Spain: The Alhambra and the Beat of Flamenco

thursday morning we woke up early to arrive at the alhambra in time for our coveted early-morning reservation for the nasrid palaces. a word to the wise: bring a lunch or at the very least some snacks and things because it’s slim pickings at the top of the hill and you won’t come back down until after midday.we turned left towards the hill from the plaza nueva. the sun hadn’t yet risen and the air had that ski day chill to it so I ducked into a cafe for a cafe tomar and a crossante the size of my cabeza. We entered the alhambra grounds at the gate of justice and were completely alone save a few guards. the views were incredible and the sun rose as we stood, waiting for our turn to enter the palaces.we met a kind man from pamplona who told us of his travels through the united states and his love of spain. shortly thereafter we entered the palace and were just blown away. arriving early was a very good idea indeed as there were many moments that I found myself completely alone. we followed the tour suggested by the brochure we received at the entrance but also purchased a book beforehand that provided us (mostly L) with additional background information for each magnificent room.
the alhambra is the large complex and within rests multiple sites to visit. the nasrid palace is what you came to see-the unbelievably intricate designs and mathematical mastery creating an otherworldly experience. my camera was dead shortly after noon…It was that magnificent. after visiting the nasrid palaces we moved on to the remainder of the area around; including stunning overlooks that included the valley and sierra nevadas in the background that created a sort of Eden if you ask me. It was the most precious gift of an experience. In case you’re curious, check out the map here. we journeyed through the wood to the generalife gardens. but first we ducked into the open-to-the-public parador that serves as a beautifully historic hotel within the alhambra. what a ride it would be to stay here! If you don’t mind intruders like us, that is.
the flowers and fountains created such a sense of calm and we sashayed from site to site, soaking it all in. that and the blissful sun. in an effort not to backtrack, we cut across the wood to arrive in the sacromonte best known for the cave dwellings that are still inhabited by original inhabitants and, further out, hippies that you can’t help but envy.
we walked up camino del sacromonte gawking at the homes and searching for a special restaurant I was determined to find at #83. the owner and friends were seated outside, cigarette and drink in hand, and I was sure we had the wrong place until he asked para comer? and I nodded and up we went to the small restaurant upstairs. we had one of our favorite meals here- I a Plato del Alpujarra filled with blood sausage, chorizo, pork, eggs and potatoes drenched in local olive oil, and L something similar that I just can’t remember. when we ordered a coffee with our dessert we were told no coffee en el sacromonte and were promptly brought two complimentary glasses of  an anise flavored liquor instead. fine  by us.
we left and passed our apartment in search of the flamenco club that opened to the public on thursday nights. we arrived without problem but couldn’t find our way in. finally, a older gentleman with a very sweet face opened the door and greeted us. Basic spanish is required but all attempts are certainly welcomed so don’t let that deter you. I certainly didn’t, despite my confusion of nombre for number and only recognizing my error when the owner looked completely lost with my responses. regardless, I was determined.
reservation made, we continued back to the apartment and poured a couple of glasses of wine and relaxed for a while. the apartment is perfect, we think, and despite being even smaller than our current space, it’s plenty for us. we assembled a modest meal after our indulgence of a lunch before heading over to the flamenco club.
we arrived to a bustling bar filled with mostly friends and family of the performers as well as just enough tourists. we ordered a drink and before we could finish were ushered across the courtyard to the large performance hall. we were greeted, paid the 20E for the two of us, and were escorted to a table one away from the stage. I was in heaven.
there was a long table filled with the family mentioned earlier, who I followed for appropriate etiquette. they took a few pictures, hollered Vale! in support, and gave a shh! to guests who insisted on talking throughout the dramatic performance.I was stunned by how beautiful it all was- the guitarist, so purely talented and together with the cantor, bass and dancer, creating something so representative of all that Spain. I don’t know if it was the continuous stream of wine or the mood, but it was, again, simply magic.
god, what an amazing day…one of those days you think couldn’t possibly be real because it’s just  that rich. well after midnight we walked the silent streets of the albaycin back to our apartment and drifted into a deep sleep while the city kept on.
addresses you should know:
The Alhambra

http://www.alhambra-patronato.es/

Must reserve ahead on Ticketmaster ES

Casa Juanillo
http://www.casajuanillo.net
Camino del Sacromonte, 83

Peña Flamenca La Platería
Placeta de Toqueros, 7, tel. 958 210 650 (bar), 958 227 712 (office)
10E (including sangria) Thursday nights only.

