Trip Report: 17 days in Spain & Portugal

Old Sep 21st, 2007, 09:21 AM
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Trip Report: 17 days in Spain & Portugal

We returned 4 days ago from a lovely 16-17 day trip of Spain and Portugal. We feel that only the physical bodies have returned, with the souls still wandering the narrow alleys of Seville or the streets of Lisbon ! During this trip we visited:
Madrid - 3 nights, with day trip to Toledo
Granada - 1 night
Malaga - 3 nights, with day trips to Nerja & Ronda
Seville - 4 nights, with day trip to Cordoba
Lisbon - 4 nights, with day trips to Sintra & Cascais
Madrid - 1 night (on the return leg)

Plan to post a comprehensive trip report in 4-5 installments. Here goes the first one..

BACKGROUND:
We are a couple from India. I am 50, and my DW is 47. We have travelled quite a bit, but never to Spain or Portugal. And neither of us knew a word of Spanish. A few months before departure, we bought a pocket-sized "Learn it yourself: Spanish", and during our spare time we would read it selectively. By the time we left, we could count from 1 to 11, and knew certain key words which we thought would be useful at bus stations, train stations, restaurants, shops, or seeking directions on the streets. We ignored the grammar, and felt that as long as we could assemble together relevant words, we would be fine. And you would be surprised as to how well that worked ! (The most important word for a tourist to learn is "Donde&quot. At no point in our trip did we suffer any frustration for difficulty in communication. The Spanish are friendly and wonderful people, and when you make an effort to speak their language, they go out of their way to understand you and to respond. And although some Spaniards must have had a good laugh at our pidgen Spanish, we could always get our question across.

Another point to note is that we are vegetarians. Although I can eat a chicken or a shrimp if pressed to the wall, for my DW it is a strict no-no. So we did extensive research on vegetarian restaurants in every city we were visiting, and we were pleasantly surprised as to how many existed. So our dining choices listed in the trip report may not be of much interest to most meat loving readers, but I guess will be appreciated by the few vegetarian visitors to this site.

Lastly, this report is meant as much for the Fodors visitors as it is meant for ourselves, for we wanted a permanent record of our entire trip, that we can go back and read and re-live those wonderful days ! So if the narration gets too detailed at times, please bear with us.

RESOURCES:
Our basic preparatory research was from the Lonely Planet guide book on Spain, which we found extremely comprehensive and very useful. This was supplemented with many other travel sites on the net, including the Fodors destination mini-guides, madridman.com, andalucia.com, exploreseville.com, and golisbon.com (the last two being real gems). For listing of vegetarian restaurants, we relied most on happycow.net, and european-vegetarian.org, besides some vegetarian listings available on previously mentioned sites.

For hotel bookings, we relied totally on the user rating (popularity index) of tripadvisor.com, which we found to be bang on target. We discovered that with a little research on this site, you can find hotels in prime locations for around 75 euros, which have much more to offer than many hotels in the 125-150 euro bracket. And once we had booked a hotel, we read all the reviews about that hotel on the tripadvisor site, which yielded nuggets of information about nice dining places near the hotel, which we took note of.

Finally, guide books and travel sites can help only so far. There are many nagging questions (and sometimes silly ones), which can only be answered on the site where this report is being posted. Really, this site is a godsend to travellers. We posted a very large number of queries, which were all responded to quickly and effectively. And we kept reading questions posted by others and their responses, from which we learnt so much. Special thanks to josele, who took great pains to plan the Malaga leg of our journey, and responded to so many private e-mails. Thanks also to Comfyshoes, Nikki, schuler, lincasanova, Graziella5b, bilboburgler, josemacall, lostinplace, MadridMan, Alec, Revulgo, blackduff, Robert2533, and so many others who responded to all our questions on this site. You all were of great great help.

So without any further ado, here goes ...

DAY 1 (Aug 31,Friday): MADRID
Our Alitalia flight from Mumbai to Madrid was uneventful, with a 3 hour aircraft changeover at Milan. We reached at 11:30 am at Barajas T-1, and waited patiently by the luggage belt, to discover that both our suitcases were missing. On going to the Alitalia help desk, where many more irate passengers were waiting with a similar predicament, we were told that our suitcases had been left behind at Milan, and would come by the next flight at 5 pm. On expressing shock that this could have happened despite a comfortable 3 hour changeover time, they simply shrugged their shoulders and smilingly said: "It is Italy you know; anything can happen there". We took it that the intelligence quotient of Italians is not held in very high regard in Spain, so we quickly filled up the forms, and noted their airport numbers to call back at 5 pm.

We remembered to stop by at the Renfe counter on T-1, to purchase our Toledo tickets for the next day. No lines, quick and easy. Good advice from Fodorites !

We had planned on taking a taxi from the airport to the hotel, but with no luggage, it seemed like such a waste. Accordingly, we boarded the metro below T-2, and with two line changes, we reached our Gran Via stop in 35 minutes. We were really impressed with the metro efficiency of Madrid, and the frequency of trains. Very good signages everywhere. Treat to use.

Our hotel was a two minute walk from the Gran Via stop, at Plaza del Carmen. Actually, it was what is called a "hostal", by the name Hostal Acapulco. It had received rave reviews on the tripadvisor site, and we were not disappointed. Very well located, within a two-minute walk of either Puerto del Sol or the Gran Via metro. Very clean, sheets changed everyday, nice sized toilet, good air-conditioning, free internet, nice cosy family run place with very helpful staff. Rooms were a little small, but quiet. Not bad at all for 58 euros/night (incl. tax). Would highly recommend this to anyone wanting a great clean location at low cost.

Had to shower and change back into the same set of clothes, as we were carrying absolutely no hand luggage ! It was time for lunch and we ate at an excellent vegetarian restaurant which was just acroos the hotel, called "Artemisa". It was a very popular place, with long waiting lines. We opted for their menu del dia, comprising of Gazpacho soup/Mixed salad, Assorted platter/Pita with fillings, Apple pie/yogurt, with a beer. The gazpacho and the assorted platter were excellent.

