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Espagne, Olé! Ancient to modern, through Andalucia, Toledo and Madrid

Espagne, Olé! Ancient to modern, through Andalucia, Toledo and Madrid

May 29th, 2015, 03:59 PM
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The details are definitely not boring, Progol. To have your apartment reservation cancelled so many months later must have left you with much less choice. Disappointing for you.
Looking forward to Seville.
Adelaidean is online now  
May 30th, 2015, 02:52 AM
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Many, many thanks everyone!

EYWandBTV- My French isn't so hot, either, but appreciate the kind thoughts. And, Spain is wonderful in any language!

Yestravel - can't wait to hear all about your travels, too. Sicily is definitely on the long list of places to go.

Nelson, - you're right. The Zocotren is not a hop-on, hop-off vehicle, but a one way ride around Toledo. It was a great hour ride at the end of the day when we were too tired to do anything else but it was too early to eat. And, if you do go, try to sit on the right side of the train (opposite the driver's side) as the views are mostly on that side.
As far as leaving out Seville, well, we all have to make choices and can't get everywhere, but that was our absolute favorite place and I could've easily stayed longer than we did. Tune in to the next installment!

debinthepeg - Thank you! We did have a fabulous time and am glad you're going back to Spain. Toledo is a wonderful city, and so much there. I'm sure you'll be glad to have the 2 days. And yes, Tomas was wonderful! Loved the apartment, loved him! He was so charming and helpful, and the apartment was the best.

Adelaidean-- Glad you like the details! Sometimes I know I go on, so I'm glad that there are those who like that!

progol is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 03:07 AM
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Incidentally, we had the weirdest experience with our iPhones when we returned. We were unable to access our cellular service, and M. spent countless hours on the phone with Verizon. We had new SIM cards sent, did a "restore" on both phones, and the problem still existed. After much googling, I discovered that there was a "profile" that was downloaded to our phone with the new SIM card. Once deleted, it worked fine. But it was something I'd never seen before this and, as non-techies, never had a clue about, either. In fact, the Verizon tech support rep that my husband was talking to at the time was most impressed that I caught this! And, in truth, so was I!
progol is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 04:20 AM
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Initial impressions of Sevilla

Ah, but the minor disappointment of the apartment quickly faded the moment we wandered around Sevilla. From the moment we arrived, we fell head-over-heels in love with the city and both of us felt that we could live here easily. Sevilla is jaw-drop sensual in its beauty. Buildings are rich colors, the tile work is everywhere and the warmth and sun just add to this feeling. The energy of the city is palpable – with people spilling out onto the street in every large and small plaza we walk through. In every nook and cranny, with every turn around a corner, there is some surprise to discover.

And of course, there is the food! Sevilla is, I suspect, the tapas capital of Spain. The sheer number of bars and restaurants is high, but it’s taken to a level of culinary excellence that was, at least in our non-foodie opinion, the best city for eating that we visited. Tapas ranges from very traditional to a very sophisticated, contemporary style of food. What makes it so unique is the universality of the experience – being able to sit at a bar and having the opportunity to eat some of the remarkable creations for such an affordable price. Everyone goes – your rubbing shoulders with tourists and locals alike.

So after settling in to the apartment, the first bit of business was food, naturally. As our apartment was only a few doors down from Bar Estrella (one of the many places on my list), we sat down at one of the outside tables for our staple, café con leche, and tapas. I don’t remember everything we had, but the boquerones was a standout. And of course, the first of many places where we sampled jamon. Delicious! Bar Estrella became one of our “regular” places for breakfast (café con leche y tostada) or tapas stop.

How can I describe that feeling when you are there in a place that feels just right? Sevilla did that to us and, even as I write this, I feel myself sighing over the memory of our visit.

