back on the train. The women said to stay on the train or we would never get to Sevilla that weekend. If we had not already paid a large deposit on our apartment in Sevilla, if it was not Holy Week, we might have just said what-eves and stayed in Madrid. But we wanted to get to Sevilla, so we stayed. This is when the whole situation got really bizarre.

The group of Spaniards that would not leave the train eventually all migrated to our compartment. There were about twenty, I think, including us – not too many. One woman told us, firmly, “you cannot leave the train. There is power in numbers.” The 50’s-ish American kept saying, “Surely, they have to compensate us!” One man, came back to the American area (everyone else was in front, talking loudly) often to tell us what was going on. He said, “They cannot get us off the train until they find us a solution.” This was Spanish stubbornness and very, very impressive. The standoff lasted two hours. The police came, a lot of police. They all stood there while the passengers talked loudly all at the same time, and then finally they left. Then the police came back with some guys in suits who were negotiators for the train. More shouting, and they left. We had no idea what was going to happen and were starting to watch it all through weary eyes. The young American girl started to cry softly. Her mom just looked baffled. Now we had been five hours on an unmoving train. A train compartment starts to feel very small after you’ve been sitting on an unmoving one for five hours. We should have been in Sevilla long ago, drinking wine by the river.

Finally, a young policeman came on and quietly told us that there was no way the train would go. And that we all had to get off. Just like that, after all that “we must wait” etc. etc, everyone got off the train. We emerged into Atocha station on the Friday evening of a holiday week and all the trains had been cancelled. It was totally and completely insane in there. We tried to find out information. One RENFE train representative told us we could board any train with our ticket. Another told us no way. Also all the tickets for the whole weekend were sold out. There was nothing we could do but sleep in Madrid and try to figure out what to do in the morning.

We went to the hotel-booking kiosk in the train station and waited to book a room. The woman running the booking service seemed to delight in doing everything really, really slow. I’ve seen 2 year olds that write faster than she did. She offered us a hotel room with a bath for 80 Euro near Puerta del Sol. Fine. She needed a deposit of 20 something Euro and I handed her a bill. It had a tiny tear in it. She inspected it (slowwwwlllyyy) and asked me for another bill. I wanted to rip her head off. I said, “can’t you just TAPE it?” Mom gave her a different bill (and me a look, I think.)

So we got into a cab and back into Madrid, it was a crazy cab ride to the hotel, our cab trying to drive diagonal across a traffic circle, I thought I was surely going to perish.

The hotel was very nice (better than 80 Euro nice, I’d say.) We opened the bottle of Tempranillo I bought in Toledo and I think I poured half of it straight down my throat. We turned on CNN and learned, for the first time, that the bomb was on our track. We watched silently, both realizing that we could have been blown to smithereens. But it was not our time.

We went and I posted our tale of woe in my blog (I needed that release) and then, we went back to the Meson Rincon de la Cava so we could have another huge fried fish plate. We decided that at least we were in Madrid, we got to eat that seafood plate again, and that things could be a LOT worse. Exhausted, we went back to the hotel right after dinner. We figured we’d get up early, go on-line to try to find tickets, then go to the train station and wait.

So we got up at 8:00, not talking much, fretful and worried. I made a mental declaration to myself that we would get to Sevilla that day, some how. We went out and walked to the Renfe office where we had picked up our tickets. They were closed. We went to the internet place but they were also closed (though it said 24 hours – that sort of pissed me off.) So we decided that we would just have to go to the train station and hope for the best. The hotel told us we could come back if we needed to, no problem. They were so nice there. A man helped us up to the street where the cabs were. I love staying in apartments, but sometimes it sure is nice to have people helping you out with your stuff.

When we told our cab driver we were going to Atocha station, he looked at us in the rear-view mirror and asked us where we were going. When we told him Sevilla he asked us if we already had tickets. Mom told him what had happened. He shook his head and told us there were no tickets; they had just announced it on the radio. We asked about the bus, and he said there were no buses, either.

I told mom to ask him how much he would charge us to take us to Sevilla. I was not about to spend my vacation sitting in a train station or begging someone to sell us a ticket. Not when the fiesta was about to start. Mom said, it is impossible, as she had asked at the hotel guy about this option and the hotel guy told her he didn’t think a cab would drive that far. But she asked anyway. The driver, Augustine, soon to be known as St. Augustine, told us it would cost 400 Euro. We didn’t say anything – we were thinking. Then he said he would do it for 350 Euro. “ OK then!” we said. Before we knew it we were on the highway heading south.

We had no food or water in the cab with us. We thankfully never had to stop to pee. We drove for five hours, hitting pockets of traffic here and there. Knowing that we were going to make it to Sevilla that day relaxed us and we just looked out the windows silently. We passed through plains and saw giant wooden bulls on hillsides. We drove through a mountainous area. It got warmer. When we finally got to Sevilla it was sunny and hot. We had St. Augustine drop us at the train station, where we got refunds for our train tickets (59 Euro each – so really the cab ride was only 232 Euro. Subtract the 80 Euro we would have spent on a room in Madrid, and the cab ride was only 152 Euro. What a bargain!) Then we got another cab to the Barrio Santa Cruz, where our apartment was.

The cab dropped us in a plaza, and we walked a short distance to the apartment, one of the apartments Barrio Santa Cruz. The apartments are run by people who have a restaurant down the street, but I didn’t know you had to go there to get the key. We rang and rang and no one came, but eventually an American who was staying there came out and told us we had to go to the restaurant. A young woman from the restaurant checked us in and carried most of our luggage up to our 3rd floor apartment, despite our protestations. I also bought a bottle of cold white wine from her to help us with the unpacking.

Ahhhh! We were in Sevilla, safe and sound! The apartment was very cute, well furnished and with some personality, and we opened our windows and looked out into the charming Barrio. We took in gulps of warm, sunny air (alternated with swigs of cold white wine.) There are some moments when being alive really feels, well, ALIVE.
 