We left the restaurant and walked to Puerto del Sol, and after some photo-clicking, kept walking towards the Palacio Real. We toured the Royal palace, assisted with an audio guide, and found it fascinating. The embroidery on the fabrics on the wall, with matching embroidery on the upholstery was superb. We specially liked the Throne Room, the Dining Hall and the various Study Rooms. On the way out, the visit to the Royal Armoury and the Pharmacy (with odd-shaped glassware and drawers for herbs/poisons) were most unusual and interesting.

We strolled outside at the Plaza de Oriente, which was a bit of a let down, and then headed for Plaza Mayor. It was only 5:30 pm, and it was too early for Plaza Mayor to come to life. After admiring the buildings around the plaza for some time, we headed back to our hotel, to enquire about our missing luggage.

Numerous attempts to contact the Alitalia desk over phone were in vain, so we decided to take the metro to the airport. On reaching there, we discovered that one of our bags had arrived, and the other one was expected on the next flight at 11 pm ! Bad start to a trip. The lady at the help desk this time was nice and efficient, and assured us that we would not be disappointed at 11 pm. So there was nothing much to do but to take the metro back, with one suitcase (by now we were quite familiar with the route). We sensibly purchased the 10-ride ticket for 6.40 euros, as we realized that there would be a lot of metro travel in Madrid.

By the time we got back to the hotel, fatigue of the journey was beginning to set in. We were not very hungry, after a late and heavy lunch. So we dined near the hotel at a Tapa bar called "Taberna Gallache" on C. Carmen. Some Patata bravas with Rose wine. Average stuff. DW was very tired, so she returned to the hotel, and I offered to go alone to the airport once again to retrieve the missing suitcase.

Reached the airport again at about 11pm, and the lady at the help desk was a chatterbox. She just couldn't stop talking to the people waiting before me, and what could have been done in 5 minutes took 25 minutes. After a very patient wait, I finally got my suitcase. She wanted to chat a lot with me too, but I cut her short and hurriedly took a taxi and left. Night time taxi charges are steep in Madrid, and the ride to the hotel cost about 38 euros. Reached back at 12:30 pm and crashed into bed. Relieved that the luggage ordeal was over.
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 09:41 AM
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hi, i/c,

what a start to your trip. You are clearly very patient people to put up with having to go back twice.

looking forward to the rest of the report,

regards, ann
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 09:42 AM
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Hello to 1/2 of Indiancouple! Thank you for posting this. I'm looking forward to the rest! pp
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 09:51 AM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report.

Would the airlines not deliver delayed luggage to your hotel in Madrid or did you just want to get your bags as soon as they arrived?
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 10:23 AM
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Trip Report (Continued):
DAY 2 (Sept 1,Saturday):MADRID/TOLEDO:
Woke up refreshed and relieved about the bags. Managed to leave the hotel by 8:15 am, and had a quick breakfast at the same Taberna Gallecha nearby where we had dinner the previous night. Churro con chocolate, Toasted wheat bread, Cafe con leche, and Peach zumo. Had heard so much about these churros, and they certainly did not disappoint. Fabulous item to eat for breakfast. And Spanish coffee tastes so good; the aroma and the taste are both excellent.

We took the metro from Gran Via to Atocha Renfe, where we had to board a train for Toledo. We were stunned by the looks of Atocha station. The foliage area below are positively beautiful, and the looks of the train station from outside are even more impressive. We boarded the 9:20 am AVE train for Toledo, for which we had purchased tickets the previous day. The train ride was extremely comfortable. Madrid to Toledo in 30 minutes !

As we got down at Toledo and walked from the platform to the main Toledo station, we were taken aback by the beauty of the architecture. We had never seen a train station more pretty than Toledo. Built in Mudejar style, it is a worthy tourist attraction in its own right. We took the short bus ride from the train station to Zoco Plaza, which is at the heart of Toledo, and we felt that we were being transported back to a different era of time. Everything looked so quaint and antique and beautiful. The Zoco plaza itself is full of life, with pretty buildings all around, and lined with inviting sidewalk cafes. We sat on one of those cafes, and sipped cafe con leche (DW was by now hooked on the natural zumos of Spain). Very pleasant indeed.

A short walk took us to the Tourist office, where we got good maps and helpful advice. Then we headed straight into the Cathedral. What we saw was breathtakingly beautiful. We are not Christians, but we greatly admired the rich goldwork in the Main Chapel, and the Choir Stalls. The place was huge. And the El Greco paintings in the Sacristia were superb; they really stand out from all other paintings in the same place.

After spending almost 2 hours in the Cathedral, we headed for the Church of Santa Tome, to see El Greco's masterpiece : "The Burial of Count of Orgaz". The audio guide was extremely helpful in explaining the finer points of the painting, which we enjoyed immensely.

The great thing about Toledo is walking around in those thin winding alleys. Occasionally a car will drive into the alley, and you press yourself against the wall to avoid being run over ! And as you continue walking, you burst into one beautiful plaza after another. At one such plaza, we decided to stop for lunch. We had no listing of any veg restaurant in Toledo, so we decided to try our luck anywhere. I had a Tortilla Espanola (which I frankly did not relish very much), and DW had a veg mixed salad, topped with beer. Average lunch.

After lunch we walked to the Alcazar (which was closed for renovations), and walked all around it. Most imposing structure. Then back to Zoco plaza, where we boarded the Zocotren. This is an excellent choo-choo train that runs on tyres (i.e. on roads), side open, which goes non-stop all around Toledo in 45 minutes. We found it an excellent way of seeing many parts of Toledo, especially since it crosses the river and goes on the opposite hill, from where the views of Toledo are fantastic.

On return to Zoco plaza, we visited the nearby Museo de Santa Cruz. A free entry museum, very quiet and peaceful, with some nice El Greco paintings. We especially liked his "La Veronica" work hanging there.

Then we did some shopping in the many interesting shops near Zoco. Nice figures made of resin, beautiful antique pistols (decorative, not real ones !). Then reluctantly boarded the bus back to the train station to catch the 5:25pm AVE back to Madrid. We regretted not having spent a night at Toledo. I am sure the place would have been even more magical at night.

Back in Madrid, we headed for the Reine Sofia Museum. Saturday afternoons were free entry, and surprisingly there was not much of a rush. Although everyone visits the Reine Sofia to see "Guernica", which we did admire for a long time (incl. the preparatory sketches made by Picasso for that painting), we also liked the collection of Salvadore Dali Domenech, Joan Miro, and Picasso's other paintings.