We Love Tapas Tour

As a novice to the world of tapas, I decided to book a tour. I had been browsing through the blog, Sevilla tapas, written by Shawn Hennessey, a Canadian woman and travel writer who has lived there for over 20 years. I’d seen several mentions of her on the travel boards and her blog is remarkable for its information about the food and region (http://azahar-sevilla.com/sevilla-blog/). Shortly before I left for the trip, I signed up for the tour for our first night in Sevilla. It’s a bit pricey at $55/person, but we had a blast, ate lots of wonderful food, and got an excellent orientation to tapas in Seville. And, even better, spent a great evening with a lovely young woman, Ana, who was a great guide and companion. There was only one other person on the tour, making it a very personal experience. In addition, she gave out a list of recommended tapas bars by barrio, which we used for the rest of the trip.

On the tour, we ate in 2 traditional-style tapas bars, Las Teresas and Casa Roman, that are family-run for generations. We ate so many dishes, I couldn’t begin to name them all, but we had lovely jamon (ham), cheese (manchego, I think), pork cheeks, pulpo (octopus), gambas (prawns), spinach & chick peas, pringa (little pork sandwiches) and drinks were included. I had a glass of red wine, Ribera del Duero, which was a standout.

Needless to say, we rolled home by the time we were done! It was a great intro to the tapas scene and a great way to be introduced to Sevilla. While we could’ve done it on our own, it was fun and very helpful to meet someone local, and Ana is warm, bright and very passionate about Sevilla and the food.
progol is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 05:03 AM
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Great about tapas in Sevilla, I sign in on all you write!
kimhe is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 05:22 AM
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Ok, you sold me on a tapas tour!
Adelaidean is online now  
May 30th, 2015, 05:34 AM
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Great! Thanks for following!

More to come....food and flamenco, too!
progol is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 06:17 AM
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I had not intended to do a day-by-day, but it looks like I’m doing it, more or less. We were in Seville from Wednesday, May 6, and left on Sunday, May 10.

Thursday, May 7

Another tour….

On our first full day, I had signed us up for the free (rather, pay-what-you-wish) Monuments tour with panchotours. We met at the fountain at 11am beside the cathedral (the standard meeting place), and it seemed there were a million people gathering for the tour. It seemed a bit disorganized at first, but eventually it divided into 2 groups, one in Spanish and one in English. Our tour guide, Bran, is a Serb who fell in love and moved to Sevilla. He was delightful, and we got an excellent overview of the monuments. We started at the Cathedral, moved on to the former tobacco factory/now the University, on to the Plaza de Espagne, where we stayed for a while. The gorgeous Plaza de Espagne was created for the Ibero-America Exposition of 1929, which was a financial disaster at the time, but the plaza remained and is now a deservedly popular sight in Seville. We then returned via the Parque de Maria Luisa, and ended the tour by the walls outside the Alcazar. It is asked that the guide be given “what you think it’s worth”, and people seemed to give generally 5-10 Euros/person.

Lunch, of course, was tapas. I had read much about Azotea, and it was on my recommended list from Ana, so we arrive early enough to get a seat at the bar right away. (the branch near the Cathedral). Since we were planning to have tapas and not have a full, sit-down meal, we opted not to take a table (still available when we arrived around 1:00pm). While I didn’t note what we ate that day (too busy eating!), I can still remember the absolutely delicious razor clams that we had (media racion) – the best I’ve ever had. We mostly drank cerveza sin alcool (beer without alcohol), which we found to be surprisingly good and I didn’t suffer any sleepless nights (I am, unfortunately, super sensitive to the effects of alcohol).

We later visited the Alcazar, spending several hours absorbing what we could. This is an impressive structure, and again, seeing the melding of so many cultures coming together was a pleasure.

Now, in retrospect, there are some ways that we actually preferred the Alcazar to the Alhambra. The Mudejar architecture in the Alcazar is absolutely stunning – coarser but also more dramatic, I think. The Moorish arches, the tile work, the various styles from room to room are all very rich in detail. Both are beautiful, however, but there was something about the Alcazar that grabbed us both.

