Barcelona, Spain - Part 1

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The trip begins with an evening flight from O'Hare to Heathrow. It was nice and smooth, with the delicious food a preview of what was to come. We had a 2-hour layover, then a British Airways flight to Barcelona.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

We were picked up at the Barcelona airport by our A&K guardian (we have arranged for private guided tours with A&KK handling the logistics).  What a beautiful airport (something you don't hear very often!). Lots of colors and stores. We learned that it, like many other parts of the city, were restored/renovated/refurbished for the Olympics in 1992. But it was very interesting - all of the people talk about the Olympics as if they were held yesterday! Also interesting because they are going on in Athens right now.

So by the time we checked into our hotel (the Ritz Arts - very Ritzy), it was about 4:00. But since the Spanish don't eat dinner until 9 or later, we had plenty of time to do stuff.  The hotel is right on the beach (of the Mediterranean) and in front of (what was) the Olympic Village. Many statues and buildings were built for the Olympics, so they were still there. Our room is on the 32 floor (muy exclusive) and looking straight down Calle (street) de la marina to the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell way in the distance. The whole city was spread out before us. So we went down and walked a few blocks past the zoo and went into parc de la Ciutadela (City Park). As it was Sunday, there were lots of Barcelonians - families, lovers, jugglers, kids. The weather was great.  We walked for a while, and then Wendy sat down on a bench and fell sound asleep! I let her sleep for some time, woke her up, and then headed back to the Ritz to think about where to go for dinner. But then we realized the closing ceremony of the Olympics was on TV (not NBC, but BBC!) and we were tired so we decided to order room service tapas!

We had crevettes (shrimp with eyes and antennas), olives, gazpacho, jamon (ham), cheese, croquettes (which seem to be a big item here - not sure what was inside), and chocolate brownies for dessert. Our first attempt at eating late, and a really fine meal (especially for room service!).

Monday, August 4

Time to eat again already! The hotel had a nice breakfast buffet and we ate outside. Lovely! At 9 we were picked up by our guide Carlos and the driver Luis. Luis looks to be about 60 and always smiles and doesn't know so much English, so whatever you say to him he answers "Si claro, si si, muy bien, si".  A sweet man.  Right away we learned that he speaks Spanish, but in Barcelona the main language is Catalan.  So of course, Carlos speaks both (he was born nearby in Figueres), plus English, French, Italian, and Russian. He was very interesting; we found out all of the guides are very knowledgeable about the country, museums, etc., but also very personable and freely talk about themselves and their families.

So we started our driving / walking tour of Barcelona (note: they call it Bar-th-lona; at first, we thought Carlos had a lisp!). We drove past the Ramblas (La Rambla) - a kind of wide boulevard and kiosk-filled outdoor mall which stretches for several blocks.

We stopped to see Gaudi's Casa Milia....

 ...and the Palau Guell. We saw many statues and fountains (e.g., several monuments to Columbus), then on to Parc Guell. It was supposed to be an exclusive area to live in, but after the model and one house were built WWI broke out and the plans were abandoned. So it was eventually turned into a park. It is full of beautiful arches and colorful Moorish-influenced tiles and lots of nature inspired images. An amazing place!!!  Could have stayed all day.

Then we went to Gaudi's masterpiece - Sagrada Familia.  This church has been under construction since the 1870s (yes! 1870s) and they expect to finish it in another 30 years or so!

From far away it looks like melted candles. Up close, there are lots of carvings - all religious story boards. Gaudi worked on this for most of his life and other architects / sculptors have done the same since.

Then, at about 1:00, it was time for lunch. Carlos went with us (so it would be easier to order). We ate outside at a real tapas cervezeria.  Wayne practiced his Spanish ("cerveza, por favor" and "la cuenta, por favor") and Carlos did the rest.

We had anchovies, crab salad, shrimps, wonderful green (hot) peppers, asparagus, and vreme caramel for dessert. Wendy had clara to drink - a mixture of beer and Fanta lemon! We noticed that the food, especially the peppers, were very salty.

Then we went to Montjuic and along the Ramplas Catalunya.  Saw the first of many cathedrals.  Also went to an area that was like an overview of Spain in a few blocks (It had replicas of 100 houses and churches from all over the country (some smaller than the originals). It was built in the 1920s for a big exposition they had here. True story: during the 30s, one of the original homes was destroyed so after the war the people from that town came here and made a copy of the copy so they could rebuild it!  We finished touring around 5, so we sat around until 9 and then went to Tragaluz for dinner.  A contemporary place with lots of Bercelonians.  We had gazpacho, veal, monkfish, an apple tart, and chocolate mousse cake. At the bottom of the menu it says "bread, olives, and sweets....10 Euros" but they don't ask if you want it, they just bring it! But the wine is only E2.50 a glass!  Then to bed so we could wake up and eat again.