We then took the metro back to our hotel and rested for an hour. Then walked balk to Sol, and then to Plaza Mayor. It was 9 pm, and Plaza Mayor was coming to life. All benches were occupied, and we sat on the ground, like countless others. Spanish ladies dress so well, and they look so pretty. Everyone has a pram with a baby inside, and an itsy-bitsy poodle on a chain. Babies must have a great time in Spain, and that goes for dogs too. And Plaza Mayor under lights on a Saturday evening was excellent. Ribbons tied on air-vents, dancing in the sky. Musicians performing everywhere.

Late at night visited a tapa bar near Plaza Mayor, where we had excellent dry white wine with veg salad, and then shiften to a tapa place on main Plaza Mayor, where we feasted on Manchego cheese, and Artichokes in vinegar.

As we walked back towards Sol at midnight, there were street performances going on everywhere. People were posing as statues everywhere, dressed in strange attire. Youngsters were appearing all around in funky costumes, headed for some theme party somewhere. And those beautiful street signs, on tiles with a pictorial representation. We were beginning to feel the magic of Spain ! Reluctant, though tired, we turned back to our hotel to call it a day.
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 10:28 AM
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Nikki, we did toy with the idea of letting the airline deliver our luggage. But the lady at the Alitalia counter said that they were so shortstaffed, that she could not guarantee how many days it might take them to deliver lost baggage ! So we thought it wise to fetch it ourselves.

The place was in a mess, with the retrieved baggage area crammed to the hilt, with no one having sorted anything out for many days.
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 11:07 AM
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Trip Report (Continued):
DAY 3 (Sept 2,Sunday): MADRID:
Slept till a little late, and left the hotel at a more leisurely 9 am. Headed straight to the famed Chocolateria San Gines, where we believed Churros were made to perfection. Was given to understand that the place is open till about 3 or 4 am in the morning, shuts down for a while, and was just opening when we reached. Had their Churros and Porras (or is it Porros ?) with chocolate. Could understand why people rave about this place. The chocolate was thick, dark and excellent and so were the churros. Can't say the same about porras, which we found a bit oily. And of course great Spanish cafe con leche.

We then took the metro to La Latina. It was a Sunday, and we wanted to visit the El Rastro flea market. We were a bit early, which was good, as it was not too crowded. Great place to shop for junk jewellery, antique clocks and all kinds of odds and ends. We had expected to do a lot of bargaining at the shops (which is half the fun at flea markets), but most shops were not interested in much price negotiation. Anyway, we bought all kinds of junk, and headed back.

After dropping off our shopping at the hotel, we went to the El Retiro Park. It is a very relaxing place, and the Sunday atmosphere there is great. Local families are visible in large numbers, with babies in tow. We rented a row boat, and enjoyed the boating in the lake. The structure on the side of the lake looks beautiful (what is it anyway ?). After boating, we took a long walk to the Crytal palace inside the park, and then headed out.

We went back one metro stop to Banquo de Espana, where we spent some time searching for a highly recommended veg restaurant called "Al Natural" on C. Zorilla (very near the Thyssen museum). On the way we passed the lovely Communication Building and the Fountain of Neptune, probably the most beautiful part of Paseo del Prado. The lunch at Al Natural was one of the best we had in Spain. Excellent place, with superb staff, and an English menu. Started with a Salad of hearts of palm, with olives and cheese; for main course it was crepes with spinach filling, and stuffed eggplant, accompanied with a beer. The food was top class, and would highly recommend this place.

We relaxed for some time in the park in front of the El Prado, before going in the museum. I must say the museum exceeded all our expectations. Contrary to what many posters on this site had said, we found it quite well laid out, and smaller than what we had in mind. We really enjoyed Goya's "Dressed Beauty" and "Nude Beauty", Velazquez's works, especially "Las Meninas", the collection of Reubens, and the solitary painting by Rembrandt. The El Greco collection was nowhere near as good as in Toledo. We had been rightly advised at this ite to enter El Prado after 4 pm when the crowds are thin, which is what we did. Although it was a Sunday, the crowds were not much.

We then had a nice walk on the Pasdeo del Prado, lined with trees, which was pleasant. Then we headed off to Gran Via, and to a side street called C. Fuencarral, where there were great shops. Although shops are normally closed on Sundays, they remain open on the first Sunday of every month. So we were lucky. Did a lot of window shopping, stopped at a Starbucks for coffee, and then went to the hotel for an hour's rest (our siesta time everyday strangely fell between 7:30 to 8:30 pm !).

Evening time we headed to Plaza Santa Ana, which was very lively. Not as large as Plaza Mayor, but full of life. Lovely cafes/bars all around, and much lower prices. Many many more tapa bars. We started with a tapa bar on the Main plaza, where we tried Pimientos de Padron; great green chillies, gently fried and salted,not very spicy. And good wine. Delicious. Then on to another tapa bar where we had canapes with pears soaked in wine; quite good stuff.

As we walked back to the hotel, DW noticed that people in Spain seem to eat an unusual amount of ice-cream. Almost everyone seems to walking around with an ice-cream, and ice-cream parlours are overflowing with people. I kept noting that females were very pretty, and extremely well groomed, and DW kept reminding me that men were great looking too !

So ended the Madrid leg of our journey, for the next morning we were headed off to Granada.
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 11:12 AM
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i/c, You are welcome.

Good start of the report (although with your luggage issues, not so good start for you but you seem the patient sort... that's good). Yes, I also find the Spanish people are extremely friendly and wonderful. I think someone on Fodors once called them "very" warm but I can't confirm that conclusively.

Your trip reminds me of my own (but your culinary preferences are for sure different from mine!) and looking forward to the remainder of your report.
 
Old Sep 21st, 2007, 07:35 PM
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Comfyshoes, fortunately for us, the luggage problem on the first day was the only glitch in the entire trip. Everything else went off superbly after that. So we really can't complain.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 06:10 AM
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Trip Report (Continued):
DAY 4 (Sept 3,MONDAY): MADRID/GRANADA:
Had to check out of our hotel by 7:15 am, and take a taxi to Madrid's Mendis Alvaro bus station. Bought tickets for the 8:30 am bus to Granada. We had a skimpy breakfast at the bus station of croissants, with cafe con leche/hot chocolate. We were impressed with the way the bus station was organized, and its appearance. Far cry from the Greyhounds stations in the US. Boarded the bus, and off we were to Granada.

