Trip Report: 17 days in Spain & Portugal

Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 04:16 AM
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Marieparis, thanks a ton for the compliment. We would be happy to share our pictures. Let me finish writing this trip report, and then I will find time to upload some pictures also.
Hope you enjoy the rest of the report.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 04:51 AM
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i/c, You really are doing a wonderful job with the daily reports. I also like that you seem to have managed to avoid using a car altogether. One question: Did you get on the stage for flamenco or not?
 
Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 04:58 AM
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Trip Report continued...
DAY 9 (Sept 8,SATURDAY): SEVILLE :
Once again a night without use of an alarm clock. Woke up very late, and left the hotel at 11 am. Realized that by some coincidence, all our weekends on this trip were being spent in large cities, which was nice, as they had a lot of "life" to offer on a weekend. The last weekend was in Madrid, this one in Seville, and the next one would be in Lisbon.

Walked to La campana square near our hotel, where we had breakfast in a cafe also called "La Campana". Lovely outdoor seating, but very limited menu. Had tostadas, and tried the cafe solo (without milk). Too strong. Another cafe, this time con leche.

Strolled on C.Tetuan, another shopping street nearby, where DW picked up a lot of earrings and necklaces at great prices. Once again went past Plaza Nuevo and Plaza San Francisco, and on to Avenida de la Constitucion, a lovely wide pedestrian street, with tram lines, and gorgeous buildings on both sides ; this was to become my favourite street in Seville, and we kept coming back here everyday.

Made a short visit to the Archives of the Indies, which is interesting, and one of the rare museums which has free entry. Then we entered the famed Alcazar at around 1 pm. Thankfully, we took the audio guide, which was very helpful. Loved the place, especially the Patio of Dancellos, Hall of Ambassadors, and the Hall of Tapestries. Exquisite work of Mudejar architecture, all in intact condition. Reminded us a lot of the Alhambra. Spent a good 3 hours inside, and enjoyed every minute of it.

It was 4 pm, and getting on to Spanish lunchtime ! We were looking for a particular veg restaurant nearby, but discovered that it had vanished (alas, we veggies are a vanishing tribe). Entered a large restaurant called "La Juderia", on the edge of Barrio SC, near Catalina de Ribera, which seemed to have some veg offerings. Had a very good meal of Salmenojos (thick gazpacho soup), fried aubergines with honey, and made another departure from my vegetarianism in having the shrimps in garlic sauce. Everything was very tasty.

We spent the next few hours trying to get lost in Barrio Santa Cruz, which was not very difficult at all. We put away our maps, as we had realized by then that maps don't work in Seville anyway (we had been forewarned about this by Fodorites, but never believed it !), as the tiny alleys bear little resemblance to what the maps depict. The map shows some street which clearly does not exist, and sometimes you land up at an intersection of 3 by-lanes, whereas the map reveals none. Wandering around those tiny streets is a lot of fun, and there are lovely lovely buildings everywhere. Wonderful places to sit down and relax, and watch people go by. Entered taverns where locals were singing in unison at the top of their voices, and loved the general atmosphere. Finally we stopped at a Plaza with no name (they must have run out of names with so many plazas), took a coke and sat down for two hours, catching up with my travel jottings.

When the intensity of the sun had abated, around 7 pm we walked to the riverside, rented a paddle boat, and went paddling up and down the Guadalquivir river. This was great fun.

After last night's informal flamenco dancing, we decided to witness a professional performance of flamenco. Comfyshoes and a few others had recommended the Casa de la Memoria in Barrio SC (on C.Ximenes). We had earlier bought tickets for the 9pm show, and lined up by 8:30 pm for a good seat. The show was held in a courtyard seating about 100 people, and was very tastefully decorated. The one-hour performance was excellent, with vocal performance, solo dancing, and couple dancing. Very intense and enjoyable. Cannot say if it had the "duende" or not (as locals put it), but we enjoyed it.

Some Fodorites had talked about visiting Plaza de Espana at night, claiming it was beautiful with lights. Decided to walk to that place at 10 pm after the flamenco show. We figured that since it was a Saturday night, it would be alive like Plaza Mayor in Madrid. What a mistake ! It was a longish walk, and when we reached there, we were shocked to see only 5 or 6 people in a huge huge plaza, with the fountains having been shut off. It was certainly pretty with the lighting, but did not feel right to be in such a deserted place. We quickly clicked our camera and left.