Barcelona (and beyond) - Part 2

Tuesday, August 31

Picked up at 9 (needed the wake-up call!). Today was a lot of walking, as we did the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter, some of the Olympic venues, and the Picasso Museum. Barcelona dates from Roman times, but the Old Town is "only" from the 1300s.  Many very old buildings and streets still being used today. It was very good at the Picasso Museum as Carlos explained a lot about many of the paintings.

For lunch, we had tapas on the Ramblas!  Little steaks with peppers, wonderful tuna with red peppers, anchovies, shrimp, cerveza.  We also went to the big Central market.

We saw baby pigs, lots of kinds of fish and (ewwww!) skinned calf heads with huge eyes still poking out!!  Beef heart, tripe, and tongue.

Then we walked up and down the Ramplas checking out the stores, foliage, and people.

Then, to dinner (aarrgghh! More food!) Boatafumeira - supposed to be the best seafood place in the city. Some folks had these huge mixed fish platters (like we had in Costa Rica), but we maintained our sensibility and ordered normal quantities.  Gazpacho (of course), then fish, and a plate of peppers. We ordered dessert, and then they brought cookies!  It was good but not great.
Bed time.......

Wednesday, September 1
A day trip to Girona!
This town is about 100km northeast of Barcelona. It's a little town with Jewish synagogues from 1100 - 1492. It reminded us of Florence (e.g., the river and the bridges). By the way: Barcelona at times looks like Florence, Paris, Venice, etc.  In other words, that "European" look.

We told Carlos we were Jewish and wanted to see the Jewish areas, and they took us there but it seemed they were not really comfortable talking about that period of their history.

Then on to Figueres where both Carlos and Salvador Dali were born. it is the "Year of Dali", as he was born in 1904, so the Dali Museum has been a big attraction.

Luckily, we were there mid-week and after the August holiday period, so the lines were very short (and with a guide you go straight in). Carlos told us a lot of fascinating stuff about Dali. Once again we had tapas outside, but as this was not Barcelona, the quality was not as good.  We finally had paella (which you are supposed to have at lunch, not dinner, since it is so heavy), but we found out later it was the frozen kind!!! (Because the real thing takes 20 - 45 minutes). We also had tomato-anchovy toast, and asparagus and ham (the fatty kind). Sure am missing salads! Then we drove back to Barcelona. And it was good bye to Carlos (sniff, sniff).

So for dinner we were going to L'Isidre (we think it was named for Saint Isidre). Supposed to be a verrry good place, frequented by the likes of Woody Allen. So you would think that every cabbie would know where it is. Wrongo!! (Fun fact: Barcelona has the most taxis per capita of any city in Europe and the 2nd most motor scooters - Rome is first). So we get in the taxi and show the guy the address for the restaurant (which the concierge had written on the back of the hotel's address card), and he pulls out his map of Barcelona..uh oh...   he drives for a while and keeps looking at the map and then we discover he speaks NO English (or maybe he's just playing dumb). He finally pulls over and makes a sign like "it's over that way", so we get out and he zooms off and we walk "that way" and are in an area full of people and little streets just like in Venice.  Soon we realize the restaurant is NOT there, and he just dumped us! So we go into a farmacia and ask for directions. They didn't really speak English, but a cute old lady draws us a map! yes...we're here on this street and this street over there is parallel and we should walk to here and the restaurant is on that street there. Easy enough!  Muchas gracias! We walk out and turn the corner and find ourselves back on the Ramblas! We walk a little and don't see the restaurant so we go into another farmacia and ask and they say "You have to take the Metro. It's too far to walk (huh??), but it is after 9:00 so it's not safe to take the metro (!), so you should take a taxi"!!! So we find a taxi and get in and ask the guy if he knows where the restaurant is and he looks at HIS map and says "There's no such street"! So we get out and go into the next taxi and I show him the card with the address and ask if he knows where it is and he says "Si, si", and he starts driving and all of a sudden I realize he's heading back to the Ritz!  He looked at the wrong side of the card!!!!! So I tell him to stop and show him the other side of the card and he says "Si, si" and he turns around and starts driving. We come to a red light and I notice that the name of the street is "Para Lel"!  D'oh!!!!! FINALLY we get there and it was really worth the trip (even though Woody was not there).  First - guess what? - Gazpacho. Then little fried fish, steak, fish, and sweets. Yum!  Best dinner award!!!

And now, time to say adios to Barcelona.  What a fantastic city.