Shannon

100+ Posts
Sultry Sevilla

Glorious Sevilla! We walked out into the afternoon and it was like a transition from night to day. After a week of clouds and snow and rain and cold, we’d come to blue sky and warm air and crowded outdoor cafes. We found ourselves walking by the immense Cathedral, 3rd largest in the world, and the walls of the Alcazar, the Moorish fortress.

We walked towards the river, and stopped for a tapa in the Bar Maestranza. This was a cool and funky bar with a tattooed bartendress, at Dos Mayos 28. We had a tapa of albondigas (meatballs) in a tasty brown sauce, and a tapa of a cheese stuffed pepper. Both were prepared to order in a little kitchen off the bar and both were delicious.

Leaving the bar, we went to the around the corner to the Flamenco el Arenal, Calle Rodo 7. I had reserved over the internet for that evening, and wanted to see if they had our reservation. We weren’t even sure we wanted to go that night with all that had happened. But as luck would have it there were two guys standing out in front and after explaining how we thought we had a reservation he just sold us tickets, no problemo, for the 9:00 show only, no dinner (as recommended by slowtrav patriarch Doru.)

We then wandered down to the river, past the bullring, and across into Triana. All the cafes were crowded, the pastry shops totally packed. We wanted to find a market to buy milk and wine and cheese, and found one in Triana, so we did a bit of shopping and walked back to the apartment. We emerged to get dinner before the show, and had a substandard meal of tapas at a bar near the cathedral. Then we went off to the show.

We were seated in the very front, basically eye-level with the stage. Most of the people behind us were having dinner, I was glad I did not have to watch them. Instead, we watched, with our mouths in perma-smile, an incredible two hours of music and dancing. The show was colorful and extremely energetic. The musicians and dancers were great and were definitely into it. We felt the wind and tasted the sweat of the dancers, being so close. Sometimes a dancer would look at our happy faces and smile – they seemed happy too. At one point, chairs were brought out and the dancers sat in them and clapped while the singers had center stage and one by one, sang a solo. One large singer, who must have been new, kept backing up into one of the dancers and she had to keep moving her chair. She was looking at me and laughing, I was laughing back, every time the guy moved her way. The show was a total blast. Again, I felt incredibly happy and alive. I highly recommend this show, which was recommended by Doru and Colleen K in their Spain trip reports. You can make a reservation over the internet, but it doesn’t ask for credit card info, and it seems it might be better to show up or call when you get to Sevilla.

On our way home from the show we stopped and got big ice cream cones and walked slowly back to the apartment. It was a wonderful night.

The next day was Sunday, the start of the Semana Santa festival. We woke to church bells ringing like crazy. We went out at our usual time and went to an internet place, checking out the situation on the way. The streets were lined with chairs where the Sevillians would view the processions. But the processions were a long way off, so we went to the Alcazar. We toured the building and the gardens, and stopped in the café where we had a very good and reasonably priced lunch of a very mayonnaisy potato salad and a salad of shrimps and peppers and tomatoes. With two glasses of wine, only 9 Euro! Then we walked around the city some more.

Sevilla is lit from within and was the most striking of all the cities we visited in terms of sheer beauty. We stopped in a square, surrounded with bars, with people just spilling out. All the tables were filled with locals but we managed to snag one so we took it. We ate some shrimps and watched the locals. Everyone was dressed up and eating big plates of shrimps and drinking beer. They were getting ready for when they would go sit in their purchased seats and watch hours and hours of the processions. It was like being in a Hemingway story.

After a bit of relaxation and people watching, we went to try to see some of the first processions. It was a total mob scene – thousands of people everywhere, cops directing people-traffic … since we didn’t have a paid seat, it was pretty impossible to get close. We went back to the area around the Cathedral, also wall-to-wall with people. Everyone was dressed in their best outfit, sometimes classy and sometimes revealing. Pink seemed to be popular, and there were some boys dressed all in white. There were lots of short skirts and spike heels. The young people were all eyeing each other up or, if they had found someone, were making some new discoveries.

We went back to the Bar Maestranza to have a tapa of albondigas and it was just as good as the first time. After, we went back to the apartment to rest, and there we discovered that the Semana Santa processions were covered on TV (24/7 as we would soon find out.)

All the local cafes and restaurants were packed, and we didn’t really have the energy to deal with that. (In fact, in Sevilla, all my detailed notes compiled before we arrived in Spain pretty much went out the window.) So, we went to a tourist restaurant in the Barrio, Restaurante La Cueva at Rodrigo Caro 18. We weren’t expecting much, so we were pleasantly surprised by a very good, reasonably priced meal in a pretty dining room with lots of yellow painted rustic furniture. We split a bowl of excellent seafood soup and then had lamb “stew” which was more like hunks of lamb on the bone, resting on a bed of sliced potatoes and covered with tomato sauce. With a bottle of house red (just OK) the bill was 32 Euro.

After dinner, we walked back to the Cathedral where the fiesta was starting to get a little crazy. We got ice cream cones and people watched. At around 11:00 we went back to the apartment. I could hear the fiesta going all night.

The next morning we took a walk down to the Plaza de Espana and the Parque de Maria Luisa, a beautiful city park with cool Moorish fountains. The park was totally empty. I would love to go back on a Sunday when everyone is out (should have thought of that the day before – doy.) This day it was just nice to walk in a peaceful place. We walked from the Parque all the way to Triana, along the river. There were no crowds, the city was very quiet. All the shops were closing at 2:00 P.M. so the fiesta could start up again.

We stopped for a glass of wine and a bowl of Salmorejo (a pureed gazpacho with bread and oil) at a café on the river, then meandered slowly through the city checking things out. We were starting to get really relaxed. We walked to the Cathedral, because we hadn’t been in yet. Once we got there, we just weren’t that excited about going in, so we didn’t. Next time.