And in the evening, we joined with (mostly) Sevillanos, to attend a concert by Rafael Riqueni, a reknowned flamenco guitarist and true homeboy! He is from Triana, considered to be the home of flamenco. This concert was part of Jueves flamencos, a concert series in Sevilla that is definitely not a typical “tourist” experience. It was an amazing concert, as much for being part of an audience consisting of Sevillanos as it was to actually hear the music! It felt special to be part of this crowd, who embraced this modest musical star. It was our first real taste of flamenco, and it took some time to get into it, but by the end of the concert, his passion rang through and we were standing up with the crowd at the end, shouting and clapping along with them.

progol is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 07:43 AM
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Read the Riqueni reviews and understood this was a special night, glad you experienced it! Seing the top flamenco artists this way, in a theater with local aficionados, is my favourite way of doing it too.

Here's a clip from your concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYjHqwlZ7mU

Here he is in wonderful old world Teatro Lope de Vega in Sevilla during the last bienal some months ago, sharing stage with - among others - the brilliant dancer Antonio Canales (from 2:20). One of the greatest moments of this Bienal, the largest and most prestigious flamenco festival in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytfetdYVBHU
kimhe is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 08:39 AM
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A hard heart could melt with Riqueni's performance! His demeanor, too, makes him accessible -- he seemed touched by the response by the audience.

I thought of you after the concert and was excited to be able to share about it here - it was a special experience, and we felt it there. Being able to share it in this way, was a real treat.

Love the clips -- and watching the performance by Canales -- wow!
progol is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 09:55 AM
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Great report so far. I appreciate the time your taking to write this. You brought back many wonderful memories of our time in Seville last year. Not to put any pressure on you - lol - I'm anxiously awaiting your report on Madrid as we are going there for the first time in the fall as well. It looks to be at the end of your trip, so I know it may take you some to get to it as I'm sure you have lots to report on the other wonderful cities you visited! Since we're not going for quite some time, I will be very patient - lol. I'm also looking forward to reliving our memories of Cordoba and Ronda thru your reports - we loved both!
debinthepeg is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 02:05 PM
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Yes, we are all hanging out here in cyberspace awaiting your impressions of Cordoba. Some commenters on this forum are not too impressed, other than the Mezquita; others say the town merits even two nights. We shall soon see what it was like for you....
EYWandBTV is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 02:38 PM
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Yay !
I've been looking forward to this. Agree that Seville is delightful, and I could also live there.

Love the details, so be as wordy as you like.

Thanks for sharing.
sartoric is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 04:20 PM
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Many thanks, everyone! I will work on this as quickly as I can!

I do want to finish it,too, as I don't let myself really begin thinking about the next trip until this is all done!
progol is offline  
May 30th, 2015, 08:32 PM
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And we do want a 'day by day' account
Adelaidean is online now  
May 31st, 2015, 03:17 AM
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Haha, Adelaidean! Fortunately, my tendency toward mild verbiage will meet with your approval!

progol is offline  
May 31st, 2015, 06:40 AM
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Looking forward to next installment, mild verbiage or not. Looks like future tourist numbers in Corboba hinges on your review! :- )

Thanks for clarification on the Zocotren.
Nelson is offline  
May 31st, 2015, 12:03 PM
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Friday, May 8/Another cathedral and more flamenco!

A very slow beginning to our day. We’re definitely relaxing into an easy groove! Today, we tried another bar for our morning coffee, the Bar El Comercio, a very busy, crowded bar, founded in 1904 and still in the same family, and seemed to be very much a local institution. We had our café con leche with churros – we had 2 orders, which was a lot of fried bread!


We started our day of touring at the Seville Cathedral, opening at 11am; perhaps not the best decision in organizing our day as the line was long and by the time we ended up getting in, it was about 11:30. But we’re moving slowly, and letting the day unfold.

According to recent calculations, this cathedral has surpassed St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London in cubic measurements, making it the largest church in the world! It was built to display wealth and power during the Reconquista, and that sense of power definitely comes through when entering – an overwhelming experience.

Of the specific items in the church, the tomb of Christopher Columbus was one of the more popular ones on display – recent DNA suggests that there might actually be some of his fragments in the tomb, but no one knows for sure. Still, it was amazing to see his tomb! The cathedral was built on the site of a mosque, and the lovely Patio de los Naranjos was preserved. We didn’t go into the Giralda (some health issues limit my walking, especially upstairs), but it was a minaret, now turned into a bell tower. It is a beautiful structure.