Thursday, September 2

Luis picked us up and took us to the Barcelona airport. We managed to do a little shopping before our Spanair flight to Madrid. This time we are in the Palace Hotel - built in 1912 and very opulent and lovely.  Madrid is a beautiful city - with both lots of old big heavy buildings and many 20th century skyscrapers. And lots and lots of plazas (plathas), and statues and fountains.  Again, as we got in around 2:00, we had the afternoon to ourselves, so we went for a walk.  First, we stopped for tapas (surprise!) at Trucha's. Small, authentic, outdoors; cerveza, clara, peppers and mixed fish pates. Then we walked to the Parque Retiro....

...a huge park which used to be first, a private royal retreat, and then later, the site of a porcelain factory.  A beautiful park; mostly trees, but some flowers and lots of statues and a big monument to Alfonso XII.  By the way - the weather - it was delightful!  70s in Barcelona, and a little warmer here in Madrid. We see from CNN that showers are coming to north and central Spain!

Then we walked up the main shopping street of Calle de Serrano. Al the big (international) shops are here so it was easy to look and not buy. Then back to the hotel  to get ready for - you guessed it - dinner!  Restarante Lucio - a rustic sort of place with hearty fare. They start with the traditional Madrid ring of bread (in Barcelona it is a lump with 13 little lumps sticking out). Wayne had Poor man's soup: garlic, bread, eggs in broth. Hmmm.....  Then fish and fried chicken - which was wonderful. Salty of course, but weird: it was all white meat (with bones) but we could not identify any of the pieces!. We suspect it was the neck. We were stuffed, so no dessert, but by the time we cabbed back to the hotel we forced ourselves (nyuk, nyuk) to have some: 3 scoops of ice cream and 3 scoops of sorbet. Muy bien!!

Our Spanish has been improving all week, though only on our side; they know what we're saying but we still mostly don't know what they're saying. "And they speak so fast"!!!!!

Friday, September 3

Today we met our Madrid guide, Anjela. A really nice lady who was also fond of saying "Si, si, claro" (not to be confused with "clara" the drink). Our driver was R-r-r-r-oberto - also very nice, and he knew English too. We did the 1/2 day tour of the city. Started at the palace (the real one, not the hotel!). Wow!!! Some great rooms. not as ornate as we remember from Versailles, but a nice place to live (3,000 rooms!). Lots of silverware, armor, porcelain, not too much artwork. learned all about the history if the 17th and 18th centuries.

Then across to the Royal Church which was actually blessed by the Pope just a few years ago. Then we went to some other really old churches; beautiful, but we're starting to suffer from the "bam-BIN-o there, ma-DON-na that" syndrome. Saw where the Inquisitions were in the Plaza Mayor (not as nice as Saint mark's in Venice). Anjela really knew a lot - it was a great experience. When the tour was over we told her we wanted real, authentic Paella so she told us to go to Barracca.  We actually
found it (the maps and concierge directions are quite good). ince it was 2:00 (siesta time!), we were the only ones there, but some folks did come in while we were eating. We had bread garlic mayonnaise (to die for) and sautéed mushrooms and wonderful seafood paella.

They bring it in a pan (at least 10" across), and serve it so beautifully. This is just for the two of us! Way too much to eat and yes, very, very heavy (now we know why they need a siesta). So, no dessert! (We couldn't even finish the whole thing.)  Since it was 3:00, the stores were closed (usually from 12 - 4 for siesta), so we decided to go to the Reina Sofia Art Museum. But when we went outside it was raining!  A medium rain, perfect for vacation and we had our umbrellas (thanks CNN). It was too far to walk, so we went for a cab, but of course, with the rain, they were all occupied! So...let's take the metro! It was easy enough to figure out from the map and the entrance to the museum was right at the Plaza del Sol stop. Two stops on the Purple line and three on the Yellow and there we were (only E1.10 each). When we came up, the rain had stopped.  It was an OK museum, but without a guide we were pretty clueless ("That's a nice picture").  Then we walked back into the shopping area.  Along the way we kept passing restarantes that said "Museo Jamon". We were sure that that meant "Ham Museum", and we know the Spanish like their ham, but how many ham museums can there be??  later we asked Anjela and she said "Si, si, claro. It does mean ham museum, but that is the name of the restaurant chain"!!!  We shopped (4 sweaters) and looked for a nice photo album but couldn't find one and finally, about 7:00, walked back to the palace (hotel!). We were really thirsty (all that salt and walking) so we decided to have a drink in La Rotunda, which for us was orange Schweppes and Schweppes tonic. We also noticed that many rooms were reserved for the Moises Cohen bar Mitzvah! And also, the Chinese ambassador was having a reception so there was a lot of activity. So after a while we went upstairs and surrendered to fatigue and gluttony and decided just to have room service (burgers and French fries!). We thought about getting dessert, but there was just no way. Exhausted and full.