Back to the apartment for a short rest, then out again at 6:00 for more. More tapas, more processions, more people-watching. Our first stop was Modesto, Cano Y Cuetto 5 in the Barrio Santa Cruz. We stood at the bar and had a couple of tapas – a plate of tiny, succulent steamed clams, and some roasted and marinated peppers. I had a vino blanco, and Mom had a beer, total bill 9.20 Euro. We meandered back to the Cathedral, along with lots of people heading for the fiesta. We saw one of the processions coming out of the Cathedral doors, a giant float that from a distance looked very real. I think I should explain these processions a little.

There are a number of processions every day – every church has it’s own, and these processions each start in a different part of the city, but they all go back to the Cathedral in the end. The floats are called “Pasos” and are representations of either The Virgin Mary, or Jesus. The Pasos emerge from the church, carried by men who sometimes walk barefoot. In front of the Pasos there are Nazerenos, people with cone-like hoods that cover their faces, carrying candles. Sometimes there are a dozen, and sometimes hundreds, of these Nazarenos. Behind the Paso is a marching band with drums and horns that plays haunting, almost New Orleans funeral-esque music. Sometimes there are people carrying crosses in the procession, sometimes women in black dresses and lacy headgear. The smell of incense fills the streets.

In Sevilla, the processions were long, and well organized. We watched Jesus emerge from the Cathedral doors, bouncing from side to side like he was real, elevated above the crowds. The sun was going down and the air was golden and magical and the crowd quiet. That was the first procession we saw – there would be many more.

I got a hankering for some of the albondigas served up at the bar Maestranza, On our way, we got caught in a crowd of people on a street that before, had never been too busy. Once in, we could not move, and suddenly a Paso was heading towards us. There were children clinging to window-bars, trying tp get a better view. The Paso came slowly down the street, stopping often. It was a Jesus Paso. That one went around the corner, and then a Virgin was following. The Virgin stopped and someone sang from a balcony to her. We hadn’t planned our Paso watching, but here we found ourselves in the middle of one, and it was pretty incredible. Then the Virgin rounded a corner, and was gone.

The bar Maestranza was beyond crowded. We moved on to a restaurant recommended by Doru, right down the street, Bodequita A. Romero on Antonia Diaz. Getting a drink was easy, but of course all the tables were reserved for dinner. The bartender poured me a “fiesta sized” glass of wine – I couldn’t finish it.

We ate dinner in the Barrio Santa Cruz, at another touristy restaurant, in a plaza filled with other happy diners, watching a steady stream of people headed for the Cathedral. We ate paella and drank a half bottle of wine. The paella may not have been the best in Spain but we were hungry and we devoured it. Then energy around us was increasing but we were getting more and more relaxed. We would have been bummed to be leaving Sevilla the next day, but we still had three more cities to see. We’d been cheated out of one of our days in Sevilla, but the three nights and two days we had were even better because of what it took just to get there.
 

Shannon

100+ Posts
Carousing in Cordoba

Woke up bright and early and went to post in my blog, before we had to take off for the train station. The same young woman who checked us in, checked us out of our sweet little apartment, and called us a cab. We made it to the train station with plenty of time to spare, so we sat and drank wine that I had brought, out of two red plastic cups with tweety-birds on them that we had bought in a Sevillan “dollar” store. It was here in this train station that I bought my very first bag of “Jamon Jamon” Ruffles, potato chips that taste like ham. We were instant addicts and bought many more bags in Spain, even some to bring home.

We took the “Andalusia Express” from Sevilla to Cordoba and this is why. When I was checking train schedules on the Renfe site, I noticed that most trains were 20 Euro to get from Sevilla to Cordoba (because they were the AVE train.) But there was one train that was only 7 Euro, and that was the Andalusia Express. There was not much difference in the time spent on the train, so I wanted to shoot for this one. 13 Euro is, 13 Euro! Three tapas and two glasses of wine! (Well maybe not in Barcelona.) Anyhow, when we bought the tickets in Madrid I told the humorless train guy what train I wanted, because of the difference in price. (I had my handy-dandy print out off the website.) He shook his head like, you ladies are trippin’. We prevailed however.

The Andalusia Express was a one-car train! It was really cute! The journey was easy and before we knew it, we were in Cordoba, and checked into our hotel, the Los Omeyas, not more than a few steps from the Mezquita. When we were checking in, the young guy helping us asked if we had a car and we said no. “Thank you for that, we are crazy here.” It being Easter week and all. Then he said, “so many Americans, it is like the plague!” He was being nice when he said it, I think… at least he was sort of smiling. It’s possible this was his way of flirting with us.

The hotel was fine, very basic, and in the morning we would get big cups of coffee and also, this incredible Arabic bread toast thing. You paid bar-style, only for what you ordered.

After unpacking, we went out into the town – we were starving. Cordoba has the old part of the city, and the new, and we wandered up into the new. There were some stages set up for processions, and lots of people out. We went into a Cortes Ingles store (the big Spanish department store chain) and I noticed they had mismatched wine glasses for 1 Euro each. So I bought two of them so we could have some nice stemware in our room. The saleslady was kind of snotty and I was shocked, because everyone so far had been so un-snotty. Perhaps my purchase was too “Dollar Store.”

We stopped in a bar and had a tasty (free) tapa of fried potatoes with hot sauce, and some (not free) shrimps and garlic. On the way back, we saw a procession, Cordoba style, way less organized but no less powerful than Sevilla. Back in our room, we heard another procession coming so we went out to check it out. It came down the cross-street towards the Mezquita, and the street was so narrow it took a while to get the Paso to get around the corner. The Paso was much smaller, the Nazarenos were walking around in circles, and there were soldiers surrounding the paso, with machine guns pointing up. The soldiers were very young and very solemn. I got all emotional watching them pass, a foot away instead of from afar, like with the Pasos in Sevilla.