It was my DW's birthday, and I had originally hoped to treat her to an Alhambra visit on that day. However, our Alhambra tickets were for the next day, and I tried to convince her that her parents must have been confused about the time of her birth, and probably she was born a day later. Didn't work.

The bus ride to Granada was very comfortable, taking just over 5 hours. About the same time it takes by train, with far more timing options. All along the way, we could just see olive plantations, as far as the eye could see. Hordes of olive trees, bursting with thousands of olives waiting to be picked. I guess that area (Jaen province) is the main olive growing region of Spain. A short pit-stop at the half-way point, where we helped ourselves to icecream.

We reached Granada at 1:45 pm, and took a taxi to our hotel. We were staying at Hotel Los Tilos, which is the only hotel inside the Bib Rambla Plaza. The hotel turned out to be a gem. Large spacious room, overlooking the Plaza, very well decorated. Excellent a/c, nice toilet, safe deposit box, free internet etc. I believe they also have a lovely rooftop garden, but we never found time to visit it. Can't ask for more at 70 euros/night.

It was getting late for lunch, and we had heard of a great Indian restaurant near the hotel. Called "Indian Tandoori", it is situated just off Plaza Garcia, and was a short walk from our hotel. The place turned out to be excellent. Nice decor, very warm reception, and excellent food. As Indians, we know good Indian food when we have it, and this one is highly recommended. We feasted on Chola, Dal Tadka, Pulao, and Nan. The staff, comprising of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians were extremely friendly. We learnt that they have another branch at Plaza Nueva, in the heart of Granada.

We decided to embark on a walking tour of the city. The weather was cooler than Madrid, and the sun not as harsh. We started at Plaza Catalitico (where the Christopher Columbus statue exists), which was very nice. Then walked down to Corral del Carbon; the door said "Closed", but when we pushed it, it was open. Nothing much inside. So we walked across the street to enter Alcaiceria, the old silk market of Granada, and now a bunch of souvenir shops in thin alleys. Reminded us of the Khan-e-Khalili market of Cairo, only much smaller. Shopped for boxes with marquette inlay work, old hookahs, and other memorabilia. Met a young shopkeeper who was upto date on Indian movies, and was belting out the latest hit songs from India ! Asked him to take our picture on our camera; before clicking, he said "Say Patatas". He clarified that saying "Patatas" brings a bigger smile on your face than saying "Cheese". We tried it. He was right.

We had a brief rest at our hotel, and then proceeded to visit the Capilla Real and the Cathedral, which were nearby. No comparison with the Toledo Cathedral, but nice. Lots of architecture students sketching the exterior of these buildings. We then walked over to Plaza Nueva, which was relaxing to roam around in. Bought phone cards and made calls to India and to our kids in the US, to let everyone know we were safe.

Then we boarded a bus to Albaicin. Somewhere at the highest point of the route, we got down, and started walking around. I was struggling with my map, when someone walked up to me and told me that I was wasting my time, as maps don't work in Albaicin ! He directed us to Miradour San Nicholas, which had fabulous views of the Alhambra and Granada city. We walked around some more, and then took the circular bus back to Plaza Nueva.

We visited the same Indian restaurant's branch off Plaza Nueva (on C. Joaqim Costa), where we helped ourselves to Indian snacks: Samosas and Lassi. Then proceeded to walk back to the foothills of the Albaicin hill, where we had noticed very nice shops while riding the bus. As we walked along the bank of the river, and went in and out of lovely curio shops, we could begin to feel ourselves getting seduced by the city. We ended up on a thin long plaza by the riverside, where there were fire dancers, tarot card readers etc. Relaxed there for a long time before heading back towards our hotel.

Same sight of people walking their dogs, only the dogs here were slightly larger than the pocket-sized ones in Madrid. And far more English spoken here. The atmosphere creeps on you slowly, and entices you. If I had to describe Toledo in one word, I would say "spectacular"; if I had to choose a word for Granada, it would be "magical". The city certainly has a romantic feel to it. Too bad we were here for only one night.

Had heard a lot about Tapa bars of Granada. When we went exploring in the night, we found mainly restaurants, and very few tapa bars. The streets around Bib Rambla were certainly lively, and we finally sat down in a tapa bar, where I had "sex on the beach" with a plate full of olives. Then hopped to another tapa place, where I made my first deviation from vegetarianism on this trip, and treated myself to fried shrimps. Pretty good.

We had early morning entrance tickets to the Alhambra for the next day, so we turned in a little early for the night.



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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 07:57 AM
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Trip Report (Continued):
DAY 5 (Sept 4,TUESDAY): GRANADA/MALAGA:
Woke up early, and checked out of our hotel at 7 am, leaving our bags behind. It was still dark outside, and our hotel directed us to Plaza Trinidad nearby for breakfast. A short walk away, we did find a few cafes open there, and we settled in on one where we had Tostadas with tomatoes, along with coffee. Simple yet wholesome.

We took the bus to Alhambra, and were there shortly after 8 am. We had an entry time-slot for the Nasrid Palace for 8:30-9 am, so couldn't afford to be late. When we saw the long queues for people waiting to buy tickets, we were thankful that we had reserved ours over the net. No waiting for us; just shove your credit card into a machine, and your ticket comes out. Being early, we also managed to get the English audio guide, which we understand runs out quickly. The gates opened at 8:15 am, and in we went.

What can one write about the Alhambra that has not been written a thousand times over ? Suffice to say that we explored every corner, leaving out no place: the Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba, the Medina, the Generalife gardens. We had high expectations, and they were fully met. Too bad that the lions are away for restoration; even without them the Patio of Lions is excellent. And there is an excellent AV show about the restoration work going on with the lions, with a few of the restored lions already back. Loved the water staircase in Generalife gardens, where water runs down the side railings as you climb up. Very romantic place, and thoroughly enjoyable.

We were in the Alhambra complex for five and half hours, and we departed at 1:45 pm. Content and fulfilled. Took the bus back to Bib Rambla, where we had a hurried lunch of croissants with vegetables. Then picked up our bags, and off in a taxi to the bus station. There were long lines at the ticket counters, and we made it for the 3 pm bus to Malaga in the nick of time.