Tomorrow we tour Toledo!

Toledo, Madrid (again), Cordoba, The Bobadilla, Granada, and Sevilla (Part 1)

Saturday, September 4

Anjela picked us up for our 1-hour drive to Toledo.  This was really a cool place (but, weatherwise, things are heating up!). We saw the church where El Greco's masterpiece "The Burial of Count Orgaz" is hanging.

Then we toured a huge, wonderful cathedral, which, like many in this area, was originally built on the site of a mosque. Much of the original walls still stands. The cathedral has a beautiful cloister filled with orange trees.  The town has 3 areas where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived "together' for many, many years. 

We have been looking to buy a platter and Anjela told us of a shop that has good ones and guess what? R-r-r-r-oberto was there!  it was a very interesting and old store. Lots to choose from. We went into the basement to look for more and the shopkeeper told us the basement was from the 1300s! So we purchased a beautiful platter.  Then we wandered around and eventually came to the main square (every town has one) - Plaza de Zocodover.  Not as big as the Plaza Mayor, but nice, and with a big Moorish arch looking out over the valley.

By this time it was of course time for lunch! Tapas again (yum!) - ham, steak and peppers, and oh so heavenly tuna moosh with red peppers; we ordered a second plate!  Then the ride back to Madrid, where we got in around 5:00.  So we had time to go to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Museum - lots of neat 19th and 20th century stuff. Very nice. Then back to the Palace to have "drinks" and keep an eye on all the fancy goings-on.

Then dinner. Another very fancy place called Zalocain (that's Za-lo-kiy-een, not Zy-lo-cane!). We took a cab over as it was on the other side of town. (By the way...these drivers rank right up there with the wildest drivers of the world. The cars are inches apart in front and on the sides - with motorbikes still managing to zoom through! Somehow they are always able to stop in time with no slamming or screeching of the brakes. They generally stop at red lights - and certainly if there are peds in the marked cross-walk; more often, the taxis will start going before the red light has turned green!).  Anyway........we got there at 8:55 and went in and the guy said to Wayne " need a jacket and tie".  And they did not have any to provide! So we had to go out and flag down a taxi and go back to the Palace (at the height of the Chinese reception!  Cars, people, police, news trucks...), put on the fancy duds, get back into another taxi and zoooom back to the restaurant.  So, including the 4th taxi (to get home later), it cost us E40 just to eat there!

But it was worth it. They started off with (free) breads and some tiny fishy thing. Then, gazpacho. Then, the traditional fish and meat selections (yum) then the usual ice cream and chocolate cake and THEN they brought a plate of goodies. One was like a thin peanut (almond?) brittle (tuille) that was the size and shape of a roofing tile. Plus little cakes and candies (as if we needed them). Whoa! A great meal.

Sunday, September 5
Even though it is our last 1/2 day in Madrid, we still have one more thing to see: the Prado Museum.  The two biggies in this museum are Goya and Velathketh (oh....I mean Velazquez). It was really neat to see how the kings and queens aged as they had their paintings done over a number of years.

The other main artist (even though he is Dutch) is Bosch. Wow!  This guy was into some serious mushrooms! His most famous work is The Garden of Earthly Delights.

His colors and shapes are so totally out of place and centuries before their time, even though the subjects still had Biblical overtones. Really cool.

Finally we had to say adios to Anjela. She drove us to the Atocha train station (5 minutes away) where we went on the high-speed train to Cordoba. We were in First Class in Coach 1; in fact, we were the only ones in the car! We had a very nice lunch served to us (fish and chicken brochette with shrimp pasta and a chocolate brownie for dessert). The ride was very smooth; it didn't feel fast, but it was.

Then we were in Cordoba where we were met by Lola. She was another great guide who peppered her shtick with lots of jokes. For example, going into the big mosque: "Remember, you're only allowed to take good pictures in here"; or, seeing how many Japanese tourists there were: "Japan
is an island and there are so many people that 20% of them are required to be on holiday at any time; otherwise it would sink into the ocean".  HAHA!

But she did know all of the facts and dates and people as we walked through this most fantastic mosque.
 Part of it was built with columns scavenged by the Muslims from earlier Roman temples. There are several thousand (yes!) columns and arches. So beautiful and magnificent. And, of course, when the Christians came in they built their church right in the middle of it!!!