We were a bit tired, because of the whole getting from one place to another thing, so we went to get something to eat right at 8:00 which was way too early. We had some really bad tapas, but this was only the second bad meal of our entire trip, and that is not too bad. We had one more glass of wine at a bar, and then went back to the room where I watched part of Sparticus. Watching classic films dubbed in foreign languages is always fun and also, educational.

The next day we had tons of energy. The day was beautiful. We soon got back into “relaxed” mode. It was hot and the air had life in it. Cordoba is over a thousand years old, but it seems to me a living, modern city, even in the historic part. Even with the tourists. We stopped for a tapa at the Bar Taberna Sociadad de Plateros, San Francisco 6 (across from the Hotel Maestre.) We sat in a beautiful Moorish room with lots of hanging plants and ate hard-boiled eggs stuffed with tuna and topped with a red sauce, and some small pickled artichokes. We went to the Castillian Square, because we thought there was supposed to be a market there, but not much was open. Later we would find that the DK book for Sevilla gave the wrong information – the market is not every day, but only Thursdays and Saturdays or something.

There were some great shops outside of the Square, we bought some pastries from a pastry shop, where a sweet lady (the best and nicest people in Spain are in the pastry shops) gave us our pastries and said, “Grande, eh!” Si, they were GRANDE.

We went to the Plaza del Potra, and sat in a little strip of cafes across from the Plaza to have some calamari and wine. The restaurant was La Ribera, we had a sweet waiter with bad teeth, and the salad and calamari we ate were basic but good. From this area you can look down towards the river, and up into the Plaza del Potra, memorialized in Don Quixote. It’s a nice place to sit, one you don’t want to remove yourself from for a while.

Eventually we did, to go to the Julio Romero museum, where we looked at paintings full of nubile dark-eyed women with Cordoban backgrounds.

Back at the hotel, hanging out in the room, we heard a procession coming. This would be the big procession night for us. We ran out, watching the end of it go into the courtyard of the Mezquita. We then went into the courtyard and caught the entrance of the Paso through the big Mezquita doors.

After, we walked across the river; I wanted to climb to the top of the tower on the other side to take photos. Too late, they were closed. Bummer, because the light was fantastic.

When we went back over, there was another procession. Everyone was lined up sitting on the raised sidewalk around the Mezquita. I got some cool pictures of the locals including one of about ten of the guys who carry the Paso, their shift was done and they were ready to party.

After such an energetic day, we were ready to go out for a big, sit down dinner. We had good reviews in my collection of internet notes for Restaurant Federacion de Penas, Conde y Luque 8. So we set out for dinner there. We didn’t bring a map - we’d passed it at one point, but it took us a while to find it again. No sweat, this just gave us an excuse to walk around Cordoba some more. We eventually found the restaurant, and sat down in a very nice room with tourists from everywhere and a few locals, too. You can choose from four Menus of the Day with very good prices (Under 14 Euro for three courses.) I had gazpacho and then Albondigas (meatballs,) Mom had Salmorejo (like Gazpacho, but blended) and then baked hake. I thought my food was a bit industrial. In fact, earlier that day, we had passed this spot and a waiter came out of a restaurant next door with an empty box that once contained Frozen Albondigas! I made a face (I’m good that way) and the waiter laughed. I think perhaps my albondigas were, alas, from a box. But, what eves, we were hungry and we ate everything and drank a bottle of good wine, for less than 40 Euro. And Mom loved her baked hake. The third course was fruit, and you chose from apple, banana, or orange. Good thing we had some Grande Pastries back at the room.

While we were eating, a procession went down the tiny street in front of the restaurant. We heard the music, and the waiter ran out carrying a big bouquet of red roses. The locals (all five of them) ran out and so did we. We watched it pass and were like, wow, how cool was that! We went back in, paid the bill, and another Paso was coming down the street. This time we had to back up against the wall, and the Paso passed inches from our faces. I could have stuck my tongue out and licked a rose. The band followed, and then a crowd of Cordobans so thick that we had no choice, we had to join them. We walked with the crowd, stopping often while the carriers of the Paso rested, or so someone could sing a song off a balcony.

It was cool being a part of it, but after 45 minutes of stops and starts we were ready to move. We turned up a side street and lots of people were running past us. After a few twists and turns we found our new route blocked by another procession. So we took another detour, and found ourselves outside the old part of Cordoba, so we went around to the main entrance of the city to get back in. There was another procession out there, but we managed to circumvent it. The processions were everywhere!

Back at the hotel we asked the night clerk if we was unhappy to be missing the processions. He said, no, he hated them. He told us he was not religious but the following day was his day off and he had to go because he was forced to. But we loved it; it was an adventure being part of Semana Santa in Cordoba.

The following day was our last day in Cordoba. We got up early to go to the Mezquita. It is suppose to be free (also empty) between 8:30 and 10:00. Alas, we were there on the one day it was not free (something to do with Semana Santa) but, it was pretty empty. The Mezquita was, by far, my favorite structure of the trip. It is giant, and from the outside looks like a fort. Inside, there is a Moorish mosque with 850 columns made of white and ochre colored brick. The Christians, when they moved in, had the good sense not to tear down the mosque, instead they built their Cathedral inside. So you are in a cavernous Moorish mosque with a Christian church in the middle of it. We were so glad to have the place to ourselves with no French schoolchildren.

When we left the Mezquita, it was very early, so we walked back up to the Castillian plaza. Nothing was open – everything was shut down because of Holy Week. The day had started out gray and drizzling and when we got back to Plaza del Potro, it started to rain harder. We ran into a tourist shop and ended up buying some Julio Romero prints and some other cool stuff from a very sweet, English speaking young Cordoban.

