Hi, everyone. DW and I are back from our Andalusia trip -- we got in last night.
This will be a long report (most will want to skip the most boring of the details), so I'm breaking it into three parts. Here is the first third of the trip:
Thursday, November 1 – Departure
Iberia flight nonstop from Dulles IAD to Madrid, Spain. On our flight, we were seated in the back of an Airbus 320 in the center section, and I swear the seats were narrower and shorter than the rest of the plane. It was incredibly uncomfortable, and neither one of us was able to sleep much at all.
Friday, November 2 – Arrival in Seville
Our original overseas flight was supposed to leave Dulles at 6:00 pm and arrive in Madrid at 7:20 am, but because the departure was moved back an hour, it was actually 8:20 when we arrived. Then the race was on, because our connecting flight from Madrid to Seville was leaving at 9:25, which sounds like plenty of time unless you’ve ever been in the Madrid airport. We were as far away from our connecting gate as humanly possible. In fact, they put up little signs telling you how many minutes of walking time (28 minutes, in our case). And we also had to go through passport control (LONG line!) and security again. Oh, and there is a fairly lengthy train ride between terminals. We ran to our gate, panting and sweating, and were the last people on the plane seconds before they closed the doors. The plane took off at 9:30 and arrive in Seville at 10:20 a.m.
Seville Airport was small and sleepy, without a working ATM machine -- a shame, since we had no Euros with us, and had been counting on getting cash at the airport. However, the Iberia ticket desk was happy to exchange our U.S. dollars ($140) for Euros (96€). The exchange rate was a dispiriting $1.45 to 1€. With cash in hand, we caught a taxi to the very center of Seville, which has truly gruesome traffic, for our stay at Hotel Alminar, on Calle Alvarez Quintero, a narrow pedestrian-only street radiating from the Cathedral square. The taxi ride from hotel was 25€. The hotel is in a converted shawl factory building, very historic, and just opened a couple of years ago. It has been remodeled in a sleek, chic and comfortable style, and is literally about 25 steps from the Cathedral gates www.hotelalminar.com . We had reservations for 4 nights, in a superior double room on the 2nd floor. We overlooked c/Alvarez on one side of the room and could look out at the weathervane atop the Giralda, the symbol of the City of Seville, from the other. This was the most expensive of our three hotels – 155€ for the 3 nights and 110€ for the last night (because the first weekend in November was the official end of high season). We arrived at the hotel at 11:30 a.m. and were able to check in immediately, no waiting. The staff at Hotel Alminar were really something special. The two desk clerks – Francisco in the morning and Maria in the evening – had perfect English, and were always happy to make suggestions for places to eat, the best way to get around the city, what was touristy and what was wonderful, and other personal recommendations and opinions.
I immediately crashed on our “Italian” bed (two twins pushed together, which was how all our beds were throughout our stay. Are there no queen- or king-sized beds in Spain?). DW unpacked, and then walked about 6 blocks to the local grocery store, MAS. We had a minibar, and the hotel had free coffee, mineral water, juice and sodas available 24 hours a day in the lobby, but we always like to have some chocolate, bread or sweet rolls, and other snacks on hand as well. DW got very lost walking back, despite having Francisco’s marked map in hand.
After a nap I wanted lunch and to try to get on local time. Francisco recommended Casa Blanca, a traditional restaurant off Avenida de la Constitucion, a block below the Cathedral. He suggested getting there before 1:30, before it fills up with locals. We got there at 1:20 and got a table, but most people ate at small tables standing up. We ordered a bottle of red wine, but most patrons had small beers. The food was great – very earthy and delicious. Cold garlic potatoes, salmorejo (cold cream of tomato soup with chopped ham and egg), a matrimony of anchovies (two kinds of fresh anchovies on toast with tomatillo cream), broiled langostinos, fried cod fritters, and a wonderful cold salad of very thin asparagus, stewed tomatoes, and fish noodles (what are they called?). It was a bit pricey – 48€ for lunch – but not bad for a hearty meal and a full bottle of wine (which we didn’t finish).