After the cathedral, we wandered toward Triana. And in the streets, on our way, we had our second taste of flamenco, watching a lovely young woman, wearing a black flamenco dress, accompanied by a guitarist and singer, perform for the passersby. She was charming and wonderful to watch; she had great energy and passion, and I loved that we were just catching it in the streets.

We are off to Triana, walking over the Puente de San Telmo, one of the bridges over the Guadalquivir River. I followed an outline from the DK Eyewitness book, leading us along the waterfront area and then turning in to get more of a sense of the area. Triana is one of the districts in Seville, known for its ceramics and also as the place where flamenco was born.

We arrived at siesta time, so many shops were closed – bummer! Fortunately, one large ceramic store was open and we browsed through the many aisles of lovely ceramics. I didn’t end up buying anything, although there were some beautiful things. Living in NYC in a small apartment does limit the shopping somewhat.

We then went to the Mercado for lunch. Many of the vendors had already begun to close up shop, but there were some places serving food, so we sat at a table and ate. Honestly, it was not a great meal – we had an awful seafood cocktail, an overcooked tuna and mushroom fish dish, and the only fresh item were the gambas, but I was getting a bit fed up with trying to peel the darn things! Can you tell I was getting a bit tired?

Wandering through the back streets of Triana was fun, though, and getting more of a local flavor. Loved the tilework everywhere- on apartment buildings, storefronts, tops of churches – you name it, there’s beautiful tilework! We stopped for coffee and pastry at a small café then ambled our way back, passing through a pedestrian street, walking back to the Mercado and walked over the attractive Puente de Isabel II, the bridge which connects the city center with Triana. As we walked over it, there are good views looking back to the city as well as a lot of activity. Music again – this time, 4 musicians (guitarists, singers) playing to several women sitting on steps beside the bridge. Music is in the air!

Next stop, the Metropol Parasol, popularly known as Las Setas de la Encarnacion (Incarnacion’s mushrooms). This is a large wooden structure, completed in 2011, that claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world (thanks, Wikipedia!). It’s about 85 feet tall and very, very wide (490 x 230 feet), and sits over La Encarnacion Square. It’s a controversial structure (lots of cost overruns and a murky relationship with its neighborhood) but it is also a remarkable structure to see. Absolutely loved it! Loved the views from the top, but also enjoyed its playful, sensuous form.

Beside the parasol, there’s a small outdoor market, and we picked up some almonds. We wandered home for our afternoon siesta, part of our daily ritual on the trip.

Left the apt around 6:00ish to walk up to Casa de la Memoria for the flamenco concert, stopping first in the Plaza de San Salvador and in the church. Very ornate - baroque - lots of silver and gold!
We sat there for a while and saw people gathering for what looked like a wedding ceremony. There were 3 little girls dressed in fancy white party dresses and one of them reminded me of my niece, only my niece is now 30 years old! For a moment, though, I was transported to another time.

We walked up the Calle de Sierpes -- a main shopping street, several flamenco shops and other stores. Eventually found our way to Calle Cuna, and it was easy to find. We got there before 7pm and seating had already begun to fill up,
We sat next to another American couple and enjoyed the interaction. The show was great – Pastora Galvan was wonderful, very theatrical; the younger male dancer, Antonio Molina, “Choro”, had the most amazing footwork; I loved the singer, Cristian Guerrero; and Pedro Sanchez was the guitarist.

Dinner was at La Pepona a short distance away - one of the recommended places by Ana and the Tapas tour, and it was a surprise! To get a seat immediately, we shared the table with a Spanish couple. We really enjoyed the meal here; the dishes were interesting -- macerated sardines; stuffed artichoke; scallops; dogfish. It was a great meal, and the waiter was welcoming and helpful.

After that, we took a long stroll back, passing the parasol on the way.