We also went into a shop across from the Mezquita, called Bodegas Mezquita, which sold wines and olive oils, candy and other foodstuffs from the region. They gave out samples of Fino Sherry and boy, did that Fino taste good. It was there that I acquired my taste for Fino Sherry. Bone dry, cold, and 15.5% alcohol. We bought some wine and candy and I bought a little carved wooden pig that holds hors d’ourves forks. Cool shop! There are two of them, on different streets across from the Mezquita.

After, we went to the Alcazar, which was a bit boring but with had lovely gardens and fountains. We then stopped at a very touristy outdoor café, and were totally surprised when we were served two really tasty tapas. We had an “ensaladilla pimentos,” (salad of red pepper, onion, tuna, and egg) and a baked chicken thigh stuffed with bacon. The café was Bar Juda Levi, in the Plaza de Juda Levi.

We wandered some more, and then we were tired (this getting out of the hotel room at 8:30 A.M. stuff had made us lazy) so we went back to the room and packed and rested a bit.

In our travels earlier in the day, we had passed a very small, very pretty Arabic restaurant, and we had made a reservation for dinner. We arrived at 8:00 P.M. at Comedor Arabe Andalussi, Plaza Abades 4. (This is one restaurant that actually opens at 7:00.) The dining room has close-to-the-floor seating – not too comfortable. The food, however, made up for this. We started out with homemade hummus and really great Arabic bread, and then split a huge portion of a tagine of lamb and vegetables and dried fruits. The portion was for two but could have served four. They did not serve wine, so we had sweetened mint tea. I would have liked some wine to wash all that food down. We ate too much, too fast. Our bill was something insane (ly cheap) like 25 Euro.

We went out, looking for processions, but there were none. It was very odd. I guess they were in the newer parts of the city. So we went back to the room and watched bad Spanish TV and rested up for our journey to Granada.
 

Shannon

100+ Posts
Glorious Granada

The next day we took the bus from Cordoba to Granada – it took just under three hours. Once at the Granada bus station, we called the owner of our apartment rental and when she did not answer, left a message that we had arrived and that we would meet her, as planned, at the Bar Ras on Carrera del Darro. In the taxi we drove through the modern city and then down a narrow, cobblestone road running along a river and lined with shops and cafes. The street was crowded with pedestrians. This was the Carrera del Darro, and it was to be our main drag for our stay in Granada, as our apartment was just up the hill from it.

Clara, the owner, was waiting for us at the bar. She led us up a hill to our apartment, which she said was very beautiful. She was very nice and was also quite passionate about her property. The building is 15th century, and indeed it was muy bonita. Our apartment was on the top floor, with large windows that looked into the courtyard and up into the Albaicin, and skylights from which you could see the Alhambra. At first I was sort of bummed because there was a terrace on the website, but when we got there we were informed the terrace could not be used. It didn’t take me long to get over that, because on the Carrera del Darro there were lots of outdoor cafes, and we made good use of those instead.

We loved the Granada apartment and felt at home there. We could open those big windows and let the mountain air in. The kitchen was not well equipped but there was Satellite TV with Arabic stations and German MTV. There were also heated floors and lots of light.

After we checked in and unpacked, we went back to the Bar Ras to eat a lunch of tortilla and salad, and walked around the neighborhood, and then went into a really cool bar, Fontana Café Pub, where Mom had a bittersweet hot chocolate and I had wine (Mom’s was better.) Fontana had a large list of cocktails and coffee drinks, lots of tables, cool music, and was a great place to hang out.

When we left, it had started to rain, so we went back to the apartment. We had tickets to see the Alhambra at 10:30 P.M. It was raining very hard and did not show signs of letting up, so we went back to the Bar Ras for dinner, rather than getting soaked before going to the Alhambra. We had consommé and pork chops, and afterwards it was still pouring. Mom was not sure we should go, but I made her. We walked down the Carrera dal Darro and caught the mini-bus that takes you up to the Alhambra at Plaza Nueva. We were already pretty wet. We arrived at the Alhambra right at 10:30 and walked quickly with a tour group in front of us towards the Palacio Nazaries, all of us following the guide blindly while trying to dodge the raindrops.

We arrived at the Palacio Nazaries along with a LOT of other people. I was not happy with this experience. It seemed more of a cocktail party atmosphere (minus the cocktails, otherwise it might have been OK.) There was a lot of loud talking and a tremendous amount of picture taking. The constant flash-bulb action totally put me off. I have read other accounts where the night visit was great, but I would think it would be great only if there was no one else around. We saw the Palacio fairly quickly, and then we left.

The next day we had afternoon tickets for the Alhambra. In the morning we went to the market area near the Cathedral to buy food for Easter dinner. Everything seemed to be closed. Finally, we found a market that had just about everything we needed, and an open fruit and veggie market. We bought ingredients for a vegetable stew and some rice, and a large, expensive melon. The indoor market also had a few stalls open and we bought good proscuitto and fantastic bread. For a large round loaf of Arab-style bread AND a long baguette, it was less than 2 Euro. Bread and wine should always be available at a low price, in my opinion. In Spain, the bread did not disappoint.

We dropped our groceries at the apartment and continued up the Carrera del Darro to an area lined with outdoor cafes. This is a lovely, peaceful stretch with views of the Alhambra. We stopped at La Fuenta, one of the many cafes and had a plate of assorted tapas, a green salad, and some wine. It was very good and we hung out there for a while, listening to street musicians and watching life in Granada.