Our bus drove into Malaga before 5 pm. We had selected a hotel just opposite the train & bus stations, as we planned to use Malaga as a base for making day trips. Our hotel, Silken Puerta Malaga was just across the street, but with heavy luggage, getting heavier with progressive shopping, we opted for the taxi. The hotel was really nice, and we had the most spacious room in our entire trip. Complete with mini-bar, safe deposit box, free wi-fi internet,huge toilet,very clean and lovely decor. And a free spa on the rooftop, all for 70 euros a night. Mentally thanked tripadvisor.com once again.

We rested awhile at the hotel, and left at 6:30 pm. From now on, the prescriptions of josele from this Fodors site took over ! We walked for about 10 minutes to the river, and crossed over to Alameda Principle, the widest street in Malaga. A short walk down Alameda, we hit the "Casa del Guardia", a 125 year old establishment serving the famed Malaga sweet wine. It had a very nice quaint old look about it, with barrels of wine lined at the back, and one long bar counter to stand and drink. Courtesy josele, I even knew what to order, and confidently asked for a "pintao", which I later learnt was a blend of two different types of sweet wine ! It was dark in colour, and utterly delicious. As you keep having your drinks, the bartender keeps writing your bill amount in front of you with chalk ! I was warned that this wine goes quickly to the head, but fortunately, I didn't feel tizzy.

A very short walk took us to Larrios Street, which is the heart of Malaga. A beautiful pedestrian walkway, with benches everywhere, and shops, bars and restaurants all around. DW absolutely loved it. Attractive and lively. At one end of this street was Plaza Constitution, where we sat by the fountain. Kids everywhere, either feeding the pigeons or chasing them. Mothers trying to leave, pulling their kids away. Kids not wanting to go, and screaming away. As invariably happens, no mother wins a war with a two-year old. The mother relents, the kid has his way, and again goes chasing pigeons !

Kept walking, and reached Plaza de la Merced, another large and lively plaza. It had a stage on one side, where a school band was performing. Sat there for a long time, listening to them. They were pretty good, and had attracted a large crowd. Picasso's birthplace sat on one corner of the plaza.

On another corner was a lovely veg restaurant, called "Canadu", where we went for dinner. Lovely and very popular place, with artwork lining the walls (the artwork was for sale). We started with the ajoblanco soup of which we had heard a lot about. Frankly, it didn't tickle my palate. After that we had Risotto with asparagus and mushrooms, which was excellent. Excellent combo juices, and huge portions of free olives. Can easily recommend this place to anyone.

We then walked to Bodega El Pimpi, which we were told is an institution in Malaga, a must see. I can now say that it is really a must see. Great old world charm. Huge place spread out on two floors, with access from 2 different side streets. Huge barrels of wine stacked on one wall horizontally, each one autographed by a celebrity, including some Heads of States who have visited here. One wall lined with photographs of visiting celebs, in antique frames. And huge posters all around of bullfights going back to 1914 and 1918 ! Everyone inside seemed to be clicking photos. Had a shot of Cointreau, with more olives. Then walked back via Larrios Street to Alameda, and took a taxi back to the hotel.

It had been a long and memorable day, and we were really tired.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 09:44 AM
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hi, i/couple,

i am really loving your report. as we've been to Madrid, Grananda and Malaga, it's nice hearing about places we've been.

now I'm looking forward to leaning about somewhere new.

regards, ann
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 11:38 AM
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Very informative and interesting. My daughter and I plan a trip to Spain and Portugal April-May for 2 weeks. We've never been before. Do continue as these are some of the places we will be visiting. You have a writing style that makes one want to read more.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 11:58 AM
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indiancouple,
Am enjoying this report so much--thank you for posting it.

I too loved the train station in Toledo--surprised it doesn't get more attention as it's spectacular. And of course, Alhambra...sorry the lions weren't out, but it's still magical I'm sure.

Glad that you finally got your luggage from Alitalia--DD didn't have as good of luck.

Looking forward to reading more.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 12:29 PM
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Hi, indiancouple, nice to hear your trip was successful. But you never mentioned you were veggies...Well, I am not, but I could have made some recomendations.
Awaiting the next...
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 06:59 PM
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Thanks annhig, maryanne, artlover & josele for your appreciation. Glad to know someone is liking the report. Will keep posting more everyday.
josele, must have forgotten to mention that we were veggies. Anyway, we had no problems in Malaga with veg food.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 09:48 PM
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Trip Report Continued...
DAY 6 (Sept 5,WEDNESDAY): MALAGA/NERJA :
We treated ourselves to a night without an alarm clock, and woke up real late. Left the hotel at 10:30 am; guess we needed the rest after 5 hectic days.

Had breakfast at some cafe near the hotel. Again, churros con chocolate. OK, the chocolate was not as dark and great as San Gines, but churros still are great anywhere. And although the quality of churros may vary all over Spain, the quality of coffee and fresh juices never changes.

We telephoned josele, who had been of such great help in planning this leg of the journey. (He is a painter of high repute, who lives in Malaga). It was great to connect a voice with a screen name. We wanted to meet, but he lived a little far away, and was a bit preoccupied. Anyway, we thanked him, and wish to thank him once again for his invaluable guidance. Really josele, you ought to be publishing a guide book on Malaga and its surrounding areas, for the benefit of all !

As we re-traced our steps of the previous day, walking on Alameda Principle, we couldn't help admiring the beautiful flower stalls that had sprung up in the morning, on the central divider. Rarely do you see such large roses, gerberas, and flowers of all hues and sizes. And very nice old ladies selling them, who gladly posed for pictures with my DW.

A repeat visit was warranted to Casa del Guardia; this time I opted for a "Malaga Dorado". The wine was lighter in colour, and tasted even better. Once again the bill written in chalk before you ! And met this wonderful old British couple who had settled down in Malaga, and wanted to visit India.

Went down the alley to reach Atarazanas, the huge vegetable & fruit & fish market of Malaga. It has a very antique facade, which looks very nice; the inside is even better. We kept away from the fish quarters, and concentrated on the fruit & vegetable sections. It is a huge market, with an unending variety of produce on display. DW is a fruit lover, and wanted to buy up everything. Promised her to buy them on our way back. We did buy lots of "spiced olives", which were olives which had been sprinkled over with red chilly powder and celantro leaves; the shopkeeper let us taste some before we made our purchase. But be careful, the shopkeepers are sensitive about you touching their fruits !