So the bell tower was built around the former minaret! At least they didn't destroy it like they did to so many others. But, speaking of destruction, were learned (as we had been told in the synagogue in Toledo) that lots of stuff was destroyed or "borrowed" by Napolean and his troops. As Lola said: "His name is Bonaparte which in Spanish means bona/bueno - good - and parte/parto - part, so he took a good part of everything from Spain" (nyuk nyuk).

Then we walked around the old Jewish quarter (no old or young Jews there now), with its narrow streets.  There is a statue of Maimonides who was a 12th century rabbi, physician, and philosopher. He was born here.

Lola pointed out how the walls had a concave section in them about 18" high and 3' off the ground. She told us that they were built this way to allow clearance for the axles of the original carts that were used there (she promised that that was NOT a joke).  Then it was time to leave.

Our driver took us on a 2 hour ride through beautiful countryside to the La Bobadilla (named for Boabdil, the last Muslim leader who surrendered Granada - more on that later).  Whoa!! What a fabulous place! Out in the mountains, surrounded by olive groves. A wonderful room with a view of windmills on the ridge in the distance (no, not the 16th century kind, the 20th century electricity generating kind). The resort has a chapel which seems to feature a Japanese couple's wedding every day!  By this time it was too late to do anything (tennis? archery? skeet? French bowls?) so we watched CNN and started thinking about dinner!  The resort has to restaurants so we decided to go to La Finca (literally "The Fancy One") first. Eating outside, watching the sun set (at 9:00), seeing today's bride and groom (but we found out later that most of them are actually married first in Japan and this is just a "special" ceremony). They gave us a little taste of asparagus gazpacho, then fish and pork (very few vegetables offered; like one carrot slice). The fish came with purple potatoes which were quite good. Then 4 kinds of sorbet and chocolate molten cake. Aaahhh! Delish!

Monday, September 6
Picked up at 9 by a great driver, Arnold. He's from Holland but lives in Spain and speaks many languages. He did lots of talking on the 90 minute ride to Granada. We learned about olives: harvesting, pressing, and that there are 40 kinds!
 We got to Granada and were met by Marie-Carmen - another perky, knowledgeable guide. Even though it was just the two of us, she kept saying "Family, let's go this way" or "Over here, family". We figured that was easier than remembering our (and her other charges) names.

So, straight to the Alhambra. WOW!!!!
In many churches and castles the guides said "This was originally very colorful..." (but now not), but here there were lots of great colors thanks to all the Moorish mosaic tiles.
1492 was a big year for Spain: on January 2nd they defeated the Moors after 10 years of struggle. So Boabdil gave the keys to the Alhambra (and that was the end of Muslim rule in Al Andalus) to Ferdi and Ysabel.  And of course the Columbus thing; we stood in the actual room where he discussed his trip with F and Y! And then there was that business with the Jews.......

We walked through the various rooms and learned what each one was used for when Boabdil lived there, and then of course, the part that the Christians added on (and where Washington stayed when he visited.  No, Washington Irving!).

Then we walked up the hill a little way to the Generalife where Boabdil went to relax- great views over the whole area. Then the new palace that Charles I (?) built - an exact replica of the Pitti Palace in Florence, but it was never finished and he never lived there.

Then it was time for lunch. Carmen wanted to go home to be with her husband and baby daughter so we "convinced" Arnold to join us. We went to a fabulous place called Rita de Veleta. No stars, but an honorable mention from Michelin. We ordered starters of tuna and ham gazpacho and goat cheese; Arnold had their famous almond soup (apparently he's eaten here quite often). Then garlic bread, and red peppers wrapped in smoked cod. So good! Wayne was full by that time (big surprise). Oy! Then fish and pork (or was it beef?), then desserts: chocolate followed by a plate of bon bons. Arnold had no trouble eating everything. What a great place...rustic and authentic with several hundred ceramic pitchers hanging from the ceiling. Arnold told us he had brought Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill) there! The lunch took over 2 hours!!!!!! Carmen then appeared.   We were supposed to see the local cathedral, but we didn't have enough time. Oh well.......but we did see the "Chapel Real", a beautiful church which contains the actual remains of Ferd and Ysa! You can see their caskets. Then it was
back to La Bobadilla.

Note: Do you know what the difference is between a church and a cathedral?'s not the size. A cathedral (from the Latin "catedra" meaning "seat") has been consecrated by a bishop or higher.

We were starting to get the message that two large meals a day was one too many. So tonight we went to the "casual" restaurant in the resort and ordered a light meal: one gazpacho, those great peppers, garlic shrimp, olives, and bread. Simple. Tasty.