We took the mini-bus back to the Alhambra, and immediately went to the Palacio Nazaries. When you buy your ticket, you are given a half hour window to get there – once in you can spend all the time you want. We saw the Palacio (again) and then walked all over the Alhambra grounds. It is pretty stunning up there, but I think we were getting a bit too relaxed (lazy) for our own good. We had a glass of wine on the patio at the Parador, and then went up to the Generalife. I took a gazillion pictures of the view. We walked back down the hill to Plaza Nueva, stopping off in some of the tourist shops on the way. There were quite a few rosemary-offering gypsies there. We did not get hassled but another traveler did so we got out of there.

We stopped off and had another wine outside by the river and then went back to the apartment for a while. For dinner, we had a craving for pizza again, so we walked just past the Plaza Nueva to a pizzeria we had seen earlier. On the way, we heard the now familiar horns of a procession and walked down a bit farther to see. The procession looked very long and we were hungry, so we did not wait for the Paso.

We were, of course, the first ones in the pizzeria. I was going to order a half bottle of wine but mom told me we should get a whole bottle! She was starting to keep up with me pretty good, I must say. The pizza wasn’t so great – it’s possible that the ovens weren’t hot enough yet. The wine was tasty and for this we were thankful. Then it was back home for some good foreign TV.

The next day was Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful, sunny day – blue skies with the occasional cloud warm but not hot. We went down to the cafes off the Darro and chose Puerta del Vino for our lunch. We had a huge ham and cheese sandwich on a crusty roll, which we split, and two glasses of wine each for 11 Euro. Our server was the sweetest girl; we totally fell in love with her and left her a 2 Euro tip. After we ate, we walked up the hill into the Albaicin. I had thought that everything would be closed on Easter, but all the cafes and bars were packed.

In one of the Hippie/Arab tourist shops, I bought a beautiful, floor length Arab robe with a hood, very light green with purple embroidered flowers. This one was for me, and I bought my boyfriend a tan colored, manly tunic. They were very cool purchases and not expensive – 44 Euro for both! We made it up to the Plaza San Nicolas, a lively plaza with views of the Alhambra and the valley in between, and in the distance, the Sierra Nevada mountains. There was a gypsy band playing there, and lots of colorful characters hanging out with quarts of beer and other items. This was the Granada that I loved.

On our way down the hill we stopped and had a glass of wine on the terrace of one of the hillside restaurants. The view was fantastic and the wine was good and cheap – 5 Euro for two glasses of wine, with that view! We made our way down the hill early, back to the apartment so I could get started on our Easter dinner.

I make a really good vegetable stew that is based on Arab dishes my Syrian grandma used to cook for me. Basically, it is just zucchini, onion, garlic, green peppers sautéed and then stewed with some canned whole tomatoes and red wine. It is very tasty and healthy and I serve it over rice. So, I sliced and chopped and sautéed all the veggies, but then discovered the apartment had no can opener with which to open the tomatoes! This was a major snafu as the stew would not be the same without the tomatoes. We asked some neighbors in the building, but they had no can opener in their rental either. So we put the can in a bag and set out, hoping to find a) a can opener to buy or b) a bar that would open the can for us.

We went into a little convenience store in the Plaza Nueva where we had been buying our water and Jamon Jamon Ruffles, but they did not sell can openers. They did have a can of pureed tomatoes with a pull-off top. This would be better than no tomatoes. We bought them, but then the owner asked us if we needed OUR can of tomatoes opened. Yes, we said, and he sent his helper out somewhere with the can, who then returned with our tomatoes, opened. I handed the can we bought back to the owner and thanked him. He gave me 80 cents, I said no, just keep that. But he insisted on returning the change to me, smiling all the while. The people in Spain are so helpful, so nice. Can you imagine this happening in the Arco Mini-Mart or 7-11? No Way.

We had our Easter meal, and for dessert we had a strange Marzipan torte shaped like a serpent, that we had bought in Toledo. It was a perfect Easter.

Easter Monday was our last day in Granada. Our trip was winding down, and it seemed that time was speeding up. So for our last day in Granada we hardly did anything. We went to the Cathedral early, and saw the tombs of Isabel and Ferdinand. We found a very cool gourmet shop, run by an English guy, where I bought some Acorn liqueur and chocolate covered dried figs. The shop was called La Alacena and is at San Jeronimo 3. Dropped our purchases at the apartment and then sat for a good part of the day at the outdoor cafes looking up at the Alhambra, with petals flying through the Spring air.

We walked up into the Albaicin again, where we ate an ice cream at the Plaza San Nicolas, and then walked slowly back down the hill. Granada feels very foreign and bazaar-like – you can really get lost in her charms. I think we went back to the outdoor cafes again, for a farewell glass of wine, and then went home to pack for Barcelona and to eat a dinner of leftover vegetables and rice.

The next morning Clara came and called us a taxi, which picked us up immediately on the Carrera del Darro. We had a 1:00 flight to Madrid, connecting with a flight to Barcelona. When we got to the airport however, Iberia had changed our flight to something like 2:30. It all worked out and we made our connection, but I should have called to confirm the time of the flight. Iberia said they sent an email – not. No worries, we just spent some money in the Granada airport instead of the Madrid airport. Then we were on our way to Barcelona.
 

Shannon

100+ Posts
Beyond Belief Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona and took a cab into the city, where Scott, the keymaster for the apartment, was waiting right in front. Our apartment was on Princesa Street, in the El Born neighborhood, right down the street from the Picasso Museum. The neighborhood, and the apartment, were both fantastic. I can’t say enough about this apartment – it was very comfortable and had a lot of little touches you don’t find in too many vacation rentals. There was a CD player, lots of towels and even washcloths, a microwave, an electric kettle … we loved the Princesa Street apartment – I can’t imagine not staying there again.