We then turned on Larrios street, which DW declared as her favourite street of Spain. Looks very different during the day, but ever so enjoyable to sit on one of the benches and do people watching.

We then visited the Picasso Museum, which is a new addition to Malaga, and its facade and landscaping looks very attractive. We had been told that the better works of Picasso are not there, but for novices like us, it really did not matter. In fact we enjoyed it much more than the big museums we had visited in Madrid, simply because it is much easier to grasp the works of a solo artist rather than a potpourri of several great names. One can see the changes in painting style and subject matter of Picasso over a period of time. Reminded us of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

We next went to Picasso's birthplace at Plaza de la Merced, which was interesting. Nice cute short visit; houses some interesting memorabilia of Picasso, and great photographs of the maestro. For me, I got a kick out of using the toilets at that place (Can you believe it, I "did" it in Picasso's home !!)

Had lunch at "El Vegetariano de la Alcazabilla" on C. Pozo Rey, which was nearby. Turned out to be another excellent place. We had a superb platter of three kinds of pastas, each one of a most unusual kind, and utterly delicious.

Had promised my DW to do her fruit shopping at Atarazanas, and it was getting close to 3 pm, the closing time for the big market. So we walked hurriedly, and reached there just as the traders had begun downing their shutters. We bought enough to last us for a few days, and everything looked very fresh and good. We then took a local bus from Alameda back to our hotel, where we had a 1 hour siesta. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do.

We were more or less done with our sightseeing of Malaga town, and wondered why this place is so maligned as a destination on every site, including Fodors. We thought that Malaga was an excellent place to visit : it is a vibrant city, has a lot to offer by way of museums, plazas and walking streets (not to forget El Pimpi !), and we had a great time here. And there is probably no better location to base yourself to cover nearby places like Nerja and Ronda. Well, I guess to each his own.

We took the bus from the station across the road at 4:30 pm, bound for Nerja Caves, and reached in slightly over an hour. The Caves were fabulous, and well worth the visit. Once inside, you feel you have been transported back to the Paleolithic era. The Hall of Cataclysm is simply amazing. Never been to anything like this.

There is not much else to do at the Caves, so we boarded a bus for Nerja town, and on alighting, we headed straight for the "Balcon de Europa". On the way we walked on the main arterial road of Nerja, which was extremely pretty. And kept munching on our spiced olives. Until this Spain visit, having olives was a special treat; you got 3 or 4 pieces in a salad if you were lucky, or 1-2 in a Martini. The idea of continuously popping five-at-a-time in your mouth, ad infinitum, was a real luxury. And olives here are so fat and juicy !

As we reached the Balcon de Europa, we must say it took our breath away. It was certainly the most beautiful single sight that we had experienced in Spain so far. Mountains in the distance, the white village of Nerja in the foreground, and the cliffs and waves of the Mediterranean down below. You simply do not feel like leaving the place. Any visitor to Spain must go here, IMO.

We did take the maps from the Tourist office nearby, and walked to where Burriana Beach was, but did not have the inclination to go down to the beach. It was a far way down, and the thought of climbing back up was scary. And strangely, we noticed that there was not a single bather out on the beach (when we had crossed Malaga beach on the way to Nerja, there were hundreds of people swimming there); we could not figure out why, as it was quite some time away from sunset.

We walked back to Balcon de Europa, stopping for dinner at a restaurant we saw on the way, called "Cibeles", where we had a very average tasting pizza, and a bad glass of wine. The Balcon de Europa is a different sight at night, all lit up, and the promenade is wonderful at that hour. But do reach before sunset to see the panoramic view in natural light. We had a lovely Tiramisu icecream there, and the nice lady selling it had a long conversation with us, and corrected much of our Spanish pronunciation. Did some hat-shopping in the shops around the place, which were surprisingly low priced, despite this being a very touristy place.

Nerja is a quaint little town, enchanting and beautiful, with lovely shops everywhere. But we didn't think we would have wanted to spend a night here. Good for a 3-4 hour visit, and the Balcon de Europa is a must see. I guess it is a place for longer stay for beach lovers.

The last bus back to Malaga was at 9:45 pm, which we duly boarded, and were back at our hotel before 11 pm.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 02:02 AM
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Trip Report Continued...
DAY 7 (Sept 6,THURSDAY): MALAGA/RONDA/ TORREMOLINOS :
Woke up early again. Realized that our fruit shopping of the previous day was not fitting into our mini-bar fridge, so decided to stash away half in our tummies !

Josele had done much research, and located an 8 am direct bus for us to Ronda. We did reach the bus station in time, and someone pointed out to us the Ronda bus, which we quickly boarded. What we did not realize was that there were two buses to Ronda at 8 am, one direct, and one non-direct, and we had accidentally boarded the non-direct one. So instead of taking 90 minutes, the bus would take 45 minutes longer. Well, there was nothing much to do but to enjoy the views of the splendid Spain countryside, as the bus stopped in village after village. Either the driver personally knew every passenger who boarded the bus, or he had a propensity for making quick friends, but he kept up a loud non-stop conversation with the front passengers all through, as though he had played marbles with them since childhood. How much some people can talk, without pausing for a breath !

We had been blessed with good weather all through this trip, and today was particularly special. It was cloudy and heavily overcast, with no sun at all. Not what an Englishman would call good weather, but in our book it was a splendid day. When we alighted at Ronda, it was a bit windy, and we felt a little chill in the air, which was very nice.

As we walked from the bus stop towards the gorge, we stopped at a nice "Croissanteria" for breakfast. Very nice cosy family-run place, where we had our shots of coffee and zumo respectively. A little further on, and we were at the Puenta Nueva by the gorge. Found it extremely beautiful, picturesque and photogenic. Coundn't stop clicking our camera.

A short walk to the left brought us to Casa del Rey Moro, famed for its gardens, and its stairs which lead down to the bottom of the gorge ("La Mina&quot. The thought of going down 300 feet to the bottom of the gorge was tempting, but the thought of climbing back up was not, so we decided to pass up on the descent. Visited their gardens, which were nothing great. Our advice is, if you do not plan on making the descent, stay away from this place. Not worth it.