It was a fairly long walk back to our hotel (public transport unfortunately does not exist in Seville, as it would never be able to negotiate the thin alleys). We were looking for a particular veg restaurant in Santa Catalina to have dinner, and when we found it, it too had closed down. Second disappointment in a day.

Had a tapa dinner at a place called "El Bacalao" near our hotel, about which we had read some favourable reviews. Had a plate of Red Pimientos in vinegar, and Espinacas con garbanzos, with wine. The food was decent, but we were tired. We had probably overstretched our walking today. Reached our hotel at midnight and crashed out.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 05:04 AM
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Comfyshoes, thanks for the appreciation. Your own trip report was great and exhaustive.
Yes, we had taken a decision not to rent a car at all in Spain, based on the advice of many Fodorites. And we are glad we took that decision. The network of buses and trains in Spain is fantastic, and we had no difficulty at all. Saved the hassles of trying to find parking space.
No, wild horses could not get me to dance the flamenco ! But my DW was more sporting, and she did do a few jigs with the locals.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 06:37 AM
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hi, i/couple,

thanks so much for such a great report. i really felt I was there with you.

i do agree about Malaga - we only stayed one night and half a day, but enjoyed what we saw and would go bakc for more. what we liked was that it's a proper place, not just for tourists.

the only thing we didn't like was trying to get out of there - we'd rented a car from the airport but we couldn't escape from it. so your decision not to rent a car was an excellent one.

regards, ann
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 07:06 AM
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I know DW must have been impressive in her improptu dancing... as you must aloready know flamenco itself has deep roots in Indian dance.

Am enjoying your report very much!

ana maria
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 08:39 AM
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Hmmm... photos of that impromptu dancing are a must
 
Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 09:41 AM
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Yes!
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 10:20 AM
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annhig, atleast we have someone who feels that Malaga was worth visiting. We were feeling that we were the only ones.

amsdon, while viewing the flamenco, we commented that it has remarkable similarities to an Indian dance form called "kathak". The footwork is almost identical. The one difference is that in flamenco, the sounds emanate from the clicking of the heels, whereas in Indian kathak, the sounds emanate from hundreds of little bells tied to the dancer's feet. But we never knew that flamenco in fact has its roots in Indian dance. Thanks for enlightening us on that one.

Comfyshoes, I still have to go through my 500 odd photographs and sort them out. I know I have some pics of the dancing at Lo Nuestro, but I'm not sure if I clicked during the short duration that my DW was on the floor. I will upload whatever best I have.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 11:39 AM
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I really regret we could not meet, I was not expecting you, had some work to finish, and was travelling the following morning. Really sorry.
It happens you went to Ronda during their local Fair, thus the people in traditional attire. That saturday was the famous Corrida Goyesca, a bullfight with the fighters dressed as in Goya’s times, very beautiful, but completely crowded.
The Casa del Rey Moro is very beautiful, but it is neglected, and gardens have been sacked. I knew it well, as I knew the owner, who let me in (it was already closed) and go freely. I did not go down to the Mina, too many steps.
The bullfighter on horseback is a Rejoneador, el Rejoneo (“spearing bulls on horseback”) is the really primitive art of bullfighting. The ones on foot with the “two spears” are the banderilleros, and the spears, Banderillas (wich is also the name of a tapa of pickled stuff in vinegar on a toothpick). And it is not grotesque, you wouldn’t expect a lorry and a crane to take away the bull, don’t ya?
Pity the taxi, and the Torremolinos center restaurant, this is the worst place to take a chance, spoilt since 1965).
And yes, I agree with you on Malaga being maligned, I don’t know why, and you now neither. Thanks for your kind coments. Let the Forum read this.
On behalf of readers, the thick gazpacho is Salmorejo.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 12:28 PM
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Yes Indian Couple:

Flamenco is a product in large part of the non- Spanish cultures, but most especially that of India.

Ironically, the song (cante) is the single imperative element, but also the least appreciated and most misunderstood, outside of flamenco circles.

Ther are also many flamenco recordings today and performnces which combine Indian with flamenco music, if you are interested in purchasing CDs there are plenty.