After lunch, we walked more than a half mile north along streets border the River Guadalquivir to the Museo de Bellas Artes in the El Arenal neighborhood. The museum is in a beautiful old 17th Century convent built around two courtyards. The paintings and sculptures are almost all by Sevillian artists, from Medieval to 20th Century. Due to fatigue, we only made it through the first of the two floors, or up through the Baroque period. Admission was free.
We walked back along the riverbank, in the full sun. It was very hot, probably around 80 degrees F. We were really exhausted by the time we reached the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) for a one-hour river cruise. The recorded commentary was in 4 languages. Seville hosted an International Exposition in the 1990s, and there was a lot of modern architecture (especially bridges) on the north end of town for the Expo. The river cruise was cool and relaxing, and a great way to get oriented in the city. Afterward, it was a short walk back to the hotel.
We recovered with a cup of coffee in the lobby and chatted with Maria. She suggested a favorite restaurant of hers for dinner, Vineria San Telmo, a lovely locals’ spot on the busy Avenida Maria Luisa near the Murillo Gardens, about a 15 minute walk away. It was full dark by the time we left for dinner, and the cathedral was beautifully spot lit and the streets were busy with Sevillians promenading and drifting from one bar to another. We arrived at the restaurant at 9:30 p.m. – quite early by Spanish standards. Our dinner was fantastic. The restaurant was continental and very imaginative. We had foie gras, carpaccio, basmati rice cooked with beetroot, grilled tuna, delicious Argentine beef on crusty potato chips, and a gorgeous scallop dish with those fish noodles (?) again. Each dish was only four or five bites, so it wasn’t as filling as lunch, and was much less expensive, 28€. Maria wanted us to report back to her - whose restaurant recommendation was better: hers or Francisco’s? (Both were wonderful, but I give Vineria San Telmo the edge.) We walked back to the hotel and got to bed after midnight.
Saturday, November 3 – Seville
We slept in very late, even with the church bells ringing every 15 minutes (and sometimes more frequently, it seems). We walked up c/Alverez Quitero to Plaza Salvador, to try to visit Seville’s second most important church, Inglesia Salvador, while it was open for visits, from 9-10 am and 6:30-9 pm). But the church was completely closed for reservations -- a point that our guidebook had missed -- and would not reopen until 2008. We had coffee and a chocolate-filled eclair standing at a corner bar, then walked back to the Cathedral, getting in the very front of the line for the 11:00 am opening. While I waited in line, DW walked around and explored for a half hour, following the streetcar tracks down to Maria Luisa Park and the famous Hotel Alphonso XII. She made it back to the line with minutes to spare, and we had a wonderful time touring the Cathedral. Christopher Columbus is buried in a beautiful tomb inside the Cathedral, borne by four giant carved men representing four regions of Spain. (There is some controversy, however, as to whether Chris is actually buried within. Officials from the country of Santa Domingo say that Columbus never made it back to Spain from the New World and is actually buried there.) Part of the Cathedral tour is climbing the Giralda Bell Tower. It isn’t a bad climb at all, because instead of steps, you climb 34 short ramps to the top. This is because the tower was originally a Muslim minaret in the 1100s, and the Muzzein could ride his horse to the top of the tower to call the people to prayer.
After the Cathedral and Giralda tour, we went to the Plaza de los Venerables in Barrio Santa Cruz, to the east of Cathedral. This neighborhood felt a little like Venice – narrow alleys with high walls, arched doorways, and VERY easy to get lost. We ate lunch at a restaurant recommended by Francisco, Casa Roman. It was very traditional, and known for its excellent Iberia ham. These pigs are raised eating nothing but acorns, and the thin-sliced ham is rich and delicious.
After lunch, we walked back to the Cathedral square through the Murillo Gardens, and saw the monument honoring Christopher Columbus. We got to the Real Alcazar, or Royal Palace, at 2:30 p.m. There are two main palaces, the Mudejar (the older section, built in the 1300s) and the Gothic (built in the 1500s by King Carlos V). The King and Queen of Spain still stay at the Real Alcazar when they are in Seville. The palaces are lovely, though completely empty, not a stick of furniture anywhere. We admired the intricate painted tiles and plaster work. But even more impressive were the expansive gardens. After a couple of hours, we were ready for a siesta.