After we unpacked, we set out to eat at the famous Cal Pep, which was right down the street from us. This is a sit-down tapas bar that is in all the guidebooks that everyone goes to. I was dying to check it out. We were first in line when the door opened at 8:00 and got the first two seats at the bar, which quickly filled. We were lucky enough to be on the “Pep” end – Pep took our order and we got to watch him the whole time. He has a crazy, raspy voice and is constantly moving. When he came to us I said “pescado” because I had heard you have to tell him what you want. But he cut me off and I think, told me he would just bring us some food. Mom drank red and I drank white, and both bottles were set in front of us and refilled when necessary. The food started coming out, and fast. First we were served toast with tomato, and Pep's version was fairly boring. Then there was a little dish of steamed clams, which were good but not nearly as good as the clams at Modesto in Sevilla. After, a plate of fried artichokes, and a very runny tortilla, and a plate of fried seafood. I liked the tortilla, but Mom could not eat it. The fried artichokes and seafood were good, but I think we were maybe expecting too much at Cal Pep. We ate everything fast since it all came out so fast and were shocked when we were out of there after only half an hour. The bill was 33 Euro, not too much I guess, but we walked out of there sort of baffled by the experience. Later we would discover a menu outside of Cal Pep, hidden by the metal door when they are not open. I would like to go back and order off the menu sometime.

The next morning we went out to buy some provisions. All around the apartment there were great wine shops, supermarkets, bakeries … we found a cheese shop and bought good brie and goat cheese. Right on our street there was a supermarket with a large selection of ethnic foods (3.50 Euro for a can of Ortega refried beans!) We went back to the apartment and snacked on fresh hot bread and cheese and small peppers, then walked up to the Plaza Catalunya, the big, urban plaza of Barcelona. This is where the famous Ramblas starts, but we went down the wrong street!

We poked around in some shops and had a glass of wine and a tapa. I found some bright lime-popsicle colored luggage (it matches my VW Bug) and since I had been searching for luggage this color, I bought a backpack. It would come in handy for all my purchases anyway. We delivered this back at to the apartment, stopping for a wine and tapa on the way. Then we discovered the real Ramblas and made our way from there to the Port. It was cloudy all day but by the time we got to the Port, it had cleared and was very warm. We sat outside and had more wine and a tapa of fried potatoes at an expensive tourist place.

Do you know how it is when it takes a while to get into a city? I think this first day we were still dreaming about Madrid and Sevilla and Granada. Barcelona takes a couple of days, before you are like, dang, this place is hella cool. That first day, I loved the food and wine shops, but the city hadn’t slapped me in the face yet.

That night we had a really good pizza at Al Passatore, Placa del Palau. You can’t miss it – they have three restaurants all in the same area. We had a huge pizza, salad and a bottle of cheap Italian Chianti for 18 Euro. First we checked out Cal Pep to see what they were serving people. It was the same as the night before. Clams, artichokes, tortilla. Dang, I wish I could decipher that Basque menu.

The next morning was bright and sunny and somehow we knew that one must make the most of these days, because tomorrow it could be raining. We got out of the house very early and walked to the Plaza Catalunya, so we could take the tourist bus (with many stops) around the city. Once we got there, and waited in line for 15 minutes, I said I don’t want to spend the day waiting in line, let's walk. Thankfully Mom agreed.

We walked up Passeig de Gracia, a wide boulevard with lots of shops and restaurants. We saw the “Block of Discord,” with its striking buildings by various architects, including Gaudi. We continued on and checked out the Casa Mila, another Gaudi, and then walked on to the Sagrada Familia church. It took some time to walk there, but we checked things out on the way, and had a glass of wine in a bar at the stroke of noon.

We were very impressed with the outside of the church, but we made the mistake of paying to go inside, something like 8 Euro to see what was basically a construction site. I would go inside only if you are totally into Gaudi and want to check out the museum in the church. I like Gaudi, but looking at architecture plans bore me. After, we ate some albondigas and sautéed hot peppers at a little bar down the street, and it was fairly expensive, but good. We then hopped in a cab up to Parc Guell.

I am fairly sure, after seeing all the Gaudi buildings, that perhaps Gaudi was smoking something. After seeing Parc Guell, I am thinking he was ingesting something a LOT stronger. What an imagination! The park was created in the early 1900’s as a sort of gated community, but that never happened so the area was turned into a city park. There are some tripped out hobbit fairy tale dwellings, Flintstone cartoon bridges, a plaza looking over the city with curved stone benches studded with broken colored ceramics on top of a base of Grecian columns. We wandered around the Parc Guell for a long time. If I could choose one park to go to for the rest of my life, it would be that park.

We wandered back down the hill into the Gracia neighborhood, which seemed to be closed up tight because of siesta. We stopped at a bar with outside tables in a little plaza and had a glass of wine. There were no tourists anywhere – only locals and their dogs. I was feeling a bit peckish so I checked out the blackboard menu. There was a menu item, tacos de queso de origa. Cool! Tacos! So I ordered some, but they turned out to be wedges of sheep’s milk cheese. Oops! Mom got a kick out of that one.

We walked all the way back to the apartment that afternoon, down Passeig de Gracia (which is a two-lane, cool street closer to Gracia than it is below, with great shops and ethnic restaurants) and then all the way down the Ramblas. We checked out the birds and the flowers and the crowds, walking slowly and savoring Barcelona in the sunshine.

At 8:00, we went to Cal Pep to see what they were serving people, and it was the same as the two nights before. Clams, artichokes, tortilla. Dang! Wish I could decipher that Basque menu! We moved on to a sit-down tapas place called 99.9% Origens, which serves historical food from Catalonia and all the ingredients come from Catalonia. They have a small shop, and I had bought a really good bottle of wine there the day before. So we decided to check it out.