We clicked lots of pictures at Plaza Maria Auxiliadora, a "camera" point marked on the map, and rightly so. Walked by the Palacio de Mondragon and the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, which we admired from outside, but did not venture in. By now we had had enough of museums and Churches, and we knew more exotic ones awaited us at Seville. But walking through the town in very pleasant, and the appearance all around is enchanting.

We made our way to the Banditry Museum. As we approached, we saw two men go by on the streets on horseback, dressed as bandits of a bygone era. The Banditry Museum itself was excellent - nowhere else in the world will you find such a museum ! Pictures of famous bandits, with their birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, all on display. All kinds of interesting letters written by government officials of that time relating to these bandits, news articles etc etc. Very very interesting, and a must see according to us.

We walked to the old Arab Wall, which had lovely miradouras looking out into the countryside. Walked along the wall till we reached the Old Bridge, crossed it, and walked along the gorge back to Puenta Nueva. There were lots of "camera" points marked on the map, and we went to every one of them, each having panoramic views of the countryside.

Went by the famed Ronda bullring, which is very antique in nature. A bullring with old-fashioned tiled roofs. Nearby, we saw several ladies strolling around in flamenco attire (tourists from somewhere). I asked them to pose with me for a picture, and they willingly obliged : two lovely ladies in each of my arms, all in colourful frilly dresses !

We had only one veg restaurant listing for Ronda, and when we located it, we discovered that the two British ladies who owned that place had sold out and gone back to Britain. The new owners had a slightly less charitable view about huntin' and fishin', i.e. it no longer had any vegetarian offerings. So we stopped by at a place called "La Giralda", on a pedestrian walkway just off Plaza Espana, where we saw some veg dishes on the menu. We had a plate of veg salad, followed by grilled mushrooms which were excellent.

We slowly made our way back to the bus station, passing a very pretty convent on the way (not sure about its name). The trip had been nice; Ronda is a lovely quaint town, and well worth a visit, but perhaps only for a day trip. It seemed like too quiet a place to spend a night, unless you are on a honeymoon. We caught the 3 pm bus back to Malaga (this time made sure it was a direct bus), and were back by 4:30 pm. The driver was quiet, and we quickly freshened up at our hotel on reaching there.

If you ask a 100 people about what comes to their mind first when they think of Spain, I am sure 90 will say "bullfighting". Spain is synonymous with bullfights, and I strongly felt that a trip to Spain would be incomplete without watching one. DW had strong reservations about the cruelty issues, but on this one issue I had managed to prevail (and on no other issue really !). We had checked out the bullfight calender before coming to Spain (on www.tauroentrada.com), and the only date when the bullfight calender intersected with our travelling plans was today, and the fight was on at Torremolinos. Although we had no intentions of otherwise going to Torremolinos, it is but a suburb of Malaga, and had decided to trek there for the sake of the bullfight. We had avoided buying tickets on the net, where the surcharge was as much as the ticket price, and were hoping to get tickets at the gate. Fortunately, we had called up to check the timings, and discovered that they were 90 minutes earlier than what was mentioned on the website.

We caught a local bus across the street from our hotel, which got us to Torremolinos in 30 minutes. We learnt that the bullring was a bit far off, so took a taxi to get there. The cheapest "Sol" tickets (i.e. in the sun) were for 30 euros, and the "Sombre" (shade) tickets for twice the amount. The overcast conditions were holding themselves, so we figured that for today Sol & Sombre were all the same ! We went for the Sol tickets, and were delighted by what we saw as we entered. Lovely atmosphere, with everyone in a partying mood, and beer and popcorn and chips on sale everywhere. And a huge band ensemble, which was belting out good music.

The proceedings started with several horse-drawn carriages rolling into the ring, each with colourfully attired guests seated on them. They kept waving to the audience, and we waved back. I have no clue as to who they were, probably some VIP guests of honour. After a few laps around the ring, one horse of one of the carriages decided that he had had enough, and decided to go berserk. As people pounced on him to control him, he gave a strong hind-kick which shattered the carriage. Four lovely young girls were seated on it, and they all screamed. Mayhem prevailed for a minute or two; finally the damsels were rescued unhurt, the horse decided to cool it, and off they went !

This was followed by the ceremonial entry of the matadors, their assistants, decorated horses etc, to take a bow before the audience (I think it is called the "Paseillo" or something). Very colourful and ceremonial. Then the first bullfight began, with the matador perched on a horseback (I think there is a special name for this kind of bullfight; can someone enlighten us ?). This was a treat to watch, as apart from the fearlessness of facing the bull, it involved expert handling of the horse. And how beautifully these Andalucian horses dance sideways, teasing the bull, but just staying away from their horns. We loved the way the matador held up his hand to the audience after every daring move, exhorting them to cheer him. Done with a lot of flair and elan. Finally, when the bull dies, the waving of white kerchiefs by the audience, and the victory lap by the matador all round the ring. Everyone throwing their hat or fan or keychain or anything into the ring, and the matador throwing it back (is this what is known as "throwing your hat into the ring" lol ?!).

This was followed by two bullfights, where the matador was on foot. More traditional, but I found it less interesting. DW had stopped looking after the first slaying. I loved those assistants on foot, with two spears in their hands, would come near the bull, jump and pierce the bull's shoulders with both at the same time (what are they called, please ?). Again the white flag waving, and the victory lap. And three horses come in after every bull dies, the bull is quickly tied to a yoke, and the horses run away, carrying the dead bull in tow. I know all this is grotesque, but the pomp and spectacle and the pageantry was a sight to behold.

We waited till the end of the fourth fight, where the matador was again on horseback, and left after that. I had seen what I had come to see, and was satisfied. Having come to Torremolinos, we decided to give the beach a look. Took a taxi to the Bajondillo Playa, and for the first time in our trip, we encountered someone who was trying to cheat us. The taxi did not seem to have his meter on, and demanded 10 euros for a ride of barely 5 minutes. No big deal, but it hurts when someone tries to con a tourist, no matter how small the amount.

We walked briefly along the beach, and through some souvenir shops. Then took the elevator ride up, and walked to the Centro of town. Spotted another Indian restaurant called "Karishma", and decided to go in. Bad ambience, bad service, bad food. Totally avoidable.