Looking forward to more report from you and those pics!
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 06:36 PM
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I agree with you that Malaga is given a bad rap and really has much to offer. BTW, the paintings you saw at Museo Picasso were not minor works, infact they were works that he didn't want to part with, i.e. his PRIVATE COLLECTION, and thus, they are IMO incredibly spectacular. Anyone who is a big Picasso fan (which I am) should visit this museum.

Am looking forward to reading about your impression of Lisbon after being awed by Spain...
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 07:32 PM
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josele, I knew we could count on you to give the names of all the terms in the bullfight that we didn't know. Thanks a lot. Now our knowledge of bullfight terminology is better. By the way, who were those people who were being driven around in horse carriages at the start ?

Thanks for correcting the spelling of "Salmorejo". I am sure I have blundered many a place in Spanish spellings. Please keep correcting them, as we would seriously like to remember the correct names of everything.

You mentioned that the bullfight that Saturday was to be the one in which fighters dress up as in "Goya" period. Was this the bullfight for which tickets were going at 1000 euros each ?
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 07:40 PM
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amsdon, so interesting to know more about the Indian connection of flamenco. I wish we knew earlier; would have certainly purchased CD's which blend both.

artlover, no wonder we loved the Picasso Museum. We loved not only the paintings, but to see the preparatory sketches that a great master does, before making a painting. And we thought the external look and landscaping of the museum was also awesome.
As for Lisbon, I hope to complete the remaining Spain portions today, and on to Lisbon tomorrow.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 11:26 PM
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The people on carriages do not belong to the bulfight; maybe there was a Fair in Torremolinos and decided to begin the spectacle with the parade; The mixed rejoneo-bullfighters indicates so.
The Goyesca is the one with expensive re-sale tickets (they do not sell for that amount at the booking office, but 50 to 70 eur. But you cannot find them).
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 12:02 AM
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The plaintive singing, while not as mournful as Fado is a combination of gypsy music and the intonations of Jewish music. It is very similar to that of a Cantor, who leads the congregation in prayes and melodies.
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 12:53 AM
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Aduchamp, thanks for the info; we are learning so much about flamenco from the responses to this trip report. It is quite interesting to know more.
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 02:16 AM
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Trip Report continued...
DAY 10 (Sept 9,SUNDAY): SEVILLE :
Once again we woke up late, and left our hotel at 11 am. What the heck, it was a Sunday anyway. Our first plan for the day was to head for Plaza Museo (right next to the Museo de Bellas Artes), where we had heard that every Sunday morning, upcoming artistes put up their paintings for display and sale. It was fairly close to our hotel, and we hoped we would find a suitable cafe for breakfast on the way. Well, there were no cafes to be found, but we soon reached the plaza. It was a lovely sight. Sort of like an art flea market, or maybe an outdoor art museum. There must have been about 30-40 artists, each with their paintings sprawled in one section of the plaza. The artist sat next to his/her paintings, forever willing to answer queries and discuss prices. A lot of what was on display looked very good, and we had a good time strolling through the plaza. We finally settled on an artist whose striking colour combinations caught our fancy, selected a canvas that would fit into our suitcase, a little price negotiation, and the deal went through ! We posed with the bearded artist for pictures. May he become rich and famous like Picasso someday, so that our small investment may turn into a few millions !

We walked back to La Campana area, where we had a 12:30 pm breakfast at the chain eatery of Pans & Co.;wonderful warm baguettes with melted cheese. Now we were fully on to Spanish timetable.

Dropped off the painting at our hotel, and went in search of a beer parlour that we had heard a lot about. Called "El Tremendo", it is just off one end of C.Imagen. It was easy to find, as the crowds milling around it could be spotted from a fair distance. It is a very tiny beer bar, with tables set all around on the sidewalks (no chairs, only standing room), that threaten to spill over on to the streets. Huge crowds. A glass of beer for 1 euro. What is special ? Well any beer lover will testify that there is a world of a difference between a regular cold beer, and one which is genuinely chilled to the right temperature. And "El Tremendo" seems to know what that precise temperature is, and chills its beer extremely well. I challenge you to find a better chilled beer anywhere else. No wonder it is so popular, with atleast a 100 people standing around. The glasses are not very large, and the wonderful beer goes down your throat ever so smoothly in two gulps, and you keep running inside for refills.