There are menus in Spanish and English, and the server spoke great English. There was a gorgeous guy sitting at the bar with his back to us, with long blond wavy hair in a ponytail. I think that was the only time I went “wow” looking at a guy in Spain. Anyway, we had a great meal at 99.9% - toasted bread with steamed spinach and raisins on top (interesting, also healthy), rabbit with chocolate sauce (good, but not too chocolately) boiled potatoes and cabbage, and the piece de resistance, Canelon. This is a Catalonian dish of pasta rolled around some sort of meat mixture, topped with a béchamel sauce and baked. Canelon totally rocked my world. I ordered a second helping – they were small dishes and we’d walked a thousand miles that day. With a bottle of very good wine, the bill was only 29 Euro.

The next day we woke to a hard, steady rain. We only had two days left, and I was starting to get that sick feeling in my gut. I didn’t have much time to dwell on this however, because Mom’s friend Isabel, her husband Javier, and their two kids Barbara (four) and Jaime (two) were coming for dinner. They live in Southern France, but come from Seguenza, outside Madrid, and were there with family for the holidays. They made a special trip into Barcelona on the way back to France to see my mom. They were arriving at around 8:00 P.M. and I was going to make us all dinner.

When we got to the apartment the first day, Scott had told us not walk to North, only South, as the area just North of our apartment was a little sketchy. I put on my slicker and ventured North to find chickens, as I had not seen any chicken shops South. I wandered around quickly partly because of the rain and partly because I was nervous. It did seem a little sketchy in that area, but smelled like Arab spices, and I like that smell. I found a chicken shop and bought two chickens, and the chicken shop guy gallantly chopped their heads off for me.

Then I went South and bought bread and cheese, some little spicy peppers, potatoes, onions, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. The rain continued to fall hard and at a slant and it looked like we would not be walking too far. So we went back to 99.9% Origens for lunch. And what a lunch! Because of the rain we decided to eat ourselves into a nap. We had toasted bread, covered with tomato this time. More Canelon, of course. We tried a fish stew, which was really a small piece of fish with a sauce of garlic and tomato, and an apple stuffed with ground meat and baked. If we thought dinner there was good, lunch was probably the best meal of the whole trip. We polished off a bottle of red wine and had Crema Catalana for dessert. The bill was 29 Euro, just like the night before.

The rain was still coming down, so we went back to the apartment and took a short siesta. At about 4:30 the rain had let up ever so slightly, so we went to the Picasso Museum. It did not seem to be that crowded so we went in. It was crowded inside, and stuffy. We enjoyed it though. I can’t even imagine what it is like when it is REALLY crowded. We walked around a bit after – Barcelona is full of tiny streets with interesting shops and sights on every one of them. I would love to go back to Barcelona and spend a month just walking around the city.

We went back and I started dinner. We would have roasted chicken, the little spicy peppers and cherry tomatoes fried in butter, roasted potatoes and onion, and a cucumber salad. After, we would have cheese and chocolate and strawberries. Isabel and her family arrived. Jaime cried when he first arrived but within minutes was climbing all over and flirting with us. Barbara was a quiet, watchful, beautiful little girl. We ate and talked until almost midnight. It was a lovely evening and even with the rain, had been a great day.

The next day was our last and I felt like I was choking down sobs the whole day. I really did not want to leave Barcelona, or Spain. I was totally in love and it was really hurting that I had to go.

Isabel and Javier and the kids stayed over at a hotel, and wanted to get together at 10:30 in the morning, so we got up early to go to La Boqueria, the big food market. Right as we were leaving, Javier called and changed to 12:30, which gave us more time. We went to the market and I was high on adrenalin in that market. La Boqueria is definitely the coolest market I have ever been to. All the stalls were colorful, and there were exotic looking foods I had never seen before. We walked up to one stall that sold fried worms, for 3 Euro for a tiny packet. I was overwhelmed by the La Boqueria experience. I wanted to drink wine and eat tapas at one of the bars inside the market, but 9:00 A.M. is a little early, even for me, though it wasn't too early for lots of people because all the bars were packed already.

We had some churros and hot chocolate for breakfast on the way back to the apartment, and then met up with Isabel and Javier and the kids. We all walked slowly towards Al Passatore, to get some pizzas for lunch. Al Passatore did not open for a while, so we walked to the Parc de la Ciutadella, right down from us. The park was very muddy from the rain, and we watched the kids chase pigeons around. Then we went and ate lunch.

It was about now that the full-frontal of having to leave the next day hit me. I left Mom with Isabel and went back to the apartment where I drank some wine, listened to Sigur Ros and packed. I did not want to leave; I wanted to walk the narrow streets of Barcelona forever …. I am such a Pisces sometimes.

Everyone came back and Isabel and her family all said their goodbyes. I hope to see them again someday. You never know …

Our last night in Barcelona was a Saturday night. We went to a sit-down tapas place, Santa Maria at Comerc #17. We were too early (of course) so we walked around a bit. On the Passeig del Born, near our apartment, there are lots of bars with outdoor tables, and it was clear that Barcelona was ready to party. We did not stop, but just walked a bit more and then went back to Santa Maria. They were open and we had a few very interesting tapas, like curried chicken wings and a tiny salad with pears and artichoke “chips.” It was pricey – around 35 Euro for four tiny tapas and two glasses of wine. They have a tasting menu, and that would be the way to go at Santa Maria.

But I had it in my mind to eat some Canelons at 99.9% Origens. Alas, there was no way – they were booked for the evening. In fact, everything was totally packed, even the Udon bar down the street that never had anyone in it. We went to the bar below our apartment (called 23 Princesa, our address.) We ate some guacamole and salsa and chips, and looked around at youth from all over the world that were hanging out in there. Then it was upstairs to bed. We had to be up early, as the cab was coming for us at 7:00 A.M. All night I could faintly hear the party going on down below.

In the morning, I stood on the little balcony and watched couples just returning home from the disco, or wherever. It was barely light when the cab came for us, and we were off to the airport. It had been the most fantastic trip, seeing this extraordinary country with my mother. Can you imagine a perfect trip? It was a perfect, glorious experience, even with the bomb on the tracks.
 

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