Took the local train back to Malaga instead of the bus, just for a change of experience. The Malaga Renfe station is extremely modern and nice from inside, and we were quite impressed. This was our last night in Malaga, and we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. For some reason, we found the people here exhibiting even greater warmth than Madrid or Granada. And a lot of tapa bars everywhere, perhaps more than many parts of Madrid. We felt that this place ought to be an integral part of anyone's itinerary to Spain.


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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 03:15 AM
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Trip Report continued...
DAY 8 (Sept 7,FRIDAY): MALAGA/SEVILLE :
Today was our departure for Seville, and we had zeroed in on a convenient bus at 11 am. Last night, when DW had reviewed the pictures taken on the camera, she had pointed out that we had forgotten to click photos of Picasso's birthplace, and the Atarazanas market. So I was persuaded to leave a little early from the hotel, to click those photos before we boarded the bus. I think she just needed an excuse to get back on Larrios Street !

We left the hotel at 9:15 am, and took a local bus from down below to Alameda, near Larrios. On Larrios, we sat down on a lovely sidewalk cafe called "Lepanto", which had a large array of pastries and tarts. We had a lovely breakfast of cheese sandwiches, with fresh kiwi zumo and coffee. Very nice place.

We were getting late, and we had to really hurry to get our photos clicked at Picasso's birthplace and Atarazanas, get back to the hotel, check out, and take a taxi to the bus station. We just barely made it on the 11 am bus to Seville. We reached Seville shortly after 1:30 pm, and took a taxi to our hotel. The traffic was very heavy, and it took 45 minutes from the San Sebastian Bus station to our hotel, which was off C. Amar de Dios. We had an interesting lady cab driver, who showed us pictures of her grandson on her cellphone, and improved our Spanish vocabulary by giving us a crash course in the language !

A word about hotels in Seville; we found it the hardest place to get bookings. We had done our bookings 4 months in advance, and even at that time we had found that the most popular hotels listed on tripadvisor were sold out for these dates. We had to keep going down the rating chart, until we found a hotel that was available, which was the Vime Corregidor. It had a very nice exterior facade, and a fabulous entrance lobby, with a nice patio to sit out, but the rooms were quite small. And although it was well located with respect to Santa Catalina and Plaza Alfalfa (where the good eating joints are), it was a bit far from the city's historic centre or Barrio Santo Cruz. Although we stayed there for 4 nights, they did not change the sheets even once, even on request. And everything was on extra charge, the safe deposit box, the internet etc. I don't mind if hotels charge 5-10 euros extra on their tarriff, but to keep having to pay these extras gives a very un-homely feeling. However, to be fair, the staff at the front desk were quite helpful. And 75 euros/night for Seville was not bad, as it is probably the most expensive Spanish city.

We walked to Plaza Alfalfa for lunch, and sat down on some "Manola Bar" which appeared crowded (we always followed the maxim of entering crowded eating places, as we figured they were crowded for a good reason). And we were not disappointed. Had a excellent tapa lunch of Gazpacho soup (served in a tall glass), Espinacas con garbanzos, and Patata Ali Oli. Everything was excellent in taste. In general, we found a much larger variety of tapa offerings in Seville than any other city we had visited so far.

We had been carrying our used clothes all through this trip, as we had planned on doing laundry only once, at the halfway point (to conserve time). Today was the scheduled day. We discovered that finding a laundromat in Seville was not easy, but one helpful hotel staff did a lot of investigation, and found one about 5 minutes walk from our hotel. It was a nice little place, run by a sweet lady, and her ageing father who was extra nice. 10 euros for each load of washing plus drying, and they do everything, including putting your clothes in, adding detergent/softener, etc while you relax in wonderful armchairs. Nice friendly warm people, and the old man even kissed my DW goodbye when we were leaving. Leaves a nice feeling in your heart.

We had our siesta at the hotel (by now we were Spanish converts), and left at 8 pm on a walking tour of the city. Started on C.Sierpes (shopping area) near our hotel, then Plaza El Salvador (where we halted for refreshments), Plaza Nuevo, Plaza San Francisco, Plaza Virgin de los Reyes, Plaza Triunfo. The sight of the Cathedral and the Giralda at night was lovely. It was a Friday night, and there were weddings everywhere. Every entrance to every church was lined with a wedding party, including the main Cathedral. Lovely brides in their flowing white gowns, sweeping the dirt off the streets. And tourists going around in horse carriages everywhere, blending with the married couples who had fancier carriages. Too beautiful a sight.

We continued our walk to the riverside, passing the Torres del Orro, and crossing the bridge to reach C.Betis in Triana. We had read about the nightlife at Triana, and were keen to experience it. We were looking for "Lo Nuestro" which was supposed to be a great flamenco place. When we found it, to our dismay it was closed. Then someone nearby told us that it was not really closed, but it opened only at midnight ! We were getting tired, and spotted a nice Italian restaurant nearby, called "O Mama Mia". It was a huge place, and very crowded. Had an excellent meal of Fagottini stuffed with pears and cheese, with a nice glass of white wine.

We sat by the riverside on C.Betis, which was very pleasant and lively. Finally, after 11:30 pm, the doors of "Lo Nuestro" opened, and we trooped in. We discovered a lovely atmosphere inside, with cosy seating all around, with standing place by the bar counter, and vacant space in the middle for dancing. Discovered that there were no tickets or cover charge; only the drinks were slightly pricier, which was fair. At midnight the professional flamenco singer and the guitarist started off, with nice fast flamenco numbers, atop a small stage. There were no professional flamenco dancers, with the dancing being done spontaneously by the local visitors ! Some of them were extremely good, and a treat to watch. And they would periodically pull us up from our seats and encourage us to join in. Truly a great place. When we entered, we had no idea of what we were in for, and this turned out to be very enjoyable. The drinks were good and the atmosphere relaxed, with more locals than tourists.

We learnt that the flamenco dancing there went on till 5 am ! But after half-past one, we decided to call it a day. Took a taxi from outside, and reached our hotel.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 04:01 AM
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Hello Indiancouple,

Thank you for this great trip report, it just confirms my eagerness to travel to Andalucia !

Would you care to share some of your pictures ?

Looking forward to the rest of your report.

Marie
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