We rested and napped until 7:00 p.m., then got dressed and went down to the lobby to inquire about Flamenco reservations. Maria recommended a Flamenco club called Tablaos Los Gallos, which is in a concert setting, serious and professional. The other shows we had read about were either too touristy, or set in bars – not good enough for Maria! We needed to have an early dinner, but restaurant kitchens are not open before 8:30 or 9:00pm. We ended up at Vineria San Telmo again (something we normally wouldn’t do), and our second meal there was as wonderful as the first. We really needed vegetables after all that ham at lunch, so we had a very different, much lighter dinner than Friday night’s. After dinner, we enjoyed the dramatic, emotional, and thrilling Flamenco show at Los Gallos, which featured a dozen different singers, dancers, and guitarists. We got home after 1:00 am – we were adjusting to Seville time!
Sunday, November 4 – Day trip to Cordoba
We slept very late after our Flamenco club adventure, until 9:30. The church bells pealed for a solid 15 minutes at 9:00, which woke me up. I guess the bells on Sunday morning are more intense to get the slugabeds up and off to church.
On the advice of Francisco, we walked up to Plaza Magdalena, a busier part of town, because he thought it would be very difficult to find a taxi on Sunday morning. He suggested that we take the bus to the train station, but we had already missed the 9:00 and 9:30 trains, and knew that, after the 11:00 train to Cordoba, there is a long gap in the schedule – we couldn’t take time for a bus ride. So we flagged down the cab, and got to the train station by 10:30. The Seville train station, Santa Justa, is much more impressive than the airport: huge, modern, clean and bright. We bought tickets on the AVE high-speed train, 45 minutes from Seville to Cordoba, which is pretty fast, since the distance is 150 km or 94 miles. The tickets were 14€ each, and since we were buying return tickets in the afternoon, the return tickets (bought separately in Cordoba) were reduced to 11,20€, or by 20%. We caught the 11:00a.m. train and enjoyed a very civilized trip – assigned seating in large, comfortable seats with complimentary ear buds for audio channels or the movie.
In Cordoba, we took a taxi to the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos (Palace of the Christian Kings), at the edge of the medieval walled city nestled against a bend in the Guadalqivir River. The old city is dominated by the huge Mezquita (or mosque), second only to the Alhambra as the most visited attraction in Europe. Once there, we decided to skip the Christian kings in favor of the Jews, since we had just seen the Seville Alcazar the day before. Instead, we headed to the ancient Synagogue, one of only three in Spain that were not destroyed during the Inquisition. The Synagogue is small and very beautiful, with psalms inscribed in Aramaic around the walls. There was also an interpretive museum, the Casa de Sefarad, which gave an excellent tour on the culture and history of the Jewish people in Sain, both before and after the Diaspora. After the tour, we had a light lunch of tapas at El Caballo Rojo (the Red Horse). We ha d calamari, fried grouper with lemon, sauteed artichokes, and a potato omelet.
After lunch, we went to the Mezquita (actually, the formal name is Cathedral Cordoba – remember the Christians won in 1492!). In Roman times, there was a church on this spot, and then in the 8th through 10th Centuries, at the height of Cordoba’s position as one of the leading cities of the western world, the enormous mosque was built, with literally thousands of granite, jasper, and marble pillars topped by double red and white candy-stripe arches, creating a dazzling and almost infinite effect. In the 1500s, a cathedral was plopped down in the middle of the mosque, and it all somehow works together. We savored our tour of the Mezquita, then we walked out to the Puenta Romano, an ancient Roman bridge that was, surprisingly, getting a fresh cement decking.
After some souvenir shopping, a restful cup of coffee, and a beer - we caught a cab back to the train station and left at 5:45 pm. We were exhausted – no big night out for us. Instead, we went out to Avenida de la Constitucion to for a light dinner of pizza which met the essential requirements of the moment: it was quick, close, and open before 9 at night. It hit the spot. It felt good to turn in early.
Trip Report SEVILLE, CORDOBA, RONDA, GRANADA, AND LAS ALPUJARRAS NOVEMBER, 2007
Hi, everyone. DW and I are back from our Andalusia trip -- we got in last night.
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