A great day!
progol is offline  
May 31st, 2015, 02:07 PM
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Saturday, May 9/Art, Art and more Flamenco
Got out relatively early and had coffee again at the Bar El Comercio, Michael had churros again and I had tostadas with olive oil. A nice change from the fried food!

Off to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla --an excellent museum of Spanish art, from the medieval period to early 20th century, in a stunning building that was a late 16th century convent. There are some wonderful paintings that are almost overshadowed by the magnificent building. We were not expecting to be so taken by the place as we were slowly succumbing to the Stendhal syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndrome)
and thought that we’d simply check it out briefly and then take off. But there were some wonderful surprises and we stayed for quite a while. One series of paintings stood out: a fascinating series of 8 painting illustrating a pageant or procession with allegorical overtones, by Domingo Martinez, an 18thC painter (known for murals) who studied under or was influenced by Murillo.

From there, off to Eslava, the highly touted tapas restaurant - and for good reason!. A great walk into the San Lorenzo area, definitely on the upscale side. It’s Saturday afternoon, and by the time we got there, it was very busy, locals and tourists alike, so we had a bit of a wait for seats. We were waiting for a table but a spot at the bar opened up and we grabbed it. We had: 1) Un cigarro para Becquer, 2) a media racion of razor clams 3) pork ribs with honey 4) scallops over seaweed purée 5) bolas with egg + cerveza sin alcohol. Delicious! All that for about $26 or so.

After lunch, we walked over to the Alameda de Hercules (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Alameda,_Sevillez), but found it mildly sleazy and not especially attractive as it was mostly an open space with some seating and trees along the sides. It was also getting hot (low 30sC) and the open mall was not shaded. There was the end of a food market, and along the outside, there were many bars/cafes, but it wasn’t especially inviting. We decided to wander over to the Casa de Pilatos.

Following the map, we passed countless small plazas that were filled with people eating and drinking. The siesta culture constantly amazes us! Love the energy, both day and night! The shops were closed but the life on the streets was very much alive!

Finally arrived at the Casa de Pilatos, a beautiful small palace. It was quite hot by now and we were tired, but it was a perfect place to be, beautiful architecture in primarily Mudejar style which was begun in the early 16th century by the first Marques de Tarifa and expanded upon over the centuries. Exquisite work! Beautiful patios! The ground floor is the summer palace and the upstairs is the winter palace, which is only by group tour. The upstairs was interesting, but not nearly as remarkable as the ground floor.

After that, we walked back to the apt for an afternoon siesta, passing by the Museo de Baile flamenco, noting the evening shows. After our afternoon siesta, we stopped by the museo to see about ticket availability, only to find out that they were sold out. But wait -- the lovely young woman asked someone and decided to sell us tickets after all, as we were leaving the next day! Charming!

We walked over to nearby plaza to find something light to hold us until after the show. That took some doing-- there are not delis as we know them around the plazas, but eventually found one shop that sold some both sweet and savory pastries. We walked back to the museum, and even at a half hour before the show, there was already a long line and by the time we were seated, we were in the 4th row. This is not a very conducive space for a flamenco show as it is flat and only the front row had a good view. Still, the show was very good and we enjoyed it a lot, though we have such little knowledge of flamenco that we can't really make any fair comparisons between the 2. We preferred the experience of Casa de la Memoria simply because it was a better locale to see the show, but the performance was excellent.

After the show, we headed back to Plaza Alfalfa to check out one of the restaurants on our recommended list but there was a wait, and neither of us were in the mood to do so, so we returned to our now go-to place, Bar Estrella, where we had vegetarian moussaka, Iberian sausage, manchego cheese, and another pork dish. Terrific little meal.

Back to the apartment, where we both fell asleep relatively early (for this trip, anyway!).
progol is offline  
May 31st, 2015, 02:17 PM
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And I completely forgot to mention coming upon a local procession one evening on our way back to our apartment. We saw several of them over the course of the trip, but it's an amazing feeling to come upon an event like this, with everyone involved. I don't know what the procession was about, but I would guess it was a saint day.
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