 

Our Trip to Spain: First Sight of Granada

our last morning in seville we were in agreement that our time there was too short. even still, we were off to granada that morning to spend the last days of our travels in what turned out to be our favorite destination on this trip.

we walked from our hotel to the closer San Bernardo train station to purchase one-way tickets to granada. it saved us plenty of time being at least 25 minutes closer, plus it was in the center of suburban essentials like cafes and supermarkets. The train to Granada departs Santa Justa then, a few minutes later, arrives at San Bernardo. so if you’re close by, I’d highly recommend doing what we did and sticking to the smaller station.

after buying our tickets we ducked into a large supermarket a few blocks away. there was a cafeteria inside where we sat and enjoyed coffee in the midst of college students waiting in a line that snaked through the room to receive what looked like a damn fine sandwich…if only my Spanish was up to snuff, I might have tried… but I didn’t have the nerve. In the supermarket we grabbed the essentials-cheese, meat, olives, bread and chocolate- for the 3 hour journey to Granada.

once on the train, we relaxed. this train was a little older and slower than the AVE but not by much. it’s deliberate behavior allowed us to cut through mountains and whisked us down the valleys to cover the most beautiful countryside. L dozed as I frantically snapped photos, lucky to snag a few that would go on to represent the experience. the journey flew by and I almost found myself hoping that we had more time on the train. but we were there.

I’ll tell you, arriving in Granada is the stuff of dreams. as the train crept closer the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas were spotted, followed by the albaycin and Alhambra when we pulled in.

months earlier I’d booked the most charming AirBnB apartment for our stay. our host asked us to meet him at the fountain in the plaza nueva. apparently this is the meeting place as we meet fellow travelers-2 from california and one in the midst of a RTW (’round the world) trip. anyway, we found it without a problem-a 30 or so minute walk from the train- and he arrived shortly thereafter to show us the way.

god, Granada is beautiful. we walk up a cobblestone street and turn onto our road located in the lower-albaycin. our apartment is on the third floor and after a quick overview we’re left to soak it all in. the views are magnificent! out the living room window rests the mighty alhambra and before us sprawling clay-roofed houses. I was in heaven.

after picking up our previously reserved tickets for the alhambra at the bookstore nearby, (yes you must reserve ahead) we took the afternoon to aimlessly explore and ended up at the San Nicolas viewpoint moments before sunset. the crowds poured in, but it didn’t even matter. the views were like nothing i’d ever seen, something out of a fairy tale, truly.

we wandered down to find a Moroccan restaurant recommended in one of my many books. in between, we passed through one of many picturesque squares and enjoyed our first “free tapa” with a glass of wine. the restaurant was empty as it was way to early for tapas, but that didn’t bother us any- It was cold that night, we were tired and craving something hearty. the streets leading to the the Moroccan restaurant reminded me slightly of Istanbul-shops pouring out onto the street and carpets and trinkets everywhere. what we found was a simple and lovely eatery run by a very kind woman. the ambiance was so peaceful and we each ordered a variation of a lamb tagine and mint tea.

we headed back early to read and rest up for tomorrow, the Alhambra.