Tuesday, September 7
A planned day off!  What a concept!! We slept late (8:00! Those 10:00 dinners are killers!). A light breakfast (even though they had the best breakfast buffet ever. Plus they make any kind of omelet - for example, someone at our table had shrimp, peppers, and capers!). Then we took a lovely hike around the property. They have several kilometers of well marked, easy trails. The weather started out cool (mod 70s) but by the time we got back 90 minutes later it had warmed up pretty well. We saw beautiful vistas and were able to get right next to olive trees. With real olives! 

Then we headed for an afternoon by the pool. Surprisingly, it was probably the biggest hotel pool we've ever seen....and no one was in it! One toe-dip told us why: it was freeeezing!  After an hour or so it was time for lunch (already?), so we went to the pool grill.  Let's see:  gazpacho, followed by (Wendy) salmon and (Wayne) fried sardines. Then more sitting by the pool. Eventually it was...time for dinner. (Madre de dios!!!) back to the fancy restaurant.  More brides and grooms.  We had gazpacho (again!), duck in crepes and steak. Then the most awesome dessert: the menu said "semi-cold grapefruit with raspberry sauce", but it was semi-frozen grapefruit puree (about 1" thick) with a layer of raspberry sauce on a bed of soft cake.  OOOOHH!!! melt-in-your-mouth good.  And refreshing. Once again we were outside with the beautiful sky and the flowers and perfect temperature. La Bobadilla: Fantastico!!

Bye-bye Bobadilla!

Wednesday, September 8

We arranged specifically for Arnold to be our driver on the next leg of the trip. This was another travel day. We are already losing track of where we are and what we've seen and what we've eaten!  A 9:00 pick-up and we were off to Ronda. An hour and a half ride through more olive groves, but also corn, wheat, and tobacco. Beautiful mountains and lots of whitewashed towns with a large church or castle at the highest point. We learned that a hacienda is a large farmhouse, usually with 2 towers (as opposed to a "carmen", which is a large city house usually with an interior garden, as opposed to a "casa", which is your basic everyday house - or more likely a flat as most folks here live in apartments. Whew!).   So we got to Ronda and it was fantastic! Another old city with lots of curvy, narrow cobblestoned streets and a 2,000 year old Roman / Arabian bath and great views over the mountains and valleys and the original bridge (Roman), the "old" bridge (Muslims - 12th century) and the "Puente Nuevo" (1880s)!!!

Then we drove down a narrow path to see the town from below, looking up. Breathtaking! Then we went to the bull ring and got to walk through and listen to Arnold tell us all about the history, etc. of bullfighting.  They still have bullfights here, but we did not want to see one.

Then, it was time for lunch! Tragabuches (named for a 19th century bandito, of which there were many as they even have a "Bandit Museum". Seriously!), was a chic, contemporary restaurant - meaning austere and nothing on the menu Wayne would like! First they brought little plates of octopus pieces and tiny potato pieces (luckily, the two were easily distinguishable and there were more spuds than suckers). Then avocado gazpacho! What'll they think of next?  Then pork shoulder and fish. Then another chocolate molten cake (must be the in thing!). And...when they bring the bread, they also bring bottles of different olive oils and describe the characteristics of each so you can choose the one you want.

Then another drowsy ride through the countryside and into Seville.  A very big city built on a river. The Romans called it Betis and the region Betica. The Moors changed the name of the region to "Al Andalus" (Andalusia now) and the name of the river to "Guadalquivir" (it runs all the way through Cordoba. Guadalquivir is Arabic for "Big River" other words "Rio Grande"! For many years Seville was the main port for goods to and from the mainland even though it is an inland port (because the mouth of the river was easier to defend than an ocean port like Cadiz). So, driving in, we were on the main street which was built for the 1929 Exposition - it looks  lot like Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, with the palm trees and buildings.  Arnold pointed out all the buildings from that time (the Guatemala and Peru and US and Argentina ones for example). Finally we reached our hotel - the Alfonso XIII.  Luckily, Alph was away so we got his room! 

Wowzers!!!  Cloth on the walls and a 15th century frieze across the top , tile floor, fancy chandelier and canopied bed.  And very central to all the main sights and shopping areas.  It was too early to eat (only 5:00) so we headed out to see the sights. There were throngs of people - looked like both tourists and local folks. Saw a wall with a painted ad for Studebakers!!!

We had planned to attend an outdoor performance of Bizet's "Carmen", staged in and around the actual tobacco factory, but we found out that it had been cancelled (for some unknown reason).