Noticed a street dog roaming around, and learnt that he is a permanent fixture here, and is called "Hurro" or something. He seemed to know the regulars well, and vice versa. Everyone was throwing crumbs at him, which he devoured gladly. As he walked past me, I tried to tempt him with some beer, and poured him some on the sidewalk. He ignored it and walked on. The locals smiled, and an old lady sitting on the sidewalk shook her head at me and said : "Hurro, no drink cerveza"! What a wonderful place, and we decided to keep coming back here everyday.

For lunch we went to a highly rated veg restaurant on travel sites, called "La Habanita", on C.Golfo just off Plaza Alfalfa. Turned out to be a top class place, with very friendly staff. Had cous-cous with onions and raisins, spinach balls, and courgette au gratin. They offer tapa portions for any item, so that you can try various items. Excellent food, and we highly recommend it. But do call up first and check its opening hours, for it is open some days for lunch only, and some days for dinner only.

We had planned on spending the afternoon visiting the Cathedral and Giralda (they open at 2:30 pm on Sundays), but on reaching there we discovered that some special event was taking place inside the Cathedral, and it would be closed for the public. We had made no backup plan for the afternoon, and decided to use the time to visit the Italica ruins at Santiponce. We walked to the riverside, and deliberately caught the circular bus C4 going in the wrong direction, so that we could take a complete round tour of Seville before alighting at the bus station Plaza de Armas. After waiting for some time, when the bus arrived and we got on, the driver told us that Italica closes down at 3 pm on Sundays. So we got off, and again took the C4 bus, this time alighting near Parque Maria Luisa.

As we were entering the park, our eyes feasted on some lovely buildings outside, including the Teatro Lope de Vega, and the Portuguese Consulate. We were looking forward to this park visit, as Sundays are when local families turn out in large numbers with babies and dogs (from our experience at El Retiro last Sunday). This was very much true here also, and in this park you could rent these wonderful double-pedalled bicycles, with a sun-shade on top, and go riding around the park. All tourists appeared to be doing that, and we did likewise, stopping occasionally to sip a granizada, or to have our pics clicked by a pedestrian. Inside the park you pass some even more beautiful buildings, including the Museo of Arts & Costumes, and the Archeological Museum.

After the park, we hopped across the street to Plaza de Espana, where we had visited the previous night. It was 6 pm, and the right time to come here. Full of people. We walked around the semi-circular facade, admiring the gaudy tilework of every province of Spain, and then sat down by the central fountain, feet in water, for a long long time. The plaza is very pretty and truly a sight to behold. We left at 8 pm, when the vendors began shutting their stalls. DW did manage to buy those folding fans which she found very enchanting.

From there we strolled back to the historic centre via Puerto de Jerez, and stopped in a coffee shop called "Cafe de Indias"; they seem to have many branches in Seville. Had wonderful Viennese coffee, and then on to Avenida de la Constitucion.

We slowly walked to the Santa Catalina area, where we stopped for a repeat beer at El Tremendo. Then proceeded to Plaza Terceros nearby, and had some veg tapas at a place called "La Huerta". Nice outdoor seating, and great atmosphere, witha lot of eateries around. There were two old drunkards seated on a bench nearby, who tried talking to us; they appeared harmless, and we ignored them. Had delicious veg tapas : leek quiche, and jacket potatoes with 3 kinds of hot sauce. Excellent food.

Nearby, on C.Alhondiga (across the street from El Tremendo) was another tapa bar supposed to be offering veg tapas, called "Ajo Blanco". We popped in there, and really liked the place. Tastefully decorated with jazz posters, and jazz music playing in the background. Delightful old man at the counter. We had some more tapas of cous cous salad with beets, carrots, onions & black olives; and tortillas with black beans & cheese, with a super spicy hot sauce ! When I asked for a dark beer, he produced 3 varieties, and entertained my DW with free samples of various exotic wines. It was one of the best places we had eaten in Spain, and we promised him we would come back here again.