Our Trip to Spain: Sevilla by Bike

where were we? ah! wine, sweet-smelling trees, the most delectable tapas to-date…

 

on our second day in seville, we got a bit of a late start, but by now we were not phased. we walked into the city center, past the plaza de espana, a favorite by now, and on to a cafe across from the cathedral. after a cafe con leche we got in line and were ushered into the magnificent cathedral. oh, I could have spent the day staring at the ceiling above the main altar! we passed columbus’ supposed resting place and mighty organ in the center before passing through the courtyard filled with oranges and venturing up, up, up! to the top of the tower for the most incredible views of this fair city.

after, we wandered into town in search of something to fill our stomachs. this is a time I need to declare that I never did figure out just how to navigate Spanish dining hours. almost every time we ventured out to find a meal, we were too early or too late. what gives? anyway, this afternoon we wandered through silent streets of beautiful santa cruz and found ourselves at an incredibly charming abacería- part grocery store part tapas bar- Abacería Casa Moreno. I wish I could recreate this stateside. It was perfect! In the front fine cheeses and meats are sold along with specialty spanish food items. in the back there is a bar and all of the aforementioned items are served tapa or racion style. after tapa after tapa and a couple of glasses of wine, we found our way to the market where we found the lovely company, Sevilla See by Bike. For 19E we each had a bike for 3 hours, complete with a basket for me and locks for us both.

we were off! little did I know seville is one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe. there are bike lanes everywhere! we took a loop around the entire city then ventured over to triana. ah, we were in heaven! it was such a joy to see the city on two wheels, safely mind you, and without getting exhausted. triana-the feel over in this neighborhood was much different, more authentic maybe, whatever that means. if we had a day or so more I would have returned. next time.

a few hours later and we returned to the market to return our bikes. the owner is sweet and genuine. he tells us of his us travels and his brother’s new life in boston.

for the rest of the evening we wander, get lost, and wander some more, finally finding a restaurant at precisely the right time, La Brunhilda. we were a few people back in the line and locals couldn’t believe there was a line on a tuesday night. it’s number one on tripadvisor, I think. we’re ushered in and treated to some really incredible tapas. the food is similar to meals in philly, which isn’t altogether a bad thing since philly is a culinary mecca as far as I’m concerned, but I’m looking for something a little bit more unique. make no mistake though, it’s really good.

before heading back to the hotel we stop in a restaurant recommended by the bike shop, Pepe Hillo-there are bull heads everywhere, it’s heated by large space heaters and the wine is plentiful. the food wasn’t anything extraordinary but we lingered for hours before making our way back to the hotel.

it’s our last night here. I think I’ll recommend Sevilla to everyone I know. It’s beautiful, clean and rich in beautiful, welcoming people, culture and food.  a must.

places you should know:

Abacería Casa Moreno
3 blocks off Plaza Nueva at Gamazo 7, tel. 954-228-315

La Brunhilda
Calle Galera 5

Sevilla by Bike
4 Pastor y Landero
Mercado del Arenal (inside the marketplace), Store 48

http://www.seebybike.com/en/

Our Trip to Spain: Sweet Seville

the AVE train from Madrid to Seville was just what we needed-a speedy trip to a drastically different, warmer, more obviously beautiful and seductive place in the south. we got to the station early, as I suggest you do, too. In hand I had our tickets that I’d booked far in advance to save quite a bit of money. we boarded and settled in, L with a book in hand and me with the camera out.

one of my favorite things to do when I travel is take the train and this was no different. on this trip we jetted past castles and farms and tons of olive groves. not to mention the beautiful white-washed towns as we entered Andalucia.

a quick two hours later and we were in seville. what you have heard is absolutely correct- it’s stunningly beautiful and has an intoxicating smell. yes, smell. we ventured out to find our hotel by foot 40 minutes or so away from the station, but a line of taxis called to me and we hopped in- the first tax I’ve ever taken in europe. we were dropped off in front of our hotel, the Mariott Ciudad de Seville, a former villa.