The whole trip we have been looking to buy a photo album (we did get one in Cordoba, but with so many pix, we figure we need another!), so we were looking in store after store (a way to shop and get some local flavor at the same time). Finally we found a small shop that had the perfect one. We went it around 8:15 and buy the time we finished selecting and buying it was 8:30...and the streets were deserted!  Where'd everybody go? It was weird.  So we walked a few blocks to Casa Robles (celebrating their 50th anniversito) and sat outside for tapas.  We had a great view of the fish and slabs o' meat hanging inside behind the counter. We wanted something light so we ordered (in addition to sangria and cerveza) the fried fish platter (hmmm...doesn't sound light). And then, the dessert platter!  Yummmo!  Then, a short walk back to the Alphonso XIII and our heavenly bed.

End of day XI.

Seville (Part 2)

Thursday, September 9

Even though we are in Seville (Se-vee-ya), today we are taking a day-trip to Jerez de Fronterra (Heh-reth). 

We start with a beautiful buffet breakfast. The choices are not as nice or extensive as at La Bobadilla, but breakfast (desayunos) is served in an open-air courtyard in the middle of the hotel! Yhen at 9 we meet our driver, Pepe, and our new guide Virginia (Vir-hin-ee-ah).  What a cute couple! Pepe is in  his 60s and is like Tio Pepe. He has known Virginia and her mother Pilar (also a guide) for years.  We head out of the city and hear more about crops, castles, and kings.  It's all very interesting, but our heads are bursting with information! Pepe tells us jokes and they begin to open up (as the other guides have done).  We learn that a lot of towns are suffixed with "de la Fronterra" because they were "on the frontier" between Moorish and Christian controlled areas.  After an hour we reach Jerez and our first stop is the Sandeman Sherry Bodega. "Jerez" => "Sherry".  Get it? It was pretty much the same as the brandy visit in Africa: a tour of the production areas (several rooms with varying 100s of barrels) followed by a tasting session of several kinds of sherry.  Their logo is a cape and a hat (think Zorro), so they asked our group (there were other folks on the tour with us) if anyone wanted to "dress up".  Even though we hadn't had any sherry, we volunteered...and were the only ones to do so!
(I'm giving it my serious "Sandman" look)

Then we had to hurry over to the arena to see the famed Dancing Spanish horses.

Woo Woo!!! About 1,000 people in a horse-shoe (coincidence?) shaped building (we were in Row 1, but did not get sprayed or anything), and they play very Spanish marching music and several horses / riders come out and prance across the sand floor. Then, amazingly, they go back and do it again, and the crowd goes wild with excitement! Then they criss-cross, and, yes, they do it again. Then another group comes out and basically does the same thing.  We must have missed the good parts as we were having trouble staying awake. Then (thank goodness), it was intermission. Virginia came in and asked if we liked it and wanted to stay for the second half and we said "Oh, sure!", but she could tell we'd been sleeping (maybe she was watching us!).  Then, it was the best part: The Zamboni tractor came out and smoothed the sand!!!  Act II was pretty much the same with a big finish as ALL 10 HORSES WALKED AROUND AT THE SAME TIME!!!!!!!

All in all, Jerez is a definite "must miss".

Then we went to a real fancy meat place, "El Bosque" for lunch and we asked Pepe and Virginia to join us. Pepe liked to be like the papa, so we let him order for everyone to share. First a plate of Iberian ham and a plate of cheese and a plate of chicken croquettes (plus they brought us a teaser of little toasts with a salmon puree). Then their specialty: rice with shrimp; not paella - this is a little more saucy rice. They spoon it from the big pan onto everyone's plates.  We eat, and then they come back to spoon more!  Then we had several desserts which we also shared. During this time we had a great conversation about Pepe's family and our family and other tourists and how things have changed over the last few years. Another 2 hour lunch!  But oh so delicious!

Then we drove back to Seville and relaxed a while, then went out to buy a new suitcase to take home all of the stuff we have bought. Plates, purses, scarves, photo albums, etc., and more to come! As we are south now, it is hotter; about 37C. So between that and all the eating we've done, our dinner tonight was: gelato! Si! Muy bien.

Friday, September 10

Finally it was time to explore Seville in depth. Virginia and Pepe picked us up at 9:30 and drove us around town. We saw the Palm Tree street (again). Then we stopped and walked through Maria Louisa Park. She was the niece of the 2nd Isabella (late 1800s) who died very young. A really beautiful park, kind of like Retiro in Madrid.  They sell bird seed so you can feed the pigeons.

Then we went on to the Spanish Pavilion from the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. Wow! Fantastic, but unfortunately in very bad shape. Virginia told us she and Pepe had brought George Lucas here and he used the setting in one of the Star Wars movies!