It was 11 pm, and time for flamenco, on which we were hooked. I had read somewhere about a place called "La Carboneria" on C.Levies, which offered free flamenco shows. We presumed that since it was free, it would be more of impromptu dancing like at Lo Nuestro, but decided to try it out. When we reached there, we were extremely surprised at what we saw. A huge huge place, sort of a bodega, with a very charged atmosphere inside. Unusual seating arrangement, with thin long long tables, set parallel to one another. Take your drink and sit wherever you find space; there will surely be someone seated opposite you, and it forces you to interact with strangers. Very informal place, and there must have been over 200 people inside. We went for tequila shots, chased down with salt and lemon, in keeping with the atmosphere of that place. Surprise, surprise...drinks were only 2 euros each. On one side was a stage, and it was so arranged that it was clearly visible no matter where you were seated. And there was no impromptu dancing here, but an actual professional flamenco performance ! Great singers and great dancer. The performances started at about 11:30 pm, and they were of high quality. We had an Argentinian father-daughter duo seated across us, who had become quite friendly. After an excellent soulful number that I liked, I asked the young Argentinian lady to translate the lyrics for us. She explained that the man was singing that he did not want to marry, and wanted to remain a bachelor always. No wonder it struck a chord in the hearts of every male member in the audience !And the dancer was excellent too, drawing repeated applause from the audience. Had we known about this place earlier, we would have come here every single night. Useless going to a "tablao", when you have much better stuff on display for free. And you have to experience the atmosphere here to believe it.

As always, we got lost in the maze of alleys while going back to the hotel. This is what we loved most about Seville. Here you are at 1 am at night, trying to go home, and consulting a map which bears no resemblance to the streets; you look around, and you spot various other tourists, equally lost, all consulting their maps and shaking their heads. And sometimes when you are walking down a deserted thin alley, wondering if it is safe at this hour, along passes by a Spanish lady with a pram, with the child gurgling and waving at you, and a little dog in tow. Puts you completely at ease !

One last word about these pet dogs in Seville, or anywhere in Spain. Boy, they have some nightlife ! They are visiting fancy plazas with fountains till 1 am at night. I bet most of these dogs by now have their favourite plazas, and their circle of "friends" at each plaza. How long before they start opening tapa bars for them ?

Our Indian mythology has it that we are re-born after death, into another form. If we do good deeds in our life, we will be re-born as humans again, probably in more pleasant environs. If the bad deeds outweigh the good, we could be re-born in a lower form, such as an animal ! Well, if I do a rough calculation of my good and bad deeds so far, I am not very optimistic about where I would stand. Of course, I still have 20-30 years to redeem myself ! But when the moment of reckoning comes, and God adds up my debits and credits, should He decided that I deserve an animal existence in my next birth, I will put in a request to be born as a dog in Spain. Can't be very bad !

As always, there was light at the end of the tunnel, and we finally found our way back by 1 am.
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 03:16 AM
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Having seen both kathak and flamenco several times in the last year or so, they are very similar yet different. In Kathak, the dancer is always bare foot but with bells, and always follows a mythological story. Flamenco dancer's movement and gestures relate to and emphasize the accompanying melody but not a specific <u>mythological</u> story line. Correct me if I am wrong here. So far as the music, very similar structurs so far as beats per rhythm etc. But indian classical music usually begins and ends with the same beats thus getting the listener to a point to catch up with a specific rhythm (here is one plus.... you can get clued in very quickly if or not you are about to like the performance!). Flamenco on the other hand typically has more improvisations and surprise elements for a listener. Basically, they remind me of two siblings. One who is slightly serious, say with a PhD (although it is a common error to connect the two). The other is younger and naughty, and dazzles you from across the room. Depending on the mood you are in, place for both in life. I have listened some &quot;indialucia&quot; genre and I don't think I like it much which I find is similar to drinking beer and wine at the same time.

i/c, I noted the use of <b>my</b> before DW in your posts. Very cute. And I am glad you want to be a dog in Spain and not something else etc because you could end up on a plate as Jamon Serrano Just kidding about that. I do hope you ended up going up the Jiralda because the views are rather nice.
 
Old Sep 24th, 2007, 03:22 AM
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I am really enjoying your report. If I ever get to back to Spain, I would love to go to the flamenco places you visited, it sounds wonderful.

Looking forward to Portugal.
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