the sun was so enriching, we hurried to change and set out to the city center. we walked along the water, getting the first glimpse of the flower-covered buildings one more beautiful than the next, the bullring and the golden tower. we turned into the city and were struck by the winding streets yet somehow found the street we were looking for…but the restaurant we were searching for was no longer (note: do not use outdated guidebooks). I pulled out a current book as we both were overly hungry, a common state while traveling, and settled on the closest place, Taberna del Alabardero. What I realized after our multiple-course meal in the most picturesque garden room, surrounded by well-dressed business people, was that this was a restaurant staffed in the front and back of the house by culinary students. the meal was really wonderful and at a 14E price tag for so much food, I would absolutely return.

our leisurely lunch caused us to be late for the sites but it really didn’t matter. instead, we strolled by the mighty cathedral we would visit the next day, inhaled the air of chestnuts popped on the street, oranges and jasmine on the trees, and hiked up to the top of the golden tower where, despite the mediocre naval museum inside, we were struck by the most beautiful view. i’m a sucker for a good view.

later, we took a short-cut (now a more purposeful 40 minutes to our hotel) and were greeted by the plaza espana lit up for the evening. oh what a sight that is! more on that another day.

we took a beautiful route on the opposite end of the park and found ourselves as the highly regarded vineria san telmo near to the plaza espana. we were seated quickly at an outdoor table under a canopy with heat lamps. we were treated to fabulous wine and decadent tapas. as we ate, the rain came down rather hard but despite our outdoor located we were content.

through silent streets we wandered, getting lost sort-of intentionally, and leisurely found our way back to the hotel.

we ate like kings today. we fell in love with seville today.

addresses you should know:

vineria san telmo
Paseo de Catalina de Ribera, 4
41004 Sevilla
Spain

Taberna del Alabardero
Calle Zaragoza, 20
41001 Sevilla
Spain

Our Trip to Spain: Foie and Royalty

waking up felt good today as the jet lag slowly started to dissipate and we were eager to explore. we had a rough agenda in mind, but weren’t in a rush. I took that to mean go in the only direction that will take you off the map and we ended up in a neighborhood I still can’t identify. the silver lining of this, though, was stumbling upon the sweetest pastry shop that entertained my spanish pursuits and responded in comparable english practice. I was gifted a portion of Huesos de Santo (Saint’s Bones) which were the most lovely marzipan treats honoring the holiday celebrated the day before. I grabbed a pastry and was off. eventually, we found what we were looking for.

the royal palace was a treat! the gardens are beautiful but not overpowering ( ahem, Versailles) and the palace itself is rich in unique rooms spilling a particular story. like the retirees we are, we purchased the audio tour and I would highly recommend you do the same. we wandered through for hours, taking breaks in front of sun soaked windows here and there.

after, we ventured next door to the crypt below the Almudena Cathedral. it wasn’t want we expected, per se, but it was chilling and rather interesting to see the flowers scattered over the tombs below us.

back above ground we journeyed down calle major in search of the place that i’d  been dreaming about since I first spotted it on my favorite planning site: Puturru De Foie in the Mercado San Anton. the building is unassuming as is your first impression when you walk inside, but keep going… we took the escalators up and were greeted by a food-court style arrangement teeming with locals-some standing, others standing over patrons waiting for their tables…us included in the latter group within moments. L grabbed a table and waited as I went on a spree at Puturru De Foie. As the name may indicate it’s duck and foie everything including salumi, burgers, kofte and cheeses from the region. and more…lots more! I grabbed a burger (not just any… ox topped with foie), a piece of foie and duck sausage. oh and a bottle of wine. I told you, spree. we lounged at that coveted table and ate our fill of game products then ordered more. it was a dream. you must promise to go when you visit madrid.

after, we drifted in the direction of the parque del retiro we loved so much the day before. a time later, we arrived at the reina sofia for the free hours. while impressive and the home of picasso’s Guernica we are decidedly not educated in modern art and left somewhat dumfounded.

with a train out of town early in the morning we were both thinking the same thing… olives, jamon, eheese, chocolate and wine in the room. we stopped in El Corte Ingles and were greated by every possible options for all.see you in seville!