Then we got back in the car for a short trip to the Alcazar. This was the Moors castle in Seville. If you thought the Alhambra was neat, wait til you see this place! Each wall is covered with tiles in different tessellating patters. So colorful! Great arches and pools.

Really fantastic. And it has its own wonderful gardens. Too beautiful for words. Then we went across to la Catedral - the 3rd biggest in the world. Some wonderful stained glass windows (though many had been replaced and modernized). This is also the place which has (so they claim) the remains of Columbus (there is some disagreement with the folks in the Dominican Republic - seems he's been moved a few times and they sort of lost track of where he ended up!). You are able to climb to the roof and get a nice view of the city.

Then it was time to eat again. They took us to Manolo Leon, a place the locals go to. Again, Pepe ordered....

...this time we had ham on garlic bread, chicken croquettes, an omelet with veggies inside, and a plate with pork and veal slices. We all shared...yummy, but so much food!  Then, the dessert: a combo platter! Oish! Again we had a great conversation: US politics, Franco, Pepe's time in the army.  Then we went to Pontius Pilate's (yes, that one) house/palace. It was built for (by?) him, but he never lived there. A lot like the Alcazar - many beautiful arches and tiles.

Then back to the hotel to rest up prior to the big Flamenco show!  We actually thought about having tapas first, but were so stuffed from lunch that we couldn't do it. Pepe picked us up at 8:30 to drive us 3 blocks (!) to the show. It is authentic (so they say) but totally attended by tourists.

As usual, we were one of the first ones there, so we were again in the front row. What that meant was that we were packed in by the time the show started and had no way to leave if we wanted to. The guitar players were great and there were several guys wailing away some Spanish words and various ladies dancing (plus two "angry" boys). It was actually very good, way better than the dancing horses! The finish was an old (yes..old, old) woman who did her thing (mostly hands, very little tapping), but the crowd loved it! It was over about 10:30 so we went back to the hotel and had ice cream!

Saturday, September 11
Our last day!  :-(

We told them to pick us up at 10 (we are getting lazy) and they drove us out into the country (past some of Seville's oldest walls) to the town of Carmona. Supposedly it's been inhabited for 5,000 years! This was the area where the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the 2nd Punic War.  We went to the Roman necropolis and saw various types of tombs - from simple pits where they put ashes, to a full-size house for "Servillia" - no other reference to who she was or why she was so important.

Then we stopped at the Parador for a Schweppes because it was in the 90s and getting hotter. Here we talked about the Spanish education system and Pepe told us about his grandfather and uncle. He said his uncle always told him "You are the master of what you think and the slave of what you say".  Then we walked through the old part of town - more narrow streets where you could see the Roman wall, on top of which was the Moorish wall, and on top of that the Christian wall!

Then we went to the church - very nice - and when we came out there was a commotion as a wedding was just starting! The friends and family were there....

...and then the groom drove up and took some pictures and then the bride came. How exciting! Totally truly Spanish!

Then we headed back to Seville. This was just a half-day tour, so it was time to say good-bye to Virginia. But before we did, she took us to our lunch restaurant.

This place was so beautiful - tiles on the walls and colorful painted plates!

But, once again, we were the only ones there!!!  Pepe says the food is great, but the locals don't go. We had soup (gazpacho and Basque fish soup_ and split chicken kabobs with curried rice. Pretty light and delicious.  Then we walked back to the hotel and relaxed a while. We packed, and barely managed to get everything in.  Then we got ready for our last dinner. We walked 3 blocks to Oriza ("Oritha") the fanciest / best restaurant in Seville (according to Pepe). We had asked the concierge to make a reservation last Thursday, but when we got there our name wasn't on the list! They were all full, but since we were staying in the Alphonso they said they would squeeze us in if we promised to be done in 90 minutes!'s a deal. There was a plate with capeberries, olives the size of walnuts, and cloves of garlic. Next we had crab salad and cod with peppers for starters. Then fish and scallops. Then fruits and cakes for dessert. And we were done in 89 minutes!  A great end to a fabulous trip!

Sunday, September 12
We had to be ready for Pepe's pickup at 8, so we went down to breakfast at 7. The restaurant (in the courtyard) was supposed to be open, but no one was inside and it was so dark. Then - major D'OH!!!! We realized why it was so dark: IT WAS BECAUSE THE SUN HADN'T COME UP YET!!! We tried the door and discovered it really was open. We ate in the back near the buffet table where there was some light. Then, pepe was there and he whisked us to the aeropuerto (talking non-stop all the way). It was very hard to say goodbye to him and to all of the other wonderful people we had met and especially to Spain. We didn't know what to expect and it turned out to be one of the best trips ever.

Adios, Espana!